Most of the women available for romance in Persona 5 are your fellow high school students. But not all of them.
Taking the role of a kid in his second year of high school—which in Japan would put the player at roughly 16-17 years old—Persona 5 surrounds you with single girls who might befriend you, may become attracted to you and also potentially follow you inside people’s hearts on daring heists to save the world.
This is all normal and expected for a Persona game. Romance isn’t just an option in this series, it is—like Mass Effect—for many fans an endgame in itself, a statement on how you approached your playthrough and the decisions you made. “Oh, you dated her? Well, I kissed her”, etc etc.
Persona 5 is different though. It’s a darker, more mature game, both in its tone—it opens with player being beaten and drugged before leading into some sexual assault allegations—and the company it keeps, with less of an emphasis on your fellow kids and more opportunity to forge relationships with adults.
This includes dating them. And the way you do it is kinda messed up? But also hot. Hot and messed up. It’s complicated, like love often is.
Know that romancing grown women in Persona games is not entirely new. Anyone who has finished Persona 4, for example, will know that it’s implied wink wink nudge nudge say no more that you can fool around with Sayoko Uehara, a local nurse.
But in Persona 5, it is straight up. You can date older women, kiss them, and even (in the game’s own sweet little off-camera way) sleep with them. And when I say “older” I don’t mean older high school students, or college girls, I mean grown-ass professional women.
Let’s meet them.
Easily the worst-dressed character in the entire game, Ohya is a hard-working reporter with a nose for the truth. She’s also an alcoholic, and the majority of your confidant meetings will take place at night, in Tokyo’s red light district, in a bar.
The bulk of your relationship revolves around you exchanging inside information on your supernatural exploits in exchange for positive press in the local paper.
Kawakami is your homeroom teacher at school, and is mostly responsible for your care while you’re at school. She is also, by night, a maid, who offers house-cleaning services up-front, and implies…other services are available as well.
Call her around to your house enough times—in a maid uniform, after hours and alone in your room—and you can develop a relationship with her. Your teacher. Who is also a maid.
The local general practitioner, Takemi is living and working in exile, disgraced by a falling-out with her former employer. She is punk as hell and spends half the game feeding you experimental medicine that has drastic side-effects, sometimes knocking you out for hours at a time and leaving you with no memory of what took place.
These are your adult romance options in Persona 5. Three women at various crisis points in their careers and lows in their personal lives, desperate and lonely and vulnerable. And along come you, the player, a kid with a dangerous rep and a pretty haircut, ready to sit, listen to their problems and offer all the help they need, up to and including stealing the hearts of the men and women who have led to their downfall.
It’s a messy situation for a number of reasons, one that gets you thinking a lot while you’re playing through it—I personally found it a bit uncomfortable, especially when it comes to your teacher—and Persona doesn’t back away from the complexity of the issue. On the one hand, it’s wrong! On the other hand, the doctor is hot.
Functionally, your relationships with these characters are no different than any other in the game. You spend time with them, you listen, you say the right things, you go some places with them, and over time your bonds of friendship will grow. Grow them enough and you’ll be given the opportunity to take things further.
If you head down this path, all three women know what they’re doing with you is not on the level, and all three are reluctant as heck to get sexually involved with a minor. Indeed, they’ll only do so after some extensive soul-searching and conversational probing, during which one “wrong” answer can banish you to the teenage friendzone.
And if they do submit to your charms, it’s hard not to immediately think: what is going on here? This is a high school kid. With a grown-up. And we’re dating, in front of other people. And doin’ it. And while the age difference is significant, there’s a sincere relationship that has developed here, over the course of dozens of hours of playing the game, in which our characters genuinely mean something to each other beyond just a physical rendezvous. There are lot of things to unpack.
Aside from the obvious moral considerations present, especially when it comes to dating your teacher, there are also legal issues! While Japan’s national age of consent laws may seem generous on paper—it’s a common internet myth that anyone 13 or over can have sex—in practice, the country has a myriad of local and prefectural laws that mean in Japan, like any other developed nation, it is against the law for an adult to have sex with a minor.
So technically speaking, and running with the idea that you’re playing as a kid from Japan (a real country) attending a school in Tokyo (a real place), sleeping with these ladies isn’t just an offbeat story direction, it’s a criminal offence.
And yet it’s not, because Persona 5 is not a documentary. You ever wonder why games have those “this is a work of fiction” disclaimers? Here’s a reason: because this game, by not being real, let you have sex with not one, but three women in circumstances which would normally be frowned upon (at best), but which within the confines of this game are considered entirely possible.
Which is why the doctor you can date happens to be a smokin’ hot punk. And why the teacher you can date happens to also moonlight as a maid, that most well-worn of otaku tropes, and who is scruffy by day but cute as a button by night. These aren’t meant to be real, believable characters. They’re avatars, gate-keepers to more powerful abilities and perks, with their roles and personalities designed with one thing in mind: you might be playing as a kid, but not many kids play Persona.