This story contains spoilers for Persona 5.
Futaba Sakura was in middle school when her mother died. In a sudden state of emotional instability, Wakaba threw herself into traffic while her daughter watched from the sidewalk. Futaba blamed herself, claiming that she was a burden on Wakaba’s busy life. An apparent suicide note confirming those suspicions accelerated an already rapid descent into depression. Futaba shut herself off from the world, ceased all but the most basic communication, and resigned herself to a life of solitude and isolation.
Some years into her stupor, Futaba learned of a group that had the power to change hearts. Sensing an epiphany, she reached out to the Phantom Thieves and requested their help in healing her broken psyche. She did this knowing that she would be exposing her innermost secrets and thoughts, which was something with which Futaba was not at all comfortable. But her instincts told her that there was something there, a connection between the Phantom Thieves and Wakaba that might free her from the guilt over her mother’s death. It turns out that Futaba was right.
After changing Futaba’s heart, the Phantom Thieves discovered that Wakaba had not killed herself, but instead had been cognitively compelled to do so by someone with the same powers as the Thieves. The suicide note was also a forgery, a red herring that used Futaba as a scapegoat. A greater mystery had been unveiled, but before it could be investigated, there was still the matter of rehabilitation, a reintegration into society, a page turned in the tragic tale of Futaba Sakura.
Persona 5 is a game rife with emotion. Each major story arc presents players with impressively-written characters and themes other RPGs are afraid to touch, and Futaba Sakura’s arc is the best the game has to offer. Her’s is the story of a broken spirit and her desperate search to heal it, which is the inverse of what the heroes are doing up until that point in the story.
Until Futaba, each of the Thieves’ targets had been criminals, terrible people that deserved prison, guilt and justice. Instead of stealing targeting Futaba, however, Futaba herself reaches out to the Thieves and asks to have her heart stolen. In terms of the macro it’s an impressive twist, but looking at the character’s motivations reveals the tragedy behind her actions. This is a person so desperate to feel something other than crippling depression and agoraphobia that she would have someone literally change her entire personality.
Futaba’s re-entry into public life is filled with several small moments that help flesh out the game’s themes of friendship and family. The Thieves’ desire to help her gain her confidence back is absolutely touching, and watching her interact with the rest of the party is equal parts hilarious and heartfelt. The best moments, however, are between the game’s main character, Futaba and Sojiro, her surrogate father. The quiet moments where they share a coffee or light fireworks outside the shop ooze with charm.
Futaba’s arc is also the first time players get a sense of the scope of the game’s true antagonists. Pitting the Phantom Thieves against an enemy with the same power is an impressive mid-game twist, and that Wakaba had been researching that power means that Futaba’s story is intrinsically tied to the larger plot. This is unlike the first three arcs where the targets were seemingly independent of one-another.
Filled with joy and despair, mystery and intrigue, Futaba’s story is a reminder that RPGs need not adhere to tired plots of high fantasy. There is room in the genre for stories based in reality, and Persona 5 tackles its story with extreme confidence. Because of the very real themes of depression and hope, Futaba Sakura is not only the strongest character in Persona 5, she is also one of the most fully-realized and fleshed out characters in all of RPGs.