Persona 6's protagonist needs to fix the franchise's biggest problem
Main character energy.
The Persona series is all about identity and how people present themselves to the world. Each entry keeps the turn-based dungeons and stat-grinding, but at the heart are the relationships built between people in the form of social links or confidants. The most recent entry in the franchise, Persona 5 Royal, is now available on all modern platforms and has reignited interest in the inevitable Persona 6. But for the series to succeed, it needs to introduce a long-overdue feature and allow players to create their own protagonist.
Carbon copy — While the Persona series started in 1996 as a Shin Megami Tensei spinoff, the modern Persona game of social links and dungeon-crawling began in 2006 with the release of Persona 3. This entry solidified the key gameplay elements that now define the franchise. When it was re-released for the PlayStation Portable, developer Atlus decided a simple port was not enough and added entirely new content.
This has become normal for the franchise. A numbered sequel will be released and then a few years later a “definitive” edition with new content will come out. This is the case with Persona 4 and Persona 4 Golden as well as Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal. But the one addition the P3P added that stands out is the ability to play the game as a female protagonist.
Mechanically and narratively, this meant new social links, new characters to interact with, and new romance paths with male students. Beyond giving returning players a reason to buy the game again, it also changed the relationship between the player and the protagonist, letting you choose how you could be perceived in the world. The female protagonist of Persona 3 is not just a female version of the male protagonist.
She has her own identity, one that represented a large portion of the player base. Yet despite how Persona 3 has largely set the tone for the rest of the franchise, no entry since has allowed fans to play as anything other than the single male protagonist.
The silent but somehow always charming and intriguing new student is generic enough to describe every single protagonist from Persona 3-5. They are all blank slates, not intended to be real characters of their own. Rather they are vessels through which the player can immerse themselves in the relationships of the world.
Choose your own adventure — Again, Persona is about choosing how to interact with the world as an individual. The game encourages you to choose what appeals to you rather than roleplay as a character. What better way is there to fulfill this idea than truly giving players the freedom to design their own protagonist?
By replacing the stock protagonist with a character creator that lets you choose the appearance and gender of your character, Persona 6 would be the most immersive and interesting game in the series so far. It could also lead to many other long-running problems being solved as a side effect.
One of the biggest issues that the Persona series has is its heteronormativity. Something that feels at odds with the themes of identity and breaking out of conformity in the franchise. More than not offering same-sex romance options, the series has a track record of problematic representation of the LGBTQ+ community that feed into stereotypes.
A customizable character could lead to Persona 6 balancing the gender representation of supporting characters, especially romance options so that players can pursue who they would like. This would forgo needing to create two entirely different paths like the female versus male protagonists of Persona 3. If gender restrictions for romance were removed, then relationships wouldn’t focus so much on gender, as the social link would treat the protagonist the same no matter how the player designed them.
The protagonists of Persona are already so close to being completely void of their own identities. They are voiceless dolls for the player to control as they wish, the only thing that gives them an identity of their own is their face, and they don’t even have their own names. The small step to making the next protagonist of Persona customizable is a natural evolution, one that can open up the possibility for the franchise to change for the better.