There’s gonna be spoilers about this game (being Persona 5) in this post. So, if that’s important to you, be aware. I’ll be talking mostly about the 4th dungeon and such.
Anyways, so I’ve been really into Persona 5 for a bit now. I know, I know. It came out a while back, and I didn’t quite get on the bandwagon then, but it’s fine. I didn’t have the system or the money needed to play the game when it came out. Also, I didn’t know that the games weren’t super connected to each other, and so I thought I needed to play the series from the first Persona game onward. And I knew that they were games that I would enjoy, because I love JRPGs a whole lot, and so I wanted to make sure that I allotted enough time for them to be fully enjoyed.
So, I’ve already beaten the game, and my NG+ playthrough. Just so you guys know where I am knowledge-wise.
The 4th dungeon, Futaba’s Palace, really hit me hard.
Quick summary in case you forgot, or have no idea what is going on but don’t care about spoilers. Futaba, the adopted daughter of the guy taking care of you, is severely depressed. She has severe PTSD, depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and some have even coded her as Autistic (Which I strongly agree with). She has a lot going on. And, of course, you need her help. Medjed, a “Hacktivist” group, is trying to tear you down and smoke you out. Futaba is a hacker. I think you see where this is going.
She finds you out as a Phantom Thief after bugging Leblanc (the coffee shop you live above), and asks for your help. She wants you to steal her heart. This catches your group off guard, because she seems like a good person, but yet she has a Palace.
She sees her room as her tomb and swears that she is going to die there. She blames herself for her mother’s “Suicide” and thinks this is what she deserves. And so, you enter her heart, which is a giant pyramid, and change her heart.
Synopsis done, check.
This part of the game really shook me when I first played it. And it did just as hard once I reached this part of the game again on my NG+ file.
Every other palace is based off of someone evil, twisted, one who has lost their way and has descended into villainous ways. Even later Palaces after this follow that model, for the most part. The November dungeon slightly changes things, because not yet fully evil, but like, is definitely heading towards the darker parts of grey.
She is a good person the whole time. And you all know it. She is scared and doesn’t know where to go or who to trust. She refuses to so much as open her door or speak to anyone who isn’t Sojiro. But yet, after listening in on your character and his friends help others and be honest and earnest in their desire to help others, she give you all one last shot.
She is so brave. I don’t know if everyone realizes just how scary what she did was.
She wants to die. She has PTSD going crazy and having her worst memories playing on a loop screaming at her how horrible and how vile she is of a person who doesn’t deserve love. How she pretty much should consider herself the cause of her mother’s death, even though it was ruled a suicide and the girl was 12/13 at the time. She was slowly starting to open up to Sojiro and become better, but then the hallucinations started. Hallucinations, by the way, are somewhat commonish to some degree for people with PTSD. And, yes, they often start to come in higher frequency levels when someone is starting to recover or starts to feel safe in their environment.
And yet, despite all of that, she is willing to trust what is pretty much a stranger with a criminal record to help her get out alive. Because she knows that if he can’t do anything, she won’t make it past the month.
Anyways, she’s a good person. She is different from every other palace because of that fact. She isn’t a twisted person trying to extort others or win or anything. Her palace, her corruption, her distortion, is her mental health. It’s about how much she hates herself. It’s about all of the lies and slander and attacks that she’s endured. It’s about how her uncle abused her. It’s about her mother dying in front of her. It’s about a young teenage girl having everything stolen from her in an instant and having nobody help until it’s too late. The only person who tries is the awkward old guy who wanted to date her mom but couldn’t. And even he is afraid to assert himself as a positive role in her life (he doesn't feel he deserves that spot, but he's a whole separate topic).
And yet, all of those outside influences, all of her mental health fun, distort her reality just as much as Kaneshiro or Kamoshida or Madarame. This is reality for a lot of people. It’s reality for me. I’ve recovered a lot, for the most part, but while playing this part of the game, I had a lot of moments where I felt I was back in the worst of my depression, my PTSD, my anxiety. I knew my reality was warped, I just didn’t know how to deal with it. I knew that some of things I was experiencing weren’t entirely real (for the moment), but I knew my body needed me to witness them again for some reason. I chatted with very good friends about reality at that time a few years after the fact, and their very matter of fact accounts of certain events was vastly different than how I remembered them. And I know that was because my cognition at the time was all out of wack and I wasn’t experiencing anything clearly.
Going through her Palace was honestly like fast forwarding through years of therapy.
Breaking down the doors by shining light on them (sometimes forcibly making a way for that to happen)? Holy crap yes. That’s therapy. You gotta shine a light on your problems and deal with them that way, no matter how buried they are.
Having to unjumble the pictures of traumatic situations? Yep. Memories get distorted, especially when they’re so traumatic or emotionally charged. My brain personally erased memories of trauma for a handful of years, leaving me very confused when I would react badly to things because I had no recollection of bad memories. So, I had to sit down and figure out where the memories were missing. And then, when I would start to get them back, I would have to sit down again and figure out what actually happened in them.
Having Shadow Futaba be both the most helpful and the least helpful Shadow all at the same time? Yep. My inner thoughts were both my friend and foe. I wanted to get better, yes. But I was also afraid of change. I was afraid that if I changed things, even if I meant for it to get better, it would actually get worse somehow. I wanted to reach out to my friends, but my brain told me that they’d all leave me. I would reach out, and then not tell them anything because I’d get scared after I made all the plans and everything. I was the only person I thought I could fully trust, and I was my own worst enemy.
Futaba wants to get better. She does. Her Shadow does too. But, giving up that strange comfort that is depression and trauma is hard. Luckily, she puts her faith in the people who don’t give up, and so she is able to get the help she needs and stand up again on her own.
I have to admit, the first time I saw the end of this Palace, I wanted to cry a little. Good cry.
Futaba, being forced down the path of healing by the Phantom Thieves, emerges victorious. The entire Palace, every single room, is a stage of healing. And, you get to be there for her during it in the most intimate of ways. Every thing in that Palace is a metaphor or symbol for her healing journey. At the end of it, Futaba enters her own Palace and confronts her own demons. And, she leaves victorious.
Due to your help, she accepts her memories, she works her way through grief, she internalizes what is reality versus her cognition, and then she destroys the monstrous cognition of her mother. Her mother, towering above her, screaming falsehoods, being the Sphinx that “guards” her tomb, the final cognition - the final boss - for her to overcome become she can call herself healed. In order to defeat this staggering foe, this cognition of the person she loves the most and of whom she is the most afraid, she has to face them memories that the Thieves have caused to come to light, and accept the truth that is in them: she did not kill her mother, but her mother was indeed killed - and Futaba was blamed for it so they could get away with it.
Finding out the truth, she refuses to be in the dark ever again and awakens to her own Persona, Necronomicon. In order to awaken to a Persona, one must look at their darkness - their shadow - and accept it. In that moment, she accepts her past, she accepts her trauma, she accepts her pain, and lets it be part of her again rather than a separate, false entity. And then she is able to move forward with her life.
She actually, to be honest, gains her Persona in a way similar to that of Persona 4, the previous game. The rest of the Phantom Thieves accept their true selves by seeing through the mask that Society has given them, and therefore when they 'unmask' themselves, they are actually allowing their true self to shine through. Futaba, however, doesn't do that. She doesn't take off her mask. Her goggles stay on the whole time. She demands to always know the truth. And she was granted the power to do that by facing her darkness on headfirst and accepting it. The rest of the Thieves gain their powers by accepting that they are not what they've always been told. And, by finally accepting that they are no longer whatever box they were put in, they can actually see themselves for themselves and fight back. Futaba, who doesn't have a place in society, as she's removed herself from it, instead has to fight her own perception of herself and see her true self.
The intense emotional arc that Futaba has throughout her Palace doesn’t end when her dungeon ends. While the climax of her arc may be when she is able to accept her Shadow and her Palace is destroyed, there is still more to come. She then has to learn how to be a person again.
The next week in the game is spent hanging out with her each day. You have to help her learn how to communicate, how to be around people, how to survive crowds. You help her refind herself. She may have overcome (via supernatural causes that accelerated her healing tenfold) the worst of her problems, but they aren’t fully gone. What was caused by a messed up perception of the world? Yeah, that’s fine and has been healed. What was caused by being separated from people for so long and a lack of knowledge? That isn’t magically being erased.
Even after that week, she isn’t 100% okay. And she never is. And I love that. Her whole confidant arc (the friendship hangouts you can have throughout the rest of the game) is you spending time with her and helping her to face each of her major everyday fears until she feels like she can go outside without help. But even after you finish that, she still isn’t okay. She sometimes has slight regressions, she sometimes shuts down, she sometimes lashes out. And that’s amazing.
When someone is healing, it doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t a miraculous change. Two steps forward, one step back. And that’s what Futaba is doing. While she’s actively trying to keep going forward, she still stumbles from time to time. She still gets freaked out by loud noises. She still hides behind you when someone suddenly pops up. She’s recovering in a very legitimate and very common way. And I love that they decided to show that. It touched me very deeply.
Futaba is one of my favorite people in Persona 5 because she spoke so dearly to me and my personal battle with mental health. I wish so much that I would have been able to have a change of heart like she did, I know it would have saved me years of fighting. But I am glad that they were able to show to the world that good people have skewed perceptions and need help to see the world correctly too.
And to think, the person who introduced me to the game told me that they hated Futaba’s Palace the most. Meanwhile, I find it to be the greatest one in the game. Funny how things turn out.