I still remember the reveal of Persona 5 Royal, and how many hoped this revised release of the beloved JRPG would see a new protagonist step into the fold. Joker was a largely unspoken protagonist with the exception of a few short dialogue options, meaning swapping them out for a similar female avatar wasn’t only possible, but something a large position of the fanbase was praying for.
We witnessed a similar move with subsequent releases of Persona 3, players free to play the game as a high-school girl with the story being somewhat influenced by this change in perspective. But your gender didn’t matter - you remained a melancholic teenager fighting against a corrupt system alongside your fabulous friends. Unfortunately for us, Persona 5 Royal didn’t follow in these footsteps, ushering in the return of Joker alongside a number of other new characters that helped it shine.
Sumire Yoshizawa was a fantastic new addition, and her story became a fundamental element of Persona 5 that I now couldn’t imagine it without. Yet her appearance, colour profile, and personality made so many of us assume that maybe, just maybe, she’d be the heroine of this new journey. That wasn’t the case, and I’m still broken up about it, yet this disappointment also gives me hope for the future and that Atlus will finally pull the trigger on a female protag in the years to come.
Persona 6 should mark the accomplishment of such a milestone, putting a young woman at the centre of an adventure focused on the youthful experience and all of the expectations that come with it. We could explore the generational divide between zoomers and their parents, touching on how the world is moving on and advancing while their elders are failing to fix all that is wrong with it. All they can do is grow up and hope that things will get better, until they adopt mythical powers and seize the opportunity to fight back and make a tangible difference. Our planet isn’t short of problems for Persona to knowingly satirise right now.
A female perspective for a main character in Persona 6 would also be a symbol of rebellion in itself. For all its excellent characters and poignant storylines, the series has a somewhat reductive attitude towards women. We spent several hours fighting back against a sexual predator only to subject the object of its twisted desires to teenage sexualisation for a fun little joke. It feels outdated and crass, almost like Atlus doesn’t understand the impact of its own thematic commentary. Anne deserved better, and should have been the hero all along.
It should be better than this, and a female lead will force them to examine these prejudices from a new perspective, one where our place in this world will see us treated differently because of who we are. Persona 6 could examine some of Japan’s outdated attitudes towards women, or have a high school girl taking idiots to task for being creeps or assuming they are capable of things that only serve to reinforce dated ideals. Joker’s potential dialogue choices in Persona 5 would also subject female characters to needlessly creepy comments that paint men as having the superior perspective, instead of treating everyone as equals which a series like this should really lean into. But it doesn’t, and that sucks.
Perhaps it’s a detachment from Atlus and accurately depicting the plights of young people in a generation that is so different to anything that came before it. Youth culture is changing all of the time, and given the genre’s obsession with heroes at such an age, studios must always ensure they are staying up to date with current trends and the societal zeitgeist of newer generations to avoid tripping over their own feet, something that Persona often does. This is a game that could be the most relevant cultural product of our entire medium, but it far too often falls victim to tiresome cliches that anime and JRPGs have relied on for decades, and it’s a shame that so, so many of these involve reducing women to objects.
I’ve written before about Atlus failing both its queer characters and fans. Storylines that dare delve into the trials and tribulations of LGBTQ+ people either come dangerously close to saying something worthwhile or simply feel damaging or offensive. One such scene involving Ryuji (let Joker date him already) was changed in Persona 5 Royal, but the character of Rin in Catherine Full Body remains a woeful example of a character who could have so easily been a symbol of trans positivity. Yet it falls flat and treats us like a punchline, nipping the storyline in the bud if you decide against chasing Rin’s route to its outlandish conclusion. It’s a similar, yet ultimately less hurtful situation with its female characters, and I feel a bit more self-awareness would change so many things for the better.
Have a female heroine in Persona 6 who has to deal with all of this bullshit, has a queer best friend, and isn’t afraid to be a little fruity herself it the player decides to explore such a relationship. For a property that has prided itself on being a modern example of counterculture in the JRPG space, so much of it resides in the past and exhibits a stubborn unwillingness to change. I’m growing a little tired of it, but a more progressive direction for the next instalment could alter that perception completely. I imagine the gamer crowd will decry it for becoming woke and sucking up to the liberals, but Persona has always been about fighting for the good cause, it just needs a little encouragement to go all the way.
Let's say goodbye to Tobey like we said goodbye to Wolverine, standing on our chairs and applauding through tears.