Best friends take the piss out of each other all the time. It’s just what they do. When I was at school, there was one kid we all used to call “Sharon,” entirely because their mam was called Sharon and we decided, for some reason, that it was funny. My dad came to pick me up once wearing a baseball cap, and this also got folded into a long-running joke. My dad wears a cap; that was the entire punchline. It’s just what friends do. There’s nothing funnier than seeing a mate fall over. Persona 5, while it gets so much about friendship right, misses the mark on this one, at least where Joker is concerned.
This dynamic is alive and well amongst most of the cast. Ryuji and Ann, as well as Ryuji and Morgana, constantly bicker with each other, while Ann and Makoto will frequently give Yusuke a bit of a ribbing for being off with the fairies. Futaba, once she gets over her lack of self confidence and inability to socialise, has quite a mischievous sense of humour, and the gang knows just how far to push it when they’re giving it back. Haru is a bit too nice to ever really get involved, but at least that fits with her character. With Joker though, it’s severely lacking.
Joker begins Persona 5 as the weird transfer kid, with a few myths swirling around that he’s a dangerous criminal not to be trusted. He quickly gains the trust of Ryuji, then Ann, and eventually the rest of the Phantom Thieves, while the school rumour mill moves onto more interesting issues. Half the time though, it seems like the gang still holds onto this view of Joker as someone they might set off without the slightest warning. It’s like they’re afraid to mock him for his silly glasses, his daft leather jacket, or the fact he’s just generally a bit of an idiot. I get that Joker is supposed to be the one in charge – even though most of the time, Makoto is actually in the driver’s seat – but why does everyone dotingly refer to him as “leader” as if they’re in some kind of cult? Can you imagine chatting to your mates and just casually dropping in “Ahh yeah, I reckon you should all call me Leader now. It’s like, my new nickname”? It’s a guaranteed way to make sure everyone calls you ‘Leader’ forever, but probably not with the reverence afforded to Joker.
The biggest problem I have with all this is just that Joker is stupid. Or rather, I’m stupid, and I’m Joker. I don’t understand what’s going on in Persona most of the time. Even after finishing it, I’m not sure. Palaces and the seven deadly sins and shadows and all that. Don’t groom school children, don’t overwork your fast food employees, and don’t trust the police. It’s a complex game of simple morals. Sometimes the solutions are gloriously mundane, and sometimes they’re frustratingly fantastical. Regardless of the answer though, I never know what’s going on.
Here’s a recent example from Persona 5 Strikers. The Phantom Thieves and I had just defeated the first Monarch, but something was still amiss in the Jail. Suddenly, everyone turned to me. As is typical in Persona 5, the conversation shuddered to a halt while I chose my response from a list of three options. As I said before, I never know what’s going on in Persona, but I knew that Monarchs were bad, so I opted for something like, “This must be the work of the Monarch!”
Dear reader, it was not the work of the Monarch. Ann had to slowly explain to me that babes, we’ve already defeated the Monarch. Remember? Like, 15 minutes ago.
This is how conversations in Persona 5 usually go for me. I get asked a question, choose the most Persona-y option, and it’s wrong. They explain to me why I’m wrong, and I still don’t get it, but the game continues onwards anyway. That’s maybe especially why Persona 5’s reluctance to tease me for being a doofus is so confusing. Your response never – outside of the romances, if you want to be technical – makes even the slightest difference. The game will instantly correct its course and someone, usually Morgana or Makoto, will step in and offer the right answer. But why couldn’t the game leave a bit of space for Futaba to snicker about how slow on the uptake I am, or for Ryuji to give me a bit of grief for not getting something even he understands? Why isn’t Makoto lecturing me? Damn it, why aren’t my friends just laughing at me for being a bit daft?
Please, Persona friends, bully me, for I am stupid. Stop looking up to Joker, he absolutely does not deserve it. Worse, you’re denying him the full friendship experience. While everyone else gets dunked on once in a while, the Phantom Thieves treat Joker as if he’s untouchable. I don’t understand why, but then I don’t understand much about Persona, do I?
Next: Persona 5’s Rebellion Against Injustice Is Exactly What I Need Right Now
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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