Following the September 2016 Japanese release of Persona 5, the Atlus-developed JRPG has finally hit North American gaming audiences, and many critics concede that it's something quite special. Though the title has been lauded for its intense and pulpy story and unique aesthetic design, Persona 5 (like any other game) isn't without its faults. In particular, the game doesn't allow the option to choose between a male or a female lead. And, according to the game's designer, offering that choice wouldn't be worth it.
Waypoint journalist Sayem Ahmed recently sat down with Persona 5 director Katsura Hashino for an interview in which the topic of the game's characters, particularly its protagonist, naturally arose. As with some of the series' past installments, the main character is pre-set in Persona 5. Users play as a male exchange student whose mysterious aura and checkered past stir up gossip and a bit of trouble at his new school.
However, one previous franchise addition featured a gender select option. In Persona 3, players could pick a male or a female protagonist to play as. When Ahmed asked Hashino why this isn't the case in Persona 5, Hashino explained that decision to forgo the option for a female lead was made to ensure other in-game elements could be included.
"Every time the development on a new Persona game starts, this subject always comes up at the very beginning," Hashino stated. "When thinking about how much work goes into accomplishing such a feat, it's a huge amount. Honestly, to put that option into the game, we'd have to cut out other things to compensate for the workload, and every time that's the situation we'll basically say, 'It's not worth it.'"
Hashino continued, referencing Persona 3's storyline in connection to a female protagonist in comparison to certain plot and story aspects that are central to recent installments, like Persona 4 and Persona 5.
"With the way that game's world worked, it was okay for the protagonist to be female," Hashino began. "With Persona 4, though, we needed the character to come from a big city to a small country town to be the driving force of the story, and it seemed more natural for a male character to fulfill that role. There are story aspects to this decision, as well."
The characters that players do follow are multi-faceted and crafted to evoke sympathy -- and do include females. Hashino commented that the most important thing for Persona 5 fans to experience is a connection to each of the characters, male of female. "If they have some personal issues, we want all the people who play the game to understand, and help them. To get that real feeling of a personal relation between the player and character," Hashino said.
Persona 5 is by no means insensitive in its approach to various important and serious issues; Ahmed mentions the game takes "great care" in handling tough subjects. That being said, it's understandable that some players may be put off by the missing gender select option despite the game's positive aspects outside of character customization.
Slated to be a worldwide sales juggernaut after selling 1.5 million copies in the U.S. and Europe just a few days after its April 4 release, Persona 5 doesn't appear to be having much trouble attracting new fans. However, Atlus recently alienated gamers with a stern announcement that promised to punish streamers who spoil the game. Hopefully, Persona 5's lack of a female protagonist option won't further push players away.
Persona 5 is out now on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3.