What I Learned From Persona 5

The following is a pseudo-review of the video game Persona 5. Enjoy.

  • Game Title: Persona 5
  • Completion Date: August 2021
  • System: PlayStation 4
  • Completion Time: 120 hours
  • My Completely Subjective Score: 8 out of 10
  • My One-Sentence Review: A classic JRPG with a few twists to keep the formula fresh; Believable characters that you will miss once the story ends; But at a massive 120 hours, some will find it a challenge to finish

There is one thing of which I’m certain. People love to hide.

Maybe saying “love to hide” is a little too aggressive and presumptuous. Maybe saying “need to hide” would be more accurate.

In other words, people wear masks.

Yes, I’m very aware that saying something like that will immediately make you think of that one Jim Carrey movie (okay, there’s more than one, but let’s just pretend those others don’t exist), and I did genuinely try to think of a way to rephrase it, but after a decent amount of thought, I couldn’t find a better way to put it.

People hide. People wear masks. It’s what we do (yes I said “we”, not “you” or “they”, which implies that I do the very same thing).

We go about our day with complicated thoughts and opinions. We spend most of our brain cycles attempting to solve the most fundamental questions we have as human beings.

I think many of those questions can be boiled down to several basic components. “Why does something exist rather than nothing?“, and also, much more personally, “Why am I here?“. This second question is likely the more important one since it can and should affect the actions we take in this life. Of course, it should be said that you can’t really answer the latter without knowing the answer to the former, and answering the former will likely lead to answering the latter.

And then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m in the minority here. Maybe, when people go to get coffee, and they’re sitting in the car with nothing but silence to accompany them, they actually are content to talk about nothing, even though there are so many things they could be discussing.

I could be wrong. We’ve already established that I’m a little weird, and the rest of the people in this world, as far as I can tell, are a little strange as well.

. . .

Let’s talk about the featured game for this post, Persona 5.

Persona 5 follows a protagonist who is wrongly accused of assault when he steps in to rescue a woman who is in a dangerous predicament. He’s able to defend her from the man who intends to abuse her; however, he did not realize that the man is a very important person, and that very important person is able to wrongly convict him of assault. Therefore, the act of defending the woman gets him sent off to live with a friend of his family’s in a different part of the country; Shibuya, to be exact, which I very recently learned is in fact a real city in Japan.

Just as he is beginning to assimilate to his new life, a new and marvelous discovery presents itself to him. He learns that an entirely new world exists; one that he cannot see through any normal means. This world has been created through the thoughts and desires of all the people in his own physical world, even though most are not even aware that it exists. Not only that; he also learns that he is one of a very few number of people that can enter this world. In this world, he finds out that he is able to affect the thoughts and desires of specific individuals who exist in the real world. He eventually finds others who can also enter into this world, and they quickly form a team to fight against the darkness in people’s hearts. He and his team venture through elaborate dungeons, cathedrals, labyrinthine palaces, and the like, as they seek to “rehabilitate” some very dastardly people in an attempt to make the world a better place.

Since our team of heroes is rehabilitating the scum of society against their will (and even against their knowledge), the game delves into some very Boondock Saints-like territory. The main question that is poses is, “Are the actions of these people just?”. That decision is not answered in concrete terms, but rather is left to the player to decide (as any good story should allow). Of course, since you, the player, are rooting for your team, most will answer with a definitive “yes”, or the more aggressive “darn straight they are”.

. . .

Persona 5 is considered by many to be one of the best JRPGs (or, Japanese Role-Playing Games) of this generation (when I say “generation”, I am talking about the era of the PlayStation 4; the console on which I played the game). As you may know, if I had to eliminate all other video game genres and choose just one, there’s no doubt in my mind that the JRPG would be my choice.

And with so many hours spent with the game, several lessons on life, art, relationships, and the like were bound to present themselves.

Therefore, since I am a generous man, let me tell you about a few lessons I learned while playing Persona 5.

Lesson 1: Persistence Pays Off

Honestly, it took me quite a while to start Persona 5. I’ve gotten into the habit of looking up how long it’ll take to finish the games I play before I start them. At least I know what I’m in for. Video games, especially lately, have become extremely diverse in several different ways. Games as short as only one hour long have been popping up, and gaining momentum. Many of those games have been dubbed “walking simulators”, most likely because the player is generally just “walking” through the story, with very little combat or puzzle solving. I’m a little torn about games like these. Don’t get me wrong, many of them are fantastic and have a very strong and emotional story (my favorite among these by far would have to be INSIDE, which I will definitely write about soon). However, I’m just not sure how much these qualify as video games. There is very little input from the player (mostly just pressing forward on the direction stick as they watch the story play out). Wouldn’t these kinds of games be better as movies?

If I sound like I’m complaining, I promise you, I’m not. In fact, these kinds of discussions are a pretty entertaining exercise, and even necessary in order for video games to grow, both as an entertainment medium and as an art form.

Of course, having said that, I love that some things are built on a solid foundation; an unshakable mountain. I’m talking, of course, about the JRPG. Here you’ll find all the things you’ve grown to love about video games (I’m talking very subjectively here). Diverse and awesome characters, myriad landscapes and cityscapes, a long story to let you soak it all in, and the consistent accumulation of experience points as you watch your little weaklings turn into uncompromising titans capable of stopping the villains that threaten the universe.

I’m happy to report that Persona 5 hits all of these marks. And on at least one of these marks, it goes above and beyond. I’m talking about the completion time.

I’d say that, on average, video games clock in at roughly twenty thirty hours, depending on the style and format of the game. Of course, some games are far less (see above), and some are far more. The RPG genre tends to be more, since there are generally many characters, each with their own unique backstory to digest, as well as hundreds or maybe even thousands of battles to fight. However, sitting at the top as the king of the hill is, without a doubt, the JRPG. I don’t know what it is about Japan, but when they go RPG, they go big. And Persona 5 is no exception. This game clocks in at a beefy one hundred and twenty hours!

Honestly, I probably would’ve played this game far sooner than I did, but the hours attached to the game made me very nervous.

Playing video games is a weird hobby. Several years ago, I noticed that I just didn’t like video games as much as I used to. I thought, “Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m done being a gamer.” It took me several months to figure out that it wasn’t video games that I wasn’t as passionate about. It was many things in life. I think we get to a point in life, probably around the time we “settle down” and have children, that we begin to understand that all of those things we used to think were so important actually turn out to be pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Nowadays, it’s hard for me to put more than an hour or more into a game each day. Therefore, tackling a game as large as this one was a massive endeavor. However, a strange thing always happens when I get to the end of a game and watch the credits roll. No matter how I felt about the game; whether I loved it or hated it, or was left somewhere in between; a deep sense of accomplishment never fails to sweep over me. “I did it”, I always think. “I finished it. I’ve won”.

I sincerely hope that feeling never goes away.

Lesson 2: Seemingly Invaluable Things Really Can Have Value

It’s very possible that I’m in the minority here, but I am constantly analyzing whether the thing I’m currently doing has value. Of course, there are many issues even with just asking the question, “Does this thing have value?”. What does that actually mean? The question itself is very subjective. The fact is, my background, my beliefs, my personality, and what I want to accomplish in life will all play into my answer.

Alright, maybe that’s too deep a subject. However, let’s try to be a little objective for a minute. What is valuable? Persona 5 actually packages an answer that I think is pretty good. In the game, you have to improve certain characteristics about the main protagonist in order to advance portions of the story. The game calls them “Social Stats”; and they are (in no particular order): Knowledge, Guts, Proficiency, Kindness, and Charm.

You raise these so-called “Social Stats” by doing various things in the game. For instance, to raise your “Guts” stat, you can attempt the Big Bang Burger Challenge, where you try to eat as much of an oversized burger as you possibly can.

Need to increase your charm a bit? How about going to the bathhouse and soaking in the tub (okay, admittedly, I’m not sure how this would actually make you more charming, but you get the point)?

I thought that one of the most interesting ways the game offers you to increase your stats is by watching movies. Now, this is debatable, but I definitely feel a bit guilty when I’m spending too much of my time in front of a screen. But in Persona 5, it is a great way to increase your various Social Stats. Watching a movie might not be a very obvious way to become a kinder person, but that is exactly what Persona 5 is suggesting. I don’t know about you, but for me, it gives me a little breathing room to think of a hobby that I enjoy (video games in this case) to be something more than just entertainment for entertainment’s sake.

Lessons 3: Time Is Money (And Everything Else)

One of the most frustrating and amazing things that Persona 5 does is to split up the protagonist’s actions into days. Each day, you can only accomplish so many things. Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. Most days, a lot of your time gets taken up by school. Some days, you can’t go out because you’ve got to be home at a certain time; or maybe you have to study for an exam.

The game forces you to think about how to use your time wisely. You only get so much of it. As I discussed above, watching movies can increase your Social Stats, so you might be wondering, “Why not just keep watching movies until you max out those stats?”. It sound great, but unfortunately, you only have so much time in a day. If you want to watch a movie, it will take your entire night. That means you won’t be able to do anything else. It really does force you to think of how you’ll spend your time. Time is everything. Spend it wisely.

Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to everything else.

For me, this is a lesson I always need to hear.

Lesson 4: Art Is A Metaverse

This lesson was something I stumbled on while writing this, actually, and it really did surprise me when I realized it.

I’ve already talked about the metaverse, which is the other world that most people cannot see or enter. This world is a manifestation of people’s innermost desires.

I have a theory that the metaverse is actually an analogy for something in our real world. In order to prove this, we need to talk about one of the main characters. That character is Yusuke Kitagawa, the artistic one in our team.

Yusuke is a very emotional and passionate person. His side story involves his struggles to produce something that he thinks is worthy of being called art. We can see his passion as he attempts to create his various works of art. And while thinking about this, it hit me. Is this painter not manifesting his desires into his paintings? In other words, are his creations not a manifestation of his desires? If that is the case, then how are his artistic creations different from the metaverse? I’d argue that they are really not that different at all.

Saying all of this, I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say that Video Games (and art in general) is a metaverse of our real lives. Video games are, in a very real way, a manifestation of our real physical world. The same is true for most of media. Comics, movies, television shows, music, and art. Does it really mean so much less just because it is delivered to us in digital form?

And if they are a manifestation of other’s thoughts, feelings, and conflicts, then maybe spending our time with them is not the wasteful thing that some people think it is.

Lesson 5: You Really Can Get Attached To Digital Friends

I’ve already mentioned that Persona 5 is a very long game. And since it’s so long, you end up spending a great deal of time with each of the characters in the game.

After spending so long with each of these virtual individuals, it is very difficult not to get attached to them. When I’m playing a game, I think I have the tendency to tune a lot of things out. The reason is, I know that it’s fake, and fake things are less valuable than real things. Of course, what I often forget is that fake things often (if not always) come from real things. These people were not crafted out of thin air. They are a manifestation of real people, or at least parts of real people.

By the end of the game, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad to say goodbye to everyone in the game. Real or not, I had spent a ludicrous amount of time with these people. They were my friends. It made the experience of saying goodbye all that much more difficult since the main character of the game was moving back home. He was also saying goodbye to his friends, just as I was saying goodbye to them. And I was left with some very strange feelings to deal with. I was left with a feeling of loneliness over the friends that I have lost. I couldn’t help but feel that I wanted to spend just a little more time with them; to hang out in LeBlanc’s café, drinking coffee, and talking about absolutely nothing.

Lesson 6: Everyone Wears Masks

The final lesson is probably one that I know all too well, and if I could only choose one lesson to present to you, my dear friend, it would be this one.

I began to talk about this lesson in my introduction. Allow me to finish the lesson I’ve learned.

I will never forget a very challenging phase of my life. It happened shortly after I got married.

At this point in my life, things were actually looking pretty good for me. I had a good family, a good job, and had gotten married to my beautiful wife. We had just moved into our condo. Altogether, things looked pretty good. It’s a strange thing then, that around this time, I began to battle with the greatest anxiety and depression of my life.

I don’t say this to be dramatic, and I’m not trying to over-exaggerate. The fact was, it was a horrifying time. I lost a lot of weight because food tasted like sawdust. I couldn’t enjoy anything. Nothing seemed real. I talked to many family and friends about the issues I was dealing with, but nobody really seemed to have any answers that would satisfy me. Worse yet, I got the feeling that people thought I was worrying about things that I shouldn’t be worrying about. It’s very true, my thoughts were not about any immediate thing that threatened my life or my family’s lives. They were a bit more existential than that. Therefore, it made me feel guilty to ask for help, because nothing was necessarily wrong with me on the surface.

But all through this time, normal life went on. I still had to go to work, keep the house in order, and attend all the normal social functions. Therefore, I did the only thing I could. I put on my mask every day and went on, doing my very best to pretend that everything was okay. It was a strange thing. I felt as if I was lying to everyone, acting as if I was fine.

People wear masks. They constantly are trying to hide who they really are; trying to hide their weaknesses. They pretend to be far bolder, far more confident, and far happier than they really are. If we are aware of that, it’s the first step in reaching out and understanding them.

Final Words

These are all the lessons I’ve learned while playing Persona 5.

My only hope is that you were able to learn something new, or reinforce something that you’ve already known.

Stay well, my friends. I pray that your life is filled with peace, joy, and hope for the future.

Game On.

By Steve Bongiorno

I write about gaming, books, faith, and family.

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