Persona 5 is an excellent game. This statement might as well be a cliche in regard to this game as it’s received nothing short of universal praise ever since it released in September 2016/April 2017. It’s not hard to see why when looking at it from the outside and even less difficult if you’ve had the privilege of playing it. Person 5’s plot is something full of twists and turns that one can’t help but find compelling. Its time-management system, while in some ways annoying, succeeds in keeping the game well-paced and enforcing its kind-of simulation of a student’s life (time isn’t unlimited in the real world, so why would it be for these characters?).
The main cast of characters, while not fully three-dimensional, all feel like real people. You can relate with their struggles, understand their motivations and decisions, genuinely celebrate or feel for them when they succeed or suffer. I could go on and on about how enjoyable it is to explore the personal of the main and side characters; how the battle system manages to stay fresh thanks to a steady drip of new powers, allies and reasons to battle; or just how drop-dead gorgeous the visuals are, but we’re not here for those things. We’re here for the music, specifically “Beneath the Mask,” the song players hear every night in the real world.
A major theme of Persona 5 is concealment, or rather the masks we all wear to get through our daily lives. This isn’t a new or original idea that Persona 5’s makers dreamed up, but it is one that it explores thoroughly. Without failure, every character in the game wears a social mask of some sort. A gym teacher masquerades as a caring and motivated instructor while secretly being an abusive and utterly selfish man. A model student puts on a front of obedience while secretly longing to break free and be her own person. A wealthy girl pretends to happily accept her circumstances but is actually extremely afraid of the future that’s been laid out before her, and so on. The adults (the villains) wear their masks so that they can continue indulging their desires, while the kids play their parts as best they can in order to fit in and avoid drawing attention to themselves. “Under the Mask” directly addresses the need for these masks and the inherent difficulty of trying to always be true to oneself.
The lyrics of the song seem to apply to the player character directly considering his personal circumstances and activities in the game, but it can apply to just about any character in the game. It talks about what these masks allow them, and indeed most people, to do in their lives. It also touches on the price one must pay to use them. Being a “shapeshifter,” as the song puts it, allows a person to get by in just about any situation. It sounds like a great thing to be, but what happens if one spends all their time wearing masks? What happens when time comes to take off the mask and reveal the person beneath? Will you be able to take off your mask? Will there even be anything to see underneath?
Adjusting oneself to their environment is a useful skill, but it’s all too possible to lose sight of one’s true self in the process. This is again seen multiple times in the game as the main cast members are confronted with the lies they’ve been living for the sake of getting by, and it’s only by facing these lies head-on and finally taking off their mask that they’re able to awaken to their powers and fight against their circumstances rather than simply trying to abide within them.
Persona 5 may not be as deep a game as it and many fans want it to be, but in this one case I think there is plenty of depth to delve into. “Beneath the Mask” exemplifies this and brings one of the game’s major themes, perhaps its most important, right to the fore. It confronts players with these questions and asks them to apply them to themselves. This is why “Beneath the Mask” is worth recognition and consideration, even if you never get around to playing the game.
Have you played Persona 5 yet? What did you think of its theme of masks and concealment? Is there another game with a song that poses questions like these to its players?
Lede image is official promotional art for Persona 5.