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The Punk Spirit of ‘Persona 5’ – A Look at Persona Through Punk Culture

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Persona, as a series, has always been about a group of high schoolers rising up to defeat evils beyond their understanding, defying authorities of all sorts in order to do what they know is right. The main cast faces their inner demons, all the distorted emotions that dwell within them and take control to find their inner power. At their core, the games are about how friendship, confidence, and spirit can save the world. Persona 5 embraces punk culture and weaves it into the narrative and characters.

Even prior games had the spirit of punk. Persona 4 has that sort of small town pop-punk feel, homely and personal, with Yosuke going as far as the “I hate this town” side of things. The games are filled with the spirits of the youth, with Yukiko and Chie conquering the prejudice against them and choosing to become their own person, while Rise escapes the idea of empty fame for a more meaningful existence. There are lots of ways to look at it but Persona 4 has that energy and personal emotion that pop-punk embodies.

Yosuke hates this town

Yosuke hates his town, but loves his friends, can’t get much more pop-punk than that.

The most recent entry into the series, Persona 5, takes this trend and turns the punk influence up to 11. Persona 4 embodies the pop-punk reminiscent emotions and the group of friends fighting to understand themselves and each other while helping each other overcome their innermost turmoils, but Persona 5 takes on a different approach. The game is brought to a world where it’s frighteningly blatant that the 1% control the systems of authority. The cityscape is a perfect backdrop to a landscape of corruption and dismissal, and perhaps one that is all too relevant in the modern day. There’s the idea of rebellion against the powers that unfairly control, the punk spirit of resistance, and the end goal of reforming society.

The plot revolves around the spirit of the young, where there’s constant talk of oppression and tyranny from adults. There’s widespread corruption in systems of authority, from the school board and teachers to politicians and celebrity figures. The Phantom Thieves offer their abilities to change the hearts of these figures, choosing to take wider issues into their own hands in order to actually achieve change, aiming to bring courage to the masses. The focus in this Persona isn’t on building their own courage and determination, but instead on bringing those traits out in the general public, creating an uprising of sorts against corruption. This focus contrasts greatly with other games within the genre. Instead of a constantly looming evil force that the group is growing in order to defeat, or a clear and concise end goal of saving the world, Persona 5 sees the cast actively searching for ways to spread their influence, to rally the people, and to save all of those that they can from the serious issues that surround us every day.

Persona 5 Calling Card

The calling cards in Persona 5 don’t just act as a way to finish a palace, but also as a way to garner public attention and rally courage.

Punk is often blunt, efficient, and characterized by quick and high tempo tracks, and the nature of the palace heists can be seen to reflect this. The group finds their target, then finds the information they need to begin their infiltration, and here is where the track begins. Despite their stealthy approach toward the treasure, inevitably the final confrontation is short, fast, and loud. The Phantom Thieves risk everything they have in order to incite change, and to ‘bring courage to the people’ as Ann Takamaki describes it, just as bands like Anti-Flag, Against Me! and Propagandhi dedicate their lives and their talents to sending their message out, rallying people together, and giving a voice to those that need one.

There’s a particular focus on inclusion, the misfits band together despite their incredible differences in personality and class to attain a common goal, and find out they really aren’t so different deep down. There’s the pretty part-foreigner model Ann Takamaki, who spends almost the entire game becoming best friends with the student with a criminal record in the MC, and the rebellious Ryuji Sakamoto who is widely seen as a constant failure. And, whilst the early days of punk were arguably rather exclusive, there’s been a conscious effort to make everyone feel at home in the culture, a place to turn to when there’s nowhere else that will take you. The Phantom Thieves make every effort to fight against the labels put on them, all whilst searching for the place where they want themselves to head in life.

Persona 5 Ryuji

Alt, rock, punk, the Phantom Thieves bleed all sorts of style.

The game forms a modern infusion of the Western punk ideals that Japan takes great influence from in their own punk cultures, and the sense of honor and concerning oneself with personal problems, whilst leaving others to do the same. The group has inner struggles at times with whether or not their actions are right, whether their supernatural strong-arming is in fact the best method of change, and the constant talk of ‘brainwashing’ that also came from those opposed to punk’s uprising, does little to quell their doubts.

This unique mix of ideals sets a contrast against the general depiction of justice in the West, rather than determination, followed by a moment of indecision and contemplation before the righteous path is chosen, Persona 5 has a constant sense of self-doubt. The group understands what they need to do, and that they’re the only ones that can bring courage to the people, but also fully understand that their methods may have serious backlash in other areas, and that the greater masses may be affected by the removal of negative forces that may still be foundations of society. Ultimately their indecision does not lead to inaction. They make sure they’re all comfortable in what they’re doing before bringing their righteous message of courage to the masses.

Even the dialogue positions itself firmly in the anti-establishment punk culture, with Igor describing the group as such: “They have all been unfairly labeled by society and are standing up against such fates.” You could use that sentence to describe practically all of punk, from the bands, to those embodying the culture in other ways. Makoto Niijima, student council president turned Phantom Thief of Hearts, also gets into the memorable quotes with; “Evil adults are nothing more than garbage, and I am no better…” Maybe very loosely reminiscent of a certain “No Good” from Knuckle Puck.

Persona 5 Makoto Niijima

Makoto Niijima, student council president turned Phantom Thief.

In the earlier days of punk, and even today, there are adults who worry about the influence of such strongly opinionated and political movements as punk on the youth, and on the general populace in more wide instances. Persona 5 captures this essence excellently in how the media and the corrupt adults see, react to, and retaliate against the Phantom Thieves. They are referred to as ‘morally corrupt’ and as seeing to their own selfish ideals rather than the greater need of the people.

There’s a few broader examples possible through this line of thinking, such as the great importance in the meaning and feeling of art (especially in Madarame’s palace and Yusuke’s S-Link), to the fairly obvious such as the alternate fashion typical of punk culture: skull motifs and studded chokers amidst a mixture of purples and blacks. There’s also quite directly ‘Punk-Rock Woman’ as the descriptor for the owner of the medical clinic in Yongen-Jaya before you get to know her. The game oozes style, and that style mixes different influences from anime to comic books, however there is an overarching presence of punk within it. There’s the color scheme of red and black, from the Dead Kennedys to Black Flag to the Misfits. Their logo becomes a sign of rebellion, a distinct icon of a movement, just as in punk bands. Whether you see the Misfits skull, or Bad Religion’s crossbuster, or the “TAKE YOUR HEART” logo found on the Phantom Thieves’ calling cards, they represent change and a social movement in their own way.

Persona 5 Punk Logos

Logos are powerful, and punk culture turns them into a symbol of courage

Persona 5 is a fantastic look into Japanese life, a slice of the nation offered to be explored. It’s an incredibly well realized world where real connections are made between characters, and it’s a layered JRPG with an insane amount of things to do in the world. From fighting, to exploring, to going to the batting cages, to seeing a movie with a friend. The game is all this, and so much more, perhaps appropriately being hailed so early as “the most important JRPG since Final Fantasy VII.” Looking at the game through a different lens, such as through the view of punk culture, can reveal an impressive and intricately woven experience.

Shane Dover is a Melbourne, Australia based freelance writer contributing to Japanese punk news site Punx Save The Earth, punk publication Dying Scene, Diabolique Magazine and Goomba Stomp. Not just a fan of punk music, he's spent most of his life obsessed with the horror genre across all media, Japanese cinema, as well as pop culture in general. He plays music and writes fiction, check out his Twitter (https://twitter.com/Karzid) for updates on those projects. Follow him on Twitter, and check out his work every Wednesday on Dying Scene.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. NotAdachi

    April 24, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Adachi did nothing wrong

    • pikadon

      April 24, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      yeah okay m8 go back to romancing cabbage ya smeghead

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘The Walking Dead’

A look back at one of the most critically acclaimed narrative based point and click story games of the decade: Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

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The story-based video game has been around for a long time but there has been a spike in popularity in them in the last decade. One of the most influential and critically acclaimed narrative games is the 2012 game Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which initiated a tidal wave of choice-based games that still continues today.

Lee Everett, the protagonist of the first season of The Walking Dead Game.

Telltale Games was created in 2004 and had a significant library of games established — including games based on Back to the Future and Jurassic Park — before the release of The Walking Dead. It was the zombie point and click adventure that shot them to triple A game studio status though. The game took on similar mechanics to their other games but introduced a more cinematic style. Player choice is a key element in regard to dialogue choices and important decisions within the story. These shape the player character, Lee Everett, and change his personality to suit the play style. This was one of the most endearing features of the game, allowing players to experience scenarios slightly differently depending on your choice.

The Walking Dead

Lee and his ward Clementine had a strong connection that led to a lot of the emotional moments in the story.

The depth of the characters and dark nature of the narrative are the best aspects of the game. The player takes on the role of Lee as he is on his way to jail at the dawn of the zombie apocalypse. After a car accident leaves him stranded, he stumbles upon a little girl named Clementine. Lee becomes her protector as they and a group of survivors try to survive in the walker-infested world. This simple story of a man with a troubled past attempting to protect a little girl at the end of the world is incredibly engaging and it is difficult not to get emotionally attached to both Lee and Clementine. The system wherein certain characters will remember Lee’s words or actions is also a nice feature that can guilt trip you over your choices, particularly if you see the words “Clementine Will Remember That”. Lee is an interesting and complex character whose attitude and personality can change depending on player choice and Clementine is a loveable child who doesn’t fall into the “annoying kid” stereotype in most games. Both became beloved video game characters who set a precedent for likeable protagonists in gaming.

The Walking Dead

The cast of characters in The Walking Dead’s first season all had their complexities.

The legacy of Telltale Games and The Walking Dead still continues within the gaming community. Telltales unfortunate downfall in September 2018 was a great loss to story-based gaming but many have been influenced by Telltale’s work since. Dontnod adapted the episodic formula for their Life is Strange games, another fantastic narrative series. Others who had previously worked for Telltale helped bring other great story games to life. The co-writers of the first season of The Walking Dead game set up the company that created the 2016 game Firewatch, for example. More writers of the series launched Night School Studios, responsible for Oxenfree (2016) and Afterparty (2019). The Walking Dead catapulted Telltale Games to stardom, leading them to take on a slew of projects — possibly leading to their downfall. Despite this, the game has carved out a place for itself in history as one of the best point and click narrative adventure games that established a trend of games that encourage strong storytelling and complex characters.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

Dark-Souls-Remastered-Darkroot-Garden

The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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