Show and tell: Subtlety and bluntness in storytelling
February 06, 20181 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.