Avoiding the Poochie Effect, or why I’m slightly nervous about Persona 5 Royal

Just slightly.  One percent nervous and 99 percent excited, maybe.

I guess this post won’t be of any interest to you if you haven’t already played or were never planning to play Persona 5, but either way, you’ve likely heard that it’s getting an expansion/director’s cut in the form of Persona 5 Royal, to be released next year.  See above for the new trailer released during E3 this week complete with English dubbing.  This is nothing new for the Persona series; Persona 3 and Persona 4 went through the same process.  The results have been good so far: Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden were both excellent games that added to the experience of the originals, and I believe Persona 5 Royal will be just as good.  However, any time a new character is announced to be added to the main cast, there’s a risk that character will fall victim to the Poochie Effect.

I guess I can’t just assume everyone knows what I’m talking about.  Especially if you’re in your early twenties or younger and you don’t remember a time when The Simpsons was funny or relevant.  To find such a time, we have to go back to 1997 and Season 8 of the series (well, Seasons 9 and 10 had their moments too) to the episode “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show”.  This episode is centered around The Itchy & Scratchy Show, an in-universe popular and extremely cartoonishly violent show that I think was meant to be the writers’ take on Tom & Jerry and similar stuff.  The TV executives in charge of the show decide to spice it up with a new character, a talking dog named Poochie, to add to the original ultraviolent cat and mouse duo (of course voiced by Homer, despite Homer being a pretty lousy voice actor.)  However, the audience reaction to Poochie isn’t quite what those executives expected.

Poochie ends up backfiring on the studio so badly that the executives famously axe the character in the following episode by sending him to his “home planet” and saying he died on the way just for good measure.  The audience hated this character so much that they cheer his death, and Itchy & Scratchy immediately wins that audience back as a result.

This Simpsons episode addresses the pitfalls of adding a character to an already established and beloved cast.  Said new character has to prove that they’re just as worthy of the audience’s love as the rest of the cast, so character traits that could be perceived as annoying or obnoxious work against them even more than they would had they been around from the beginning.  Even worse if members of the original cast spend time with and fawn over the newcomer for seemingly no reason other than that they’re a new character who needs screen time.  For a real-life instance of this very thing, look up Scrappy-Doo, Scooby-Doo’s annoying puppy nephew who Hanna-Barbera inserted into the existing cast of Scooby-Doo and who the actual real-life audience hated.  In fact, it seems likely that Poochie is a direct reference to Scrappy-Doo, since that show was airing when some of the Simpsons writers would have been kids.  In any case, the warning is clear: if you’re going to write a new character into your story, make sure they don’t come off like a writer’s pet who only exists to be praised by everyone around them for no reason.

So what’s any of that got to do with the Persona series?  It’s probably obvious at this point that I’m talking about Marie from Persona 4 Golden.  Marie was a completely new character who wasn’t even mentioned in the vanilla version of Persona 4 because she almost certainly didn’t exist at that time, not even as a concept.  Despite first meeting her in Inaba, the town P4 is set in, the protagonist discovers that Marie is actually connected with the Velvet Room, an extra-dimensional space managed by Igor and his assistant Margaret where he can fuse Personas and all that business.  However, Marie isn’t exactly a Velvet Room attendant like Margaret or her siblings.  Her role in Persona 4 Golden is quite different.  I won’t get into what it is exactly, but Marie does figure into one of the side-plots inserted into P4G, and also the protagonist can romance her, because it’s a Persona game and of course he can.

It’s just not worth it, Souji.  Trust me.

While Persona 4 Golden turned out to be a hit – seemingly one of the few on the Vita – Marie was most definitely not a hit.  She’s one of the very few characters in the Persona series who’s outright hated by a lot of fans.  Why?  It could have to do with the fact that she acts like a temperamental teenager throughout most of the game, or that she writes poems of exactly the type a temperamental teenager would write that you’re forced to read every so often when you enter the Velvet Room.  Or that despite her irritating qualities, the members of the Investigation Team who make up the main P4 cast all seem to like her for no real reason, other than that she’s hanging out with the protagonist.

Whatever the case, a lot of fans really disliked Marie.  The only other major character in a Persona game who draws this much ire from the audience is probably Yukari Takeba from Persona 3 because of her haughty attitude, but Yukari is around from the very beginning of Persona 3, while Marie is a newcomer to the cast in Golden.  So Yukari more or less gets a pass, while Marie doesn’t.  The funniest part of all this is that unlike the studio executives in The Simpsons, Atlus hasn’t sent Marie back to her home planet.  She’s appeared in almost every P4 spinoff released since, including Persona Q, Persona Q 2, Persona Arena Ultimax, and Persona 4: Dancing All Night, either as a DLC character or a character in the game proper.  Maybe the Japanese fans who make up the primary market for these games don’t hate Marie at all, or maybe Atlus just doesn’t care.

That brings us to Persona 5 Royal.  Almost all of the buzz surrounding P5R is centered on Kasumi Yoshizawa, the new cast member.  Not much is known about Kasumi aside from what we’ve seen of her in the trailers: that just like Akira, she’s a transfer student to Shujin Academy who has Persona-summoning abilities.  It’s pretty obvious that Kasumi joins the Phantom Thieves at some point in P5R, but what’s not clear is whether she’s a true friend or an enemy planning to betray the group.

She also has a huge appetite.  Just look at that lunch, it’s practically packed in a damn shipping container.

Since this character was made public, she seems to have gotten nothing but love from the fans.  However, since we don’t really know anything about Kasumi’s characterization or her role in the story yet, who’s to say she won’t fall into the same trap Marie did?  Character quirks that would normally be endearing can become irritating under the wrong circumstances, and Marie’s quirks fell into that latter category for a lot of players.  Just like Marie, Kasumi has to convince the player that she’s worthy of joining a beloved cast of characters.  The fact that the fans like her now might turn out to be a moot point.

Hell, this whole post might be moot.  Kasumi looks like she’ll be a cool character.  She seems to be a cheery, spunky kind of girl, and people like that.  Either way, I’ll be preordering Persona 5 Royal.  Because I’m an idiot who will buy anything Atlus puts out, but also because Persona 5 was really good, so the expanded version of P5 has got to be good as well, even if Kasumi ends up falling flat on her face in terms of fan reception.

School counselor Takuto Maruki is also a new character, but because he’s not a cute girl, nobody cares. Sorry, man.

So either Kasumi turns out to be a hated character and this was prophetic, in which case I won’t be happy because I want to like her, or she doesn’t and I just wrote 1,300 words about nothing at all.  This is what happens when I have a sick day and can’t go to work: I drink Robitussin and write nonsense.  Hell, I didn’t even hate Marie that much myself, and I’m sure there were players who liked her.

I’m going back to bed.  You can chalk this one up to a case of delirium.  Do your best to avoid summer colds, everyone.

7 thoughts on “Avoiding the Poochie Effect, or why I’m slightly nervous about Persona 5 Royal

  1. “This is what happens when I have a sick day and can’t go to work: I drink Robitussin and write nonsense.”

    Gave me a laugh that I really needed today, so enjoyed reading all of it.

    As for Persona 5 Royal, I don’t know about Kasumi, but as you said, just determines her role in the story. Where I wasn’t too wild about the inclusion of Marie in Persona 4 Golden, I think she did at least force the hands of the writers in creating something of a more satisfying epilogue for the whole thing. Granted you really didn’t have to introduce one measly character for that end, I think having her around was at least the catalyst they need. Standing by itself, Persona 5 is really a good (and super long game) with great characters, so not sure if having any additional characters will change that. Then again, with the new events that are showing off, like with Persona 4 Golden, I don’t see how it could take away from the experience – just require the writers to try harder than shoehorning a new member in. Also, kudos for the Simpsons reference there!

    • Thanks! The Simpsons was my favorite show when I was a kid, but that feels so long ago now.

      You make a fair point about Marie. I felt P4’s original ending didn’t make a lot of sense, so a fix was called for. And I really don’t think Marie was as bad as some people make her out to be. Now that I think more about it, it must have been the way the writers push Marie on the player that annoyed people. Since Persona 5 Royal seems to be adding an entire extra semester to the game, maybe that will give Kasumi the space she needs to become part of the story organically instead. Or something. Writing isn’t easy, so I can sympathize with these guys.

  2. I had no idea Marie was disliked by some fans. I liked her, but then again I have only played Persona 4 Golden. Perhaps if I had played the original game she would have felt shoehorned to me too. Haven’t been keeping up with Royal. Is this going to be an expansion or the original game with extra content? If it’s the latter I will probably pass. I loved Persona 5, but it’s a long game so I would prefer tackling other titles I haven’t finished over revisiting it.

    • Yeah, Marie gets a lot of hate. I do think the fact that she was a new addition made a big difference, so if you only played Golden, I can see how Marie would seem more like a natural part of the game.

      From what I’d heard, P5 Royal is supposed to be an expansion with new storylines added to the original. I imagine most of the game will be the same, much like the P3 and P4 extended versions. I think I’ll be up for another round by the time P5R is released. Hopefully we don’t have to suffer through more delays.

  3. I’m actually more interested in the new school counselor more than I am the new potential Phantom Thief. That seems to be a component of the story that was really missing last time around.

    I never played Persona 4 Golden, and I didn’t pick up the DLC for Ultimax, so Persona Q was my first exposure to Marie… and I didn’t really enjoy her there. I don’t think it’s really a matter of being new with her. It’s more about just being an irritating character whose redeeming qualities weren’t well-written or explored enough to make her interesting, and, as you mentioned, having the entire group play her up for very little reason. The latter problem, I had with Makoto from Persona 5 as well. That whole ‘tell, don’t show the things they’re supposed to be good at’ thing just burns me. In any case, they could have integrated her better. Either made her less grating or used her grating nature more, so it becomes a story thing and not just a problem nobody ever seems to notice. But, as I said, I don’t really know firsthand how she was in Golden, so I may not know what I’m talking about.

    • I can’t say you’re wrong about how you feel regarding Marie, because I’m sure my own experience with the Persona 4 cast, having played P4 vanilla first, skewed my own view of her. It might have been that I would have disliked her even if she’d been part of the original cast for the reasons you bring up. And though I really liked Makoto from P5 on a purely personal level, I have to admit that it was a bit weird how she stole the spotlight for her genius when it doesn’t come out through the plot so much. Seems like Hifumi (the shogi girl in the church) would be more of a strategic expert.

      And joking aside, the counselor character could be interesting. People have even suggested that he may be a villain in disguise. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

      • *just to clarify – I meant having played P4 vanilla and then Golden. I haven’t played Persona Q, but my understanding is that Marie is only a supporting character in the game, doing that skill card thing she did in Golden that I found completely useless. You really can’t avoid Marie in Golden, though I think it is possible to avoid her big sidequest, but then you miss extra content that was part of the reason Golden was released in the first place.

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