The Persona series uses teenage coming-of-age stories to make points about growing up and learning who you are. Each Persona game tends to cover a particular theme in association with these series conventions. Persona 3 focuses on loneliness, grief, coping with mortality, and finding meaning in life. Persona 4 focuses on truth and the need to confront painful parts of yourself in order to grow. These themes are particularly evident in the series’ social links, optional relationships with fellow high school students or other characters in the games. You “level up” these social links over the course of various vignettes that tell the story of your deepening relationship with the other person, and how this relationship helps both of you grow.
Persona 5 will reportedly feature a darker tone than previous entries, and will focus on feelings of existential imprisonment, leading a double life, and the need to “emancipate” your true self. With these themes in mind, here are five topics we think Persona 5’s new social links should comment on. Each of these topics would move the series’s ongoing message about creating the self and coming-of-age forward in a meaningful way while remaining true to the format we’ve come to know and love.
Although relationships in Persona games are often dysfunctional, they are rarely outright abusive. Both Persona 3’s Mitsuru and Persona 4’s Yukiko’s character arcs involved feeling trapped in roles their loved ones chose for them. However, by the end of each arc, Mitsuru and Yukiko come to appreciate the value of their familial positions, and embrace the paths set out for them in their own ways.
Unfortunately, not all relationships are so tidily resolved. It’d be interesting to see a social link involving a character in a toxic relationship. Instead of reconciling with the part of themselves that needs the relationship, this character could reject it, gaining new independence and self-respect in the process.
By featuring a character who self-actualizes by successfully recovering from an irredeemable relationship, Persona 5 could make an inspiring statement about abuse and recovery.
Persona is a high school drama, so popularity is important. The characters of Persona games often define themselves in relation to their peers. Many of the previous protagonists, such as Yukiko, Chie, Shinjiro or Kanji feel trapped by the perception others have of them.
This social link could focus on a character who either chooses or is forced to feel isolated from their peers. One of Persona 5’s protagonists is Anne Takamaki, whose American heritage sets her apart. While we usually see how characters struggle to find themselves by fitting in, we could get to know Anne by seeing how she stands out, and how standing out affects the way she feels about herself. It would be refreshing if Anne’s arc could culminate in her realization that she likes the parts of herself that don’t fit in, and she doesn’t want to change.
Homosexuality and transsexuality were major components of Kanji and Naoto’s arcs in Persona 4. However, Persona has often stumbled with their attempts to represent LGBTQ issues respectfully. Kanji is often the butt of jokes, and there are several instances in which male characters dress as female characters for humiliating comedic effect.
Persona 5 should use the opportunity its themes provide to improve its portrayal of LGBTQ struggles. What could be a better example of feeling “trapped” in a certain idea of yourself than feeling trapped in the wrong body for your gender, or feeling like you are attracted to the “wrong” people? A LGBTQ character’s emancipating themselves by coming to terms with their gender and/or sexuality fits perfectly with the themes of Persona 5 and Persona generally, and would make an essential statement about the importance of LGBTQ acceptance.
Though Persona 3 revolved around suicide imagery, Persona has mostly only engaged with mental illness metaphorically. One of the scariest parts of mental illnesses for many people is the way it can seem to change who you are. Illnesses like depression or PTSD can feel like they’re taking over your personality.
Persona 5 could feature a character who feels imprisoned by their mental illness. As your relationship with this character evolves, you could help them cope with their mental illness, seek treatment and eventually accept that their illness doesn’t define them. You might even help this character see that their treatment won’t change who they are and they don’t have to be afraid of it. If Persona 5 could portray mental illness realistically and respectfully, it could educate players and break down the stigma that still plagues mental health awareness.
Persona 5 revolves around double lives. When attending high school, the main character will be shy. During his burglaries, however, he’s a bold daredevil. Each member of the gang will have different personalities to suit different contexts.
A social link could investigate which of these personalities are “true,” what it means to perform a personality and what a true personality even is.
Emancipation of self could mean several things. It could refer to embracing the daredevil over the student, or vice versa; it could mean recognizing that the student and the burglar are both true; it could even suggest that all selves are performative—one is no more true than another because neither are true. Persona uses allegorical stories to explore theories of selfhood like these, and a social link exploring the performative aspects of personality could be a great vehicle to continue to do so.
Harry Mackin has written for Game Informer, Playboy and other outlets. He’s on Twitter at @Shiitakeharry.