Yakuza 0 is my favourite game in the series thanks to its stellar use of a very specific time period. Kazuma Kiryu isn’t a young man in the mainline entries, having served several prison sentences and grown into a hardened and respected member of his crime family thanks to decades of hard work and perseverance. Yet before all this, he was a lowly debt collector working alongside his fellow brother Akira Nishikiyama to make ends meet. His life revolved around loyalty and bloodshed, even if it meant taking the fall for those who never once cared for him. This prequel retroactively made all past and future games far stronger.
Knowing this, why exactly haven’t more long-running RPGs jumped into the past to redefine themselves? Ones that draw heavily from the real world would especially benefit from a makeover of outdated style, groovy hairstyles, and charming technology. Yakuza 0 had to reimagine existing mechanics and staples to accommodate a new time period, since cell phones and modern arcade games weren’t exactly commonplace four decades ago. This risk paid off, resulting in an authentic depiction of a time and place none of us had ever experienced before, and all through a familiar perspective and a fresh narrative.
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Persona and Yakuza are kindred spirits. Both began as niche properties with few releases outside Japan, most of which were subject to delays and alterations. Over time their respective audiences grew larger, to the point where both became genre flagships in a market saturated by copycat triple-A blockbusters. I grew up with both, and to see them achieve this level of popularity and begin to explore once untapped waters is so exciting, even if the final destination fills me with trepidation. Persona’s next step remains unclear.
Since its inception, the series has made a name for itself by questioning public authority and dissecting the eras in which they exist. Persona 3 took place before the global adoption of smartphones and social media, its characters communicating through voice calls and email. This space in time was reflected in the apathy its cast felt as teenage outcasts, resorting to shooting themselves in the head to summon demons and confront a near constant fear of death on the periphery. Persona 4 taking us to the rural town of Inaba only further exemplified this distance away from the status quo. Its dungeons were accessed by jumping through a massive television in a local supermarket instead of opening an app or waiting for the clock to strike midnight, effectively setting itself apart from all that came before.
Persona 5 is a nihilistic pilgrimage into millennial apathy, your smartphone a core mode of travel, communication, and piecing together parts of the story. Without it, you’d be nothing, and the game highlights how society is dependent on technology and would likely be lost without it. Despite its lightweight social inclusivity and weird attitude toward its female characters, rarely has a game ever felt so current in its intentions. After all this progress, I want nothing more than for Atlus to turn this evolution on its head and hurl us back into the past. Give us a picture of youth that we’ve long left behind, or never knew in the first place.
Its signature style would soar in the 1980s, taking inspiration from anime aesthetics of the time and fashion choices that have long faded to memory. Not only would this be a good challenge for the studio, but an almost educational departure for a series that has always kept up with the times. Turning back the clock through a spin-off or entry would not only toy with this progress, but force it to become far more creative and introspective with characters that not only reflect the time period they occupy, but also our modern world. With any luck it will abandon tired anime archetypes like going out with stepsisters and alcoholic teachers.
To have the same impact as Yakuza 0 it would need to follow characters and locations we already know, but for Persona I don’t think that’s entirely necessary. Despite almost every game in the series following new characters – not counting the dancing ones – all of them exist on the same plane of existence, references often made to past events or excursions into the metaverse experienced by other characters. It’s a reflection of the real world, which means there is realistically nothing stopping it from tip-toeing through history and viewing it all from a new perspective. Would it work? Who knows, but the potential of exploring Tokyo so far removed from its current depiction is incredible, and it’s hard to believe Persona has never ventured there before. Now it just needs a cool name to set it apart too.