The Persona series from developer Atlus has built a reputation for stylish art direction combined with themes of fighting oppression. However, the games have also drawn criticism for issues around representing marginalized identities — especially queer experiences. The newest spin-off title Persona 5 Tactica, released on November 17, 2023, makes a small but meaningful gesture to address this troubled history.
In a brief scene enabled by giving players queer romantic options, Tactica validates LGBTQ fans who have longed to see themselves reflected in its coming-of-age stories. While the series still has work to do on sustaining substantive inclusion, this moment offers hope that Persona might win more queer narratives moving forward.
Brief Background on Persona Series and Representation Issues
Since the first Persona in 1996, the games have centered on groups of high schoolers bonding together. With thematic material about finding one’s identity and sense of belonging, fans have connected to the stories and characters.
However, the series has also drawn frustration from queer players. Homophobia and transphobia manifest through insensitive jokes or outright hostile depictions. Same-gender romance options are lacking even as the games explore heterosexual relationships.
This exclusion wears on LGBTQ fans who already face marginalization in their daily lives. The Persona games seem to stand against societal abuse in many areas — except when it comes to affirming queer identities.
A Surprising Scene of Inclusion in New Spin-Off
The latest entry Persona 5 Tactica returns to the cast of the 2017 smash hit Persona 5. Protagonist Joker and his team of rebel vigilantes known as the Phantom Thieves dive back into the Metaverse — a supernatural world where distorted desires take physical form.
This time, the plot involves confronting Marie, a monarch trying to force a town into hosting her ideal wedding. In a scene at the Phantom Thieves’ home base cafe, the party chats lightheartedly about their own dream wedding ideas.
Then Ryuji playfully asks Joker which teammate he would marry. Shockingly, the dialogue options include the male party members rather than only the women.
Emotional Response to Ryuji Romance Option
Choosing Ryuji leads to a moving exchange where he acknowledges a romantic dynamic fans have long perceived. He touchingly refers back to sparks flying between himself and Joker since they first met in Persona 5’s opening.
After years of the series denying or mocking the possibility of queerness, this affirming response felt unbelievable. Instead of derision, players see a sweet visualization of Ryuji in a stylish white tuxedo as Joker’s groom.
The relief stems from finally having an in-game friendship reflects how some fans interpret it — as a powerful but unspoken connection strained by society’s limits on male intimacy. Tactica gives those who identify with Joker and Ryuji’s bond a bit of representation they’ve craved.
Looking Back on Persona’s Troubled History
While this scene represents progress, it exists in tension with Persona’s rocky track record on queer inclusion.
Past games outright lean on homophobia for laughs. Persona 5 notoriously depicts predatory gay men assaulting Ryuji, the same character Tactica now allows as a same-sex romance option.
Though always positioning itself as anti-authoritarian, the Persona series has shown little interest in exploring queer experiences. Even as fans hunger for more inclusive stories, the games continue leaving LGBTQ identity as a blind spot.
What This Moment Symbolizes for Franchise
As small as the Tactica scene may be, it carries significance. After excluding the possibility for so long, Persona finally opened the door just a crack to queer romance.
The inclusion of a Ryuji dating option validates what LGBTQ players have felt simmering beneath the surface of his chemistry with Joker. It signals a path forward for sustaining this momentum.
Of course, one tiny nod cannot resolve Persona’s troubled history — but it inspires cautious optimism. Perhaps soon the queer affection fans imagine for these characters can flourish openly rather than remaining an unspoken subtext.
Lingering Issues With Broader Exclusion
While Tactica makes space for LGBTQ fans on a symbolic level, the Persona series still struggles to incorporate queer identity overall. Same-gender romance stays confined to easter eggs rather than receiving full story integration.
The upcoming release Persona 3 Portable Reload seems positioned to sustain momentum, as the addition of a female protagonist route sparked hopes regarding queer pairings. But until Reload arrives in 2023, Tactica remains the only title with canon queer representation — and even then only in slight degrees.
The Persona games broadly lack meaningful LGBTQ stories compared to their bold stances against other societal problems. Religious corruption, sexual harassment, political conspiracy — these themes enjoy a nuanced spotlight, but complex queer perspectives remain missing.
Call for More Queer Stories in Persona
With a strong thematic core about self-actualization in unjust systems, Persona carries immense potential for resonant queer plots. Plenty of unmined story territory exists around gender identity, sexual orientation sociopolitics, or anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Moreover, fans have demonstrated an enthusiastic appetite for affirming queer content — from praise for Reload’s expanded options to long-running calls across online fan communities.
While Tactica makes a promising gesture, sustained follow-through will prove vital. Persona commands massive cultural cachet, especially in Japan where LGBTQ activism fights for greater social acceptance. More positive representation could amplify that advocacy and satisfy starved audiences.