Persona 5 Royal developer Atlus once made an announcement about the upcoming English version of the game that had fans of the Japanese role-playing game hopeful and excited. The developers acknowledged in an interview that a controversial scene in the original Persona 5 depicted two of the game’s only gay characters as predators, and that they knew it didn’t go over well with many of the game’s fans.
But they didn’t stop there.
They promised that they were making changes to the dialogue to try and fix the situation in Royal. They wanted a second chance to get this moment in the game right, or at least less offensive, it seemed.
So how well did they do?
The original problem
I put 120 hours into Persona 5 Royal for Polygon’s review, and I paid close attention to the changes made to every aspect of the game. And I’m not sure the revisions to the scene in question make that much of a difference — it’s still an uncomfortable sequence.
In the original Persona 5, a pair of unnamed gay men approach the character Ryuji unprompted during a mandatory in-game visit to Shinjuku. The two men acknowledge Ryuji is young, under the age of consent, but then continue to discuss how attractive they find him. Ryuji is clearly uncomfortable with their advances, and repeatedly tells them he isn’t interested while also trying to make excuses about why he has to leave. It’s clear he was trying to escape a situation that he thought was turning unsafe.
The pair then grab him as the screen fades to black, with Ryuji shouting “lemme go,” confirming the implication that they are dragging him off against his will. It’s a deeply unsettling and unnecessary scene that paints the game’s only two visibly gay men as predators, and the whole situation is played off as a joke. Later in the game, the same pair of men show up on a beach, and once again express their attraction to Ryuji, once again causing Ryuji to express his discomfort.
The new version of the scenes gets rid of one set of problems, but introduces another. I’m not sure Atlus actually improved anything with this update.
How it was ‘fixed’
In Persona 5 Royal, the two gay men are no longer unnamed; they introduce themselves as Angel and Julian (or Julie, if you’re “feeling saucy”). Rather than accosting Ryuji unprompted, the pair now approach him because they saw him walk up to the entrance of Crossroads — a drag and crossdressing bar in Shinjuku — before he decided to walk away without going in. Or, at least, he tried to walk away.
Ryuji decided not to go into the club because he was in his school uniform and, as he points out to Joker in a conversation, would have been kicked out for being underage, but Julian and Angel misread the situation. They assume Ryuji wants to start dressing in drag but doesn’t have the nerve to enter the bar.
“You can’t deny it!” Julian says. “We saw you peeking into Crossroads! Well sweetie, if you’re curious, we’ll help you look DIVINE!”
Ryuji interjects, “Wait, hey, it’s not like that,” but as the player, you have no dialogue options to help get him out of this situation. All your choices sort of just leave Ryuji to his own devices.
Ryuji then screams “gaaaaaah” as the game fades to black.
The scene no longer revolves around the couple pressuring Ryuji into a sexual situation because they are attracted to him, but they do still pressure Ryuj into a situation he isn’t comfortable with, rather than listening to his pleas to be left alone. The implication is that they want to help Ryuji be more comfortable with himself, but the execution of the scene is still troubling.
While Ryuji no longer explicitly says “lemme go,” the scene still implies that the men abduct him to go try on women’s clothing — something he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t feel comfortable doing. They ignore his lack of consent, and overpower him.
The punchline is now “isn’t it funny that these gay men made a boy wear women’s clothes, despite the fact that they were clearly making him uncomfortable,” instead of the previous joke that was based on the punchline of “isn’t the implied implied threat of sexual assault, or even rape, hilarious?”
Is the scene slightly less graphic in its implications? Sure. Does that make it any better of a situation? Not really. The game gains nothing from this joke, and the edited version doesn’t fix the primary problem with the premise: Two older men ignore a teenager’s pleas to be left alone, and force him to do something he doesn’t want to do. The setup is different, but the results are pretty much the same. LGBT people don’t respect your boundaries, the game implies, and will force their desires on your unwilling kids.
And that’s an idea that has caused many people actual pain in the real world.
This isn’t just a problem in fiction
As a trans person whose initial transition was delayed by parents and loved ones assuming that I had been pushed into being trans by pressure from others, I got major vibes from this scene of the persistent fears that LGBT people force their lifestyles on unwilling kids.
When I first came out as trans to my parents, they wanted to know everything about every person I was talking to regarding my transition. Was my therapist gay or trans? Could they be pressuring me into transition because it’s what they thought was right for me, not because I actually wanted it? Did I come out to friends who were LGBT? Did they think it was cool that I had come out as trans? Could trying to fit in with expectations of others have been the cause for me being trans?
My parents were desperately looking around for an LGBT person who had entered my life and tricked me into thinking I was trans, because that would be a solvable situation. It would be easier to address than the reality: that I was actually trans, and had come to that understanding of myself without outside influence.
Those fears are common. I’m not the only LGBT person with a family who assumed that part of my identity was forced upon me. It’s used as a way to discredit someone’s lived experience. It’s used by society to handwave away our fights for rights, because we’re not really suffering; we just want to “seem cool” or “fit in.” It’s used to suggest that LGBT people shouldn’t be around children, and that children shouldn’t be taught LGBT people exist, because it will cause them to be tricked into becoming LGBT themselves.
This scene is the distillation of that fear — the idea that LGBT people will swoop down on your children, and force them to be something they are not. It’s the idea that LGBT individuals are predators, looking for people to brainwash to “our side,” like pawns. It’s not just a failed joke; it’s a situation that seems to justify many people’s fears.
Persona 5 Royal is a fantastic game. You can read my full review here, where I note that the gameplay changes and story additions take an already successful experience and make it even better. These few missteps stand out so much because they take place in a game that gets just about everything else right.