Persona 5: The Heroes and Legends of the Strength Arcana

Persona 5: The Heroes and Legends of the Strength Arcana

The Strength arcana, which depicts a beautiful woman holding a savage beast—typically a lion—is another member of the major tarot that is easily misread. Strength does not refer to physical might, but rather, kindness, nuance, and gentleness overcoming adversity or danger. It can also refer to pent up emotional energy waiting to be productively channeled or unleashed. And the way Persona 5 conveys this dynamic is through Joker’s relationship with the twin wardens, Caroline and Justine.

Though the wardens give Joker difficult fusion assignments in both Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal, effectively expressing creative growth, most of the characterization with the characters occurs during field trips with the twins to notable locales throughout Tokyo.  While they often are initially hostile on these outings, they usually come to see the appeal of the area after Joker provides context (humorous or sincere) about what the place represents to humanity.

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Even though Strength does not represent might—that’s the purview of the Chariot arcana—personas within the strength arcana are anything but gentle, and tend to have a high physical attack stat. Unlike the Justice Arcana, which is entirely comprised of Judeo-Christian angels, the unifying features of the arcana’s folklore are fairly subtle. One common feature the personas share, however, is that they are all noble at heart, demonstrating honor, altruism, or other virtues of good character.

Rather than a specific entity, “Valkyrie” is more like a supernatural rank in Norse mythology. The title is taken from the Old Norse word “valkyrja” meaning “chooser of the slain.” As detailed in Square Enix’s largely-forgotten RPG series, Valkyrie Profile, these warrior maidens are responsible for recruiting the ghosts of virtuous fallen warriors to the Halls of Valhalla under Odin’s rule. As such, they are peerless judges of character. A lesser known duty of the Valkyrie is that they serve mead to the ghosts of the fallen warriors (einherjar) when not seeing to their recruitment duties, or preparing for the final battle of Ragnarok.

These divine, warrior barmaids are often the love interests of heroes in folklore, and associated with swans and horses, like the one seen in the persona’s character model. This is because both animals are extremely beautiful and strong, much like the Valkyrie themselves who are powerful warriors with supernatural powers. In fact, several Old English words meaning “sorceress” or “witch” stem from Norse words that may have at one time referred to Valkyries. They are often seen accompanied by ravens, who also serve Odin.

Certain folklore states that Valkyrie go to war in the nude, and there are many classical depictions portraying them as such. Ironically, Valkyrie is almost surprisingly modest given some of Persona 5’s more risque and outlandish character models.

The sword-wielding, vaguely Planet of the Apeslooking persona, Hanuman, is an even higher-level Strength persona than Valkyrie. A Hindu deity, Hanuman is most famous for his role in the epic poem, The Ramayana, where he assists the noble Prince Rama in recovering his lover, Sita, from the evil Ravana. A member of the Vanara, or forest dwelling peoples, Hanuman is the leader of an army of monkeys and plays a crucial role in part in defeating Ravana, the king of demons and his forces of evil.

Interestingly, there is little archeological or textual evidence of people directly worshiping Hanuman in ancient times. But when Islamic rule first arrived in the Indian subcontinent, representations of Hanuman were employed as a symbol of Indian nationalism, and militant resistance against foreign influence. In modern times, Hanuman straddles the position of a folk-hero, theological entity, and even pop cultural fixture. There is even evidence that Hanuman may have been the inspiration for Sun Wukong, a popular character from the Chinese epic, Journey to the West, who in turn serves as the basis for Dragon Ball‘s Son Goku, and countless video game incarnations.

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Like the beautiful, delicate-looking Valkyries, Hanuman is an ideal representative of the Strength arcana because he is more than what he appears. Even though his appearance as a beast-like ape-man is fierce and fearsome, Hanuman is a compassionate, virtuous, and intensely loyal retainer to prince Rama. And in addition to commanding an army of battle-hardened monkeys, Hanuman has a host of supernatural powers, including super-human strength, the ability to transform into anything, and flight.

Zaou-Gongen is the most powerful Strength Persona, and a member of the Gongen, a group of fascinating Japanese deities that are the result of Buddhist and Shinto syncretism, or the merging of two disparate religious systems into one unified faith. This sect of Shinto belief, known as Shugendo and practiced by ascetic buddhist warrior monks, originated in Heian-era Japan in the 7th century. Zaou-Gongen is the Shinto expression or incarnation of three different Buddhist entities: the historical Buddha, Kannon Bodhisattva, and the Miroku Buddha. These entities respectively serve as the Buddhas of the past, present, and future.

Also known as Kongou Zaou Bosatsu, Zaou-Gongen is a mountain deity who serves as the sworn protector of Mt. Kimpusen in Japan’s Nara prefecture. He is especially venerated in the mountain range that stretches from the northern Yoshino area in the Nara prefecture to the southern area of Kumano in the Mie prefecture, but statues devoted to the deity can be found in mountain shrines throughout Japan and the Kansai region in particular.

Atlus’ reasons for selecting Zaou-Gongen as the ultimate Strength persona are less clear than some of the members of the arcana. But Zaou-Gongen is the most powerful mountain guardian of the syncretic Shugendo faith, which followed precepts of ascetism. In terms of deeds, Zaou-Gongen is most famous for protecting Emperor Tenmu, the 40th Emperor of Japan, from enemy soldiers as described in the Noh play, Kuze Noh.

Like many ultimate tier personas, Zaou-Gongen is tricky to fuse, and players looking to obtain his mask should consult a Persona 5 fusion guide to make the process as easy as possible.

Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal are available now for PlayStation 4.

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