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July 24, 2017

Persona 5: Waifus All Night (Part 2)

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And now back to our regularly scheduled programming -- featuring Persona 5 waifus.  AND SPOILERS.

So, confession time: I didn’t actually max out all of the Confidant ranks in Persona 5.  I didn’t in P3 or P4, either, so you can consider it an unbroken streak of failures.  More distressingly, I didn’t max out the Confidant ranks of my party members in P5.  I did with Ryuji, Ann, and Makoto, but ran out of time with Yusuke.  That goes double for Haru and Futaba, which is a problem I didn’t know how to surmount at first.  I don’t have P5 on my PS4 right now -- damn that miserable lack of memory space -- and even if I did, I don’t have it in me to sit through another 100 hours of gameplay back-to-back.  That’s not a good spot to be in when A) it means I’m missing a huge chunk of character development for the potential waifus, and B) it means I’m lacking parity for the sake of this series. 

It’s at this point where I feel like I should mention a grievance with the game, but it could just as well be the end result of my ignorance with it.  See, the problem that I ran into pretty consistently was that, in order to continue or even start some Confidant ranks, you need high enough social stats first.  You can’t start Ann’s, for example, until your Kindness is at Level 2.  Fair enough.  But my progress ground to a halt with Yusuke because -- surprise! -- you need to have Level 4 Proficiency in order to unlock the door to Madarame’s old shack.  Level 3 Kindness (and the fact that you’re a party member who put his life on the line to save her) doesn’t mean jack; Futaba can only be talked to as a Confidant by reaching Level 4, and in a stat that’s not-so-easy to grind out.  And Haru?  Gated off by Level 5 Proficiency…which isn’t good for business when you don’t even get to her until the last few in-game months.

For fear of stumbling into spoilers (and because I prefer to play without guides unless necessary), I didn’t learn about ways to boost those social stats until after the fact.  So at the time, when faced with that walled-off content, I didn’t look for ways around it.  I just turned around and walked the other way.

I’m still kind of salty about that -- and the fact that I would’ve reached Rank 10 with two other characters if I had literally one more day -- but I can live with it.  The power of YouTube (and cheating) will guide me the rest of the way.  And beyond that?  Even if I didn’t get their Confidant ranks, the party members are still core parts of the story.  As the Phantom Thieves, they have plenty of opportunities to develop themselves and shape the story in ways that others -- like the myriad NPCs -- can’t. 

So with that in mind, I’m not completely helpless.  I’m going through the Confidant ranks online to double-check and see if I missed anything salient, but I’ve gotten plenty of impressions from the main story.  Given that, two questions need to be answered.  One: how does the latest batch of waifus stand up in the face of scrutiny?  And two: which waifu is my waifu?

The answer to that is blatantly obvious by now, assuming that you read the past few paragraphs.  But we have to start somewhere, and it might as well be with Haru.

Haru Okumura is the last addition to the Phantom Thieves (well, not counting Akechi, but he’s a special little boy).  She’s the daughter of Kunikazu Okumura, the CEO of Okumura Foods -- which, naturally, makes the both of them decisively wealthy.  As one would expect, the father is up to some shady business practices and working with unsavory people to get what he wants -- like the start of a political career -- and he isn’t above subjecting the workers at his command to harsh conditions.  Naturally, the daughter decides that she has to take action.  Having been egged on by overwhelming support from their new wave of fans (or so it seems), the Phantom Thieves move out to reform Okumura, save Haru from an arranged marriage to the resident asshole, and force the evildoers of the world to think twice yet again.

Things don’t go as planned.  Even though the Phantom Thieves pull off another heist, a shadowy interloper offs Shadow Okumura while they make their escape -- which triggers the CEO’s eventual mental shutdown and death.  (I kind of wonder why there was such a delay between the Shadow’s assassination and the person’s termination, but that’s an issue I can look past.)  So it ends up being the Phantom Thieves that are put on blast, forced to lay low as the police start closing in on them and a mysterious rival -- buffered by a malicious cabal -- sets them up for a massive fall.  And as the latest member of the team, Haru has the luxury of dealing with that directly on top of her father’s death.  How does she deal with all of that?

Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…pretty well, all things considered.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s safe to assume that Haru’s torn up over her loss; if I remember right, she takes some time off from school to deal with the fallout, so it’s likely that she did a lot of grieving away from prying eyes.  But once she’s back in the public -- and amongst her friends the Phantom Thieves -- she’s relatively calm and stalwart.  Whenever the subject comes up, she usually goes “I’m okay” or “no, it’s fine” and the gang goes right back to its business.  She doesn’t really do the whole “break down and cry” thing, even though she has every right to.  At most, she’ll just look away despondently for a minute before going right back to her default posture/character portrait.

I get it, but I’m not sure how I feel about it as a whole -- sort of, but I’ll get to that in a minute.  On one hand, it’s pretty obvious what the devs were going for: they wanted to show Haru as stalwart, and resolute, and strong.  Breaking down whenever her late father comes up in conversation (and it does come up, given that he’s revealed to be a part of a big conspiracy) would kill the pacing of most of the game’s dialogue from her intro on.  On the other hand, I feel like -- based purely on her presence in the main story -- Haru has a lot less to work with than the others.  She’s missing something, and time is certainly one of them; it’s been a problem before, given Naoto in P4.

For those unaware -- in which case, I wonder why you’re even here, daring to draw breath -- Naoto Shirogane is the last party member you get in Persona 4.  Given that that game is also beholden to a strict timeline, you’re forbidden from having her in your party until much later in the game -- which means you only have a couple of dungeons to explore with her, fewer chances to synergize her with your party/strategies, and critically, the clock is ticking if you want to max out her Social Link route.  I wonder what P4 would have been like if Naoto joined up earlier, and given P5, I’m hoping that P6 finds a way to give us our full party earlier for maximum enjoyment (assuming that they keep the game on a firm time limit).

With that said, there’s an advantage that Naoto has that Haru doesn’t.  Yes, Naoto doesn’t officially join the Investigation Team until way later -- i.e. after her dungeon that forces her to face her true self.  But before that?  She’s still got a marked presence in the story.  She’s a young detective who’s there as early as Kanji’s dungeon, keeps the team in her crosshairs due to her rightful suspicions, works to solve the mystery behind the murders in Inaba, and even shows up for the infamous King’s Game sequence.  All of that is at a bare-ass minimum.  Meanwhile, Haru might as well not even exist until the Hawaii event, and even then it’s only as a cameo.  Can you see the difference here?

The upside is that once Haru actually becomes a part of the story, she makes a pretty strong first impression as the so-called “Beauty Thief”.  The downside is that after that, she doesn’t have the time or options necessary to get the most out of her character like Ann, Makoto, or Futaba (or the ultra-fabulous husbando Yusuke).  You do get snippets of that character along the way, like having her be secretly into some scary shit and insights that suggest there’s a madman hiding behind that cheery smile -- and super-exposed forehead -- as well as seeing her lash out and seek justice once villains start to run wild.  But is it enough?  Well, yes and no.  Yes in the sense that Haru is plenty enjoyable as a member of the team.  No in the sense that Haru, in the worst case scenario, barely manages to rise above her archetype and perceived affect.

For that reason, I’m inclined to say that maxing out her Confidant route is essential -- because it makes her a better character than she would be without it.

Having seen her Confidant route from start to finish, I’m given new insight into Haru.  Like I said, she takes her father’s death pretty well; when pressed on the subject, she’s the first to declare that she’s fine and that no one should worry about her.  She’s being strong in the face of adversity -- or so it seems on the surface.  But in reality, I think the truth is a bit more dismaying.  It’s not that Haru’s moving past her loss.  It’s that she’s not willing to share the burden of her loss with others.  Simply put, she has serious trust issues.

It’s not like they aren’t justified, though.  Haru is thrust into a leadership role at Okumura Foods that she’s not ready for; as the majority shareholder, she’s responsible for profits, employees, and more.  Furthermore, she has to deal with suits who try and tug her one way or the other, up to and including her arranged fiancé.  She suspects that any one of them is just out to use her to amass wealth.  It’s unclear how many of them tried to manipulate her, but the fact remains that Haru has an inheritance she needs to protect -- and because of it, she builds walls between herself and everyone who knows how to tie a tie.  Who’s her friend, and who’s her enemy?  In Haru-Vision, everyone is her enemy.  Guilty until proven innocent.

It would be fine if she could take care of everything and everyone, herself included.  But she can’t.  Haru notes very plainly that the amount of responsibilities she has is overwhelming for a high schooler, even if she does put up a strong effort for someone who’s lacking in work experience.  It leads to a point where she actually comes within seconds of passing out while tending to her plants on school grounds -- the result of a lack of sleep, for sure, but the overwhelming stress probably didn’t help.  (Or maybe it was anemia?  I had a teacher once who suffered from it after losing her dad, so it’s a real possibility.) 

Ultimately, Haru comes to a conclusion thanks to Joker’s support.  First: she has to have the confidence to stand up for what she believes in, and not act like such a wallflower.  Second: she has to take a stand on an issue -- which in this case means she has to decide on her tarnished company’s new direction.  Third: she has to be willing to trust the people around her; that’s partly made possible by becoming someone worthy of trust -- something accomplished by the previous two points.  So for most of her Confidant route, she’s worried that the executive Takakura is out for financial gain given how much pressure he’s put on her to give up her assets.  But then she actually talks to the guy (with a dedicated plan in tow) and it turns out he’s pretty cool.  Who would’ve guessed?

Like all of the Confidant routes, Haru’s side story adds texture to a character that would’ve been in a direr state without it.  When you think about it, the so-called Beauty Thief makes a lot more sense because of it -- even if it does cast her as something darker than the pure cinnamon bun she acts like in the open.  Save for flashes of indignation, Haru isn’t someone who shares what’s going on in her heart or mind; she’s the polite, well-mannered, well-spoken heiress who always has a smile on her face.  As soothing as it is to have someone like that around, it means that she’s got a gap the size of the Grand Canyon between herself and others -- including the Phantom Thieves, albeit not as much as other people.

It’s thanks to Joker’s efforts that he vaults over that gap.  He helps Haru become more confident, as you’d expect -- but at the same time, he helps her realize that she doesn’t have to hide behind walls and gaps in order to protect herself.  Certainly, she shouldn’t hide behind those defenses, because the alternative is that she collapses under the weight of them (and her social obligations; she only manages to dodge an arranged marriage once she reaches out for help).  She’s forced to face her true self by letting others see her true self.  And because of it, she’s rewarded with…a sultry silhouette grafted to a jewel-encrusted set of skulls?

Man, JRPGs are weird.

I really do wish that Haru had more time and a more marked presence in P5.  With that said, she’s not a total wash in her current state.  The devs gave her enough content and love to wring some serious merit out of her, even if she has a fraction of the time to do so.  Because of that, I won’t fault anyone who claims that she’s their waifu of choice.  Like all of the Confidants -- in the party or otherwise -- she’s a good one to have around.  But Atlus, if by some miracle you’re reading this?  Please, please, please find a way to give us all the party members faster in P6.  I’d really appreciate it, and so would everyone else on the planet.

Although, now that I think about it?  If you do a playthrough that doesn’t max out a Confidant route -- Haru’s in particular -- then does that mean that you’ve walked down the darkest timeline and doomed them to face their struggles by themselves and fail miserably because Joker’s presence hasn’t driven them to have a change of heart?  Am I the worst monster imaginable because my foolishness and laziness potentially doomed Haru to a loveless, likely-abusive marriage?

…I’m done thinking about this already.  Kamen Rider, save me from this nightmarish train of thought!

That’ll do it.  And that’ll do it for this post.  Check back soon for the next waifu in line -- because we’re two down, and have two more to go.

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