Words by Howi Bakunawa
Obligatory “you’ll never see it coming” reference —
With Joker being in Smash as DLC for almost a year now, the Persona series, a game of once largely niche appeal yet with a loyal and devoted fanbase, has now undoubtedly found its way into the mainstream. More and more people are finding out about Joker, the protagonist of Persona 5, and his exploits with the Phantom Thieves with each passing day and are having their hearts won over as a result. This, of course, is thanks in no small part to the game’s music.
A recent addition in the Super Smash Bros roster, Joker is now in the same game as Sans. What a time to be alive.
Atlus, the developer of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise (of which Persona originally started as a spin-off) has always had a knack for producing immensely catchy tracks for their games. Ever since Persona 3 blessed us with those enduring and immortal words: BABYBABYBABYBABY, Atlus has been going nonstop with track after catchy track in each succeeding installment of the Persona games. Persona 5 represents the latest and greatest attempt at perfection at musical composition in a video game with a soundtrack that, frankly, feels too good to even be real.
I’m a sucker for music in video games. Persona 5 has got me completely hooked on that account with such unforgettable earworms as “Beneath the Mask“, “Life Will Change“, and “Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There“. The game’s stand-out track, however, has to be “Last Surprise“. Starting out with a heart-pounding flourish of strings arranged by Shoji Meguro, the game’s composer, and with lyrics sung by Lyn Inaizumi, the track is catchiness personified.
In the context of the game, “Last Surprise” is Persona 5’s main battle theme. It plays at full volume when the player launches an “All-Out Attack”, a feature that elevates the game’s already fluid combat system and takes it to the level of an elegant, well-choreographed dance. I can’t even begin to explain the satisfaction I feel pressing the △-button and watching Joker and the rest of the Phantom Thieves dart all over the screen as the strings of “Last Surprise” swell to a crescendo.
Just look at the art for Joker’s All-Out-Attack. A stylish victory indeed.
Persona 5 and the Internet
Unlike the music from previous titles, the music from Persona 5 has been accompanied by a series of unforeseen yet propitious consequences due in part to the time of the game’s release. Although all the tracks from the Persona series are catchy to a considerable extent, Persona 5 had one thing going for it that its predecessors did not.
Joker along with the rest of the Phantom Thieves. Persona 5 arrived at a time that brought with it something unexpected that the other games in the series did not.
You have to understand that the previous title, Persona 4, was released in 2008 and it would take nearly a full decade of waiting before Persona 5 would be released worldwide in 2017. Within those 10 years, it would be the rapid and increasing access to the internet that would take the straightforward catchiness of Persona’s music and turn it into something more complex — something viral, shareable, and memeable. Enter the world of Persona 5 memes —
From Joker dabbing on a train in the game’s opening sequence to how Persona 5 menus make everything better, it’s a game that’s perfectly poised to be circulated within the sundry exchanges of internet culture. But if you haven’t already guessed, the memes that interest me the most when it comes to Persona 5 are those that have to do with its music.
The Ubiquity of “Last Surprise”
“Last Surprise” leads the charge in this regard with the “You’ll Never See It Coming” sub-genre of Persona 5 memes. The format is simple as it is effective: the song plays to highlight events with a twist ending, often to humorous effect. It is a song that is surprisingly adept at capturing the turnabout feel of a punchline. It can be applied to any and all contexts — from gift-giving, to self-defense, to my personal favorite: breakdancing at a baseball game.
It’s because of this that the song has transcended the conventions of just being “catchy” or “meme-worthy” to being a shorthand for the humor itself, as is the fate of anything that goes massively-viral. You could quote the phrase “you’ll never see it coming” to anyone with the just barest awareness of Persona 5, and chances are they’ll recognize it as something that’s at least supposed to be funny. It’s become ubiquitous, removed from its original context, and used even almost to the point of over-saturation.
So the question then becomes: Is the meme dead? The answer gets a bit more complex. The meme’s contextual landscape is barren, but so long as Persona 5 remains an excellent game and the songs remain well-written and catchy, then the meme will carry on like a river in dryland or like the last ace in a lost hand. And as more spin-off titles of Persona 5 are released, you can be certain that the memes will evolve; creating new life, creating rivers in the desert.
I know that I can’t wait to hear the soundtrack all over again once Persona 5: The Royal gets its official release in English this March 31, 2020.