The Issue of the Heart in Persona 5

“Persona 5 offers a comprehensive tour of the changing heart, from a state of temptation, distortion, and idolatry, to one of conviction, humility, and renewal.”

Written by Ayk Iano / Published on February 8, 2018

Human beings are creatures of flawed thoughts, speech, and actions. The Bible instructs us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23), but there are a million ways for us to fail considering the profuse amount of contaminants that permeate our world. Once corruption takes hold, we may also become powerless to turn things around through our own strength. After all, transforming hearts is a divine, mysterious business.

One of the reasons we struggle with change is that the internal workings of the heart are seldom apparent. Sometimes it helps to have a fleshed-out example like Persona 5 that brings light to what is unseen. With its colorful story and expressive mechanics, the game opens up a window into visualizing the existential battles that unfold inside humanity’s core.

"… it is refreshing to be able to conquer foes by eliminating only the rottenness inside people’s hearts"
Set in Tokyo, the story centers on a group of teenage members of the Phantom Thieves, a group striving to reform society. They make use of a mystical phone app that allows them to enter and affect the Metaverse, a dimension of reality manifested by people’s cognition of the world. The most dangerous areas in the Metaverse are sustained by those exhibiting distorted desires. These dark constructions are called Palaces, and their hosts are the primary targets whose hearts must be rehabilitated along the game’s critical path.

The first main mission takes place where the protagonist and his friends attend school. Shujin Academy is nothing special, so for them to have an alumnus returning as an Olympic medallist is a huge deal. Now a PE teacher, Suguru Kamoshida is offered special treatment for what he adds to the reputation of the school, while ever garnering praise and admiration from adults and kids alike. The volleyball team that he coaches is expected to bring much honour to the institution, and therefore he is given free rein on all matters pertaining to the students under his tutelage.

Kamoshida’s pride continues to grow under these circumstances, shaping him into a domineering man of verbal and physical abuse in addition to sexual harassment toward minors. His heart is so corrupted that he remains unfazed even as a young woman on his volleyball team attempts suicide in light of his harassment. And with no teacher caring enough to hold him accountable, it is left to the player to make things right.

In the Metaverse, the school is represented as a castle where Kamoshida rules as King, roaming about in nothing but a crown, robe, and pink underwear. Here, he does whatever he pleases, for the entire realm is his playground of torture and lust. Students appear locked in dungeons and forced to work out using deadly contraptions that push them to complete exhaustion. An attractive girl is seen wearing lingerie and is kept around as a pet, and architectural elements in the environment resemble the female form in suggestive poses.

The figures that inhabit the castle are mere projections, not actual people, but they are honest reflections of how Kamoshida views Shujin Academy. In his Palace, the kids have been made slaves for his glory and pleasure. Looking at these manifestations of Kamoshida’s thoughts, we get a glimpse of what Jesus meant when he proclaimed: “It is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come” (Mark 7:21).

Past the gates of the keep lies a spacious chamber reserved for the purpose of exalting the castle’s ruler. A momentary flash of reality marks the parallel location as none other than the school’s gymnasium. Here, Kamoshida shows off his athletic prowess to the adoration of blind fans and ignorant worshippers. After fighting one of the sentry captains, it is revealed that the success of our mission is contingent on infiltrating the secret room just beyond this unholy place.

The twisted state of Kamoshida’s heart stems from the treasure hidden within the inner sanctum of his Palace. He prioritizes it over everything else—it has consumed his whole identity. In turn, this form of idolatry governs all his cravings and misdeeds, for it is written: “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:21). According to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, true change may only be expected to happen upon the full removal of this snare. Thankfully, a pack of Phantom Thieves is up to the task.

A sick heart is often deceptive; it doesn’t admit to any wrongs. By default, the idol in question exists as nothing more than a faint outline, concealed in a shroud of denial. It is a very crafty defence mechanism since no one can steal away that which is intangible. To bypass such devious trickery, the Phantom Thieves must first shuffle back into physical reality and send out a “calling card” to perturb the target. The cunning students plaster the school’s bulletin boards with scathing declarations of Kamoshida’s crimes to the stir of public scrutiny. Confronted with a sense of impending judgement, his heart is then driven toward conviction, causing the elusive idol to materialise.

It would seem that they have finally secured a clear path to triumph, but the pride of man is unashamedly persistent, and Kamoshida puts up a last stand against any saving influence. Elite patrols are summoned to every room of the castle, as now the king himself watches over the treasure throne out of defiant rage. The battles ahead lead to a tough, yet necessary showdown, but the redemptive victory on the other side encourages the player forward. With videogames being so quick to offer us weapons for killing those who misbehave, it is refreshing to be able to conquer foes by eliminating only the rottenness inside people’s hearts thereby allowing them a second chance.

There’s an old saying that goes, “The heart of the issue is the issue of the heart.” Persona 5 offers a comprehensive tour of the changing heart, from a state of temptation, distortion, and idolatry, to one of conviction, humility, and renewal. Absent of any Phantom Thieves lurking around these parts, I personally find it comforting to know that there has always been divine help readily available from a powerful God who cares enough to say, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26).

About the Author:

Ayk Iano enjoys visiting virtual worlds and returning to tell what lies beyond. He has twice the fun and insight when his wife joins the journey.