Video games have often painted Japan in one of two distinct ways: either within the fantasy of open vistas, samurai and yukata, or the neon-soaked metropolises of Tokyo. Persona 5 for example sets itself within a pretty authentic, for video game standards, version of the Japanese capital. If someone wanted to plan some activities around Tokyo, they could use Persona 5 as inspiration to not only find key spots such as the crossing in Shibuya, the upmarket shopping of Ginza or the youthful energy of Harajuku but places you might not have considered, like Inokashira Park or Asakusa and the beautiful Sensō-ji Buddhist temple located there.
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The thing is though, Japan is a very big country. Like, really big. Bigger than the U.K and even bigger than somewhere like Germany, which in my mind is massive for some reason. There is a lot to see in Japan beyond the lights of the Rainbow Bridge, so much so that planning a trip can be a little intimidating. Here’s how Persona 5 Strikers has not only helped me better plan my time in Japan but has re-contextualised my whole experience of it.
In Persona 5 Strikers, the Phantom Thieves have reunited once again for summer vacation! However, there is trouble afoot when new metaverse-esq “jails” start appearing across the country. So, it’s our job to road trip up and down Japan to change hearts and discover who is behind this sinister plot. The Phantom Thieves eventually find themselves travelling to Sendai, Sapporo, Okinawa, Fukuoka (briefly), Kyoto, Osaka and Yokohama. Besides Okinawa which requires either a flight or ferry to get to, the rest of these locations are easily accessible by Japan’s lightning-fast Shinkansen railway lines.
I live in Western Japan. Since the pandemic hit, I have restricted my travel to mostly within my prefecture. This has given me an in-depth knowledge of where I live, but not a lot of understanding beyond these invisible walls. Now that Japan is, at least internally, 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 stuck with Tokyo, not really knowing what was happening above it. But when the phantom thieves entered the Sendai an area I was only familiar with because of the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake tragedy, I was suddenly struck with a wanderlust for the city. This is due to how Persona 5 Strikers introduces these locations, through a mixture 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, the food will vary from north to south, region to region, town to town. Persona 5 Strikers does an outstanding job of introducing food to the player throughout in various ways; from choreographed social events, bought battle items and the games cooking mechanic. When entering Sendai, we are taught in equal parts the history of the city and its founder Date Masamune (who is also a key inspiration for the “anime eyepatch of power”) alongside the region’s signature dish Gyūtan, a dish made from beef tongue. The way the Phantom Thieves fawned over this dish, something that my restricted western palette would have initially rejected, inspired me. So, when I found myself in a counter sushi restaurant one summer’s day and they were serving Gyūtan nigiri, I jumped right in. I would never have batted an eye if it weren’t for the game introducing it to me as a delicious dish, which it absolutely is.
But the Phantom Thieves’ travel guide hasn’t just opened my heart to new places and dishes, but has also re-contextualised my experience of Japan as a whole. For example, when Ryuji waxes lyrical about Sapporo ramen, I learned that my favourite style of ramen, miso, is that region’s speciality – so now I have to go to Sapporo! Continuing my ramen tangent, when the gang stop off in Fukuoka and have tonkotsu ramen, they add pickled mustard green to their bowls for that added bit of spice. At that point, I discovered what that amazing green stuff I always add to my ramen was called – and now I have to go to Fukuoka! That kind of discovery is invigorating and makes me relish trying and learning new and unique things.
Beyond the food, Persona 5 Strikers captures the feelings of familiar cities and locations well enough for the game to act as a time capsule for my time here also. Tackling one of the “jails” around Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari was a particular highlight. The game manages to distil the blend of awe and intimidation felt when confronted with seas of torii gates in a smart and compact manner. Walking through Shinsekai in Osaka, I found myself instinctually grabbing kushikatsu with full knowledge of not needing additional health items, just because that’s what I would do in Shinsekai (small kushikatsu disclaimer: NEVER double dip your stick in the dipping sauce. Don’t do it. That would be gross). The energy and life of the street, eventually leading to the famous Tsūtenkaku tower and the location of one of the game’s final jails makes me want to immediately go back and experience it for myself once again.
So, when the time eventually comes where life returns to a new normal, use Persona 5 Strikers as a starting point for your trip to Japan. Because through the Phantom Thieves summer road trip, we get to experience a video game version of Japan we rarely get to enjoy. One that acknowledges that Japan is a vast, complex, beautiful place that offers more than just kimono, 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 give it a look to see where it ranked.