Admit That Ryuji Is Joker’s Boyfriend, You Cowards

I’ve always thought it was weird that you can’t romance Ryuji in Persona 5. I mean, I know you can’t romance any of the men in the game, despite the fact that the dialogue is often packed with romantic tension. There are plenty of lines throughout the story that are perfectly conducive to building a relationship with pretty much any of the characters. But no, you can’t romance Ryuji. You, a 16-year-old, can simply romance adults who are over ten years older than you instead – including your teacher.

I romanced Hifumi when I originally played Persona 5 and have chosen not to pursue any of the romance options in any playthrough I’ve done since. I checked out Kasumi’s arc when Royal launched because I was curious, but I wasn’t really sold on that either, because of all the characters in Persona 5, Ryuji just makes the most sense for Joker to be with. Last time I played, I chose to spend time with him in Hawaii, but Yusuke came along too and it ended up just being three dudes talking about dude things. This is because Ryuji, as well as Munehisa Iwai, are pretty much afraid to be seen in public with you in case somebody thinks you’re a couple. 

This sentiment extends to the rest of Persona 5, too. The original game includes an irresponsible and harmful depiction of gay men, who are stereotypically effeminate and flamboyant. What’s more, they behave in a predatory manner towards Joker and Ryuji – again, these are the only openly gay people in the game. Their scenes were changed in Royal, but they were still pretty shitty. It’s strange to think Atlus went to the trouble of changing them instead of just cutting them from the game outright.

For what it’s worth, I’m not just saying this because Ryuji and Joker are affectionate with one another. I’m a straight man who hugs my friends and is more than comfortable with complimenting them. That’s normal and totally platonic, and to imply otherwise is to indulge in some pretty brazen toxic masculinity. But Joker and Ryuji’s relationship is way more complex than that, and I think anybody capable of perceiving the slightest bit of nuance should be able to see exactly why.

In Persona 5 Strikers, Ryuji is, once again, non-romanceable. That being said, his dialogue is – once again! – not always indicative of that. Check it out:

That doesn’t read as very sincere, does it? It’s almost like they wrote an actual line and then substituted one of the adjectives for “hellish” to make it heterosexual. At the very least, it sounds sarcastic.

Maybe I’m making something out of nothing here, but if so, it’s purely because I’ve been retroactively led to believe this due to how often and how openly Strikers acknowledges the exact same thing, over and over again. Later on in the story, Joker, Yusuke, and Ryuji go for a hot bath together. In case you haven’t been to a bathhouse before, people generally strip naked before getting in the water.

“I’ve learned a valuable lesson on this journey,” says Yusuke. “Sometimes, you simply need to enjoy being naked.”

That’s fine. Yusuke is a bit of a free spirit anyway, and his love for wearing yukata might be because he enjoys the breeze. But watch what happens next:

Ryuji is confused by what Yusuke means.

You can address the tension by telling Ryuji, who is naked, that he looks good.

Ryuji, feeling complimented, begins to talk about his abs, before saying… “Wait, what?”

I’m not arguing that this is totally romantic and that the game just doesn’t allow it for some reason. What I mean is, there’s so much room for Ryuji and Joker’s relationship to be developed beyond what it is, should that be what you want to do. These aren’t even romance scenes and they’re funnier, more believable, and have better narrative potential than pretty much any of the actual romance options in Persona 5.

“Oh, you beat me at shogi. Guess we’re in love now.”

“Wow, pretending to be your boyfriend was fun, haha. What if we actually went on a date? Haha… just kidding… unless?”

“We literally have the same guardian.”

Anyway, this scene in Persona 5 Strikers would have been perfect for finally allowing Joker to romance Ryuji. Yusuke is here too, but he doesn’t seem all that bothered about being a third wheel. I’m not sure he truly knows where he is at this point in time.

Ryuji asks if you would rather do this with someone you’re “into.”

Ryuji then immediately ponders about when he’ll meet his “soulmate” – as in, literally immediately. He asks if you’d like to do this with someone you’re into and then asks if he’ll ever find a soulmate, aka you.

He then gets annoyed and asks you to tell him if you ever get a girlfriend. You can promise you will, pretend you already have one, or simply refuse.

“Why!?” asks Ryuji. “I thought we were best buds!”

What was all that soulmate shit then, eh?

If that’s not enough to convince you that there’s a lot of potential here, I’ll leave you with this: a conversation where you can literally say to Ryuji – after going for dinner together – “Now we’re a pair.”

It’s actually ridiculous that Ryuji doesn’t have an official romance arc considering that the entire premise of your relationship with him – even without the arc! – is better than pretty much every other romance option in the game.

But no, Ryuji is just your bud. Your girlfriend is actually someone who has graduated, studied medicine, specialized, done work experience, landed a job as a doctor, been fired, and started her own private clinic in a busy district in Central Tokyo. Which means that you’re a minor and she’s like, what, maybe twice your age, at the very least? Sure.

Next: If Commander Shepard Is In The Next Mass Effect Game, I Will Become The Joker

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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