Persona 5 is a game about Japanese teens, but the game never explains the nuances of Tokyo youth culture. It’s a game about the Japanese government, but never briefs you on the finer points of local politics. But if you ever want to talk about coffee, then hoo boy, does Persona 5 want to break shit down for you.
The game’s story revolves around the Cafe Leblanc, a quaint little Tokyo establishment that specialises in two things: good coffee and good curry. It’s where you spend the game’s calendar year living, but is also home to your in-game guardian Sojiro Sakura, one of the game’s important confidants (formerly known as Social Links).
A bit of a grump, Sojiro eventually warms to your presence, and as the owner of the store you’re living above, soon asks for your help in serving customers and brewing coffee.
Now, like I said above, Persona 5 doesn’t really waste time explaining the details and cultural discrepancies you find yourself in over the course of 100 hours. You’re expected to either already know, or slowly pick up on (through dialogue and cutscenes) how things work in Atlus’ version of Tokyo, whether it be what the music is like or why people are a bit weird about the folks in charge.
Sit down with Sojiro and try to make some coffee, though, and you’re in for a lesson.
At first you’ll be taught the best ways to prepare coffee, but then every time you attempt a brew, you’re given trivia tidbits on the beans being used. Every time. Where they’re from. How best to brew them. What’s best to blend them with. How they taste.
What’s more, beyond the game itself being centred around a cafe, coffee is an important in-game item, one of the few options available to let you replenish your vital SP levels in a Palace. You’re even tested on the coffee bean knowledge Sojiro imparts on you in the game’s crossword puzzles.
The coffee trivia, which is even presented on a brown text prompt, is such a particular and detailed fixation, so out of place with the rest of the game that you can tell right away that this isn’t there to help you play Persona. It’s not even there to help flesh out the character of a guy who runs a coffee house.
No, it seems like it’s there because someone important on the development team was/is so obsessed with coffee that they couldn’t stop it bleeding into the game. Setting a game in a cafe? Fine! Setting a game in a cafe then going bananas telling the player everything they’ll ever need to know about coffee, despite the fact players are never asked to directly apply what they’ve learned via mechanics? That’s not normal.
But it’s great! I love this stuff in video games. Some of my favourite games growing up were the ones where the people making them were so fixated on their interest with something that they couldn’t help cram it into their games, even if they didn’t fit inside the game itself.
Old flight sims that included biographies of fighter pilots, or strategy games like Fields of Glory with its insane inclusion of the entire order of battle for Napoleon’s Waterloo campaign. It’s not just a good way of learning things you might not otherwise have learned, but it’s fun seeing people’s hearts being worn on their sleeves, their passion for the subject matter breaking through the 4th wall.
And while its shoe-horn approach to trivia stands out, the workmanlike nature of Persona’s skill system is actually a really good fit for brewing the perfect cup of coffee. Because I work from home, I got serious about making my own “good” coffee a few years back, and have been experimenting with beans and methods in my french press ever since. I can appreciate that, like in both real life and everything else in Persona, you only learn how to make good coffee after you’ve made a lot of bad coffee, and that it takes a lot of (I’m sorry) grinding to get to where you want to be.
Mastering coffee in Persona doesn’t just give you stats and unlock better brews for your combat recovery, either. It is, again like real life, a social lubricant for the daylight hours (or, in this case, for kids who can’t legally drink booze). The game will frequently slide characters into Le Blanc for a cup of joe and a chat, and even give you opportunities to make coffee for your friends, who will react positively to a good brew.
Maybe the best thing about it, though, is that there’s so much attention paid to every detail of the coffee-making process, from the lighting of the bar to the sound to the animation of steam gently rising that, when coupled with the text descriptions of each bean, you can almost smell the coffee coming out of your TV screen. And it smells good.
None of this matters in a practical sense in the overall context of the game, of course, and it’s possible to go the entire way through Persona 5 without really digging into this, or even noticing it at all. But if you like coffee, or would just like to take a second to appreciate the passion that went into its inclusion in the game, you can do worse things in Persona 5 than hang out with Sojiro and perfect your brew.
Like hang out with Ryuji.