Persona 5 has been a major success since its release back in September of 2016, selling over 3.2 million in the little-over three years since and earning a staggeringly favorable Metacritic score of 93/100. It did so well, in fact, that its developer Atlus doubled down on the game with the October 2019 Japanese release of Persona 5 Royal, an enhanced version of the game featuring new characters, story segments, enemies and bosses, and more.
Now, Person 5 Royal is coming to western-shores, and Atlus has confirmed that part of the localization process will involve addressing controversial scenes that garnered a bit of criticism in the original title: Several scenes involve Ryuji being harrassed by two flamboyant men in Shinjuku, and later, Ryuji and Joker are chased by them during the beach vacation story sequence.
Senior Project Manager for Persona 5 Royal‘s western localization, Yu Namba, spoke with Gamespot regarding these scenes, acknowledging that the original title portrayed these two men (vaguely named Scruffy Romantic and Beefy Trendsetter, respectively) as predatory. He goes on to comment on fans’ “very strong response” to these scenes and confirming they’ve been altered in Persona 5 Royal.
On our end, it took a lot of effort consulting not just the production department, but talking with our marketing, and how they would feel about it if we changed how things were in Persona 5 to this new way–what would the public reception be, what the company would think, whether it would be okay if we do make the change.Yu Namba, Localization Manager for Person 5 Royal, via Gamespot
When asked by Gamespot exactly how these scenes were changed, Namba had this to say (emphasis is ours):
It’s not a significant change, but I think there’s enough of a change that people who weren’t comfortable going through that part in Persona 5 would feel better this time around. In Royal–I don’t want to say we made it mild–but we made it [as if they’re] being very strong enthusiasts for something they like doing. But it’s not like they’re on the hunt for some young boys or anything.Yu Namba, Localization Manager for Person 5 Royal, via Gamespot
The original scenes had garnered a fair share of criticism from the game’s western audience for making the game’s most prominently gay characters harmfully stereotypical. The characters’ flamboyance and sexual predation of underage boys is posed as the root of the “joke”, leading some to accuse the game’s portrayal of these characters as a homophobic slight.
The Game Manual staff are huge fans of Persona 5, and the Persona series at large. We even voted Persona 5 Royal as one of our most anticipated games of 2020. Your author himself has spent some 360+ hours in Persona 5 over two consecutive playthroughs, earning the PlayStation 4 platinum trophy for the game. Thus, we have high hopes for the upcoming release of P5 Royal, and are naturally critical of any major changes being made to seemingly appease a few, outspoken critics.
That being said, the nature of these changes (which were not included in the demo experience at the game’s recent preview event) seem minimal in scope. They target a very specific grievance with the game that has no overall bearing on the game’s larger plot. We’re happy to see these scenes–originally designed for some comedic relief–have not been removed entirely, and that localization has focused on adapting these scenes in a way that makes them less needlessly-offensive.
Still, we cannot help but question if these are the only scenes in the game that could be viewed as problematic. The entire game, as much Japanese media is wont to be, is laced with romances between teenagers (and, in one case, their adult teacher), and the entire beach scene acts as a bit of “fan service for viewing scantily clad underage girls”–something right at home in any Japanese anime, but quite unfamiliar to those new to the medium.
The question of, “How slippery is this slope?” rears its head in situations like this, highlighting how differences between cultural standards can turn into outright cultural incompatibilities.
Cultural differences have long been an issue in the global gaming market, with some countries (such as China and Australia) requiring major revisions during localization to conform to both local laws and regulations, as well as with cultural and social norms and mores.
We do not see the original scenes in Persona 5 as particularly egregious, and you could easily find hundreds of similar examples in media of all sorts that go largely ignored-or-tolerated, both imported and westernly native. Still, so long as the base quality of the game is not diminished by attempts to further inclusivity, we think Atlus has made the right decision here.
Gamespot isn’t the only outlet that spoke with Atlus regarding these scenes, by the way. IGN got some one-on-one time with Atlus Communications Manager, Ari Advincula, who mirrored most of Namba’s sentiments, but framed them in the context of responding to feedback from “the current generation”. She explained that Persona 5 Royal was “a chance to make it right.”
Persona 5 Royal is scheduled for release March 31, 2020 on PlayStation 4.