So, I finally finished Persona 5 after 160+ hours. Beat new game plus, beat the bonus boss, got that shiny platinum trophy, etc. I thought that to celebrate, I should write about it.
I know that this is probably off-brand for this blog and is probably the most mainstream thing I’ve written about on here. However, with the absurd amount of time I’ve spent on it, I feel that it’s something I should blog about and, sometimes, just hollering on Twitter isn’t enough.
This is pretty much a spoiler article. If you’re concerned about spoilers, please head on and do something else with your time. Maybe finish Persona 5 yourself and form your own thoughts on it.
All pictures in this article are assorted camera photos I took while playing the game. Pretty cool that Atlus still isn’t letting anyone take direct PS4 screenshots even though this game’s been out for a year.
P5’s hero character, who I’ll refer to as Ren (sorry, people that demand his canon name be Akira), is in a weird place for me, especially after I’ve played through the game twice. The thing is, it feels like there’s two versions of Ren.
There’s the Ren that represents you, the player. He’s your standard blank slate self-insert character. Some people consider him to be another one of those black haired anime boy protagonists that you just project yourself onto.
Then there’s the other Ren. The guy that tried to stop Shido from assaulting a woman and was punished for it. You do get to replay this moment, but as it’s already happened, it’s less like you’re playing Ren stopping Shido and more like watching Ren himself stopping Shido. There’s the Ren in some of the cutscenes, who genuinely acts like a cocky bastard, sitting and smiling smugly after Akechi’s attempt to kill him fails. He comes off as genuinely uncaring about school until you’re asked a question, in which case the other Ren takes over and you can play him as an idiot, a meme guy saying that the process where time stops is The World, or somebody actually studious (or a cheater just using Persona 5’s network functions to get the answer).
Basically, it feels like Ren is a character of his own that’s forced to be the standard self-insert. He’s paradoxical, defined yet blank. This paradox is best defined by the dialogue choices you get during story sequences. Aside from the choices that decide the obvious bad endings, your choices will be “Yes” or “Yes in a Different Way,” the true course of action lying with Ren, the character. Really, why bother with the usual self-insert nonsense? Why not differentiate from the past Persona games and just let the main character be defined?
Also, why not a girl alternative to Ren? Remember Persona 3 Portable and how you got to play as a girl? Remember how good that was, except for making Ken date-able because Atlus prefers pedophilia over gay stuff?
And speaking of, why not let you have gay options? Yusuke’s social link features siblings mistaking Ren and Yusuke as a gay couple and while I wish that could be true, it’s clearly played off as a joke. Just like how saying you like dudes in some shadow negotiations is a joke. Just like Yosuke’s glaring homophobia in P4. Just like those awful gay guys that harasses high schoolers that forcibly shows up in the story, even though their presence is not plot important whatsoever; just like that transphobic joke during the original Persona 3’s beach episode.
But hey, at least you, a high schooler, can date grown women. I’m pretty sure Ohya claiming that she’s dating a minor to cover her investigations is actually way worse than going behind her boss’ back, but god forbid Ren gets to be gay.
Persona 5‘s gameplay is the consistently good part of the game. It really builds off of and refines stuff from the past games and there isn’t a lot to complain about here.
So, the battle system! I love its presentation! I love how stylish fighting is and the visuals kept me engaged, even on my second playthrough. And you know, I love that the generic shadow creature models that just gets recolored in later dungeons are ditched for the standard Shin Megami Tensei demons/your Personas. Their models look real nice and I can’t wait to see them again in Shin Megami Tensei V, because we all know that Atlus will be reusing these assets for like, the next 5-10 years.
Random battles in the game are also improved by three things: status effects, baton passing and negotiations. Status effect moves are more reliable than they were in the past games and they’re really useful for dealing with bad encounters. Baton passes gives more strategy for battle instead of just having one character spam “one more”s over and over; I’m disappointed that you don’t really get to use them in any way for most of the big boss battles, though. And negotiations! I love the negotiation system! I love shaking these bastards down for money! Who needs that dumb card minigame when you can talk to monsters?
Persona 5 also introduces the best gameplay improvement in the modern Persona series: actual fucking dungeons. Tired of the randomly generated dungeons that’s only differentiated by aesthetics? Have actual design! Have maps! Have level centerpieces that you interact with! Have puzzles! The places outside of ordinary life finally has heart in them (literally)! My favorite dungeon’s got to be Futaba’s Palace, while my least favorite is, Shido’s Palace; look, that dungeon is just way too long and the mouse puzzles are actually just tedious stealth sections But yeah, real dungeons that are kinda good, for the most part!
I mean sure, there’s still Mementos, which is randomly generated and has the same grating track playing for its entirety. However, I feel that it’s alleviated by the party chatter you get. It at least makes the experience more lively compared to P3 and P4’s treks.
The Confidant system is great, building off the social link stuff from the past games by tying gameplay benefits to them. Don’t like talking to Mishima? Me either, but the EXP bonuses you get from ranking him up is worth it. Speaking of the Confidants, they’re probably my favorite side cast post-P3. I generally liked this new cast of characters and I sort of wished that some of them had a role in the story themselves. I complain about Mishima, but I still think that he had a good story arc to him.
If there’s something that I dislike about the Confidant system though, it’s that much of the character development for the main cast is locked behind these. Well, Ann’s doesn’t really go anywhere interesting, but her link is still way better than that Kenji guy from P3. But yeah, an attitude that I’ve come around to is that locking away their development in a side thing isn’t a good thing.
Like, say that the party Confidants didn’t exist, like how it did with half the cast in the original P3. You’d only get exposure from them in the main story and, well, beyond the character arc they’re introduced, they don’t do much. The only character that gets consistent exposure in the main story is Makoto, as she’s the team strategist and sister of the sixth Palace master. Haru? Well, if it weren’t for her Confidant, she might as well not be there after her arc, because she pretty much does nothing for the rest of the game. I don’t mind that the party members are Confidants, the problem is that it comes off as an excuse to not give your party members a bigger role in the story, to me. Like people complain about some aspects of Persona 3‘s cast, but to me, they have a better presence than Persona 4 and 5’s casts.
Alright, let’s get to the meat of the game, the main story. Ren (the character, not you) stops a guy from sexual assaulting a woman and gets punished. His parents are probably dipshits and doesn’t want to deal with him and his probation, so they send you off to Tokyo to live in the attic of Sojiro’s store and attend school. Was this the terms of his probation? I’m not really sure, but Sojiro probably ends up being a better parental figure than either of them. You meet friends, go into the Metaverse and get your persona powers and you meet this game’s equivalent of the horny mascot character. Morgana’s not that great, though I still prefer him over a later character.
So, everyone knows the first arc of the game and its villain, Kamoshida. He sets the stage for dealing with corrupt authority, physically and sexually abusing students but getting away with it because of his status. He’s all but said to have raped Ann’s friend and drove her to attempt suicide, he threatens Ren and Ryuji (and Mishima, I guess) with expulsion for standing up to him and it’s clear that there’s no way he’ll face consequences in the real world. After discussing the morals of stealing somebody’s heart, the gang decides that he’s worth the risk. Kamoshida is a fucking piece of garbage and even on the second go-around, I couldn’t wait to rip out his heart.
The problem is that it sets the bar too high. The first arc is the game’s high point; everything after that weakens from a narrative and thematic standpoint.
Like, the Kamoshida arc makes a big deal out of sexualizing high school girls. Then in the arc immediately afterward, Ann gets asked to do naked modeling, something that she’s clearly not comfortable with, but it gets played off as a joke. How Ann’s presented in the Metaverse also goes against the sexualization thing, with how her suit’s designed and the way she poses in battle. Ann consistently gets fanservice-y scenes throughout the game and it makes the game’s earlier statement on sexualization feel performative.
The other villains are still despicable, but they lack the same kind of personal stakes. You personally see the damage Kamoshida does and its results. It’s not the same with the other bosses, sans the endgame ones. You don’t personally see victims, you just hear second-hand accounts and see personifications of the victims in their Palaces – but without seeing the real victims, the fantasized accounts just don’t have the same impact.
The most personal impact you’d see from Madarame is Yusuke, whose mannerisms can be implied to have been a result of purposely being raised in impoverished conditions. I mention this because despite that, if you do Yusuke’s route, it tries to paint Madarame in a not as bad light. It tries to present Madarame as somewhat sympathetic because he took Yusuke in and tried to find help when he had a flu, so maybe he did care about him? That’s just garbage. The “they actually love you because they were obligated to take care of you” excuse is the sort of excuse that’s used for abusive parents. And Persona 5 uses it sincerely to make Madarame look more sympathetic. Garbage.
Also, Kaneshiro is a flat-out criminal. He’s not a guy with authority, he’s just straight up a criminal. He is appropriately the point where the Phantom Thieves start losing sight of their fight against corruption and start thinking about how to become big names.
Which wouldn’t be bad if it weren’t for the fact that Persona 5 also kinda starts losing out on this theme. As the story progresses, its criticisms of people in power wavers into a criticism of society, saying that people just want to sit back and let people with power deal with their problems. Well, more on that later.
Anyway, it becomes apparent that there’s some conspiracy going on and it turns out that its mastermind is Shido, who’s using the Metaverse to manipulate his way to becoming prime minister and he’s also the one responsible for Ren being here in the first place. I don’t understand why it took so long to build him up, since anyone with eyes and ears would probably figure out he’s the bad guy. The game decides to tie in most of the past villains into Shido’s dumb conspiracy, which I feel kinda dampens the “fighting against corrupt power” thing even further by putting them in the same boat; to me, it sorta presents them as outliers to the system rather than a consequence of it.
It isn’t until the 7th dungeon that I feel that the game recaptures the tension I felt at the beginning; even then, the 7th dungeon runs into its own problems. I complained earlier that I found this dungeon tedious, but there are other problems.
Those problems mainly run into Akechi. He’s sort of a combination of Ken, Naoto and Adachi. Except I think that each of them individually is a way better character than Akechi.
So, my first big complaint about Akechi is that his story is really rushed. Unlike other Confidants, his relationship advances by the plot. Instead of taking time out of your main quest and schooling to hang out with him, Akechi just sort of meets up with you and boom, his Confidant advances. By the time he sits down at the cafe and suddenly rambles about his backstory, the in-universe amount of time Ren’s spent around him is probably like, half an hour, at most. When I said that I preferred main character development to be in the main story itself, this isn’t what I mean. It just comes off as really try-hard.
His betrayal at the end of the sixth Palace can be seen coming a mile away. I feel that some people would complain about that, but it’s intentional, seeing as the Phantom Thieves pick up on it and roast him for being a dipshit. Now, Ren not remembering the guy that personally ruined his life until the end of the game despite having a face-to-face meeting at one point and probably seeing him all over the news, that’s what’s actually absurd.
After beating the minibosses of Shido’s Palace (and seeing Akechi have an abrupt and out of place inner-monologue), Akechi shows up and makes the reveal that he’s Shido’s son and that everything he’s done is to ruin Shido somewhere down the line. He then reveals – whoa, he has two personas! That’s one slightly step above Adachi revealing himself to have a persona! In this case, it’s more significant, since it indicates that Akechi’s a wild card like Ren, so surely, he’s a dangerous guy.
…but Akechi runs into the problem Strega had back in Persona 3. Despite having the cutscene power to kill plot-important characters, they both suck pretty fucking bad at an actual fight. He’s not very hard and he doesn’t pull out the real dangerous moves until you have him on low health. Oh no, he’s summoning two personas… but he’s not making the most of it, either. It’s extremely anticlimactic and it makes it hard to see him as the threat he is in the story, which makes him come off as even weaker than before.
You beat him and… the Phantom Thieves are suddenly reaching an olive branch to him. They acknowledge that Akechi’s a terrible person, yes, but they see him as a victim, manipulated by Shido. It looks like an attempt to give him a redemption arc.
And honestly, it’s really ham-handed. Like yes, Akechi was told to kill all these people. But also, he didn’t really need to? He only did so because it was part of his plan to get revenge on Shido, which I thought was unnecessarily convoluted. He could have just tried killing him, or maybe use his Metaverse powers to make Shido have a mental shutdown and ruin his life. Instead, he volunteers his services as a hitman to get Shido elected so that he could ruin his reputation at the peak. Akechi probably killed dozens of people and ruined an untold number of lives, all just as collateral damage, which I think is way worse than making it a goal to ruin their lives because it feels way more callous. Akechi comes off as completely selfish and the fact that the Phantom Thieves reach out to him is actually just bad. It’s like how the Persona 4 spin-offs treats Adachi more sympathetically, even though he doesn’t really deserve it; never forget the Ultimax scene where he’s laughing it up with Dojima even though his plans almost got his daughter killed.
Then Shido’s cognitive version of Akechi shows up to kill the real deal and the Phantom Thieves, since Shido was planning on killing him anyway. Akechi is, for some reason, surprised that a man that’s previously ordered him to kill loose ends would want him dead; the fact that Akechi never considered that possibility at all just makes his plans come off as more dumb than I already thought it was. The cognitive Akechi summons some shadows to help him out. so, you know what Akechi does? He closes the gate between him and the party and sacrifices himself to take on his double.
I still thought these chain of events was kinda absurd on my first playthrough, but on my second, I realized just how dumb his sacrifice was. Shido’s cognitive Akechi is literally just normal Akechi, but with a Gun. He has shadow backup, yeah, but they’re also likely the shadows that you’ve fought dozens of, if not hundreds of, in the very same dungeon. They probably wouldn’t have been a big threat at all, but Akechi decides to separate himself from seven people that could have reasonably backed them up – in fact, they outnumber the gang that’s come to kill Akechi. With all that in mind, Akechi’s sacrifice is senseless, just drama for the sake of drama.
It’s not just that Akechi’s arc was rushed and ended in a dumb way, but also, he disappears from the narrative entirely. I mean, yeah, he most likely died, but he receives almost no mention after the fact. There’s a short reveal that Akechi was given wild card powers like Ren to act as an opposite in the true villain’s grand game… and then he goes back to being ignored. That revelation is more like a throwaway fact, as if the writers remembered “oh yeah, that major character that was around for most of the plot was a thing.”
He is pretty much a non-entity in the game’s epilogue. Akechi’s an in-universe celebrity, but NPCs have nothing to say about him. It’s almost as if the writers forgot he was in the story, as if they thought his dumb sacrifice was a good send-off to never be properly followed up on. Or, maybe, they didn’t know what to do with Akechi, as if the writers actually wanted to do a fully fledged redemption arc, but even they realized that it might have been dumb. Might as well just kill him off and forget that this major character was a factor in the story.
There’s a reason why I made a section of this write-up just for Akechi and that reason is that I consider him to be the worst handled main character in the game. Hell, he may as well be the worst character in the modern Persona trilogy, because they try so hard with him but it’s just not very good. His writing is rushed, his story arc ends in a really dumb way, he’s attempted to be given sympathy that he doesn’t really deserve and he ultimately disappears, remembered by no one.
Main Story (cont.)
I compared Akechi to Adachi before and that leads me to another problem I have with Persona 5‘s story, and that’s mainly that it follows Persona 4‘s structure too closely, especially the endgame. The seemingly friendly law enforcement agent is a maniac with magic powers. The whole game ends up being one big test by the god that’s behind everything. Ren and Akechi are blessed with their powers is part of that game, like the P4 Hero’s and Adachi’s (except bad).
Thinking back, the Palaces are like Persona 4‘s TV dungeons, except the goal is to get its Shadow rulers to make their real selves realize their sins instead of reconciling them with with their real selves. Even then, Futaba ended up going down that route, with the main fight being against a cognitive being instead of a Shadow. Like really, it can be said that Persona 5‘s just an alternate, improved take on Persona 4.
From looking at the reactions to Persona 5, I get the impression that a lot of people going in were new to Persona/SMT games in general. These people likely walked away with better impressions than people that played past entries. It’s true that the structure is improved, but the structure is too familiar, so it’s ultimately kinda hard to appreciate.
Now, let’s say that Persona 4 didn’t exist and that Persona 5 was entirely original. Does the game end in a satisfying way?
So after Akechi disappears forever, you finally fight Shido. I hated the fight on my first go around, but on the second, I realized that Shido’s fight is actually the most challenging one since Madarame and I’ve come to appreciate it. It’s a multi-stage fight against a scum politician and its set to Rivers in the Desert, which is the best song in the game (don’t fucking @ me if you disagree, you’re actually just wrong). It’s great, it’s climactic. It feels like it should have ended here.
But the game keeps going. Shido’s long awaited confession has an extremely subdued reaction. The dang public isn’t reacting to the confession the way everyone’s hoping, so there’s only one thing left: stealing the heart of the people.
Everyone heads to the depths of Mementos, a huge prison for the people of Tokyo and surprise! There’s a mythical being at the very bottom, who has created all of this and is responsible for everything! Wow! What a concept! After kicking the party’s ass, he goes on to begin implementing his plan to combine Mementos with the real world. Gee, bringing the Shadow/Persona universe into the real world, never been attempted before.
Then comes the alright twist of Igor ordering your execution, which is followed up by Caroline and Justine fusing together to become Lavenza and Igor turning out to not be Igor. I actually liked this, because after the obvious traitor, you don’t expect a second one, let alone this traitor being an impostor of the guy helping you throughout the series. Anyway, the fake reveals himself to be Yaldabaoth, the God of Control, and he goes off to continue his nonsense if you don’t accept his fake ending.
So, Yaldabaoth, the true villain, represents the desires of mankind to want authority. Going back to the Persona 4 comparisons, Yaldabaoth is also pretty much another Persona 4 repeat. Like Izanami, he is a god representing negative emotions in mankind and tries to bring that desire into reality. And actually, it’s also like Persona 3. Well, let me tell you, I’m not impressed by having a final villain that has the same role three games in a row.
Let’s say the past games don’t exist. Is Yaldabaoth good? Well, to me, I sort of find his presence to be a cop-out. After several dozens of hours, of fighting corrupt authority and crooks, Yaldabaoth’s presence decides that “actually, people like getting stomped on, so the real villain is humanity.” I see it as a lazy take that refuses to blame specific people or institutions. It’s why I roll my fucking eyes at morals that’s along the lines of “everyone’s personally responsible for global warming,” because the biggest polluters are companies instead of the average person and the human beings most likely to suffer its consequences are people that have contributed little to nothing to climate change. It’s the same here, in that it kinda puts the blame on the average person, ignoring the societal structures that discourage people from fighting back or the role power plays in our society.
So you gather your friends and head off to fuck the guy up. He goes into his last phase – and mind if I nitpick here? The theme for the final boss sucks. How do you follow up Rivers in the Desert with something more generically final boss-y? Persona 4 did this shit too, The Almighty and Mist are balling songs and then it goes for generic gravitas for its grand final battle. I hate it.
Anyway you fight him. He’s got arms, announcing themed moves to use against you. He pulls off some super move shit toward the end and you have to break his damn arms because it’ll hit you for full damage otherwise, which completely goes against what you’ve been taught to do with most boss super moves throughout the whole game, which sucks ass, actually. You finally beat him but then he pulls the “actually that battle didn’t count” card and annihilates the party.
The team calls out for help and that’s when Mishima rallies the people of Tokyo to your side; though, I found out that an NPC that hangs around Station Square the whole game does the job instead if you didn’t max him out, which is just kinda funny to me. The belief in the Phantom Thieves and their victory empowers the party and Ren calls upon the power of belief to summon his ultimate Persona and blow Yaldabaoth’s head off.
So he’s gone. The Metaverse is gone. Ren (the character, not you) decides to get himself arrested so that he can properly testify against Shido, as Sae mentions that the next best witness, Akechi, is somehow missing (which is, like, his only mention in the game’s epilogue, by the way). The party and your maxed social links rally to get Ren released and he gets out just in time for a quick yet pace ruining Valentine’s Day event. I ended up dating Hifumi both times (bitterly wishing for Yusuke instead) and both times I just sort of wanted the game to get on with it.
But outside of the party’s circle, what’s changed? What has the destruction of the Metaverse done to the world? The most tangible effect of Yaldabaoth’s defeat is that people now care enough to get Shido prosecuted. Oh, and Morgana is fully in cat form, now. However, it’s implied that his powers was behind most of Tokyo glossing over his confession and forgetting about the Phantom Thieves to begin with and considering that he’s been rigging events in his favor, it’s very likely. Authority seems to be questioned, but since Persona 5 pretty much ignores power structures after a point, it’s possible that no serious change will come out of it, as corrupt authority has the power to avoid consequences. What punishment will Shido face, if he’s punished at all? Will he end up ratting out the other members of his dumb conspiracy? In that case, how deep does it all go and how will it all be addressed? And really, I still can’t believe that Akechi drops off the face of the fucking Earth after the cruise ship.
There’s too much left open-ended, the surest endgame victory being Yaldabaoth slain. With that in mind, though, your victory is the generic JRPG victory of slaying a god. On the grand, in-universe scale, it’s satisfying. But, as a player that took down the more realistic villains of scumbag abusers and uncaring corporate overlords, it’s boring and doesn’t compare. There’s the emotional epilogue where you say good bye to your maxed Confidants, but that’s only a satisfying conclusion for them. The conclusion for the story as a whole isn’t as satisfying, an ending that leaves a lot to be desired.
Persona 5 is easily one of the most stylish RPGs I’ve ever played and overall has a great presentation, with the best gameplay out of the modern Persona games. The story being presented, however, weakens after the strong first impression, and that’s not exactly a thing you’d want for a grand, dozens hour long RPG. With the games messages indecisive and a lot of plot threads left dangling, finishing the game didn’t feel accomplishing, especially the second time, when I was lot more discerning with this stuff.
I remember hearing about Persona 5 being a nomination for game of the year for that Game Awards thing, which I thought was absurd. I sincerely feel that people that thought that Persona 5 was game of the year material either didn’t play Persona 4 and/or only played the game’s first arc. Because really, to me it felt like Persona 5 was just a different take on Persona 4 with refined looks and mechanics – never mind the rest of the game’s writing.
And so, Persona 5 ends with the gang driving to parts unknown, their personas gone. But let’s be real, given the years of Persona 4 spin-offs, they’re probably going to be back at it. Maybe the place they’re driving to is Tatsumi Port Island and that Persona Q thing that’s been teased is going to be them and the older Persona 3 cast. Who knows? All I know is that the cast will get flanderized to hell. There’s also that anime coming out and while I’m not a huge anime snob, I didn’t like either of the Persona 4 animes and if the P5 one is anything like it, I don’t have high hopes.
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