Occasionally, we play a game that embeds itself into our senses as much as our memories. It's hard to explain, but when we deeply enjoy a game, certain sounds, smells, and even tastes can whisk us back to when we were wading through a specific adventure. Sometimes those feelings are accompanied with a touch of disappointment, because you know you're never going to get the chance to play that game for the first time ever again.
To use a personal example: It's been a year since I played Persona 5, but my time with the game comes rushing back to me when I hear composer Shoji Meguro's "rainy day" rendition of Beneath the Mask, the song that greets you when you return to your in-game home base, Café LeBlanc. While the vanilla version of Beneath the Mask is a soothing listen after spending the night infiltrating the garish mental Palaces of Japan's corrupt elite, the rainy-day version of the song really reaches out to me. It takes me back to the warm, humid, and rainy spring I spent playing Persona 5.
As I sit here and think back on Persona 5 in mid-April 2018, I'm keeping half an eye on a weather report that's predicting a massive ice storm for my area. I could really use some of that humid spring weather right now. I wouldn't mind another gaming experience that hits my emotions the way Persona 5 did, either.
I suppose it's easy to look back fondly on Persona 5 because every screenshot I see, every song I hear off its OST, reminds me of how its graphics, themes, and soundtrack compliment each other beautifully. That doesn't mean Persona 5 is perfect. Its translation lacks Persona 4's personality and polish, its dungeons meander at times, and it handles sensitive issues about gender and sexuality with the grace of a 12-year-old who thinks lisping and prancing is a great way to get a laugh out of their classmates.
But Persona 5 is rougher and darker than Persona 4 (which isn't sunshine and lollipops with its murder plot, either), and it makes an impression early on. Its visuals are done up in shades of black and red and are streaked with rebellion: They're a pushback against the adults (or to borrow an oft-used descriptor from the game's token bad boy, Ryuji Sakamoto, "The shitty adults") who've let down Persona 5's teenage cast and are disinterested in their future. Though Persona 5's story is driven first and foremost by Japanese politics, nearly everything that happens in it is relatable to most denizens of the free world.
However, Persona 5 reserves its threatening colors for the teeth-baring moments when the team takes on Palaces and goes head-to-head with the corrupt elite and their literal demons. During the game's downtime, songs like Beneath the Mask remind you of the weight the teens have loaded onto their shoulders—especially Persona 5's protagonist, who I named "Gowan Styx." Though the name was my cheeky way of referencing the protagonist's criminal past (Lord help me, because I just can't help myself), I was immediately struck by how Persona 5 starts on a downcast note: With a kid who's arrested and expelled for trying to do the right thing. You begin the game friendless and on probation—a single misstep away from being expelled for good and sent spiralling into financial oblivion. Your guardian, Sojiro, stuffs you in a dusty attic while complaining ceaselessly about what a pain you are. Like most anime senpais, he softens up gradually, but in the early hours of Persona 5 you can look forward to being locked up in your attic, Harry Potter-style, as soon as school's done.
Interestingly, the rainy season that marks the first couple of months in Persona 5 (and the rainy-day version of Beneath the Mask that accompanies them) somehow softens the melancholy of your uneasy days while also adding melancholy to them. It's a unique feeling no other game's treated me to. I hope I get to feel it again when I play the inevitable Persona 5 "upgrade" for the Nintendo Switch. But I guess I can also come to terms with the realization I experienced a quick, deep flash of emotion that I ought to embrace in my memory because I'm unlikely to ever replicate the environment and mindset I need to re-experience it again. Sigh. Adulthood.
Either way, even though it's been a year since Persona 5's North American launch, I still think of it as a game that divides itself expertly. It serves up harsh, bloody reds when you're on the battlefield, and then tucks you in with soft, gentle greys when it's time to rest. It's a special contrast that's still lodged in my memory, and I wonder how Atlus plans to make that kind of impression with Persona 6.