Guys! Help! Persona 5 has consumed my life again! Send a rescue team!
I had wanted to talk about the two new Royal characters the next time I discussed Persona 5. Unfortunately, there are two problems with that. One: they only play a small role in the game for the majority of the game, with only a few new scenes peppered into the original story arcs until the new content. Two: even with me dedicating a good chunk of my quarantine hours to play, I haven’t gotten to the new content yet.
Friendly reminder that these games are long as hell.
So, to turn my addiction into something productive, I’m going to take another look at a classic P5 character. Thankfully, I have no shortage of choices. The cast in this game is phenomenal! Still, I did have to narrow it down to one. And I could think of no better choice for a follow-up to the best girl than the best boy: Ryuji Sakamoto.
Although Mishima made a pretty strong argument. And I have no doubt I’ll get a bunch of Yusuke fans knocking at my door soon enough.
At first glance, Ryuji seems like a pretty typical ruffian kind of character. He’s loud, vulgar, more than a little stupid, but he’s got a big heart. And that’s certainly true and remains so through the whole game. He’s certainly a simple character. But that doesn’t mean he’s not without his depth.
The Wound: MY LEG!!
Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.
If you’ve played this game for more than two hours, you know what this one is. Ryuji was once a member of the track team at Shujin. But when Kamoshida arrived and started harassing the team, his anger started boiling over. Then, when Kamoshida pushed him too far by bringing up his father, he snapped and attacked him.
Predictably, this backfired entirely. Kamoshida broke his leg, using self-defense as an excuse to get away with it. He then used this as fuel to shut down the track team, which turned all of his friends against him. After that, he was ostracized by the entire school and left without a place to belong.
This, as any good character wound should do, is the flame that helped forge Ryuji as we know him. His hot-headed attitude may have been because of his father; but if it was, it was only made hotter. His hatred for corrupt adults was born through this incident. If not for this, he would never have ended up where he is.
Although he definitely needed some help.
The Want: Tear the Castle Down
After the incident with Kamoshida, Ryuji became consumed by anger. He spent every moment of every day filled with hate. He was even aware of it, at least on a subconscious level; without even knowing it, he used this anger as an excuse to push people away.
Luckily for him, there was a certain man who just wouldn’t be pushed away. In fact, he even stood beside him.
His short term goal was simple: make Kamoshida pay. So when he stumbled into the Palace with Joker, it was like a dream come true! A method of taking down the object of his hatred without getting caught? Risks aside, it was a sweet deal! All he had to do was not kill him, which turned out to be easier than he thought!
Still, even with Kamoshida dealt with, Ryuji couldn’t rest easy. There were still too many corrupt adults out there, all of them just as bad as Kamoshida in his mind. That’s why he’s the one to purpose continuing as the Phantom Thieves. Even with Kamoshida gone, he couldn’t move beyond his hatred. Not until everyone like him was properly punished. Surely then he’d feel better, right?
The Lie: A Hero’s Glory
As the game progresses and the Phantom Thieves get bigger and bigger, so too does Ryuji’s ego. He keeps pushing for bigger and bigger targets while hoping for more and more fame. The bigger they get, the further their reach will spread. The greater their reach, the more easily men like Kamoshida can be stopped once and for all.
And then everything completely collapsed.
After Okumura’s Palace (AKA the worst one in the game), the reputation of the Phantom Thieves plummets. Suddenly, the people you’ve spent the entire game wooing over have turned completely against you. Suddenly, you’ve gone from hero to villain.
To coincide with this, Ryuji’s ego comes crashing down too. His aspirations to become a well-known hero suddenly vanish. For the first time, he confronts the reality of his situation as a Phantom Thief. More importantly, he realizes that he himself became consumed by his desires, just like the people he hated the most.
It isn’t fame or glory that will fill the hole in Ryuji’s heart. It’s something so much more simple than that. It isn’t in the future. It’s in his past.
The Need: A Place to Belong
The reason losing the track team hurt Ryuji so badly isn’t that he lost his chance at a scholarship. He lost his place to belong. His friends all turned on him, his coach was fired, he didn’t even have a clubroom to go to anymore. His perpetual anger wasn’t because of Kamoshida; it was because he was suddenly alone.
As you progress through his Confidant questline, Ryuji slowly but surely realizes this. He realizes that his time with Joker and the other Phantom Thieves is exactly what he’s needed this whole time. The loneliness and anger in his heart finally disappear. Even if they berate him for being an idiot basically every hour, they fill the hole in his heart he’s had for so long. He can finally move on.
We see it ourselves. Throughout the Confidant line, we see the track team slowly but surely coming back together. They even offer him a spot back when it’s all said and done! But by then, Ryuji’s grown strong enough to not need them anymore. He’s finally done what he’s always needed to do: move on.
This is what makes Ryuji human. In order to move towards his future, he needs to settle things with the ghosts in his past.
Each member of the Phantom Thieves has their own charm that makes them so lovable. Yusuke is unabashedly weird and passionate. Haru is a sweetheart with a hidden air of menace. They’re each such diverse, well-written characters that it’s easy to see why each one of them has their own collection of fans.
Personally, I’ve always found beauty in simplicity. Complexity isn’t bad by any means; it gives you something to think about. But every now and then, it’s nice to sit down and enjoy something simple. That’s why Ryuji is one of my favorite characters! He’s just complex enough to be interesting while being simple enough to enjoy.
Just like Yosuke before him. Or is he more of a Kanji? Now that I think about it, he’s probably more of a Junpei.
Persona characters are very similar to one another, aren’t they?