Character Analysis, Persona 5, The Mind of a Character, Video Games

Makoto Niijima: The Queen of the Phantom Thieves

Persona 5: Royal has been out for a few days now. I can’t say whether or not it’s better than the original, as I’m writing this well before it comes out. But knowing me, I’ll be playing way too much of it around the time this article comes out. So much so that I might be in danger of losing my day job.

I don’t have an addictive personality nor am I in denial. Leave me alone.

To get myself properly excited, I’m going be doing two things this week. Tomorrow, I’m going to review the original version of Persona 5, my second favorite game of all time (it’s gonna be a long one). But first, I’m going to pick apart my favorite character: best girl Makoto Niijima!

Because anyone who says Futaba is the best girl has a little sister complex and Kawakami fans never got over being rejected by their middle-school teacher.

Near the beginning of the game, Makoto doesn’t seem to have much of a role in the story. You can see her hanging around Shujin, but she doesn’t do much more than tell you to leave her alone. After the defeat of Kamoshida, however, she becomes much more active and quickly establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with, immediately sniffing you and the others out as suspects in her search for the Phantom Thieves.

Granted, it’s not a Sherlock Holmes level of deduction. But considering how stupid some of the other characters are, that alone makes Makoto the smartest person in the room.

From there, she only becomes more of a fleshed-out character. She’s smart and badass, but she’s still vulnerable. She’s socially awkward, easily flustered, insecure, and most of all: uncertain. All of the Phantom Thieves are likable and have plenty of depth. But Makoto, in my opinion, stands at the top of them all. They don’t call her Queen for nothing!

I’ll try not to let my crush on this character cloud my judgment.

The Wound: In a Sister’s Shadow

The obvious answer here would be her father’s death, right? Surely that’s the most traumatic thing in her life! Well, that is the logical answer. But by the time we meet Makoto, it’s clear that she’s had her time to mourn. It’s important to her character arc, sure. However, it isn’t the Wound we’re looking for.

It’s what happened after her dad’s passing that would affect her the most.

With both of their parents gone, it was all up to Makoto’s sister, Sae, to take care of the pair. And she did just that! She quickly climbed up the ranks at her job, becoming a successful, well-known prosecutor. Unfortunately, this made Sae distant from her sister. She often spent more time at work than at home, and she’d frequently snap at Makoto when she was home.

Makoto has had her fair share of success. She’s an excellent student and the president of the student council. Plus, she’s a martial arts badass! Unfortunately, when she compares that to her sister’s accomplishments, she feels inadequate. She feels…

The Lie: Useless

Judging yourself by someone else’s success is a quick way to destroy your own image. You look at someone else’s success and feel inadequate over your own failures. You can’t judge yourself like that. That person earned their success and that’s great for them. But that doesn’t affect your success. You’re living your life, not them.

Unfortunately, Makoto doesn’t realize that. She’s compared herself to her sister for years now! And in every regard, she sees Sae as her superior. Makoto very much has an inferiority complex that has haunted her for years, regardless of her own personal success. She’s felt totally useless.

This is why she so eagerly takes the task of finding the Phantom Thieves from the principle, as well as the job of stopping Kaneshiro. She charges the mob boss head-on just to get the Phantom Thieves the info they need just to be useful! She wants to prove herself to herself. To prove that she isn’t useless.

But here’s the thing: she doesn’t need to. She’s already proven herself multiple times, both academically and physically. All she needs is a boost in confidence.

That, and one more thing.

The Need: A Direction of My Own

Whether she knew it or not, Makoto spent a good portion of her life chasing after her sister. So much so that she doesn’t even know why she’s doing it anymore! She’s lost sight of her goals! She might not have even had a goal at all!

As we progress through her Confidant quests, Makoto learns more and more about herself (or at least she does at the beginning and end, before/after you’re done fixing some other chick’s problems). She figures out that she’s been trying to live her sister’s life, right down to thinking about a life in law/prosecution! She’s spent so long in her shadow that she almost became that shadow!

This is what makes Makoto so interesting to me. Her character arc isn’t about achieving some goal. It’s about finding a goal. About leaving her sister’s shadow and forging her own path.

Luckily, she has the perfect route to take.

The Want: In a Father’s Footsteps

There are two people that Makoto admires more than anyone else. The first is Sae, the woman who’s shadow she’s lived in for years. Her second idol, and the far healthier, was her late father.

Whenever Makoto talks about her father, you can practically feel the respect in her words. Her relationship with her sister is one of inadequacy. That with her father, on the other hand, is much healthier. It’s built off of admiration and respect. Unfortunately, with him gone, Makoto had long forgotten it.

Luckily, her time with the Phantom Thieves helped bring that side of her back. After rediscovering herself, Makoto’s goal in life became crystal clear: follow in her father’s footsteps and become a police officer. She learns to forge her own identity, leaving the shadow of her sister behind her.

Now all she has to do is keep a certain little secret to avoid burning her career. But she’s clearly better at that than the others, so she should be fine.

Conclusion

There are a lot of things people love about the Persona games. The combat is simple, yet deep, encouraging a lot of creative tactics that force the player to use every ability at their disposal. The music is amazing, the dialogue is often hilarious, the minigames are often deeply enjoyable, there’s so much in each game to be loved! But for me? It’s always been the characters!

Sure, Persona party members are often formulaic. It doesn’t take a genius to see the shadow of Yosuke in Ryuji, or even the Mitsuru in Makoto (especially in their designs). But they’re all distinct enough to stand out and all plenty lovable! I’ve never loved high school students as much as I did in each Persona game!

Makoto isn’t just my favorite Persona 5 character. I’d go so far as to say she’s my favorite Persona character period! She’s a perfect balance of clumsy and adorable while still being undeniably badass and cool! She feels distinctly human in a way that no other character in this series has, at least for me!

I can only hope they don’t somehow ruin that in Royal. God, that game makes me nervous! Excited, yes! But nervous!

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