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Show and tell: Subtlety and bluntness in storytelling

February 06, 2018 1 min read

One of the most important rules in storytelling is to show, not tell. Actions speak louder than words because it’s more convincing to see somebody act out a storyline than to have them face the camera and recite every letter of their thought process. Yet Persona 5, which is unanimously acclaimed for its writing, takes the most over-explanatory approach to storytelling I’ve seen out of any GOTY nominee from last year. That’s not to say I believe it shouldn’t be so acclaimed. Heck, it’s easily my favorite RPG from last year, for reasons including that story! But that aspect felt like a head-scratching paradox. What did Persona 5 do to break this rule and still succeed so well?

During my Palace-heisting days, I sometimes felt that the dialogue was hammering every single main plot point into my head, no matter how long ago I already got it. Characters constantly discuss the nature of the Metaverse and its symbolic manifestations of how others view the world. Every plot dump is followed up by a text message recapping that same plot dump. It feels as if the characters take too much time to over-explain things. When at its worst, all of this explaining feels patronizing. I might be nitpicking at a story I love, but it’s enough to make me occasionally lose interest or want to skim text.

Show and tell: Subtlety and bluntness in storytelling screenshot