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Persona 5 and the merger of style and substance

Why I Love: Marketer Michal Napora was sold by the Atlus RPG's flashy exterior, but hooked by its substantial heart

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This entry was contributed by Michal Napora, founder of games marketing agency 32-33. Napora also previously served as social media manager for Techland.

A quick preface before I begin. I am a video games marketer. I am the guy that makes hype. For me, it's all about showcasing a game's "features and benefits" and making sure that it gets talked about as much as it can. I want my game to be on your mind constantly before it comes out, and when it does, I want you to go and buy it straight away on day one. And I will keep reminding you of my game with as many stories, beats, and opportunities that I physically and mentally can.

When I look at other games, I analyze what my fellow marketing peeps are "thinking and doing," and I know quite a lot about all the other games that are coming out. It's part of my job. But with Persona 5, it was different. With that game I only knew three things: it's Japanese, it's about high school kids, and it's stylish as hell. And I only saw around 20 seconds of marketing materials before I knew I wanted it.

Is this stylish or what?

So, what was it that made me first fall in love with this game? Well, what made me notice it first was definitely the visual style. The styling and branding of Persona 5 is just... sick. It's a Nike Air Jordan, a Ferrari 458, it's 808s & Heartbreak, and Into the Spider Verse. It just looks and feels "cool." The black, red, and white comic-book-meets-manga aesthetic stands out from anything else that's out in the market. When I first saw it, it caught my eye. And I can't explain this design "x-factor" in words, but it made me feel like I'm about to play the most coolest game ever, without needing to know what it is about. I know, I sound shallow... but it gets deeper.

The looks of Persona 5 drew me in (it was my buying decision factor), but it was the soul of the game that made me fall in love with it. However, it took me a while to get it. At first, the game was "weird" - I had no idea what I was playing.

"It was the most 'real' and emotional story that I've ever encountered in a video game"

In the first two hours of the game I'm seeing Japanese kids running around in an imaginary castle being chased by a man that's only in his underpants. It's not what I expected. And to be completely honest, I felt disappointed. But I kept going, and when I understood what the castle means and what the first story is about, I cracked. I had to put down my controller so that I could grab my head and yell inside of my mind "OMG, this is genius." From there, it kept getting better and better.

I won't go into too much detail about what the game is about. There are a lot of articles, blogs, and videos that talk about the meaning of Persona 5. However, this was the first game that made me realize that games can be a medium to discuss mature and emotionally heavy topics.

The first story that is centered around the high school's PE teacher felt like a personal account of the people that worked on the game. It was the most "real" and emotional story that I've ever encountered in a video game. It also showed me a side of the Japanese culture that I've never imagined existed. To me, no other game comes close to the way Persona 5 handled such mature themes. And the last chapter hits a bit of a societal truth as well, but I'll stay away from spoiler territory. Just play it. Trust me.

Now, games wouldn't be games if they didn't have gameplay. Afterall, that's why we have a controller. The "game" side of Persona 5 is just as unusual as the rest of the package; it's a life simulator plus a dungeon crawler with a layer of turn-based combat. The combat is fun, but not revolutionary. It does what it supposed to do, and it does it well. However, it is the life sim part that made me fall deeper into the game.

Going to school, having a job, seeing friends, getting myself better at life's tasks is what I loved the most. And it also hit me with a bit of a truth: there is a limited number of things that you can do during the day, so make it count. (Also, cats will control your sleeping patterns.) I know that this might sound a bit outrageous, but thanks to Persona 5, I started to take care of my life a little bit better. Because of it, I started to read more books (I always carry one in my backpack when I'm catching public transport), I try to catch up with my friends, and I take my wife more often for dinner dates - and sauna.

Persona 5 hammers home that there are only so many hours in a day

There are a lot more of other things that make me geek-out when I think of Persona 5: its soundtrack is some of the best music you will ever hear ("Last Surprise" is one of my favorite "get hyped" songs of all time), the faithful reproduction of Tokyo, the characters and their relationships, and more. But I guess what makes me love this game so, so much is the fact that I feel like I've discovered a hidden gem. It wasn't sold to me - I found it myself. I didn't get hyped by marketing talk, by trailers, or by reviews. I wasn't part of the hype machine. It was purely "this looks nice and interesting - let me try it." And that made the whole experience even better.

So where does this leave me? Well, looking at my example with Persona 5, all marketing people should be fired - we might even be detrimental to the overall experience (Please don't do that - we still serve a purpose.)

I guess it made me realize that when promoting a game, it's good to leave some things to discover for the players. It's so tempting to showcase as much of the game as possible so you can show people just how much, how big, and how awesome the game is. "Just look at all things you will be able to see, do, and play! OMG this is nuts!!!" But once we showcase everything, bar the ending, there isn't much discovery left for the player - there's no magic and surprise left. And I guess, that's what we play games for - for those moments.

I'm glad I didn't get to see much marketing material for Persona 5, otherwise I feel the experience wouldn't be that great. However, saying all of this, I would love for official English Persona social media accounts to follow. My lord, the amount of things you could do with them - they wouldn't see it coming! I'm geeking out at the mere thought of it!

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