Having just recently 100%ed Cyberpunk 2077, I was particularly impressed by the attention to detail the developers have put into its world-building and narrative. Of particular note to me was the extensive use of spiritual symbolism throughout the game, from the obvious Christian and Buddhist messages of Joshua Stephenson and the Zen Master's respective storylines, to the more obscure things like the use of Tarot by Jackie's girlfriend Misty. It is the latter that I would like to examine in-depth below. Obviously, this essay will spoil the entire plot of the game, so do not continue reading unless you are okay with that.
Misty's Tarot Readings
The player's likely first encounter with Tarot motifs in the game is a reading Misty can give them as early as Act I, after "The Ride" job. While playing, I have noticed that her readings update every so often (presumably based on V's chosen life path and which primary jobs they have most recently completed) and that these readings contain clear foreshadowing of the rest of the main storyline. However, I currently do not have a comprehensive overview of all possible variations, so I will update this post with my analysis if it becomes available.
For now, I will just observe that despite Misty obviously using a full Tarot deck of 78 cards, she only ever seems to draw the 22 Major Arcana when reading for V. This can be chucked to the developers not expecting most players to know the significance of the Minor Arcana, or may be a deliberate storytelling decision to indicate the V's destiny is so special, it can only be expressed with Major ones.
From Act II onward, V discovers holographic murals of stylized Major Arcana scattered across Night City. Scanning any one of them initiates the "Fool on the Hill" side job, which requires them to scan the remaining 19. Speaking with Misty upon completing the job reveals that the two missing cards, The Devil and Judgement, presumably lie in V's future, and indeed, they can only be discovered during the final sequence of missions. However, most of the 20 Arcana found in the open world tend to crop up in locations relevant to the main plot, even before the corresponding events occur in the current playthrough.
Since I couldn't find any in-depth analyses of this correlation on the net so far, I've decided to make my own compilation and to provide a personal interpretation for each Arcanum and for how it relates to the plot. I admit that I am not a trained card reader and that I only have basic knowledge of the Tarot tradition, so I will primarily work with the meanings given to each Arcanum by the game itself in the inventory menu (Shards > Tarot).
0. The Fool
The Fool mural can be found on a wall just outside V's apartment in the Megabuilding H10. Multiple main story jobs require V to visit their apartment, but the two most pertinent ones are the Prologue finale "The Rescue" and the Act I finale "The Heist", both of which see V return home to rest after the respective job. The in-game description of the card in the inventory menu (Shards > Tarot) reads as follows:
The Fool is everyone – including you and me. Each step he takes on his journey feels like stepping into a brave new world. Ultimately, the journey will change him. But as the card shows, he's a trustworthy lad whose tireless hope drives him toward his goal.
Symbolically, this card obviously stands for V themselves, between being found literally on their doorstep, to its description being an apt characterization for any RPG player character. This is further supported by the fact that the eponymous achievement/trophy unlocks at the start of "The Rescue" during the prologue (and is not to be confused with "The Wandering Fool" achievement, which unlocks upon turning in "Fool on the Hill"). While Misty, in some of her readings, associates The Fool with both V and Johnny, other Arcana are much better suited to represent the latter, as we will see later on.
I. The Magician
The Magician mural is found on a pylon across from Lizzie's Bar, which V first visits in the Act I main job "The Information" and later revisits in Act II for "Automatic Love". Both jobs involve two important side characters, Evelyn Parker and Judy Alvarez, but a strong case can be made that it stands specifically for the former, as she is one V mainly interacts with during their first visit. This Arcanum's in-game description reads:
The Magician is the card of self-confidence and adapting to situations through intellect and sheer will. The Magician is a schemer who always has one last trick up his sleeve, who despite everything manages to stay afloat and remain in control of his own destiny.
While this description seems to fit Parker's characterization during Act I, we learn in Act II (by following the job chain starting with "Automatic Love") that this was only an illusion: while Evelyn is, indeed, intelligent and strong-willed and appears to be in control of her situation, she is nothing but a pawn in a much bigger game, who is then discarded in a rather brutal way, ultimately leading to her suicide.
Curiously, Misty's actual Tarot readings instead consistently associate The Magician with Johnny Silverhand, as "someone fascinating, someone charismatic", "a person of great talent and charisma, a leader", and (when reversed) "a tendency towards addiction... mental instability...". While all of these descriptions do match Johnny, he can hardly be characterized as a schemer or remaining in control (at least in context of the game's plot), nor is there any clear connection between him and Lizzy's Bar.
II. The High Priestess
The High Priestess mural is hidden on the top floor of an abandoned apartment block in the City Center. In "Search and Destroy" (Act II), an apartment on the third floor of the same building serves as Goro Takemura's hideout where he holds the kidnapped Hanako Arasaka. The eponymous online achievement/trophy is also unlocked by speaking with Hanako there, making it quite clear that this Arcanum stands for her. Its description reads:
The High Priestess is a card of mystery. It shows how all our secrets hang by a delicate thread and the struggle between common sense and intuition. The High Priestess symbolizes the cold, calm waters as well as the mysteries hidden in their depths.
This obviously matches Hanako and her role as the mysterious, string-pulling power player of the Arasaka family.
III. The Empress
The Empress mural is found behind the stairs leading into the Afterlife club in Watson, which is one of the central locations in the story. While V meets many characters in Afterlife, the one most associated with this club is Rogue, the Queen of Fixers: she is the first character Jackie points out to V during their first visit to the bar in "The Heist" (Act I); V has to speak with her there to initiate "Ghost Town" (Act II); and she is the focus of the side jobs "Chippin' In" and "Blistering Life" (Act III), both of which take V to the Afterlife. The card description reads:
The Empress is a card of femininity and motherhood. She is authoritative, knows what she wants, and exhibits refinement and sensuousness. The Empress symbolizes creativity and growth, and instructs us not to dismiss our unconscious impulses, but to trust our intuition.
While "motherhood" cannot really be applied to Rogue, she clearly fits the rest of the description, while the in-game artwork of the mural depicts a warrior woman with long white hair and a katana, which match Rogue's own grey hair and proficiency with a variety of weapons (she is an experienced Solo fighter in the source material).
IV. The Emperor
The Emperor mural is found on the wall surrounding the Konpeki Plaza hotel in the Arasaka Waterfront, which is the main location of the Act I finale "The Heist". Its description reads:
The Emperor represents patriarchal control and is pleased with the authority and power he possesses to shape the future. The Emperor makes the rules and enforces them for the common good. But prestige has its dark sides – the Emperor is dominating and ruthless and will climb over a mountain of bodies to achieve his aim.
Two characters V meets for the first time in Konpeki Plaza can fit the above description: Saburo Arasaka, founder and CEO of the eponymous corporation, and his son (and murderer) Yorinobu. Saburo is the one Jackie and other characters explicitly refer to as "the Emperor" in dialogue, so he is the most likely candidate to be represented by this Arcanum, but subsequent events show Yorinobu just as dominating, ruthless, and ready to walk over corpses as his father, whom he kills to seize control.
V. The Hierophant
The Hierophant mural is found in Japantown, not far from where V meets Goro Takemura and his former pupil Sandayu Oda in "Down on the Streets" (Act II). Its description reads:
The Hierophant symbolizes a respect for tradition. It represents one who tries to maintain the established order, even though their very character is shaped by it. The Hierophant places his faith in institutions – for the alternative is pure chaos. Only by placing his faith in order can he draw strength.
Both Takemura and Oda alike match the description, since both are cyberninja bodyguards fiercely loyal to the Arasaka Corporation and to the Arasaka family. However, where Takemura has lost his lord (Saburo) to treachery and must reconcile the reality of being an outcast with his ideals of honor, Oda only considers his own lord (Hanako), stubbornly refuses to accept that truth can exist outside the institutions he puts faith in, and rejects both his former teacher and V.
VI. The Lovers
The Lovers mural is found on the back of the silver screen in North Oak drive-in theater, where Johnny (temporarily controlling V's body) and Rogue can rekindle their past relationship during the "Blistering Love" side job in Act III. The Arcanum's description reads:
The Lovers is the card of dichotomies. It points to the contradictions that clash within each of us and of the challenge of striking a balance between extremes. The Lovers is also the card of dilemmas, like The Fool who stands at the crossroads, unable to make his choice.
An obvious interpretation is that this card stands for Rogue and Johnny's incredibly toxic and unhealthy relationship (with most of said toxicity stemming from Johnny's hyper-masculine, womanizing behavior), which, if V leverages it to enlist Rogue's help in the endgame, ultimately results in her untimely and brutal death. On the other hand, the description also foreshadows the overarching plot point of V (The Fool, as established above) facing the dilemma of whom to ask for help in the endgame, knowing that this will likely cause their deaths.
Confusingly, the achievement/trophy "The Lovers" unlocks upon completing "The Heist", perhaps signifying the contradiction of V carrying two consciousnesses, theirs and Johnny's, even though the latter is still dormant (and the location of the eponymous mural, still inaccessible) at that point in the story.
VII. The Chariot
The Chariot mural is found on a wall near Tom's Diner in Watson, where V has their first proper conversations with both Takemura and Johnny in "Playing for Time" (Act II). Its description reads:
The Chariot is always charging ahead despite being pulled by its steeds in opposite directions. The rider who steers it constantly reins in the light and dark sides of the soul with the help of Reason. To ride in The Chariot is to experience highs and lows – ups and downs.
An obvious interpretation of the card is that it stands for Takemura, who, as mentioned above, is pulled in opposite directions by his ingrained loyalty to Arasaka and by the ronin desire to avenge his murdered lord. On the other hand, the Chariot can also represent V's body, which is being pulled ahead by their and Johnny's competing consciousnesses and certainly experiences a lot of highs and lows.
The Strength mural is found on a small service building near where V first meets Panam Palmer in "Ghost Town" (Act II). Since she is the only character associated with this location, this Arcanum obviously stands for her. Its description reads:
Strength is the card of resilience. It is associated with determination, bravery and internal struggle. One must have dedication in order to overcome obstacles and reach one's goal. Strength is about physical prowess and spiritual fortitude – the power that must be unleashed to achieve the impossible.
Indeed, Panam is a resilient, determined, and brave individual who faces a major internal struggle between the desires to belong to her Aldecaldos clan and to escape from the Aldecaldo leader Saul's restrictive policies. "Achieving the impossible" is exactly what Panam does if V enlists her and the other Nomads' help in the endgame.
IX. The Hermit
The Hermit mural is found on the walls of the Pacifica Chapel, which V visits during their dealings with the Voodoo Boys in Act II, specifically during the "M'ap Tann Pelen" and "Transmission" jobs. Its description reads:
The Hermit is a card of self-imposed isolation. It represents an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, a turning away from constant newness toward Ye Olde ways. For the hermit, solitude is the road to the sublime – a road that is taken not with great bounds and strides, but with small, concentrated steps.
An obvious interpretation is that this card stands for the Voodoo Boys gang or, specifically, for their leader Madame Brigitte, who both are known for their isolationist policies and their use of old tech from before the Fourth Corporate War. Their ultimate goal is also revealed to be making contact with the inhuman AIs roaming beyond the Blackwall – a sublime goal indeed, being the setting's equivalent of summoning Lovecraftian eldritch horrors.
The Hermit may also represent Alt Cunningham, who has been isolated from humanity (albeit involuntarily) for over fifty years, during which she has reached a state of existence incomprehensible to humans. This is supported by the fact that the eponymous achievement/trophy unlocks at the end of "Transmission", when V talks with Alt and not during their earlier interactions with the Voodoo Boys.
X. Wheel of Fortune
The Wheel of Fortune mural is found in the Sunset Motel in the Badlands, just west of Night City. Like the Afterlife, Sunset Motel is a recurring location in the game, with V's most important visits there taking place during the Act II jobs "Ghost Town", "Life During Wartime", and "Search and Destroy". The eponymous achievement/trophy is unlocked by interrogating Anders Hellman at the conclusion of "Life During Wartime". The Arcanum's description reads:
The Wheel of Fortune means that change is coming. One's destiny could turn out for the better or the worse, yet it also bears the promise of new possibilities. The Wheel reminds us that nobody remains at he top forever, but also that not every situation is hopeless.
Because the concept of this card is so abstract, it is hard to find a character or a relationship it may refer to, but Sunset Motel is the location of at least two major shifts of V and Johnny's fortunes: from good to bad in "Life During Wartime" (where V captures the Relic's creator Hellman but learns from him that even he cannot save their life) and from bad to good in "Search and Destroy" (where V hides from the Arasaka agents, only to learn that Hanako Arasaka has decided to side with them and called off the manhunt). Likewise, staying at Sunset Motel during "Ghost Town" marks the beginning of Panam's gradual reversal of fortune, as she can transform from effectively an outcast to the co-leader of the Aldecaldos, should the player follow her job chain.
The Justice mural is found on a large cistern across from the Electric Corporation power plant, which V and Judy infiltrate to rescue Evelyn during "Disasterpiece" (Act II). Its description reads:
Justice is the card of conflict resolution. It proclaims the need for order, to see through lies and deceit, and a return to the natural state of affairs. Justice implies a just sentence, but also due process.
Like with The Magician above, the location of this card is associated with both Judy and Evelyn, as it is where V meets the latter for the first time since Act I. However, this card seems to be primarily associated with Judy, not only thanks to the obvious alliteration, but also because Judy's subsequent job chain sees her pursue justice (or at least revenge) for Evelyn and for her fellow dolls at the Clouds club. Ironically, in both cases, Judy (or rather, V) must then decide between passing a just sentence or following the "due process" and letting the wrongdoers get away.
XII. The Hanged Man
The Hanged Man mural is found on a large cistern in the northern Oil Fields, across the road from Johnny Silverhand's final resting place, which V visits at the conclusion of "Chippin' In" (Act III). Its description reads:
The Hanged Man is the card of sacrifice. It says that a price must be paid in order to achieve enlightenment. The Hanged Man's forsakenness opens the path for rebirth into a new life, though this path is wrought with pain suspended in time and ultimately ends in death.
This Arcanum quite unambiguously stands for Johnny Silverhand himself. In 2023, Johnny had sacrificed himself (and many allies) to blow up the old Arasaka Tower, paying the ultimate price without actually achieving enlightenment. Trapped for over half a century in Mikoshi, he has been suspended in time and wrought with pain this entire time. Although he survives in most endings, if we understand "death" here as the eponymous Major Arcanum (see below), he definitely undergoes a major transformation at the end of the game and is reborn into a new life, one way or another.
The Death mural is found on the wall of the Embers club, which V must visit in "Nocturne Op55N1" (Act III) in order to trigger the final sequence of jobs that conclude the whole game. Its description reads:
Death is the card of becoming. It signifies an imminent and difficult transition – the conclusion of one phase of life and the beginning of another. Inevitably, something gets lost during the transformation, but something else will rise and take its place.
Like the Wheel of Fortune, this Arcanum does not represent a character, but a major story turn: specifically, the "point of no return", which puts the game on a one-way track to the conclusion. While the game features multiple distinct endings, all of them see V and Johnny transition into new states of being through great struggle, pain, and loss.
The Temperance mural is found inside the Night City Columbarium, which Johnny, now permanently in control of V's body, visits during the epilogue job "New Dawn Fades". The eponymous achievement/trophy also unlocks upon reaching this ending. The Arcanum's description reads:
Temperance is the card of balance. It may symbolize self-restraint or the gradual shift toward a more mature state of equilibrium. Temperance is associated with being in control of oneself as well as the desire to achieve inner peace.
This card may represent the "new" Johnny Silverhand (as opposed to the "old" Johnny represented by The Hanged Man) who has matured through his interactions with V throughout the game, as both of them have exacted influence upon each other (just as Victor and Misty had predicted at the start of Act II). This Johnny, having grown out of his toxic, juvenile hatred, is looking for inner peace and finally leaves Night City for good. The graves of Alt Cunningham and of Johnny himself (under his birth name "Robert John Linder", although this may be a cenotaph) can be also found in the Columbarium in the game.
XV. The Devil
The Devil mural cannot be discovered in the open world of Night City – a fact which Misty comments on after turning in "Fool on the Hill". Just like she predicts, this Arcanum can only be found during one of possible endgame sequences: after making a deal with Hanako Arasaka, V discovers it inside the Rubik's cube in what appears to be a hallucination during the epilogue job "Where Is My Mind?", although the eponymous achievement/trophy unlocks several minutes before the actual mural is seen in-game. Also unlike other ending achievements, this one is tied to the survival of Goro Takemura and its description reads: "Help Takemura avenge the death of Saburo Arasaka", which is especially ironic given that Saburo is revealed to be alive in this particular ending.
Because The Devil is only revealed in a cutscene, there currently seems to be no way of viewing its in-game description, but Misty characterizes it as "the card of primal, dormant desires, and also the will to survive... It also represents a false world – the trap these desires lay for you." On the most basic level, this Acranum then represents V's primal desire to survive, which pushes them to accept the Faustian bargain with Arasaka. More generally, it appears to signify the false promises made by the hyper-capitalist, corporate-run world of the game to its residents, only for a select few to ultimately benefit at everyone else's expense – just like Saburo Arasaka's own "will to survive" allows him to be reborn in Yorinobu's body by using the exact same technology that destroys V's life.
XVI. The Tower
The Tower mural is found inside the remains of the original Arasaka Tower, demolished by Johnny Silverhand's nuclear bombing in 2023 and preserved as a memorial under the new, rebuilt Arasaka Tower in the present. While V does not have to visit this specific location during any of their jobs, this mural is strongly associated with the interludes "Love Like Fire" (Act I) and "Never Fade Away" (Act II), which are presented as Johnny's flashbacks of storming the old Arasaka Tower in 2023 (to plant the bomb) and in 2013 (to rescue Alt), respectively. The Arcanum's in-game description reads:
The Tower is an omen of radical change, chaos and destruction. The lightning striking The Tower signifies a return to the old order that lies buried under the ruins, and a new order that will rise from it. It is a symbol of tragedy, apocalypse, and self-destruction.
The parallels between the fall of the old Arasaka Tower, as well as of Johnny Silverhand himself, and the above description require no further explanation.
XVII. The Star
The Star mural is found on a small building among the solar arrays to the south-east of Night City, next to where the Aldecaldos park the Basilisk while waiting for Panam and V in the epilogue job "All Along the Watchtower". The achievement/trophy received for reaching the corresponding ending is likewise named "The Star". Its description reads:
The Star is the card of hope. In the darkest of nights there is a light that shines the path to home. The Star is inspiration, motivation and gives us strength to move forward.
Like several other cards, this one does not signify a specific character, but rather a potential future for V – specifically, a hopeful one. Despite V's days being numbered, leaving the cesspool of Night City behind allows them to hold onto hope to yet find a way to heal with the help from their newfound Nomad family. Likely because of this association with hope, many sources label "The Star" the best or "golden" ending of the game.
XVIII. The Moon
The Moon mural is found on the outer wall of the Arasaka Estate in North Oak, which V infiltrates during the endgame job "Last Caress" after asking Hanako Arasaka for help (although the mural itself can be found during regular open world exploration). Its description reads:
The Moon reminds us that reality is not always what it seems at first glance. In a world of appearances and illusions, the best course is often charted by one's own intuition. The Moon is also the card of dreams, desires, and of course, sleep – Death's nightly ritual.
There does not appear to be a clear symbolic association of this Arcanum with any specific events or characters of the game, but it does conceptually bridge Death (see above) found in "Nocturne Op55N1" and The Devil (ditto) in "Where Is My Mind?"
XIX. The Sun
The Sun mural is found at the foot of the building whose penthouse V occupies in the epilogue job "Path of Glory". The eponymous achievement/trophy likewise unlocks upon reaching this ending. The Arcanum's description reads:
The Sun symbolizes success. It is a card of freedom, renewal and a bright future that lies ahead. The Sun also represents truth, for its light will always pull back the curtain of shadow that hides the world's secrets. It is also represents greatness and splendor.
This card signifies V finally fulfilling their and Jackie's dream of becoming a living legend of Night City by successfully storming the Arasaka Tower. While V's days are numbered, this ending sees them at their personal zenith and grants them an opportunity to go out in a blaze of glory.
The Judgement mural, like The Devil, cannot be found in the open world of Night City, but is, in fact, only accessible in three unlockable endgame jobs: "Belly of the Beast" (if allying with Panam), "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (if allying with Rogue), and "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (if storming the Arasaka Tower alone in the secret ending). In all three, the mural is located on a server rack in the room where V battles Adam Smasher before reaching the Mikoshi access point, and while V has to fight Smasher in The Devil ending (i.e. if allying with Hanako), that fight occurs elsewhere in the Tower. Unlike The Devil, this Arcanum's description can be viewed in-game and reads:
Judgement is the card of renewal. The angel blowing into the horn heralds resurrection and liberation. This card foretells an important change that will result in healing or fulfillment. It is also a symbol of self-worth.
Misty likewise describes it at the end of "Fool on the Hill" as "One possible future. Of redemption, transition, awakening. The angel with the trumpet symbolizes the end of an era – and a call to rebirth, to a new beginning." Like several other Arcana, this card does not symbolize a particular character but rather presents a more hopeful alternative to The Devil and, like the latter, precedes the choice of an actual ending. Unlike The Devil, however, whose ending "choice" is hardly consequential, Judgement precedes one of three other Arcana: Temperance, The Star, and The Sun, with different choices leading to the respective endings. In a more literal sense, Judgement is found in the same room that V and/or Johnny pass the final judgement upon Adam Smasher after defeating him.
XXI. The World
The World mural is found on the rooftop above Misty's Esoterica shop, where V must make the penultimate ending choice at the end of "Nocturne Op55N1" (Act III). It is also the name of the achievement/trophy received for finishing the game, regardless of the chosen ending. Its description reads:
The World lies at the end of The Fool's long and winding journey. Wiser and more world-weary than he started out, the Fool faces a moment of reckoning. Some of us accept where our journey has led us to, while others embark on a new challenge. One thing in this World is certain – you can't have it all.
As the description states, The World symbolizes the end of V's (The Fool's) journey, as it is found in the location where Misty brings them immediately after the "point of no return" (see "XIII. Death" above) and where they must choose one of mutually exclusive endgame sequences (or commit suicide there and then). The last sentence of the description alludes to the fact that, in keeping with the bleak traditions of the cyberpunk genre, the game won't allow the player to "have it all", e.g. to save both V and Johnny from their uncertain fates, no matter which ending they pick.
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