VIdea games have often painted Japan in two distinct ways: either in the fantasy of open vistas, samurai and yukata, or in the neon-drenched metropolises of Tokyo. personas 5 for example is placed in a fairly authentic version, for video game standards, of the Japanese capital. If someone wanted to plan activities around Tokyo, they could use personas 5 as inspiration to find not only key locations such as the Shibuya Crossing, the high-end shopping of Ginza or the youthful energy of Harajuku, but also places you might not have considered, such as Inokashira or Asakusa Park and the magnificent Sensō-ji Buddhist temple located there.
The fact is that Japan is a very big country. Like, really big. Bigger than the UK and even bigger than somewhere like Germany, which in my mind is huge for some reason. There’s a lot to see in Japan beyond the lights of the Rainbow Bridge, so much so that planning a trip can be a bit daunting. here’s how Persona 5 Strikers not only helped me better plan my stay in Japan, but re-contextualized my entire experience of it.
In Persona 5 Strikers, the Phantom Thieves have reunited again for summer vacation! However, there are issues when new metaverse-esq “prison” starts popping up across the country. It is therefore up to us to travel across Japan to change hearts and find out who is behind this sinister plot. The Phantom Thieves eventually end up in Sendai, Sapporo, Okinawa, Fukuoka (briefly), Kyoto, Osaka, and Yokohama. Besides Okinawa, which requires a flight or ferry to get there, the rest of these places are easily accessible by Japan’s super-fast Shinkansen train lines.
I live in western Japan. Since the pandemic hit, I have limited my trips mainly to my prefecture. It gave me a deep understanding of where I live, but not much understanding beyond those invisible walls. Now that Japan, at least internally, is loosening its grip on travel restrictions, the north of the country is becoming more accessible to me. Before Persona 5 Strikers, I would have just stayed with Tokyo, not really knowing what was going on above. But when the Phantom Thieves entered Sendai, an area I had only known about because of the Great East Japan earthquake tragedy in 2011, I was suddenly struck with a wanderlust for the city. This is due to the way Persona 5 Strikers introduces these places, through a blend of the tried-and-tested formula of historical context as well as through a new and equally important cultural touchstone: food.
Food, after all, is the foundation of a city or region. In a country of any size, food will vary from north to south, from region to region, from city to city. Persona 5 Strikers does a great job of presenting food to the player in different ways; choreographed social events, purchased battle items, and the games cooking mechanic. Upon entering Sendai, we are taught equal parts of the history of the city and its founder Date Masamune (who is also a key inspiration for the “animated eye patch of power”) alongside the signature dish of the Gyūtan region, a dish made from beef tongue. I was inspired by how the Phantom Thieves loved this dish, something my restricted Western palette would have initially rejected. So when I found myself one summer day in a sushi restaurant at the counter and they were serving Gyūtan nigiri, I jumped in. I would never have raised an eyebrow had it not been for the game presenting it to me as a delicious dish, which it absolutely is.
But The Phantom Thieves Travel Guide not only opened my heart to new places and foods, but also re-contextualized my experience of Japan as a whole. For example, when Ryuji spoke lyrically about Sapporo ramen, I learned that my favorite style of ramen, miso, is the specialty of that region – so now I have to go to Sapporo! Continuing my ramen tangent, when the gang stops in Fukuoka and picks up some tonkotsu ramen, they add pickled mustard to their bowls to add some spice. That’s when I found out what this amazing green thing is called that I always add to my ramen – and now I have to go to Fukuoka! This kind of discovery is invigorating and makes me want to try and learn new and unique things.
Beyond food, Persona 5 Strikers captures the feelings of familiar towns and places well enough for the game to act as a time capsule for my time here as well. Tackling one of the “prison” around Fushimi Inari in Kyoto was a highlight. The game manages to distill the mixture of awe and intimidation felt when confronted by seas of torii gates in a clever and compact way. While browsing Shinsekai in Osaka, I found myself instinctively grabbing kushikatsu knowing full well that I didn’t need any extra health items, just because that’s what I would be doing in Shinsekai (small disclaimer from kushikatsu: NEVER dip your stick in the dip. Don’t do that would be disgusting). The energy and life of the streets, eventually leading to the famous Tsutenkaku Tower and the location of one of the game’s last prisons, makes me want to go back there immediately and experience it again for myself- same.
So when the time comes when life returns to a new normal, use Persona 5 Strikers as a starting point for your trip to Japan. Because through Phantom Thieves’ summer road trip, we discover a video game version of Japan we rarely enjoy. One who recognizes that Japan is a vast, complex, and beautiful place that offers more than kimonos, bright lights, and big cities.
Persona 5 Strikers is available on PC, PS4, PS5 and Nintendo Switch. We recently named Persona 5 Strikers as one of our best games of 2021 – you can check it out to see where it ranked.