Everyone comes into media with expectations. Its unavoidable. Even more so when its a new entry in a popular series. These expectations may be fulfilled, or they may fall flat on their face, but generally that is only on the audience itself. Sometimes, however, a work is seemingly aware of these expectations, going out of its way to give the audience what they want, or purposefully give them what they don’t. It is the rare work, however, that integrates these expectations into its own text, and using them to surprise the audience in ways otherwise impossible.
Persona 5, the long-awaited and quite well received newest entry in its series is one of those works. What did it do? Well, if you’ve played it you probably know, but if you don’t or don’t ever plan on playing it, lets talk about it. Major spoilers, of course, after the jump!
The Persona games all feature a location named the “Velvet Room”. It has taken on many forms during the series, but it always serves as the place for the protagonist to gain inscrutable advice and to manage their “Personas” the mysterious monsters/shadows/aspects of the soul that give the series its name. Presiding over the Velvet Room is one Igor. A somewhat evil-looking man with a long hooked nose and distinctive voice. With him is an assistant or assistant, varying from game to game.
All of these were expected to return in Persona 5, and lo, they did. Sadly, however, Igor’s Japanese voice actor, Tanonaka Isamu, died in 2010, years before Persona 5 came out. During this period the character of Igor appeared in various Persona 4 spinoffs and remakes, but only using archived audio, so no new lines were possible. Clearly this would be nearly impossible to continue with an entirely new game. So, not unexpectedly, Igor was recast. Now voiced by Tsukayama Masane, with what could very mildly be described as a different take on the character’s voice.
Fair enough though. The original voice was incredibly idiosyncratic, and finding someone who could replicate it was probably impossible. So might as well go for someone who can do their own take on the character, even if it is a big change. So the change went by, not without comment, but without much extra thought beyond the realities of what happens when a role is taken over by a new actor. Some people liked it, some didn’t, many didn’t have a strong opinion either way.
So after playing the game for a bit and getting used to the new voice, most people put it out of their mind. However, that was all part of the plan. Very late in the game, you are brought back to the Velvet Room, with all hope seeming lost. It is then you discover a truth that has been hiding in plain sight for the previous nearly 100 hours of playtime. Igor, the Igor you’ve gone to for advice. To fuse your Persona, who has encouraged you to keep going when all seems lost…is not Igor.
The man you knew as “Igor” is an imposter. He sealed away the true Igor, and split the current attendant, Lavenza, in two. Her remnants, the amnesiac twins Caroline and Justine, providing the key to discovering this truth. This false Igor turns out to be Yaldabaoth, the true villain and final boss of the game. With his secret revealed, the false Igor leaves, and the true Igor returns, voice and all.
Why is this twist so amazing? Well, because it relies on the audience’s meta-knowledge of what happened with Igor’s voice actor. If Igor’s voice had changed for no good reason, everyone who was a returning player would have smelled a rat and gotten suspicious. But since the voice change was expected, it was disregarded as not relevant to the game itself. Making the revelation that much better. It also violated the idea of the Velvet Room being a sanctuary, a place set aside from the main plot and conflict.
Persona 5 did several interesting things with its narrative structure, but this was probably the coolest. Using a situation in the “real” world to hide a twist inside its story. No one who plays Persona 5 will take a change in character voice in stride anymore.