Jake Bourke ’22 / Emertainment Monthly Video Game Writer
Persona 5 rocketed to the top of the charts in the North American video game industry when it first launched in the West, becoming the second-highest-rated game of 2017 and winning over fans for its incredible story and intense visuals. It carefully straddles the line between a traditional Japanese manga art-style, and that of a classic 1980s American comic book. To put it blatantly, the game exudes flair.
But there’s another side to the Persona 5 phenomenon that’s worth taking a closer look at – its soundtrack. Composed by Shoji Meguro, performed by the developer’s sound team, and released on iTunes in 2017 with an impressive library of more than 110 songs. The Persona 5 soundtrack takes listeners on a trip back to another era of music, ruled by slick, funky bass lines, driving electric guitars and smooth vocals.
It takes a lot for me to notice and enjoy the soundtrack of a video game. After all, my focus is usually dedicated to the gameplay itself. However, if a game’s score manages to engross me in such a way that I end up buying the entire 110-song album, then the creators have accomplished something extraordinary.
To fully appreciate the music, it helps to understand the game’s backstory, as both the songs and the game’s narrative are never truly separate. The themes in Persona 5 are that of anger, freedom, human nature, rebellion, and vigilantism. The game’s story follows a group of teenagers as they come to realize they live in a toxic, oppressive, and dangerous society where corrupt adults with twisted desires are given positions of power. However, by ripping off their literal masks and embracing their rebellious spirits, these teenagers delve into the hearts of these criminal adults and steal their distorted desires, thereby reforming them into model citizens. Thus, the vigilante group, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, is born.
The soundtrack encapsulates those themes of rebellion. The first track, Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There, has a 1970’s funk/jazz fusion vibe that exudes a restless, determined energy. Jazz and soul vocalist, Lyn Inaizumi, shows off an incredible vocal range, with lyrics perfectly mirroring the sentiments of the Phantom Thieves, subtly showcasing why this group steals the hearts of criminals. It sets not only the tone but also the story and character motivations. Furthermore, this song can be interpreted as a call to action, especially when considering our current political climate. This is evidenced in its fantastic chorus:
Wake up, get up, get out there
Raise your voice against liars
Feed your anger like fire
Why does nobody want change?
Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There serves as the template for the rest of the soundtrack, with many recurring themes sprinkled throughout each song, some showcasing their inner rebel more subtly than others. Even in less pronounced tracks such as My Homie and What’s Going On?, these songs still have an energy that communicates the desire of change, albeit with a much more relaxed and lighthearted tone. However, some songs stray from the soundtrack’s overall theme of rebellion. The most prominent example is Beneath the Mask, where we take a break from the high-energy tempo of previous tracks and are ultimately left with a quieter, thoughtful piece of music.
In Life Will Change, the instrumental continues down the 1970s vibe but takes a turn toward the classic, thumping disco beats made popular by the likes of Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer. Following a simple, yet intense guitar riff punctuated by percussion and bass, the lyrics – once again sung by Inaizumi – emphasize the futility of avoiding justice, like a calling card sent by the Phantom Thieves themselves. The harmony made up of Inaizumi’s vocals, orchestral strings that swell during the chorus, and the intense synth draws you in, and you suddenly find yourself immersed in the story and the setting; that is the power of an excellent soundtrack.
The Persona 5 soundtrack is extensive and diverse, and the band responsible for bringing Meguro’s work to life is as diverse and experimental as the tracks themselves, masterfully combining synthesizers, percussion, electric guitars, bass, strings, and Inaizumi’s vocals to create its eclectic mood. It’s a rarity to find a soundtrack, composed solely for creating a background or setting, that rises to the forefront and can stand alone as a powerful, compelling, and highly entertaining body of music. And with Persona 5 The Royal coming to the West in 2020, I’m eager to see the direction in which this soundtrack goes.