I just spent the last month and a week or so of my life playing this game. 151 hours of in game time, at least according to the game itself. I suspect it might not count some of the time spent in menus, but I'm not entirely sure. And maybe it feels a little weird to open this with the time spent, but in so many ways this series is all about time, how we spend it, and amongst the myriad of jumbled feelings this game has running through me, there's kind of one that has been at the forefront since the credits rolled.
Sadness, that even after all this time, the game ended.
My blogs here are always messy, and sorting through both all the feelings it gave me, and me wanting to say some things about the game's systems/etc; this one's squarely on the messier side. So please bear with me.
Before I started playing P5R, more than anything else I was feeling trepidation. I'd never played one of these, but like a lot of long time Giant Bomb viewers, I'd seen the Persona 4 Endurance Run. More than once, honestly, and most recently I rewatched the whole thing last year (one of the reasons I felt inclined to play Royal). Never having played one of these games, by this point I had a decade of nostalgia for that game to an extent, but really to those videos. So actually playing one, especially when the reception to the original Persona 5 was...mixed to say the least, it was a bit intimidating.
Of course when I actually played it, it was just another video game, and one that I quickly fell into a rhythm with. Over the last month or so, it became another part of my daily routine. I'd spend my afternoons working my way through Persona 5, and once that routine really sunk in, it felt like it became a part of my life. I enjoyed spending time in that world, with those characters, and knowing it would eventually end, like all things do, I tried to not think about that, and just focus on the story.
There isn't much going on in my life these days. You probably think this is something related to Covid-19, lockdowns, etc, and it sort of is, but it's not just that. This has been my life for years. Ever since I graduated college back in 2013, for one reason or another, often health related, I've been stuck at home, still living with my dad. With nothing to do but goof around online, play games, hopefully spend time with friends (though that has gone entirely online since my local friends all moved away), and when I feel up to it, write. Write in the hopes that people will read it, and have enjoyed their time too.
This isn't just me going off on a depressing tangent, this ties directly into one of the biggest feelings Persona 5 gave me.
The set up for the Persona games, or at least 3 through 5 (not that I've played 3 either), is that a student has transferred into a new school, in a new city/town, and has to balance teenage life with the typical story of using supernatural powers to achieve whatever the game's overarching goal is. But it's not balance that life in an abstract sense, it's literal. They move day by day over the course of a single year, and managing that time is a core component of the series.
Go to school, which sometimes involves answering a question to gain more knowledge, and then after school, you decide how you want to spend time. Hang out with a friend? Work a part time job for some quick cash and a small boost to a social stat? Try to eat a giant burger? Go fishing? Delve into the dungeon and fight monsters to advance the story? Do shady drug trials for a back alley doctor? Then, figure out how to spend the evening. Study? Read a book? Go out to do some laundry? Watch a DVD with my talking cat friend? Hang out with someone from a different group of night friends? And once the night is spent, sleep, and go through the routine again the next day.
If there is a core loop to the series, this is that. But it's not just time management, there's also an element of learning, getting to know the areas, and really feeling like I was inhabiting this space. Sure, there's plenty of fast travel, but I wanted to really get to know the spaces in this game, so I tried to traverse them as close to realistically as possible. Eventually, these spaces that had been new and intimidating felt like old haunts. Felt like home.
Moving someplace new, where you don't know anyone, but having to just find your place, find your way through, and keep up at school... Despite the main character being a high school student, as it went along, as I got more engrossed into the game, I felt so much nostalgia for my time at college. Being in an exciting new place, on my own, more or less (dorm roommates notwithstanding), and having to find my routine, find my rhythm with that new life, in so many ways, after all these years, I miss it.
Or rather, I miss the idealized version of it that exists in my memory.
Because I don't necessarily miss all the schoolwork, and when I think logically, think clearly about the specifics of my life then, I was miserable through a lot of that too. I was lonely, sad, depressed, no idea what to do with my life, and just forcing myself through on the hope that it'd all turn out well in the end.
And yet...the nostalgia. The longing wistful feelings for not just what I had, but the ideal of what I could have had if I'd done things differently. If only, like my character Joker, or as I named him MOOSE Lupin3rd (also if only there had been one more character slot in the naming), I made stronger friendships with people, had done more to get involved in things...
So here I am now, trying to explain these jumbled feelings this anime-ass game about teens using their
StandsPersonas to fight monsters made me depressed about my current lot in life.
But please, don't get me wrong. I love this game, and that day by day routine is part of what drew me into it. As much as it left with me with a lot of melancholy, it gave me so, so much joy. All the time spent hanging out with the characters, whether as part of the main story, or individual side stories, I got really attached to them. It'd be kinda hard not to, unless you disliked the game so much that you probably shouldn't be spending enough time to finish it in the first place.
It's pretty clear from all the blogs I've written over all these many years (been a decade, just about, huh?) here, but characters are always one of the things that impacts me the most with games. It's why I love Mass Effect so much, it's why Final Fantasy XV hit me so hard last year, and it's why Persona 5 shined so bright for me.
Persona 5, and especially the Royal version, just has so many of them, but I'd feel bad if I didn't give a quick shout out to all my digital friends from this game.
Ryuji, you goofy dumbass. The first one to give Joker a chance after he'd been shunned by society, always there for him. Maybe you didn't always have the best ideas, maybe you were a little too focused on girls some of the time, but your heart never faltered, and that's not a strength many people have. One day you'll get back on the track again, and leave everyone else in your dust.
Ann, you went through so much shit, suffered things you shouldn't have had to, but managed to come out a stronger person for it. I know Joker, and all the rest helped you through your tough spots, but you helped them all too. He'd be grateful for it, and rooting for you, no matter where life takes you. I know you'll take the world by storm, someday.
Mishima, you might not have ever officially joined the Phantom Thieves, but you were just as important as anyone else. Both to the Thieves' ongoing mission to make the world a better place, and to me. Your heart may not have always been in the right place, but I was more than happy to gently prod you back onto the right path. And, of course I always empathize with a fellow struggling writer, but I know you'll get it done.
Yusuke, you oddball. You total enigma of a human being wrapped in an artsy, queer-coded teenager. I tried to play this game, as much as I could, roleplaying Joker having a crush on Yusuke, and just being gay in general. Not that the game was really built for it, but that's for another part of this write up. For this, Yusuke, you and Joker may not have gotten off on the right foot, but you probably ended up my favorite, all things said and done. And all your peculiarities and eccentricities made you the favorite in (my) Joker's heart too. Just please try to eat better, or at all! You can't paint on an empty stomach!!
Makoto, I may have some concerns with your stated life goals at the end of your Confidant storyline, but you truly were an invaluable part of the team. Your strength, your knowledge, and your will helped get us through so much. Never mind your help in the fights, being about the only person with any common sense in the Phantom Thieves for most of the game. Just...maybe please reconsider the police commissioner thing. Get into motorcycle racing, illegal back alley prize fights, something respectable.
Futaba, the quirky hacker who I certainly see a lot of myself in. Specifically in her hermit-esque ways. But, with your being sort of a little sister to Joker (at least how I played), you made me think about my own younger siblings, and how I regret not spending more time with them than I have. Knowing full well that when I try to these days, we always just drift apart again...
Sojiro, the surrogate coffee dad. Another case of not getting along at first, but you were always a good guy, you just needed to lower your defenses a little bit. Glad you did, and even if I don't care for coffee in real life, it'll always make me think of you. And I gotta try some actual curry sometime, just for you.
Haru, the heiress to an astronomical burger empire with so much money that I found myself wondering why I had to foot the bill for all our equipment. Not that I wasn't rolling in Yen by the end of the game, but still. Jokes aside, you were a solid part of the team too, and I only wish you'd been able to spend more time on the team.
Yoshida, you may have been "No Good Taro" to most of Japan, but you'll always be "Yes Good Taro" to me. Maybe I occasionally forgot your name and just referred to you as "Japanese Bernie Sanders," but my support for you never faltered, and I know you'll never falter in your job.
Doc Takemi, perhaps I lied to try to get shady drugs from you, but you're the one who turned it around by running shadier drug tests on a teen, so let's just call it even. Glad to have helped you, truly, and I'm glad your work turned out well.
Hifumi, I have a confession to make: I don't know any of the rules of Shogi, and I probably never will. But what I do know...is that friendship is the greatest strategy of all. It's a shame you didn't get to be a full member of the Phantom Thieves like a (real life) friend told me you were planned to be at one point. Regardless, everything you taught me I just used for fighting monsters, and it truly was invaluable.
Justine and Caroline: You were kinda complete a-holes to me for most of the game, but in a very memorable, funny way, so I appreciate that.
Sae, I'm not really sure that I'd call you a friend, given most of the game is framed in flashback as you interrogated Joker, but you came around in the end. Plus, I can appreciate you changing your career from prosecutor to defense attorney, that shows some real understanding of the problems with the system. Unlike your sister who wants to be the head cop.
Yoshizawa, the new gal (at least to Royal). Another bit of an odd one, in various ways, but I'm very glad to have helped you along your journey, and had you to help me on mine. Even if so much of the time you felt like you were just being tacked on, or inserted into days that used to have nothing, for that I just blame the way they re-release these games, not you. A fictional character.
Maruki, I certainly have mixed feelings about your research, but I still enjoyed all the time we spent together. Certainly more so than any time I've tried spending with counselors in real life, but that's been very small, and unlucky on my part.
Akechi, you slimeball, you absolute garbage pile of a human being. I know you said you hated Joker, I know you meant it, but I still enjoyed the time spent with you. Mostly. A case of reminding me of my own rival from my high school days, who I haven't heard from since, and I'm sure he'd only rub my nose in it with his successes and my failures. Just like I know you would, if your path ever crosses Joker's again...
That said, Akechi, Joker's still got your dueling glove...
And to the Confidants I wasn't able to get to Rank 10, I'm sorry. Iwai the airsoft shop owner, and Chihaya the fortune teller, I swear I would have made the time if the game let me. I was at like Rank 8 or 9 for both of you! Gamer kid whose name I forgot, reporter lady whose name I also forgot, less of an apology for not having the time, but also a bit of one.
And Kawakami, I sympathize with the plight of the underpaid teacher, and truly would have wanted to know more about your life's story, and seen it sooner...but I found the maid thing kinda creepy.
And to all the NPCs that didn't get named, I remember you too. The little girl and her mom with the dog named Kotaro...my heart goes out to you, losing pets is never easy. To the homeless man living in Shibuya Station, I know life is hard, and society doesn't seem to want to help, but hopefully someday it will. Girl who works on the school newspaper, creepy kid obsessed with the Phantom Thieves, drunk old man down the street, foreign guy who liked to talk to that cat, and all the others, I'll miss you.
But, the last, and maybe closest friend of all, Morgana. Be you cat, wayward human, van, or aircraft, you'll always be in my heart, and at Joker's side. You had some arguments, a brief falling out, but in the end, I stuck by you, you stuck by me, and if that's not true friendship, then I don't know what is.
I've managed to write pages about this game without even discussing what the story is about. Just caught up in old feelings, and new friends... So, just what is Persona 5 about?
Sometimes something just feels right for the moment you play it in. In this moment, something about a game fighting against corruption, against systems twisted by those in power to their nefarious ways, systems that were always unjust, fighting to help right the wrongs of society...
It just felt right.
Is it perfect? No. But it resonated with me, kind of in the same ways that the anti-mega-corp plotline of Final Fantasy VII Remake did earlier this year. They're in the same ballpark, let's say.
What starts with a kid who tried to help someone, but ends up framed for a crime he didn't commit, grows into a story of lifting up those wronged by people in power, by society itself, rebelling against it all, and doing what they can to better society. One changed heart at a time.
If only it was so easy to change hearts in the real world, huh?
Whether that's going through elaborate Palaces for the story, or traversing the more procedurally created Mementos to tackle side missions, there's a lot of heart changing in this game, and to get that done, that means a lot of JRPG style combat. This was another thing that intimidated me before playing, because watching Vinny and Jeff play Persona 4 made that game's combat feel a bit tedious.
Thankfully added depth to the combat, with more options, more damage types, more systems to work with, and much more interesting spaces to explore made this one pretty fun. Each Palace feels unique, and bespoke. They've usually got some gimmicks going on, maybe some light puzzles to solve, but they're fun enough to work through. And this is now about as much of a stealth game as a JRPG can be, which plays into the whole Phantom Thieves thing quite well, along with making getting the jump on enemies easier and more fun.
The arc of each Palace feels like a heist, because it, well, is one. You scope the place out, secure a route through to steal the Treasure (source of the target's distorted desires), sometimes do something in the real world to open something in the Palace (underutilized, overall), send a calling card to the target for dramatic effect (there's an in game explanation, but I like dramatic effect), and then the heist itself. The Palace is on high alert from the get go, and the music is amped all the way up, which always got me amped up too. I only wish more of the Palaces had more time spent in this final, full heist mode, because a lot of them you can just fast travel right near the Palace's Treasure, and go straight into whatever happens next (boss fight). After which, the target has a change of heart, confesses all the wrongs they've done, and does what they need to atone for their actions.
It's such a more interesting set up than the boring corridors of Persona 4, and the settings for each are cool too. Varying from classic heist targets like a museum or a bank, to odder things, like a space burger factory, or cyber-Egypt. And at some of them tried to have enemy types that sort of fit in the different locations, unlike the total random nonsense of 4.
The combat itself is improved too! Persona 4 (and I guess 3, probably), had the "One More" system after exploiting weaknesses, and 5 adds Baton Passing too. Hit an enemy's weakness, and instead of that character taking another attack, you can pass the baton to someone else, who gets a damage buff (and possibly restores some HP and SP, if you rank them up at darts), and if they hit another enemy's weakness, pass the baton again. Keep doing it, and the final person gets to do a powered up attack without spending any SP or HP! It's a cool system, and one that I wish stayed useful farther into the game, because at a certain point I got powerful enough that fights often didn't last long enough to pass the baton more than once, maybe twice. That, or they simply didn't have enough enemies to have a full baton passage.
Other things, like more damage types, and different tactics like being able to swap party members mid fight (crucial during a lot of bosses) made this a much more fun and interesting game to play than 4 ever seemed to be. One especially cool change is in acquiring new Personas. Instead of just a simple "pick a card" minigame after some fights, now you need to knock enemies to the ground, and interrogate them correctly to recruit them! And since all the enemies are Personas that you can equip, that also makes determining their weaknesses easier, and often something that can be figured out with some thinking (like a fire enemy being weak to ice). I know some of that stuff is from the olde Personas (1 and or 2?), but regardless of if they're wholly new or hearkening back to the series' roots, they helped make this a game I really enjoyed playing.
One thing that's definitely new, and amped up, is the style. Sure, sometimes Persona 5 shows its PS3-ness in ways that don't look amazing, but on the whole, all the effects, the quality of the art design, it's just beautiful, and cool! Whether in battle or out, Persona 5 has a cool vibe, and I loved it.
Same with the music, just about all of it from the chill tunes walking around town, to the hyped up battle songs, they help convey whatever mood the game is going for, just about perfectly.
I got a bit off track there from the Rebellion thing, but I think I'd have to veer into specific story spoilers for that, and... I'm not sure I really need to get into the story with this game. I could, but I've written plenty as it is without trying to recap the story of a 150 hour game. But it kept me engaged throughout, and even if some of the twists are easy to see coming, and some parts are a bit silly, I still liked it a lot.
All this doesn't mean I don't have some gripes with the game. Along with so many friendships, like previous games, there's also a bit of romance dashed in. Which is fine, but there's still no queer options in there. Worse yet, in Persona 5 the only queer characters are a very masculine looking and sounding drag queen who owns a bar (but is generally a friendly and nice character so I have mixed-ish feelings on her portrayal), and couple of bad gay stereotypes, who even after apparently being re-written for Royal to be less homophobic and predatory...still are...bad.
And that sucks, because it's 2020. Hell, it was 2017 when this game released originally (in the West), and I bet it sucked then too. In a game that is about righting the wrongs of society, about helping those who need it, a game about people who have been shunned, or outcast in some way or another, it sucks that this is all queer people, who have long been wronged by society, get. We deserve better, damn it, even if it didn't feel counter to this game's themes!
But in some ways, the real kick to the teeth is that while Joker (a sixteen year old boy) can't date other boys his age, he can date adult women. And not like, adults who are eighteen, which I still don't think would be acceptable, I mean adults. Like a doctor, or a teacher, who I can only assume have to be at least THIRTY, right?! Which is gross under any circumstances. I kinda can't believe that stuff was put in Persona 5 in the first place, and that they didn't then go and change it for Royal.
Yet it was, and even if I didn't pursue that, it doesn't change the fact that it was built into the game.
It's not gross like that, but the whole not being able to be queer thing is also a bummer because as I said above, Yusuke is clearly queer-coded in the way he looks, acts, talks (at least in the English dub), but not in a bad stereotype way like those other characters. I'm sure someone wants to @ me with, "he's just artsy and weird," but I'll have none of that. My best boy can be artsy, weird, AND queer!
In a version of this game that's actually friendly to queer characters, not only would Yusuke have definitely been gay or bi (or maybe ace, honestly, anything but hetero), he could have been some sort of nonbinary too. I dare you to try to tell me that wouldn't have made this game better, I DARE YOU. (If you do I'll just ignore you and not reply, because I am also nonbinary, bi, and very clearly biased.) Whether it was an open part of who he was, or accepting that was part of his character arc, but the game actually stuck with it, unlike Persona 4, I think that would have been better.
The more time that passes, the angrier I get that Kanji especially was set up as being gay, but then the game just backed off from it 40 hours later in Persona 4. Just made him seem gay long enough for Yosuke (not to be confused with best boy Yusuke) to be plenty homophobic. Never mind poor Naoto. But that's a different game, and a different tangent, sorry.
While I'm taking a (long) moment to complain, the game certainly sexualizes its teen girl characters more than it should. Specifically Ann. Even if it's not the worst I've ever seen out of anime/video games, I feel like the fact that I've been fairly desensitized to it speaks more to how often it's a thing. But, this is still several levels lower on things I wish were different about the game than the above being able to date women way too old for a teen (which again is to say LITERAL ADULTS).
Actually, I have one last thing to put in the complaint category, which is also I'd say the one story related thing I'd want to address. And it's the literal ending of the game, so I'll put it in SPOILER hidden dealies, so, you know. But also it's not that big a spoiler, so don't worry too bad.
Anyway, I guess my first (not a spoiler) complaint for the end game stuff is the amount of time skipping, after a long game that is all about day by day routines. I'm sure the original only did this more so (I know Persona 4 did), but it's a bummer to just lose time I could have used to finish up those other Confidants. Especially when I was so close with Iwai and Chihaya, I'm so bummed I wasn't able to because the game just decided to skip all that time altogether. I'm sure it would have resulted in a fair amount of time spent doing kinda nothing, but I wish I had at least had the option not to skip it, so I could have finished those side stories.
For that matter, I also wish they had filled that time with more...anything. If there's any way that 5 doesn't live up to 4, it's in (as a friend of mine has long said was her biggest complaint with 5) time spent just hanging around. I like 5's main story, more than 4's for sure, but it doesn't really leave a lot of time for the Phantom Thieves to just hang out as a full group and get up to hijinks. Never mind some good opportunities that kinda got squandered (like the class trip to Hawai'i). It would have been nice if there were some more scenes of them just doing goofy stuff put in there, but that was probably outside the scope of what they were able to add in Royal.
On the other hand, I wouldn't have minded if all the work put into the new Palace, and that other storyline had been instead put into just writing and designing some new goofy hanging out sequences. But I guess the people who design Palace levels probably aren't the same people who do the story stuff, games are very complex things, after all.
Anyway, all this brings me to the ending of the game, and thus the actual SPOILERS, just beyond this image.
So, like I said earlier, the game takes place more or less over the course of a year, with the knowledge from the get go that the main character is only going to be there for a year. Already setting up for some sad farewells. The day before Joker is set to leave, you can go around and say goodbye to everyone, or at least everyone you got to Rank 10 with. Plus various unnamed NPCs (which is how I knew Kotaro the old dog finally passed away).
Already I was bummed that I couldn't give proper goodbyes to some characters like Chihaya because I was literally one rank away, or only got a half-assed and grumpy goodbye from Iwai. Especially when all that time passed that... But I already went into that, and was able to say goodbye to pretty much everyone. Aside from Yoshizawa, who was not to be found anywhere, and a couple characters who were either presumed dead, or missing for other reasons.
That's all fine, and I definitely teared up a bit here and there. The thing that kinda bummed me out was the following day. I was expecting this to go pretty much exactly how it did in Persona 4. Joker would go to the train station, and everyone would be there to say goodbye, and wave as he rode out of town.
Instead, what happened was some guys in a car (completely unexplained!) intervened, and basically I only got a super brief goodbye from my friends, and the only reason I can see is so Yoshizawa and Maruki could be shoe-horned into the ending, and so there could be a post credits tease that Akechi might still be alive.
But, regardless of that, it just left me with a deep feeling of melancholy. In some ways that was bound to happen anyway, because I was saying goodbye to all those characters, and this game as a whole, but this... Just felt sad.
Then I started wondering, Maruki and Yoshizawa weren't in the original game, so what was the original ending like?
The answer, it seems, is way better???
In the original ending, we get stuff like Morgana in cat form working on the engine of a car (which is very funny), but more importantly, it doesn't end with Joker riding the train alone. It ends with him, with the whole Phantom Thieves group together, riding off into the sunset. It's a great ending, and I wish they'd kept that instead of the new one.
I really didn't need to speak to Maruki one last time, never mind that conversation could have happened on the day before. Same with bumping into Yoshizawa, and the Akechi tease. It's a huge bummer, honestly, that they felt the need to emphasize all that stuff instead of having the wonderful moment of driving off with all your friends.
But it is what it is, I guess.
I've done the thing I always used to do with these blogs, having so much negative stuff near the end. Still, I did, for all the melancholy I felt at the end, for all the gripes I have, I really loved my time with Persona 5. It's the sort of game that just really clicked with me, and I'm sure it'll stick with me for a long time to come.
Now that I've actually played one of these games, I'm in a different spot than I was after just watching Persona 4. Now I feel like I should play Persona 3 at some point, since that's the one of the "Persona Trilogy" (I'm sure I'm making some fan of the first two mad, I'm joking) that I have the least experience with. Which is to say almost none. But since Persona 4 Golden just recently was ported to PC, hopefully 3 will get some sort of return too. My hope is for a full on remaster or remake, but that's likely hoping for too much.
And, what about a theoretical Persona 6? Next time will I want to wait another three years for the better re-release? Dunno! Maybe they won't even do that, what I've heard makes it sound like post-5 there's been a lot of turnover at the Persona studio, maybe that'll mean a lot of changes to the formula for the next game. I certainly have a few things in mind that I hope they go about differently.
But, regardless of theoretical new versions of Persona 3, or Persona 6, now all there is to do is wait for Persona 5 Scramble to get localized for the US...
Probably gonna be a while...
And also, as always, thank you for reading.