[Review] Persona 5

5/8

Persona 5 felt like it could’ve been a masterpiece at more points than one, and simply ran out of fuel on everything almost before it started. Quality lasted longer in some areas than others, in ways that only highlighted how unfortunate the other pieces became. I really think I should give it a 3 for how glaring the holes are. But for most of the game itself I didn’t notice them, and I was just happily chugging along, thanks to a great overall feel created by a handful of exceedingly well-crafted elements.

I picked up this game because of the waifus and knew nothing about it going in other than that it had waifus, one which said “Let’s do it in the student council room”, and a character named after Mishima. I’ve never played a Persona or a Shin Megami Tensei game before, and in recent memory the only game of this “JRPG” genre I’ve played in recent memory was Neptunia Rebirth 1, which I am not going to complete. I used JP dub and EN sub and played on the PS3, final playtime was ~120 hours. HowLongToBeat average is currently a little north of 105, a number I believe is too low.

Persona 5 didn’t need to be 120 hours. Among other things videogames are unique in that they can provide such a long experience, allowing so much time and space to get invested into its world and story. Persona 5 did amazing in the first 1/8, then cruised fine until about the 2/3 mark, after which the quality disappeared conspicuously disappeared in huge chunks, only getting worse until the game finally ended. There were still a few shining bits, but they no longer made sense in light of everything else.

If you do plan to play Persona 5:

  • Read the manual, or if it’s no longer online by time of reading, search for “persona fusion chart”. That’s the important bit and it’s not explained ever in-game.
  • Dungeons, or “Palaces”, are completable in a single in-game day, and it’s important to do this to free up the other days to spend time with people.
  • The doctor gives a discount after a certain point, the fortune teller and shogi player have good abilities, and the maid will do your laundry and some other things to give more time.
  • It’s basically impossible to max relationship with everyone on a blind run. It might be possible with a guide, but even then it’d have to be really tight and even less freedom to do anything at all.
  • Maxing a relationship gives a little extra story per character at the end of the game, so go for 10s with your favorite characters over a few more 9s.
  • Upgrading to maximum armor isn’t the most important thing in the world.
  • Upgrading guns is not important at all.
  • It is better to capture lower level personas and merge them into something your level than to capture personas your level. This will always be the case.
  • Don’t read the rest of this review. You will enjoy it more if you don’t know how it works. This is true of most things, but for Persona 5 it crosses the border between barely being worth the time to arguably not at all. Arguments which I will make.

I learned a lot on how characters and ideas can be written, enjoyed the art and music immensely, and picked up a few waifus, and upon completion I thought for sure it was on the thumbs up side rather than not. But the more I thought about it the worse it got.

If it didn’t have perfectly voices with gorgeous characters, funny banter, generally fun music, and an amazing user interface – that is to say, if it didn’t have its production quality – it’d be a 3 for sure. It did have those though, and I can’t say they don’t count. Unfourtunately there’s not much I have to say about those, other than the user interface. I’m not aware enough about the implications or differences of using one voice actor over another, or a certain costume or shape for a character over another. They’re all perfect as far as I can tell. If you’re just looking to spend time with pretty voiced waifus, this game is not a bad choice at all.

What I can talk about is the writing and how time was distributed and spent.

And boy oh boy does Persona 5 have things to talk about.

> USER INTERFACE
> FLOW AND BALANCE
> — (Timeslots)
> — (Story Across Gameplay Loop)
> — (Real Time Quantified)
> — (Grinding)
> — (Combat Progression in SMT Games)
> WRITING
> — (Theme and Motivation)
> — (Plot Progression)
> — What was the story intended to convey?
> — (The Bad Ending)
> — (Characters, specifically Morgana)
> — (Characters: Akechi Goro)
> CONCLUSION


USER INTERFACE

The presentation really carried it. It’s common knowledge that better graphics, better animations, and better voice acting lend a game more credibility – but in a class of its own, Persona 5 demonstrates that a well-designed user interface can have the same impact. So many things in this game – and thus, the game overall –  feel special simply because they’re shown an interesting way.

The main conversation box isn’t a regular rectangle. The face sprite changes for different emotions, and there’s also cut-ins for more charged reactions, usually paired with an animation in the 3D background. Text in general is not horizontally aligned, a trivial change that makes it all still lively after the thousandth  viewing. There’s almost always some kind of border around the edge of the game so it doesn’t feel like just something else on the monitor. The two main shops have special animations and special music. There were a lot of loading screens, but there must’ve been 10 different ones: two standard corners, two crowded trains, one for rainy days…

The QOL wasn’t great everywhere. Post-fight spinning was dizzying. Text log having no music didn’t make any sense. Autoread is a toggle in a menu that is not accessible during conversations i.e. when it’s actually important, and could’ve easily been mapped to triangle instead. That being said, with exception of the last one, the special UI touches made it feel like an overall great game with some flaws rather than a poor game that stumbled upon doing a number of things right. I’m not a fan of grinding, critting large numbers, or collecting a variety of different monsters, yet, thanks to this attention to detail to the things which the player would be spending time with the most, combined with beautiful expressive character portraits and an all-star cast, Persona 5 didn’t feel like a chore.

At least, not until the other parts completely fell through made clear I needed to think things through with writing a review. Certainly the game felt like a special experience.

But what was the experience itself?


FLOW AND BALANCE


Persona 5’s time is structured as follows:

  • Dungeonining
  • Story Progression
  • Character Progression / Free Time
  • (repeat)

These go on for hours at a time and do not overlap with each other. Choosing to intersperse them to get better flow and a more rounded experience is harshly punished.

Excluding Mementos, a no-boss side dungeon with randomly generated levels, there is only one dungeon open at any time, corresponding to the villain in focus at that point. Each villain has to be defeated usually in about 2 weeks of in-game time. There’s a lot of names shown for in-game time – early morning, morning, lunch, afternoon, afterschool, evening, and if it’s weekend then the second two are replaced with daytime – and none of these matter except the two slots per day where you actually have a choice: daytime / afterschool, and evening. If you choose to do the dungeon you lose your evening slot, unless/until you max the maid confidant, who gives it back to you for a fee, and also sometimes opens up an additional timeslot that’s only for reading and making tools. A dungeon can be completed in one day, but the boss fight is on a separate day, and the plot calls for an additional day inbetween to send a “calling card”, making a total of 3 days or 6 timeslots minimum used out of ~28.

There are 16 friends, or “confidants”, you need to spend time with to rank up their relationship, 10 ranks total. A few of them rank up automatically each time they see you but most require more than one meeting (thus, timeslot) per rank. Some of them go faster if you choose the right conversation choice, or if it’s a girl, if you give them a gift that suits them. Most confidants have social stat checks at some point, stats which, for most of the game, come exclusively from doing things that don’t involve any other confidants, like watching a movie or reading a book. On top of all this, every confidant only appears in one of the two timeslots (afternoon / evening) and none of them (except maybe the doctor) appears every day.

There are 7 dungeons minus the final one which doesn’t have any free time, thus 7 x 14 x 2 ≈ 200 timeslots available. 7 x 6 ≈ 40 slots minimum to get the dungeons out of the way. 16 x 10 ≈ 160 slots minimum to max all confidants, plus some minimum amount of time to deal with levelling up social stats that I’m not going to calculate. The total amount is more than 200 because the later dungeons have more than 2 weeks, but there’s also requirements to go into the Mementos dungeon for several confidants, taking up both timeslots of that day, so the numbers in the end are approximately correct.

All of this means: it’s either really tight or impossible to max all confidants on the first run even with a guide, certainly impossible without a guide if you’re spending slots testing out activities to see how much benefit they’ll give you. It’s probably still tight on new game plus where all social stats carry over.

Of those 16 confidants, I managed to max 6. Maybe I could’ve gotten to 9 or 10 if I redistributed all the time spent with everyone to just a few. If I had spent any more days than 1 in each dungeon, that number would drop dramatically. Since the story progresses regardless of how fast you complete dungeons and you only lose time to spend with other characters outside dungeons, there are only incentives against incentives spreading out dungeon time with character / free time.

Which would be fine if dungeons were interesting, but they aren’t. Generally, no story progression or character development happens during dungeon time. There’s quips and jokes when you find a treasure box or defeat an enemy, sometimes one or two line observations walking into a new area, after which nothing about characters or the plot changes at any time while you’re walking around in fantastic environments with your fantastic Phantom Thief costume fighting fantasy monsters with your own fantasy monsters. Of the 8 dungeons in the game, plot occurs in the first, a great bit in the sixth, and terribly disappointing in the final two. There’s a lot of fun chatter in the Mementos, fitting the idea of it being an optional sidequest dungeon, something for which there’s no parallel in the dungeons tied to the story. Outside of character and plot introduction, the music, and the visuals, there’s not much in dungeons except fighting monsters. Our teammates are silent outside of saying, occasionally, how we’re now in range to strike. In the final 3 dungeons have some NPC chatter here and there to liven things up and illustrate the meaning behind things, but it’s few and far between in the 3~6 hours it takes to complete them. Then there’s usually a little bit of story with sending the calling card, followed by a boss fight that lasts 0.5~1 hour.

Then follows hours of plot progression where there is nothing to do except sit back and watch things happen, VN-style, occasionally with fancy short animated cutscenes. Every once in a while at the end of an in-game day you get sent back to your room, but you aren’t allowed to do anything meaningful while in it, except give fertilizer to your plant if it’s that time of the week, better hope you bought fertilizer beforehand. Try to do anything else and the stupid cat will tell you you’re tired and it’s time to go to bed. I presume the existence of this was to allow the player more savepoints in case they’d had enough for their real day, because it really is hours on end until they get to do something again that isn’t select something in a conversation where the choice doesn’t matter.

In these hours the previous villain will be wrapped up and a new one introduced, “Mission Start!” scrolls across the screen in some fancy manner fit with the rest of the Persona 5 style, and now you get to choose between doing the dungeon, spending time with characters, or doing things which gain social stats that eventually allow you to spend time with characters.

Spending time improving social stats has some choice in timing them, like studying during a rainy day, but only a few have the slightest interactivity in them, and the best ones have none. You don’t know what day is going to have what weather, you don’t know what movie is going to show up at the theater at what time, and only a few confidants have a guaranteed schedule. They’re not random, I’m certain there’s guides out there that’ll spell it out, but there’s little info in-game in a blind run.

Spending time with characters is more sitting back and watching, with a few conversation choices that advance the relationship faster if you choose wisely. This is the most interesting part of the game, but still has problems, primarily in that they’re exceedingly short and basically only involve the player character and the character in question, along with a few NPCs unique to each line who never appear anywhere else in the world. In a few rare cases (For me, it happeneed 3 times), spending time with one character will lead to a situation where you run into another character you already know, but their interactions last all of three back-and-forths – a time not much shorter than the amount of time they spend with you. You can spend 6 hours afterschool in a Palace, but hang out with Ann for a 5 or 10 minute conversation on a Sunday, and oh my the sun’s setting already. If you spend time with them and it’s not time to rank up, it’s barely 30 seconds with no voice and only a few simple animations.

Total amount of actual voiced character development time across each character is apparently only about an hour each. This feels about right, since the amount of development each character gets feels about 3 episodes long. However in 3 episodes of anime usually a lot of stuff happens outside of development for just one character, and that’s not the case at all in Persona 5. You can’t choose to gather up your crew (or maybe just your favorites) and head out for some fun together. There’s two interactive side-activities in the game, batting and fishing, and you can’t invite your buddies out for a little friendly competition. If you want to meet up for something not work, you only get to hang out with one. If you hang out with one, then it’s off to the movies or visiting some other place, where you get special dialogue the first time and that’s it. If you meet up for work, then it’s dungeoning time, meaning no character interactions. There’s a grand total of two (2) group events, and both of them are scripted to appear at certain times, the first of which appears right after the first dungeon, i.e. only contains half your crew.

The total amount of time across a free-time period is usually about 2~4 hours. 7 dungeons of about 5 hours each, each with ~3 hours story and ~3 hours, 7 * (5+3+3) ≈ 80; how’d I get to 120? There’s a lot of loading screens, a final dungeon and boss, the intro sequence, and the two group sequences; generously speaking those would maybe bump it to 90. If the average is 105 then there’s still ~10 missing. If we assume 120, then it’s 30.

The rest of the time comes from the Velvet Room and Mementos. Translated to actions a player actually takes, this time is spent looking up a chart and grinding.

Persona 5 has a very large amount of monsters, or “personas”, of which a player simply following the story and keeping up with levels will only encounter a limited selection. Acquiring a persona comes in one of two ways: landing a critical on one in a dungeon and negotiating with it, or fusing it from component personas in the Velvet Room. Acquiring it in a dungeon is basically useless since it only ever comes with the minimum amount of skills, leaving fusing to be the main source of power. The Velvet Room has a compendium of all Personas that exist in the game, but they are only listed by type. You know that a Death or Tower or Chariot exists at so-and-so level, and it has so-and-so appearance, and that’s about it. This is fine because leveling up confidants gets you better exp bonuses for their type of persona, and it’d be boring and pointless if you just knew all the weaknesses of everything beforehand.

But you don’t know what makes a Chariot, or what makes a Emperor. When going to the fuse menu, it’ll tell you what type the result of two particular components is going to be. It won’t tell you what components you’d need if you want to get a particular result. If you’ve leveled up your relationship with Ann and notice that there’s a Lovers persona near your level, how do you go about getting it. There’s 22 persona types, meaning there’s a table of 22×22 combinations, about half of which are repeats, so 22 x 22 / 2 ≈ 250 uniques. Lovers happens to have 9 combinations. Which 9?

A table exists in the official manual showing this information, and this manual doesn’t come with the game. It’s something you’d expect to be in-game, or on a given paper foldout. What it is, is a URL on the inside cover, a URL leading to a manual that’s not in downloadable PDF form. On top of personal types there’s also a level formula which I don’t remember ever being explained. All of which means, if you aren’t just casually strolling your way through everything, a lot of time will be spent looking at a chart on another monitor, if not third party tools which tell you exactly what personas you need to fuse in what order to get the thing you want. This is basically necessary to rank up with the twins, who tell you to make personas by name rather than by type/level.

Grinding I felt was required, but 1) it probably wasn’t and 2) more was intended.

The game demonstrated early on that if it doesn’t want you to get levels, you basically won’t: the first dungeon’s encounters had exp ranging from 4 to 32, then the introduction of the side dungeon immediately after gave encounters of exp baseline 100+. Bosses for sidequests give thousands to tens of thousands, and I’m pretty sure fighting the same monster in a main dungeon gives extra experience compared to fighting them in Mementos. That being said I must’ve thought in a completely different way than the game’s designers expected, because even with 20~30 hours of grinding I was still massively underlevelled compared to everyone else near the end of the game. I’d been playing 100+ hours in ~10 days at that point and everything was falling apart in the story at that point so I just wanted to get it over with.


And I did get it over with, all because I just happened to have the right Personas.

Armor reduces damage taken but it’s not all too important to have the latest stuff. Buying weapons helps but most damage endgame isn’t through basic attacks. Leveling ups your HP/SP by a little bit each time but I don’t think there’s a basic defense stat outside of it.

Damage dealt and damage taken are largely dependent on what Persona you have equipped at the time of dealing or taking damage. The Persona’s level and stats are somewhat important, but the biggest thing are what skills they have equipped. I started the final sequence at level 60 or 61, fighting enemies level 77, primarily with personas level 48, 50, and 54, and basically the only skills I used were lower enemy defense, lower enemy attack, a cheap heal I had that was buffed by a passive skill, and an insta-kill. Ryuji buffed party attack, Makoto buffed party defense, and everyone did damage when it wasn’t time to buff or heal. I never felt like the ~20 level deficit was an insurmountable problem. It was annoying and took time, but in my mind was worth it because it appeared if my time wasn’t going to be taken here in minutes, it’d be taken a lot more in hours Mementos grinding through even more randomly generated levels, or sitting around in the Velvet Room pouring over the fusion chart more. I’d gone through most of the game at-level or overlevelled and did whatever I wanted without in most fights, including boss fights. If I’d grinded more I could’ve done the same in the final sequences. But I managed, all because skills are so much more important than levels, and I happened to have a set of skills that let me see the roll credits.

Or, to flip it the other way, if I had even better personas, if I had the right personas for each fight, it would’ve all been a cakewalk. I couldn’t be bothered with the twins confidant so I never got to create personas with levels higher than mine, but apparently there are a few high level personas which make the game trivial. I had this feeling with the pyramid palace where I steamrolled things with some persona I forget which were obviously meant to be difficult for anyone who didn’t have a certain ability, and near the end with the two fights with the angels which repeatedly summon supports with really high healthpools that need to be eliminated in 1 turn lest they be used as sacrifices and basically heal the enemy to full. Since they were angels they’d be holy, which meant the fight was basically a test for whether you had the skill for group curse insta-kill. If you didn’t, you literally can’t win unless you have such a high level and high damage persona you can kill them in two turns.

Acquiring these “even better personas” reliably though would require a lot of time looking at the fusion chart and planning out component fusions to inherit particular skills, components which would’ve had to been discovered at random beforehand or looking things up online, or looking up everything online, grinding a lot more for the money to fund random fusions to fill out the compendium for more components, or playing through the game multiple times.

I don’t see a problem with rewarding players to play the game multiple times, but it feels like I only managed to finish the game by chance. What if I didn’t have group curse insta-kill? It certainly didn’t seem like the game designers planned for me to have it. If I didn’t, I’d have to go back an hour or so worth of fights, spend who knows how long in the Velvet Room figuring out a fusion that’d get me what I needed, then go all the way back and do it all again? To be sure the example I’m speaking of is especially egregious, but its prominent existence in minibosses before the final boss makes me think I must’ve lucked out in instances I’m not aware of, and other players lucked out in places where I thought was just oddly difficult. Every teammate only has their one persona and every player will have the same teammates available to them at any given point in the game, but beyond that the differences in possible experiences seems pretty volatile.

Overall this makes Persona 5 is a terribly balanced game with terrible flow. Its amazing presentation kept me from realizing any of this until about 70 hours in when the writing and dungeon quality dipped through the floor and revealed that the floor had other holes in it. This wouldn’t be too terrible if the game was 70 hours long, but it was 120.

Most of the writing outside the introduction happened in the final 50.


WRITING

In the first hour of the game, a theme is spelled out: “betrayal and duplicity is just part of society.” Every problem you go through is just a rigged game, but it’s not just you, the same goes for everyone else. First you are betrayed by a teammate. Then the police threaten to break your leg if you don’t sign a prewritten confession. The prosecutor of your case is introduced and she has trouble getting to interrogate you because of some under-the-table deal between the police and her boss. A flashback within a flashback reveals you were framed for assault. You transfer to a new school for your year of probation, where the principal says in your first meeting all but explicitly that responsibility flows downhill – including to your homeroom teacher, who reasonably complains that a delinquent with a criminal record should be handled by a male instead.

“You protected some woman from a man forcing himself on her, he got injured, then sued you. Right? That’s what you get for sticking your nose in a matter between two adults. You did injure him, yeah? And now that you’ve got a criminal record, you were expelled from your high school. The courts ordered you to transfer and move out here, which your parents also approved. In other words, they got rid of you for being a pain in the ass. […] Behave yourself for the year. If nothing happens, your probation will be lifted.”

“I’ll call the police!”
“Call them if you want! The police are my bitches. They’re not going to take you seriously.”

“Be sure to read the school rules. Any violations will send you straight to the guidance office. And, if by any chance you cause problems, I won’t be able to protect you at all. …That IS your promise, yes, Principal Kobayakawa?”
“Mmm. He is responsible for all his actions.”

This theme is propelled and supported by events in the story until the end of the first boss and dungeon. Afterwards, it becomes background noise until the final boss, and in the meantime gets replaced by… nothing. There’s no real theme for most of the game. There’s a plot, and each boss has their own area of society the game uses to criticize, but no overarching theme is given any support at any intensity anytime in the middle 100 hours. This left me feeling more involved in the story at the beginning when the villain was a PE teacher than at the end when the villain was a god. The writing in the main story plays all its cards in the first ten hours and leaves nothing for the rest.

There are 56 minutes of anime cutscenes in the game. ~14:30 occurs in the first hour, ~21:30 (~7:00) by the end of the first boss, 21:30~29:15 (~7:45) occurs between the end of the first and the end of the sixth, 29:15~48:30 (~19:15) happens between the end of the sixth and the start of the eighth, and 48:30~56:00 (~7:30) is after the end of the eighth. Of course, this isn’t equivalent to the story distribution in the game, but it’s not too far from it either. Seeing a cutscene felt common at first, then exceedingly rare. The first boss we see offering a pretty girl a ride to school, and spiking a volleyball at the face of a student. The second boss we see riding in a car. The third boss and beyond, we see nothing.

Kamoshida is a former Olympic athlete who retired to become a PE teacher, a PE teacher who treats male students like slaves solely for the purpose of demonstrating his own glory, and looks among female students for sexual conquests. The school has no selling points except him so the principal and the parents say yes to whatever he wants, and the students who are involved with physical sports can’t say no to him because of the adults, the need for a recommendation letter for college, and because of each other. There’s great plausible deniability in their reasoning: Special one-on-one training. You must be tired, why don’t I drive you home. It’s not abuse, we’re all working hard to achieve our dreams. Kamoshida’s actions have an intimate effect on us: we’re going to be expelled while on probation, one of our friends was the ace of the track team he disbanded, one of our other friends attempted suicide jumping off a rooftop with everyone watching, one of our classmates is obviously deliberately being abused as target practice, and similar things are true for everyone else at our school. We suddenly gain magical powers to change his heart, and as far as the story goes, there’s every reason in the world to do so.

Compare this to Madarame, the second boss, a famous artist who has a seemingly infinite number of styles, turns out he’s been using his pupils and he himself doesn’t make a single piece. We’re introduced to him primarily by manner of Yusuke, someone who stalks our resident beauty and wants to use her as a model. We also hear some disgruntled rumors and chatter about how Madarame plagiarizes and have a sidequest in Mementos on it. Bringing it to Yusuke he brushes us off saying it’s voluntary so it can’t be plagiarism, then threatens to report us to the police for breaking in and tresspassing unless Ann models nude, and says this can only occur while Madarame is out busy with his public exhibit. Time to change Madarame before we get reported.

And that’s all the motivation going into the second dungeon.

There’s more to Madarame’s portion of the game to be sure, but the rest of the meat of the writing all comes during and after the dungeon / boss fight, a pattern which holds true for every other boss after Kamoshida – in other words, the writing of each boss has absolutely no effect on our motivations. The story goes from (1) fear of not having a future due to getting kicked out of every school, evidence of sexual predation and physical abuse along with collective blackmailing and fear involving every character we know, to (2) not wanting to get reported to the police for tresspassing, not wanting to be forced into nude modelling (something treated comedically the entire way through), and plagiarism is bad. Third boss we initially engage because we’re told some faceless students are forced into drug trafficking and because we’ll be reported for being the Phantom Thieves. Fourth boss is because we’ll be reported for being the Phantom Thieves. Fifth boss is because we coincidentally happened to find out a girl is being forced into a political marriage, and her dad might be involved with some shady stuff. Sixth boss is because we’re going to be pinned for someone else’s crimes if we don’t. Seventh is the guy we find out is behind those other crimes that were going to be pinned on us. Final boss is because the shadow bureaucracy is going to make us disappear.

The story is a whimsical stringing along from one thing to the next, and dumps of emotions and reasons only come after the deed is already done. We do get back to the original theme at the end of the game before the final boss starts, but given everything the game had established the resolution doesn’t make any sense at all.

Let’s revisit the entirely plot in marginally more detail first.

There’s unexplained tragedies before the first boss, a mysterious line after the second, explicitly mentioned after the third, a conscious incentive for one character after the fourth, and doesn’t become a reason for everyone until the sixth, where the objective is to prove their innocence rather than find out who’s actually guilty – in other words, the plot takes a backseat to villain-of-the-week until after the sixth dungeon, when the flashback reaches present day. The player is aware that most of the story is a flashback and they’re looking out for a traitor, but as far as the player character is concerned it’s just a fun life changing the hearts of villains for the sake of justice, a justice so strong they need to wait on anonymous posts on an online forum to figure out their next target. The story is also never presented as a mystery; it’s nothing fancy like “the traitor is whoever you spent the least time in-game with”, it’s guaranteed to be that guy, and it’s obvious from a mile away from every possible angle. There’s no need to think or pay attention, just be a true hero, don’t sell out your friends, and the game automatically progresses.

Turns out this traitor was also the perp behind the crimes that were going to be pinned on us. We then fight him, meeting by sheer coincidence, while attempting to change the heart of his boss. He dies unceremoniously with no change to the plot. His boss is on track to becoming the next prime minister, which he does, and because we changed his heart at his acceptance speech he repented and admitted to all his crimes on air. But there’s no public outcry! So we go back into the Mementos, which all this time has been stated to be the “Palace of the Public”, the collective unconscious, and we find out it’s because everyone wants to be ruled, be told what to do, doesn’t really matter by who, and this has created a holy grail, a god to fulfill their wishes. We defeat the god, then turn ourselves in anyways and admit to most of the things we’ve been accused of because the police and bureaucracy would not take down the prime minister if we didn’t. So we do that, are sent to juvie hall, where no gameplay happens for about three months. During this time we get a few cutscenes depending on which confidants we’ve maxed, who are making public and private pushes for our release from prison, talking about how we were unfairly punished and how there’s all these things we did for them which demonstrate that we couldn’t possibly be such a character. We’re freed just in time for Valentine’s, where we spend one day with our romantic partner, then flash forward another month and it’s time to say goodbye. Rather than going back on the train alone, our Phantom Thieves crew surprises us with a car and drives us back instead. We’re shown that there’s black suited government agents tailing us, oh just let them do what they want, Morgana stole their spark plug so they’re stuck there anyways haha-

Okay, so hold on a bit, why are there government agents tailing us?

No, even before that, why did we have to turn ourselves in and go to juvie hall?

The game establishes in each of the first seven bosses along with however many side quest minibosses you do that removing a treasure from a palace causes a change of heart. It also establishes the god we fight at the end is the treasure of the palace of the public unconscious. We originally go look for and find the god because causing a change of heart in the Prime Minister clearly wasn’t enough to make the public outraged, and such an outrage is needed to spur the bureaucracy to react to such a scandal, because if they don’t then we’re just all going to be made missing by the shadows of power.

So what happens when we’re fighting god? First of all, people start changing their minds – before we defeat him. Why? We didn’t take out smaller treasures on the way to the big one. At some point apparently everyone in the public supports us, and, implication being, with that power, we’re able to defeat god. Why didn’t god just lose power? He’s powered by the public, right? Why did we gain power instead?

Then after we return to reality, after defeating god, everyone’s right back to how they were acting before. Just going on with their daily lives. No one’s shown breaking free of any old chains. No public outrage leading to the prime minister’s investigation. No change of consciousness inside or outside bureaucracy, who we’re told still need someone to pin blame on and get evidence from before they’re willing to put the real bad guy behind bars. With defeating the holy grail god we’re supposed to have changed the heart of the public and thus changed the hearts of everyone in society. So where’d it go? We shot him in the god in the head and he disappeared, so why did nothing change? The final boss of the game, the culmination of all the ideas throughout a 100+ hour story, and suddenly at the very end all the logic established about the world went out the window. There was some other plot point about some false impersonator being part of or maybe taking over the holy grail, but we’re never told that the holy grail couldn’t actually be removed, that all we did was get rid of someone hijacking that position. As far as visuals and writing and everything that was actually presented in our fight’s conclusion, we succeeded in what we set out to do: change and free the heart of the people.

We tell the final boss, the “god of control“, who is also the collective unconscious, that humans aren’t all just slaves, that we have free will and want to find our own futures, we defeat him, and then everything just goes back to the way it was. Then, after defeating god, we decide the best course of action is to surrender ourselves to the police and the corrupt legal bureaucracy which was not affected at all.

I’ll just suppose there’s some lore explanation. The real question:

What was the story intended to convey?

The thing most commonly brought up by the characters is justice and saving people, but from how the plot actually progresses, the general theme is “You have to do certain things or else you’ll get caught, and if you do those things and don’t get caught, it’ll always conveniently actually be a bad guy you defeat.” The themes of the two bookend bosses deals with people rolling over to those in power without a will to fight back, both with different results. One of them shows the heroes winning, with the people rising up and realizing that there is hope in the world after all, the other shows the people not reacting to anything at all, the heroes giving in to the system in the end.

In Persona 5, “The heroes giving in” is what happens at the end.

Now, I don’t have a problem with heroes giving in in the end. A few of my favorite stories end in reverse ex machinas; a new final revelation that everything they were fighting this whole time was just small peas and it’s simply impossible even with magical powers for an individual or a tiny group to defeat gigantic systems with massively efficient logistics and connections. I don’t have a problem with regular deus ex machinas either:

I prefer an ending where the many plots are resolved, yes. But without a god’s intervention, human animosity and love cannot easily be erased. The playwright must have reached the end of his rope. Most writers know the tangled web of human emotions cannot be undone by humans themselves. So, the deus ex machina is an expression of hope. A last hope, to be sure, a mirage created by those on the verge of ruin, wishing for a savior.

– Nero, Fate/Extra

Deus ex machina aims to instill hope, a possibility of a change for a better world. Reverse ex machina aims to instill peace, an acceptance that there are some things that just can’t be changed, that even though it’s now clear the destination can never be reached, we can’t forget that we put in the journey and the effort, that we believed.

Hope and Peace, or, alternatively worded,

May those who accept their fate find happiness.
May those who defy their fate find glory.

– Princess Tutu

Persona 5 is a story which builds up to and explicitly depicts our protagonist against all odds successfully defeating god, and then gives up.

120 hours of game, a little over 10 minutes after defeating the god of the holy grail, and he gives up after 1 conversation involving 1 other character that takes place over a span of 5 minutes. No grand music, no flashy animations, no reactions, just a matter of factly “I want you to turn yourself in”.

Throughout the sixth and seventh bosses the intent of the Phantom Thieves was to clear their name and stop a politician from getting elected. They failed to clear their name with the sixth and failed to stop the election, which is why they turned to changing the heart of the collective unconscious. They succeeded in defeating the treasure, which should mean that hearts will change, then shortly after the group disbands for the day waiting as they usually do to see how their actions in the magical world changed their own, the prosecutor appears and asks you to turn yourself in in the morning.

Unlike as you usually do, you decide for yourself without any further discussion, ask no questions, and just surrender yourself to be abused by the authorities.

Wait, where’d this come from? Is this the actual bad ending?

How am I supposed to accept this conclusion?

Is the intended takeaway from Persona 5 supposed to be “Feeling free is the important part, being free isn’t, just stay in line looking smug and that’s the best life can be”?

Most of those 10 minutes are spent in a cutscene where a plot critical character is disappearing along with Mementos and says something related to the lore: the dungeons we’d been going into, the “Palaces”, all of these magical worlds which we thought were only accessible through our plot devices, worlds which represented how certain people viewed the world – they’re not so different from “the” real world. Everyone has a different way of seeing things. There is no “real” world.

This is nice and all but it’s contradicted by the entirety of the main story where it was all about justice and saving people from the distorted desires of others, it doesn’t connect to the theme of the boss fight, stating that the people aren’t all just slaves who are happy being exploited safely by others, and if there is a connection to the decision to surrender to the authorities, it’s never explained on-screen.

Fortunately, Persona 5 is a game where everything is spelled out on-screen.

Meaning there is no connection.

It’s just a fancy cutscene to wax philosophically while a character magically disappears. There’s also a final cutscene when you go home after your friends get you out of jail, voice is how you’re free now to make your own decisions, scene is bright and all your friends are happy. But the shadow bureaucracy is gonna keep tabs on you for life, they know where you live, no amount of close-up final of a smug face is going to change the glimpse of the black suits in the black car with the black windows. Your magic cat isn’t going to be stealing their spark plugs every time. He’s not going to be able to save you when your phone is tapped. You’re happy and you think you’re free; after 8 months of fighting the power with magic and defeating a god you decide the best idea is to admit to crimes you didn’t commit and go to jail, until your friends rescue you 2 months later, and then you’re all smug again about how you can live your life all you want.

With the black car permanently in some corner of your eye.

Did the author not know how to end the story? Was the ending replaced or cut by someone from marketing or PR? I’m not familiar with the quality of writing in Persona games, but personally, the last time I saw something so surreal was Mass Effect 3.

Using the greatest number of depicted parts in proportions that’d make sense, i.e. a rewrite correcting pacing issues and justifying everything that actually showed up:

The story intends at the end that even if you change every individual’s heart about having more will to power in their own lives, this doesn’t change society as a whole, government bureaucracies with secret societies and hidden power structures aren’t about to disappear, changing one person never changes whole systems, even changing everyone isn’t good enough because people don’t just get up and have heart-to-hearts with everyone else. People run on their mental image of others’ expectations of them, not the actual expectation from the other guy, and this is what truly locks society’s mechanisms into place. So, even though you changed everyones’ hearts in the best possible way, the most visible effects are that people started questioning the prime minister a little bit in their offhanded uninteresting pointless smalltalk with strangers. Summoning a magical being strong enough to defeat a god won’t save you from society. They’ll still come after you and your friends, they’ll still make you disappear, and no one will say anything about it. But you can make a deal. Turn yourself in, and your friends will be saved. What a gracious offer! Truly only something someone with magical powers could get. And so it was with the rest of the story too: you can’t change the world. You probably can’t even change the people immediately around you. And that’s fine. This fictional character had the greatest guts, the best knowledge, the highest proficiency, the softest kindness, the suavest charm, extreme luck in making a large variety of useful connections, on top of actual magical powers – and in the end even he only carved a small niche in the world, paying a heavy price for it.

THAT… would be fine. It’d require a lot more presentation than just a 5 minute conversation with 1 character, at minimum there’d have to be talk with everyone beforehand just to keep everything in character and get everyone up to speed on the idea. The final cutscene would have to be changed to acknowledge that they’re only on a reprieve from their local friendly representative from the intelligence community, that freedom is only a temporary thing, cherish it while you can. Optimally there’d be things scattered throughout the game with hearts that can’t be changed after stealing treasures, and changing hearts without entering Palaces. If this game is supposed to give players a takeaway on how to find hope in their own lives, more focus on that during the game and the changes above for the ending would’ve been approximately how to do it.

“Changing hearts without entering Palaces” occurs twice during the events of the game and again at the end, where confidants you’ve maxed speak publicly about your great character and find ways within the system (as opposed to magical powers) to convince people in the right places to help get you out. It’s not only reasonable as a realistic option, it fits everything shown so far: don’t abandon friends, don’t give in just because everything looks like it’s against you, believe in yourself. This and the final free-time section where you get to walk around town one last time to say goodbye to everyone indicates that the writer had some idea what things needed to be shown. And yet there’s a complete change in theme and perspective in the final cutscene: after defeating an enemy literally called a god and a holy grail, and the words spoken by the main characters in the final cutscene don’t line up with anything. Was it a terrible translation? “Freedom”? I thought the game was about “Justice”?

There’s a bad ending to this game triggered before you fight the final boss, where you accept a deal with him instead. The final scene shows that the world has accepted the Phantom Thieves as saviors, they’ve changed hundreds of hearts by now, and the police have decided not to arrest them. Supposedly it’s the bad ending because by not defeating the god of control you’ve doomed humanity to contentment in bondage, all for the sake of achieving your own goals of not being framed for something you didn’t do and of being recognized by society. It’s uneventful, not a conclusion, and would go against the character demonstrated when we didn’t have a choice, but it makes enough sense.

The problem is that the good ending doesn’t have any substantive improvements over the bad ending. In the bad ending, we fight evil forever with the masses being the mindless uninterested will-less idiots they’ve been depicted as the whole game. In the good ending, the masses don’t become any more cognizant of anything much, evil is still in the world, and we turn ourselves in to take out the last evil guy we know of, but we don’t have power anymore, let’s enjoy going to the beach and not worry about the rest.

Taking out the parts where you’re making a deal with someone visually presented as evil and where the bad ending has evil camera angles, red everywhere, and a devilish grin, what exactly is so much better about the good ending? Leisure is great and preferable to work, but is that really the idea that the whole game was set up to push?

“The people” don’t come to your aid when you’re thrown into juvie hall. Your friends do, which they would anyways, and as far as it’s presented, the only reason why you’re able to get out is because your friends happened to be able to convince the right people in power over the legal/penal system to clear your paperwork. Probably through favors / deals / corruption. Who knows? It certainly wasn’t because random people in the public realized on their own how great a person you were and how great the Phantom Thieves were all this time, let’s protest and let everyone everywhere know about this horrible injustice! If they were, they’d show at least some kind of montage of crowds growing in interest in this topic and making more noise about it.

This is how you actually leave juvie hall.

To be sure, still not an absolute dealbreaker. Maybe they’re all too interested in their own lives now that everyone has a will to power and are busy fighting for change where it’s important for them. Maybe society really has reformed. Let’s check out how that looks. Let’s see what the final fruits of our labor and sacrifices are:

A valentine’s date.

You get out of jail, meet up with your crew for a few minutes, then it’s a valentine’s evening date, then it skips forward to your final day and goodbyes, and then you leave. No change in background chatter, no change on the news, no change in cutscenes, no stories from your friends about how everything’s been going on in the past three months since you successfully changed the heart of the god of the collective unconscious.

Just a date. Then timeskip, then goodbyes. Then time to go home. By the way, freedom!

Before the final boss:




After the final boss:


These cracks and seams had unfortunately showed long before the game’s finale.

We’re introduced to the first four characters in the first dungeon, and then across each of the next four dungeons we get one new party member each time. In other words, by the time we get the last party member the game is already more than half over. This isn’t the worst thing ever when “half left” is “60 hours”, but as discussed earlier there’s little more than an hour’s worth of total written time for each character, and nothing is done with any of them in the main story after their introduction. In a text plot synopsis, only Makoto and Futaba would appear as relevant to advancing the plot, since the former does the thinking the latter has important real-world abilities. In the flow of the actual game, everyone is just a flavor, a face, and a backstory. Of those three things they’re all very good and simple; I can see Persona 5 selling a lot of character goods. But it makes for a terrible story because none of them really matter to it.

If it was only that the characters “didn’t matter” and they were all likeable otherwise, it still wouldn’t be so bad.

But wait, there’s more!

Morgana matters too! In fact, he matters a lot!

Unfortunately for Morgana he’s introduced as a literal plot device character, remains a literal plot device character, and otherwise only serves to 1) tell you to go to bed and 2) talk about how much he wants to become a human soon so he can take Ann out on a date, which leads to 3) annoying Ryuji at every turn because he has natural banter with Ann. Morgana is haughty for no reason, barely ever loses his haughtiness, and when he does, which he does twice, no one cares. The time he does before the final boss, he marches off in a storm after one line Ryuji says which is completely in-line with the insults they have always thrown back and forth with each other.

He marches off because he sees himself as no longer useful. This development makes some sense thanks to a writing choice I have to admit is genius: each character introduced picks things up more quickly than the last. You’re introduced to the Palaces with the most academically challenged character to Morgana, who is the source of all information on these mysterious things, and soon afterwards you pick up the other academically challenged one. Second dungeon you pick up someone who’s marginally smarter, third you pick up the student council president, and fourth is a genius hacker. It’s at this point that the team is figuring more things out on their own without his help and because they’re all human and he’s a cat he feels left out. He’s not needed to explain simple puzzles and mechanisms, not needed to navigate corridors or advise on how to attack certain enemies, and now there’s three boys three girls and a cat rather than a cat leading a bunch of humans. The only thing he’s needed for is to be a bus in Mementos.

We get a short glimpse of him attempting to infiltrate the next target solo before the rest of us do as a team, a competition he made a big deal of which no one else cares about, and to no surprise at all he fails. He fails so horribly the enemies agree it’s not worth bothering about him again. Then next time we see him is when we are trying to infiltrate the palace ourselves, and we see him with another girl! The girl is clearly acting on his instructions and doesn’t have much of a clue herself, and insults each of our team members on his behalf, provocations to which no one really responds. They strut up to a gate we can’t open, it opens, and while gloating to us we have to point out to them that the gate they opened revealed a bunch of enemies and everyone needs to run. A day or two later we stake out Mementos because we learn he’s been there, and he says he’ll talk to us if we can catch up to him – him being a bus and us being on foot. A task that’s pretty easy because he continues crashing and rolling over due to nothing. But he eventually gets away and we decide to leave Mementos for the day because “there’s no point in chasing on foot”. Turns out he also left Mementos for the day and was content just running around in his bus form to show off how he’s so much better than us.

We’re then introduced to the girl’s fiance, someone who clearly sees her as little more than his toy granted to him as a reward for his connections, and Morgana decides he has to save milady.

This leads to another completely unsurprising result.

The rest of the party happens to be closeby enough to hear the commotion, so they come over and break things up. Morgana then comes crawling back to us, after clear and conscious efforts by all the kind girls to resolve all his male pride stuff and just get everything over with, Morgana shouts that the Phantom Thieves is the only place where he belongs, please let me back on the team I love you all! A few cordial remarks later it’s time for everyone to go home and you to get to bed and

Oh.


Oh.

Where’s my “….”? I mean, I know it’s the wrong move to say what I actually think, and given everything I know about all the characters, their abilities, and the situation as a whole, if I was in the protagonist’s shoes I’d say the same thing, but

Holy shit took the words right out of my mo-

wait, Morgana said that?

Introducing the other plot-critical character:

When we’re first introduced to Akechi Goro, we’re told he’s that young ace detective on TV solving all those cases, and he’s still in high school! With a smooth tongue and pleasant personality, it’s clear he’s had experience being in the public spotlight. He talks about how the Phantom Thieves are criminals that should be brought to justice, because regardless of how they might be reforming criminals, they operate outside the law, and it’s arguable that it’s a criminal act akin to brainwashing, however it is they do it. This is my justice and I will uphold it! Smart prettyboy is a paragon of standard opinion, fine, no big deal. In bits and pieces later we learn that he was raised in foster homes because he was abandoned by his dad, so there’s a bit of additional depth beyond teen idol detective.

Then, eventually, we get blackmailed by him into doing what he wants.

He says he’s aware of palaces and the other world, he’s been there before, and thanks to photo and video evidence of us coming out of it corroborated with some other things, he can show we’re the Phantom Thieves. In exchange for not revealing we’re the Phantom Thieves –  and this is at right before the sixth dungeon, after we’ve heard this line from various people attempting to blackmail us since the third – he wants to join us on our escapades until he finds out the true criminal behind the other horrific murders and terrorism being pinned on us, after which he expects us to disband and cease further activity. Even though he claims he’s only been around for a month in the other world and has never talked about things with anyone else, he’s higher level than us with access to really powerful skills. The sixth dungeon ends brings us to the present day, where we’re recalling the first 2/3 of the game in an interrogation room because we were betrayed.

And the traitor is… Akechi Goro! No way!

Turns out he’s been the one causing psychotic outbreaks and mental shutdowns in the populace too, so not only was he betraying us, he was also the cause of the things that were going to be pinned on us. In both the bad end and the game continue at this point, we’re shown that he clearly enjoys what he’s doing. He comes into the interrogation room with us and a guard, steals the guard’s gun, kills the guard, and then kills us.

In the game continue there’s some piss poor reveal about how everyone else actually knew Goro was the traitor the whole time and how we didn’t actually die, something which I felt really should’ve been grander and given its own anime cutscene because until the comfy music kicked back in I was really convinced that I met a bad end and made too many wrong choices. That being said the more I revisit the pacing the more obvious it is the planning and budgeting was really bad. 1 hour of cutscenes for the whole game and half of it is gone by the first boss? At the time I thought it was a genius move, false endings are a big thing that videogames can do that other mediums can’t. Now I think they just happened to anime the bad end first and ran out of money.

After escaping from the interrogation room we learn that Goro had been working for the guy slated to become the next prime minister, and a little after that we learn from Goro himself that that prime minister was that bastard father that left him, and his goal is to raise his father to the highest heights before taking him down. He’ll use persona powers to cause mental shutdowns for the political benefit of his father, then finally, at the very end, he’ll do it to his father too.

This completely self-absorbed idiocy could only remind me of a certain other prettyboy with the power to commit perfect crime, but in that story it worked out fine, because he was the main character, and pride actually was the theme of that story. In Persona 5 though, pride is not the main theme, it’s not a theme anywhere at all, and Goro is not the main character. By screentime he’s barely a side character. Nevertheless by plot and by informed ability, he’s the rival and opposite to our protagonist.

I mean, I suppose it’s technically true. We change hearts, making bullies and predators confess and change their ways for the sake of random strangers in an attempt to reform society, Goro gives people heart attacks and turns others into zombies because his father tells him to, and he does what his father wants because he wants to be accepted by his father, so that one day when his father is the most powerful man in the country and trusts him the most, he can take down his father too. Oh, by the way, the Phantom Thieves should be brought to justice because regardless of how they might be reforming criminals, they operate outside the law, and it’s arguable that it’s a criminal act akin to brainwashing. This is my justice and I will uphold it!

This all happens in the seventh palace, his father’s, the future prime minister’s, and after we fight and defeat him with The Power of Friendship, Goro’s intended position as the tragic rival in the intended climax of the story suddenly causes the other characters to not make sense. Worst is Futaba, whose whole purpose and driving motivation to come out of her room after years of NEEThood was to find her mother’s killer, a mother who someone somewhere had killed then written a fake suicide note to convince everyone else that she’d actually suicided because Futaba was such a bad child, now here he fucking is, and all that happens is she gets her one line like every other teammate about how sorry they feel for Goro for what a hard life he had to go through.

That’s actually it. I’m not kidding. I really, really wish I was. There’s no further development. That’s it. It’s sob story time for Goro and everyone just goes along with it.

Early on the characters establish that murder is wrong, but more importantly the best thing is to make evil people admit and confess to their crimes because after they have a change of heart they’ll realize their actions and become doomed to a fate worse than death. “Killing is wrong, wanting to see evil suffer is not.” It’s even encouraged. No one actually feels sorry for sexual harasser and probably statutory rapist Kamoshida. No one actually feels sorry for any of the villains no matter what reason they had and how good it sounded to them. Why did it matter? They forced other people to go along, so what they did was wrong.

Then suddenly after not feeling bad about making people stalking, abusing, strong-arming, drug trafficking, and sex trafficking suffer for their crimes, here’s a literal serial killer, a killer who isn’t even murdering because of some need to survive or impulsive sense of justice, but because he wants to toy with his father before throwing him away because that’s what his father had done to him.

So what do we do? Nothing. We don’t kill him. We don’t pick him up. We don’t ask Morgana if it’s possible that Goro has a palace so we can change his heart. We don’t try to change his heart by talking to him. We don’t look or talk down to him. Our characters all straight up bona fide just feel bad for the guy and his situation.

Am I supposed to take this as “serial killers are actually less reprehensible than PE teachers manipulating for sex with students”???

Or better yet, the most trivial crime in the sidequests was cheating at a videogame and we didn’t bother to care about his reasons either; is Persona 5 trying to tell me “serial killers are less reprehensible than videogame cheaters”? Or perhaps “Everything is a morally acceptable action if you’re a prettyboy”? That last one makes sense if we assume Goro is just fujobait, his looks and personality certainly checks all the boxes, but that means everything else invariably leaves him as a garbage character.

Then finally this guy shows up.

Palaces represent a person’s way of viewing the world, so naturally, the future prime minister would have a way of looking at his hitman son.

“Cognitive” Goro shows up and shoots the real Goro, and the real Goro is absolutely shocked that his father was planning on disposing of him too. He was so blinded by trying to get accepted, be useful, and find his own special place in the world that he didn’t notice that he was working for a guy that used and disposed of people, while doing said disposal work. How terrible his own father, who he had hated all these years for having disposed of him as a kid because there was no use for him, planned to dispose of him again after gaining the position of prime minister, because at that point, he’d again no longer having any use for him.

His final request and actual final line is for us to defeat his father for him.

Was I supposed to feel something? Actually, I mean,


CONCLUSION

There’s a lot of lines in the game which make me appreciate how so many complicated reasons and principles of how the world works can be simplified down to something so easy on the ears and mind. However, none of those lines which come from the two plot-important characters or actually advance the plot in any way, and a majority of the time either of the two plot-important characters open their mouths to advance the plot, I have to question how everything else was written.

Pacing and flow issues aside, i.e. assuming the most substantial problems plaguing the game don’t exist, Persona 5 feels like a reverse Fate/Stay Night. FSN was absolute trash in almost every scene except for the climaxes where there’d be the highest emotional impact. It was almost as if the lead writer decided he’d write the most important bits, and farm out the rest of it to be filled in by unpaid interns. Persona 5 was the other way around; there was a lot of care in a lot of little details for the world, but when it came time to actually move things along the quality drop was mind-bogglingly bad. With Morgana/Haru and Goro/Shido it was immediately obvious how completely stupid every character was acting for just that instance because the writer wanted to make something else happen and for whatever reason couldn’t be bothered to change a lot of other things to make the intended event or emotion make sense, for the overall plot progression and final ending it’s only better in that it took longer to figure out why there was a lack of catharsis in what was supposed to be a freeing ending.

I do like the characters, but they’re not worth 120 hours. Similar and more complicated characters in other stories have been fleshed out better in less time, and have more time devoted to them in more meaningful ways. I can’t say I didn’t feel a bit more for Ann seeing my name on the screen when she confesses her love rather than some joke name on some Let’s Play, but 120 hours? 120 hours consisting of a lot of grinding, barely any plot, no strong theme, and only a little bit of character? Playing Persona 5 for the waifus is a complete waste of time and also the only appeal not dragged down by any glaring flaws, which explains why Atlus disabled sharing screenshots or videos from this game on basic Playstation functionality.

I suppose as a business decision there needed to be a dungeon crawling JRPG instead of making a dating sim or VN. For whatever reason at least the belief is the former market is larger, and it did feel like the JRPG came first. But it was so much so that there wasn’t much other than the JRPG.

What am I supposed to take away from my 120h with Persona 5? Ann is my waifu but a Makoto or Takemi are fine too? Romancing was barely part of the game; the relationship is identical up until rank 9 and then it’s 1 or 2 dates to rank 10, at which point since there’s no requirement to keep giving gifts or spend time with a girl and the tight time constraints everywhere else you are basically told to not meet up with her ever again.

What did our characters learn in their 1 year’s worth of adventures with the protagonist? Did the world change or not?

“What Is Persona 5 About?”

It could’ve been about some really strong stuff. It touched on different areas of society from how schools work to how courts work, and generally speaking on those topics the writer clearly understood how to explain the underbelly of society connects to everyone at large for a general audience. But nothing came together in the plot. The Phantom Thieves change a heart of a villain, he changes, it’s over, we don’t have to think anymore.

I was really expecting at some point for a change of heart to not work, a Euphemia moment, where because of magical powers they are being forced to change but really don’t want to because they realize what kind of a net they’re in – but it never happened. All the villains actually just turned into crying grovelling repenters without any thought of how to continue in the future. Perhaps the PE teacher it didn’t really matter either way, but the Yakuza who had a change of heart was explicitly stated to have been hidden away by the police before he could have been quietly and permanently silenced for blabbing by his bosses. He had been forcing kids to traffic drugs and making money off of other illicit means, but someone like him should’ve had some problems with turning his back on his way of life. Even if there’s a change of heart they should also realize that they can’t just stop, and even if they do they can’t just tell everything to the public and the police. The path of crime, is an unending path: you get on, you won’t leave again. You will be stopped from leaving. Stopped by every force imaginable.

But no, this isn’t a crime thriller, hearts are just magically changed, everyone just confesses everything at all costs because they’re spellbound by The Power Of Justice. It really was just all fun and games and fight the power this whole time.




And yet the conclusion to the story isn’t one of just heroes of a villain-of-the-week show living happily ever after. Apparently a teaser trailer for the game reads “You are a slave. Want emancipation?”, but there’s little about slavery or freedom in this game. There’s a lot about justice, and yet at the same time not much at all. The bad end is bad because the people have given up their will to fight, but the good end is good because you’ve lost yours: “To be free, just believe you’re free, all while staying in line.”

An end that isn’t impossible to justify, but one which the writer definitely hasn’t.

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5 thoughts on “[Review] Persona 5

    • Was it really hard to impossible to do in previous games? It feels like it probably could’ve been a theme: “you only have so much time in your life, it’s not possible to be best friends with everyone”. That’s what the choices for each day are after all. Made explicitly clear during Hawaii, Christmas, and Valentine’s.

      But whenever you meet a new confidant you get all this grand introduction piled onto it with the arcana introduction and flashforward to Sae’s musings, plus the fact that basically no story happens in the game otherwise, just meant to me that everything revolved around them instead.

  1. Pingback: 2017 May 08 ~ Jun 02 – All Else Is Halation

  2. I hope by “fate/stay night is trash” you really meant “the fate route of the fate/stay night visual novel isn’t able to stand on its own as a completed story”

    • I mean that its average writing quality is trash. I managed to read through the Fate route, but I dropped it in UBW because every other sentence had “enmity” in it and every fight is powerlevels except not powerlevels, here’s all these really specific ratings and things we’re told are going to be true beforehand, and then basically every one is broken. Nothing is surprising because Nasu makes a habit of using Rule Breaker all the time. Certainly, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. But continually relying on that idea makes for bad writing.

      Fate’s strength is in its premise and the emotional side-stories. I enjoyed the glimpse Ilya’s and Hercules’s past more than anything that was the “real” story of UBW. Arturia resting in the shade of a tree was better than anything in Fate by not even close.

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