Before I talk about the subject of this post, a spoiler warning: I’ll be talking about the big twist in Persona 5. If you’ve played it, you already know what I mean. If you’ve not, stop reading now unless you don’t care. And if you don’t care, why are you reading this? Now, onto the subject.
There are twists that come completely out of nowhere and are so utterly nonsensical and poorly set up that it’s hard to believe a real person actually wrote them. You know the sort of thing; your Star Ocean 3s, your Mass Effect 3s, your God of War 3s (… there seems to be something about the number 3…).
And then there are twists that are so good in so many ways that I still can’t believe a real person actually wrote them, just for wholly different reasons. Twists are pretty hard to pull off well, and it’s often a case that they’ll present themselves to a writer mid-way through drafting, or at the end, or while editing and polishing, necessitating entire rewrites to incorporate the new ideas.
At the other end of the spectrum you get stories where it’s abundantly clear that the writer had the idea for a twist first, then wrote the narrative around it. For a good (bad?) example of this type, go play Fallout 4. It’s a terrible twist basically everyone saw coming months before release, and is so ineptly handled that I’m not sure how Emil Pagliarulo can even show his face in public after coming up with it.
Anyway, I just wanted to talk a bit about Persona 5’s big twist towards the end of the game, and how it actually managed to take me completely by surprise. The reason for this is both because I wasn’t expecting it (insert Star Wars joke about subverting expectations here), but also because Atlus played with my expectations of Igor himself. Allow me to explain.
The original Japanese voice actor for Igor, Tanonaka Isamu, died in 2010, long before Persona 5 was even announced, though preparatory work on the game would’ve been underway despite Catherine being their current title at the time (released 2011). This left Atlus with a problem; how the hell do we deal with series favourite Igor?
What they did was change his voice actor. Like… totally changed. Gone was his high-pitched old man voice, replaced by a deep and sinister tone. And this is where my expectations were played with. Knowing that the original voice actor had passed away, the new Igor was expected, even if I had a hard time getting accustomed to him.
But accustomed I eventually became, and I settled into this strange new world of deep-voiced Igor. Until the end of the game, when the big reveal happened; this isn’t Igor! Suddenly, reality and fantasy coincided and I realised I’d be totally trolled by Atlus. And it was magnificent.
All the little hints and general weirdness over the course of the game (especially Igor referring to the Velvet Room as his instead of the) now made perfect sense. Igor hadn’t quite felt like himself, the twins dropped a bunch of hints throughout that something odd was up—especially during their Confidant events—and when Igor made his offer at the end, just before real Igor turned up, I was utterly gobsmacked at how masterfully Atlus had pulled this off.
Turns out the Igor I’d be talking to for the whole game was actually the Big Bad. The voice was different not because of the unfortunate real world event—though that was of course the catalyst for the change—but because this wasn’t even the real Igor. I don’t know if this change was reflected in the US dub, I don’t use those if I can at all avoid it, but in the JP one it was beautifully handled.
Messing with not only the character’s perceptions, but those of the player was truly breath-taking, using my knowledge of what had happened in real life to subvert expectations like that. Tanonaka’s voice will be missed, he did a fantastic job with Igor—his lines in P5 used pre-recorded samples from before he passed away—but I also think Persona 5 is a fitting send off for him. That twist was brilliant, and put the icing on an already delicious—if possibly too filling—cake. Bravo, Atlus, well played, you magnificent bastards.