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Original Article: The Persona series may twist and change in a variety of different ways since it first appeared with Revelations: Persona but one thing that remains constant is The Velvet Room, the place that exists between dreams, and reality.
The small blue room led by an old man with a long nose and his cavalcade of attractive assistants has been there to help Persona’s heroes through each of their journeys, from summoning personas through cards to fusing them together in the later games.
What makes The Velvet Room particularly interesting however is how it fits into the themes of each game, particularly in the three “modern” Persona games. So let’s take a look at each of them and how this little Blue room brings them together.
Persona 3’s Elevator of Doom
Persona 3 revitalized the Persona series with a greater focus on social interactions and more simplified combat. It also saw the first major change in the Velvet Room, having it go from a club that anyone could enter to a special place in the MC’s mind that only they could see. It’s also the first game to give Igor one main assistant in the form of Elizabeth, who would go on to be one of the best characters in Persona 4 Arena.
In this case, the Velvet Room was a large elevator constantly going upwards at a breakneck pace. Persona 3 makes no effort to hide that it is a game about accepting death. It says so right in the opening, and yes, a lot of characters die or experience loss but death is also represented with the elevator. Like life, the elevator just keeps going up until your time eventually runs out.
It’s not super subtle but hey, I didn’t put the connection together until a second playthrough when I was already aware of the greater plot. Overall it’s a nice touch that would serve as a good forebearer for the Velvet Room going forward.
Persona 4’s Limo In The Fog
The Velvet Room changes shape again for Persona 4, this time taking the form of a limousine traveling through a place covered in thick fog.
Fog is a recurring motif throughout Persona 4 associated with ignorance and complacency. The murders that start the plot occur on a fog-filled day, and fog appears throughout the TV world of The Midnight Channel. The villains of the game are also associated with fog wishing to surround the town in it either literally or figuratively.
The main theme of Persona 4 is seeking “The Truth”. This can mean the truth about who committed the serial murders throughout the game but also the truth about yourself. Each character in Persona 4 hides who they really are to conform to what society at large wishes for them like actors playing characters on a TV show. It’s by accepting their shadow, the part of themselves they wish to keep hidden in the fog, that they are able to grow stronger, giving them access to their Persona.
I really like the aesthetic of this Velvet Room, I mean it’s technically not even a room, it’s the back of a car but it has a cool air of mystery and sophistication that fits well with Persona 4.
Persona 5’s Escape From Prison
This brings us to Persona 5 where the velvet room takes its most drastic form yet: a massive prison where our main character, Joker acts as an inmate. The is complete with the two assistants Caroline and Justine acting as abusive prison guards.
What’s most interesting though is that P5’s Velvet Room isn’t just any old prison. It’s Specifically a type of prison called a Panopticon, designed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham.
The general idea of a Panopticon is that it’s a circular structure with the prisoner’s cells lining the outer walls of the building. In the middle, there would be a single tower with a guard. Thanks to the rotund shape of the prison, said guard would be able to see into every cell and ensure good behavior from the inmates. The prisoners have no clue when or if the guard is watching them, encouraging them to be on good behavior at all times.
Many, including Philosopher Michel Foucault (via The Guardian), have pointed out the metaphorical value of the Panopticon as an allegory for the surveillance state: a single unseen watcher monitoring the public in secrecy. That’s pretty much the setup for Persona 5 as well. Joker as a student on parole is constantly monitored by authority figures and other students based on reputation alone. You could argue that he and his friends as Phantom Thieves are able to find the hidden watchers in the Panopticon and drag them out for the public to see. Also, Igor being the guard sitting in the literal center of the prison, let’s just say it’s very fitting.
This is probably my favorite of the three Velvet rooms. The idea of the panopticon provides an interesting level layout and adds to the oppressive tone of the game. In the past, The Velvet Room seemed like the one place you were always 100% safe but its prison structure and intimidating guards now put even that into question.
Welcome To The Velvet Room
Persona isn’t the same without Igor bringing you new Personas in his eerie little blue room. With each new Persona title, it is interesting to see how the Velvet continues to reshape and change to suit the themes of the latest game.
We don’t know when Atlus will get around to making Persona 6 but if you want some clues on what themes and ideas it’ll tackle, look no further than the inside of the Velvet Room.
Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal are available for PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC.