Giving constructive criticism comes from a place of love — if I didn’t care for a piece of art, then I would never talk about it. When I write about how a game could’ve done better, that doesn’t negate the value of my experience with it. Rather, I’m reimagining how the game could’ve related to me more, and maybe to you as well.
First, I have to admit: It feels weird to criticize and appreciate a game that understands how flawed and unserious it is. The story doesn’t take itself super seriously, and maybe you shouldn’t either. Obviously, this means you shouldn’t take this reflection too seriously. If you are hurt from hearing criticism about a piece of art you appreciate, you may be obsessed. However, if you are gleefully smiling at my nasty remarks, you may be a hater and should direct your emotional energy towards some self-care.
The creators know that most players aren’t going to view this game as an unforgettable remix art project: players are going to remember the soundtrack, UI, waifus, husbandos, and memes more than anything. Why? Because the game is so packed with stories that we can’t expect to experience, remember, and appreciate all of them by the time we finish the game. The developers milk and meme this game well, even sponsoring an animator (JelloApocalypse) to roast their entire game in 5 minutes:
Persona 5 Royal is not a bad game
No regrets: it’s tediously long as a visual novel yet unquestionably refreshing as a JRPG.
Initially, I felt that P5R was an okay experience. However, after digesting the final moments of the game and hearing how other people feel about it, I took that back. P5R is a good game, provides a wonderful experience because it does something that other AAA games don’t — fuse two genres that require so much balance in pacing. P5R (as well as other entries in the series) mix a life simulator feature with turn-based JRPG mechanics. As a result, you have a game that’s incredibly long, but with engaging gameplay and characters (for the most part). Does it deserve an incredibly large and questionably toxic fanbase? I don’t think so, but being an anime-hero simulator that was postponed for several years, I’m sure the sunk-cost fallacy was in the works. It sounds like I’m not too big of a fan, so let’s get the criticism out of the way.
The Combination of Genres
There’s a problem with combining visual novels (interactive character development) with JRPGs (strategic combat system). Since every interaction is linked to the battle system, it makes all relationships kind of transactional, which is the last thing I want to think about in a VN. I want to hang out with someone because I like their story. As a result, I had FOMO a lot: I often questioned whether to hang out with a character by weighing their story with their benefit in combat. For example, I may enjoy Ohya’s story (I didn’t), but her confidant skills are utter trash. Or, I may feel nothing toward Ota’s arc (true), but I want his gun-boosting abilities.
The only time where I really felt like I had control is when I went on dates — they were the only moments where I hung out with characters for the sake of hanging out with them. Even then, I would hesitate because that time slot could’ve been used to improve my confidant rank that was necessary for special story beats. As evident with Akechi, I didn’t hang out with him because I did not trust that man, but then I found out I had to get his confidant Rank 8 in order to get the true ending. Big regrets there.
As a result, I often had trouble deciding if I should play for an interesting character, or play to make combat dungeon-crawling more convenient. I know this has less to do with the game’s problems and more to do with my indecisive gameplay, but hey, this is a reflection and not a review.
Questionable Character Development
Some characters are really great and everyone has their unique arc worth looking into. However, sometimes the character development is inconsistent, or questionably existent; some character development stops once their respective palace is finished. This hurts the most for Ann, whose entire arc is about fighting against female objectification, but then gets flattened as a sexy dumb blond after. A YouTuber (Salari) created an amazing video essay that inspired this thought:
After finishing Okumura’s palace, Haru struggles to be more interesting than a rich-but-sweet damsel in distress. It’s not until we level up her confidant rank where players discover that her central theme is trust, and carving her own path not given by her father. This shouldn’t happen: the players should know the characters’ struggle by the time their respective palace is over. For Makoto, it was obvious that loneliness and wanting to be useful was her conflict before we even entered Kaneshiro’s palace.
The Villains and their Palaces
As for the villains, most of them are forgettable; they are remembered more for their palace design than their evil plans. Luckily, this doesn’t apply to Kamoshida, Futaba, and Maruki. The setup of the story took forever, but Kamoshida’s arc was worth the wait. The back-and-forth battle in the Metaverse and reality — as Phantom Thieves and as Shujin Academy students — accelerated the tension between us and Kamoshida. Kamoshida was a real villain, inflicting trauma to the people around and within the Phantom Thieves. His arc tackled themes like sexual abuse, power dynamics in the classroom, and suicide. Courageously, Ann forced Kamoshida to claim his sins instead of killing him, which then served as the moral foundation that the Phantom Thieves would operate on. Unfortunately, every villain afterward (excluding Maruki’s) didn’t have that back-and-forth, chess-like storytelling. You could argue Madarame did, but all we did was open a door and run away.
After completing a villain's palace, they basically disappear from the game altogether. We didn’t have that interrogation between Yusuke and Madarame after his treasure was stolen; Madarame just cried on public television and that was the end of it. Kaneshiro didn’t even speak — he just turned himself in. Okumura dies, which served more as a plot point than a moment of sympathy. Shido was extremely unforgettable because he was just a power-hungry dude. And are we just going to forget how a prime minister was never elected? Yaldabaoth's story was actually interesting, but the jump between “saving the world from baddies” and “realizing that your altruistic acts are contributing to moral laziness” could’ve been paced better.
As for Futaba, her palace was genuinely good in every way possible, including a back-and-forth battle. The main issue I had with her palace is that I was waiting for her to join the party. She finally joined at the end — as a navigator. Maruki’s palace was unique because it didn’t need to have some back-and-forth tension: the moral dilemma was always lurking in the background. His palace reflected my moral indecision more than the Phantom Thieves’. There were times where Maruki’s points weren’t bad, and I probably would’ve agreed with them if this wasn’t a video game about choosing your own reality.
Pacing and Overarching Themes
After finishing Shido’s palace, I really thought the game was about to be over. So, having to split that final boss tension over a span of a few days was rough. But, I understand that’s the challange of balancing VN and JRPG elements — dungeons are long because the players need time to interact with their digital buddies.
Since the game is so long, the overarching themes are forgettable. If it wasn’t for Maruki’s theme of changing vs. running away from reality, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the central moral dilemma as much (The consequences of imposing your own justice? Something like that). Besides, a good chunk of the story is cute anime teens beating up mean adults by summoning real-world deities. So, I didn’t take many serious moments seriously. By the time I had to fight Yaldaboath, I found myself barely caring for the themes because I was damn well tired by that point. After beating him, I found out there was another palace. I stopped playing for a week.
The Leveling Up System
This is perhaps my only qualm with the JRPG aspect of the game: I had no real incentive to level up. Sure, leveling up increases my stats (which are just HP and SP) and allows me to summon higher-level demons, but the game rewards you more for strategically using personas than by leveling up. Furthermore, the level cap for summoning personas stopped becoming an obstacle once I gained that confidant skill, mid-way in the game.
Also, compared to most JRPGS I’ve played, not having the ability to allocate skill points or stats was weird. I’m not suggesting I would have preferred a skill allocation system instead of a summoning system: I really enjoyed summoning different personas, even if I didn’t need to. I like how the game rewards you for capturing different personas to use for fusion. However, there are repercussions: because I don’t need to level-up, I just have to focus on capturing personas. This becomes ridiculously easy once I gained the insta-kill skill from Ryuji.
Maybe I would’ve enjoyed an incentive to grind? If a game’s battle mechanics are fun and offer diverse ways of strategizing (like TWEWY), then I wouldn’t mind. However, fighting in P5R isn’t boring — the UI, music, and sound design make every encounter worth it. I was ambushing enemies for style’s sake. I simply would’ve preferred a better reason to level up.
It sounds like I hated P5R, but I really didn’t. My “Positives” section is bland and short because they’re the same reasons why everyone else likes it. I don’t know of any aspect of the game that isn’t appreciated enough…for now.
The music, dub, and UI are amazing! It’s such a refreshing game to play, especially as a turn-based JRPG. The music oozes with chill and I still listen to it as a studying tune. I don’t know of any other game where the OST is so memorable, even though practically all of them followed the same Tokyo Jazz feel. While there were many moments where I got tired of listening to the characters speak, I still respect the dub because there’s not a single character that annoyed me (though sometimes Mishima). But were some boring? Yes. However, this was balanced out with some hilarious and infectious lines.
As for the UI, it’s unforgettable. Generally speaking, games that offer little player movement (like every turn-based JRPG) need to offer movement in other aspects. P5R understands this well by stylizing their UI with flashy-yet-smooth animations. That way, players can take their time choosing how to play, while also appreciating the visual and auditory details.
As for the characters, I really enjoyed my time with most of them! Ryuji is the bro-man-dude that seems to never catch a break, especially as comedy relief. Ann is a really supportive friend who deserves more. I’d probably go gay for a Yusuke. Makoto an adorably awkward badass whose hardworking as she is distant. Futaba is too cute to be a hikikomori and is funny as hell. Haru is as pure as her forehead. I’d sleep with Morgana. Akechi is a Kira who doesn’t fall apart. Sumire made me fall apart. While there were some lackluster moments, it was balanced with very interesting side characters: Hifumi is a cosplayer in disguise; Chihaya should be more proud of her accent; hanging out with the twin wardens was always a trip; I’d let Takemi send me on a trip. Through the redundant, overdramatic anime writing, there were always some gems to be found.
I’ve honestly never written this much about a game. I really wanted to dive deep into how I felt about Persona 5 Royal, and why I hate and love it the way I do. Maybe I’m operating off the sunk-cost fallacy, forcing myself to extract value from a game that I put over 150 hours in. Regardless, I still stand by what I said in my preface: this game doesn’t take itself too seriously and maybe you (I) shouldn’t either. That sounds ironic given how long this reflection turned out to be, but I guess that shows how much I still care about this game. While it didn’t really teach me any life lesson, it blew my mind for how well it fused different genres and mechanics. A fusion system, story branches, turn-based fighting, elemental attacks, social links…the list goes on as the Phantom Thieves do. It’s a huge game because it does so much, the majority of it was new to me.
Did Persona 5 Royal steal my heart? No, but it stole my imagination on what a JRPG could look like.
Dear reader, thank you! This is the first gaming piece I published. Having you read til’ the end means a lot to me. I want to share my thoughts more, so if you ever want to have a conversation, I’d love to enter your palace.