Phantom Thievin', Part 2: 75.5(!!) Hours of Persona 5

I am thou… thou art I…

I am slave (to Persona 5). Want emancipation (from playing Persona 5)?
I am slave (to Persona 5). Want emancipation (from playing Persona 5)?

Thou hast begun a new blog post…

Hi everyone, I’m back! If you were wondering what I’ve been doing since my last post about Persona 5, the answer is playing Persona 5! ...And that’s about it! At the first check-in I was at 30 hours. My final play time was a rather healthy 75.5 hours. That’s over three days of my life spent playing this game, so you bet your ass I’m gonna write about it.

For this game, an anime turn-based rpg, to take so much of my time, it had to be doing something right. When I see the name Mike Pence, I’ll probably associate it with this game first. Like I said last time, when I wasn’t playing Persona 5, I was thinking about playing Persona 5, or getting the music stuck in my head. The graphics and sound are still awesome, okay? That hasn’t changed. They’re real good.

Falling with style, etc.
Falling with style, etc.

At 30 hours, I was wrapping up the third leg of the game after the bank heist. What followed immediately after wasn’t too exciting. The pyramid and space dungeons weren’t really memorable. I mean, it was cool to see the guy dressed like Buzz Lightyear, but the level design, fights, and story in that portion of the game are hard for me to remember. There’s a solid 20 to 30 hours of game between then and now, so forgive me!

In general, I find the life sim half of the game to be more interesting than any of the rpg stuff. I guess that’s not too surprising based on my personal preference. Unlike the last post, I think as the game goes on they give you more free time for the life sim sections. It probably approaches an even split with the dungeon crawling. The dungeon crawling just feels longer because you’re, you know… actually playing a video game.

Remember, I had the game on easy. Most of my deaths (there were probably around a dozen) were due to me just spacing out or having a lapse of judgement. I was trying to spend as little time in battle as possible conserve resources, which unfortunately led to me losing progress due to stupid deaths. One instance, though, I swear was not my fault at all.

I got:

  1. Ambushed by the enemy, meaning I they had the first turn.
  2. Afflicted with rage, meaning Mike automatically performed a strong physical attack.
  3. Hit in the face with the enemy’s specifically physical shield they apparently had, meaning the damage went back on Mike, killing him instantly and causing a game over.

I would say that this was the only instance of an “unfair” death… but then the exact same thing happened again 10 hours later.

I know the time limit is what glues the entire mess of weird mechanics and side activities, but I’m just not a big fan. I always felt like I couldn’t fully enjoy the life sim stuff because I was always second guessing myself. Should I have done this activity earlier? Should I level this stat or a different one? The worst was trying to save days by staying in dungeons too long. Yeah, I’ve got no SP and I’m having a miserable time, but at least I can read about fish or some shit tomorrow!

While I did enjoy social links more than any other part of the game, one can’t help but notice a certain… repetition. Pretty much every social link follows the same arc:

1-3: Sets up the background. The character and Mike Pence start to form a bond but sometimes they’re dicks

4: Enter, Stage Right: Some asshole who drops just enough exposition to leave a loose thread. Mike tries to pull on the thread but the character says it’s none of his business and that he should go home.

5-6: The character opens up to Mike about their problems. Each tries to compete for the Most Tragic Situation award. If only, the character laments, there was some way the asshole’s heart could be changed…

7-8: The Phantom Thieves steal the asshole’s heart. The social link subject suddenly has a vastly improved life. They and Mike are now bestest buddies.

9: Resolution of the conflict; Mike has once again saved the day.

10: Sex.

The confidant plotlines all follow the same general structure.
The confidant plotlines all follow the same general structure.

This is pretty much the same as Persona 4 from what I remember. Look, I get that there are a lot of these things, and that the fine details are different. But a little more variety couldn’t hurt.

What makes or breaks this section of the game is the quality of the characters versus the quality of the rewards. Some characters are good enough to hold my interest alone, some characters aren’t good at all but give good rewards, and the unlucky ones do neither.

Unfortunately, due to the rather intense gating of some parts of confidants, I was just unable to finish some that I wanted to. Sorry, Sojiro, I guess I’ll just never learn to make curry and you’ll never sort out your custody problems. But don’t worry, I’ll be sure to hang out with that fat politician every Sunday.

As far as the party members go… they’re a mixed bag.

The tried and true two-guys-and-a-girl formula.
The tried and true two-guys-and-a-girl formula.

Ryuji and Ann are probably at the top, if only because they’re in the game so soon. They get a lot of time to show off and develop, unlike later characters who have to share the ever-divided spotlight. I know people have mixed feelings on these two, but they were people who I would want to hang around in real life.

That said, Yusuke is definitely eyeing the number one spot as well. He may not be super useful in battle, but damn if I don’t love his eccentricities. Like the passionate speeches he makes every time new inspiration strikes, only for him to completely misread the situation. Or the time he spent the last of his money on a pair of lobsters, for no other reason than to admire their beauty. When I laughed the hardest, it was because of Yusuke.

The passion for art knows no bounds, religious or otherwise.
The passion for art knows no bounds, religious or otherwise.

The newer party members just don’t grab me the same way. Makoto is excellent in battle, but a lot of the time I found her overly bossy and controlling. Admittedly, the part of the game where she tries to be “discreet” by trailing you with a huge book in her face got a good laugh out of me. But based on her immense popularity, with cries of “best girl” ringing from the hills, I can’t help but feel that I missed something.

Futaba, I have split feelings on. Again, her battle skills are really useful, and the social link isn’t bad either. But her habit of peppering gamer words into her vocabulary was annoying more often than not. It’s really weird when she comes barely close enough to scratch the fourth wall. The scene where she calls Mishima a boring “NPC” is funny, but he literally is an NPC. Are the writers engaging in self-deprecation here and saying their character is boring? There’s also some values dissonance invoked where I’m helping a techie shut-in engage with the real world… while I myself am shutting myself off from the world to play an rpg. I had the same feeling when putting off my real-life studies so I could do so in-game.

Haru was… uh, I guess she was there. I don’t think anyone would argue that she’s the least interesting out of the party members. Most of the time I forgot she existed. So much, in fact, that I never actually started her confidant. Oops. Sorry that your Buzz Lightyear dad died.

Does this catbus nag as much?
Does this catbus nag as much?

And then there’s Morgana. To be honest, I got real sick of his shit before too long. He’s constantly throwing shit at my man Ryuji, fedora-tipping Ann, and controlling every aspect of my life with his own commentary track. No one asked for your opinion! If you didn’t turn into a car and have great support magic you’d be out on the curb!

The section after my first blog post was the part where he briefly leaves the team because he’s not appreciated enough. Maybe if you weren’t such a dick all the time, we’d like you better! Of course, after that everyone talks about how much of a crucial member to the Thieves he is. Which is technically true, but not because I like him. I was pretty happy when he disappeared at the end of the game, but then he came back at the last second. In fact, he goes back with Mike to his hometown! I can’t wait to have that stupid cat narrate the rest of my life.

When it comes to romancing, I had some deliberations. If I wanted to roleplay my own high school experience, the correct answer would be to choose no one. But I ended up going with Ann primarily because I hoped it would make Morgana mad. Unfortunately, they’re still going with this concept that you must keep your relationship a secret from everyone you know. Is that a thing in Japan?

Relationships don’t affect the writing as much as I would hope. Take the school trip to the beach for example. There was a really cute scene between Mike and Ann on the last day… which was a bit undercut because literally the previous scene had Mike prowling the beach with Ryuji trying to pick up chicks. Real Christian, Mike.

For what it’s worth, there were three downright precious scenes with Ann in the last hour of the game. I just wish there was more of that spread throughout the runtime. I’d hang out with you more, sweetie, but I’ve gotta talk to these other people. By the way, since Ann was the first opportunity I had for a romance, I had to deny every following female who tried to come on to me. Watching them talk themselves down when it’s clear Mike isn’t interested was more than a little awkward.

Hey, I’m gonna get into spoiler talk now.

The extended bait-and-switch story sequence after the casino palace was one part cool and two parts ridiculous. Let’s go over just a few of the things that must happen successfully for the Phantom Thieves to pull off this plan:

  • Akechi has to not suspect anything and believe he has the upper hand. Keep in mind, he is significantly smarter than the entirety of the Phantom Thieves put together (with Makoto and Futaba pulling most of that weight).

  • The Thieves have to fool him with a fake briefcase and anticipate a massive police ambush with enough accuracy to get Joker separated and captured while everyone else escapes.

  • Mike can’t fail while in police custody due to the drugging blocking out the exact parts of his memory that tell him that Akechi is the traitor and what he needs to do about it. He barely gets these memories back in time, literal minutes before he needs to use that information to save his own life.

  • Mike also has to convince Sae, while heavily drugged, that all this cognitive nonsense is real and to radically change her ideals in order to do the right thing.

    • In-canon he has about an hour to do so, but in my head he is literally explaining 50 hours of flashback gameplay to Sae in excruciating detail. Either way, it’s unlikely this works.

  • Akechi has to accept that he has successfully killed Mike, which he does without any of the triple-checking one would expect from an ace detective.

  • Lastly, Mike has to hang out for like a month pretending he’s dead, despite going into public constantly. At least he has a hood up.

Sure thing, Sae. First, I ran around the train station for a few minutes because I was lost...
Sure thing, Sae. First, I ran around the train station for a few minutes because I was lost...

What makes this so dumb to me is that these are the Phantom Thieves we’re talking about. These people loudly discuss how they are indeed the Phantom Thieves in crowded public places. Every social link figures out that you’re a member. The first person to do so is Mishima, who is a lovable idiot, but an idiot nonetheless.

Literally every other plan they have in the story gets screwed up in some way, or there’s some unforeseen complication. But with this ridiculous game of ten-dimensional chess, where it seems impossible that some miniscule part of the plan wouldn’t mess up and throw the whole plan down the toilet, everything goes according to plan. All so they can have their cake and eat it too when it comes to Akechi being the traitor. But hey, I don’t write video games.

Holy shit, it's The Cleaner! Run for it!
Holy shit, it's The Cleaner! Run for it!

I’ll be honest. The cruise ship level sucks. There’s no real substance, you just run around these terrible cramped hallways solving puzzles as a mouse, and when you’re not you’re fighting filler bosses. So when I got to “The Cleaner,” I was extra determined to not have to play it anymore. That’s when I began taking battles more seriously and doing the things that they probably expect you to do.

Once that happened, I did not die for the rest of the game! Ha, and you were looking down on me because of my dozen deaths! On easy! Nice! It was almost like my own Persona awakened inside me. Actually, uh… maybe not.

The story after The Cleaner, and the filler bosses as a whole, was actually really good. Yes, the reveal of Akechi as the traitor was predictable and silly. Hell, I predicted it, remember? But his boss fight was really cool in my opinion. It was mostly his demented battle cries and getting to beat up a character who’s been in your hair for dozens of hours.

Akechi’s death was handled really well. He can’t repent for his crimes and rejoin the Phantom Thieves; in fact, he would never want to. But he comes to terms with what he’s done, and for his last opponent, kills and is killed by the cognitive version of himself. It was kind of touching.

For what it's worth, I was right.
For what it's worth, I was right.

But Akechi is a popular character. And his death is never actually shown on screen as there’s a convenient wall blocking the view. And if you don’t think they’ll somehow bring him back for the next 15 Persona 5 spinoff games you are an idiot.

Honestly, I felt at the time that they could have ended the game after that dungeon. After all, Ryuji finally got a badass heroic moment! But the following plot revelations and final bosses were enjoyable.

Everyone and their mother predicted Akechi would betray you, but you could argue that he was just there to distract you from the BIG betrayal. It was actually really cool how they played with expectations regarding a certain character’s voice being different than how it used to be. When the “voice” returned to normal, I had a big smile on my face.

Why on earth did I need to fight four archangels before the final boss? They drained my resources so I was at a disadvantage during the real final boss. What I had imagined would be a “game-breaking” setup (with SP regenerating every turn and lots of healing options) ended up being a “necessary to complete the game” setup. On easy. Sigh.

The ending of the final boss fight, though, was sick as hell. It made up for the middling middle section of the game in my eyes. All the cutscenes, dialogue, character moments, were all excellent right up to the end. And so, the game concludes with the Phantom Thieves piled into a car, driving towards new adventures and spinoff games ever after.

For all my faults with Persona 5, I wouldn’t have stuck with it for 75.5 hours if it wasn’t special. This game is an event to me. It’s an experience you should have once in your life. I doubt I’ll replay it for a long time, until maybe they stop making video games forever. But I’m glad I played it. What the game does right, it does really right. It makes Persona 4 look like trash. It uses the sum of its parts to forge an unmistakable identity. Do I recommend it? That depends… how many free hours you got?

Never saw that one coming.
Never saw that one coming.

If you stuck with this exhaustive post the whole way through, or even just skipped to the end because you were bored, thank you for reading. Hopefully I’ll see you next time, where we’ll find out how this game ranks on my top ten of the year...

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