Reflecting on Persona 5 Royal

Preface

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

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

That Insta-kill ability is bonkin’!

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

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

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.

I’d take an Uber driver with a god complex.

Pacing and Overarching Themes

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.

Looks like a final boss fight to me.

The Leveling Up System

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.

I probably spent 15+ hours in the Velvet Room alone crafting sexy personas.

Positives

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.

Y for Yusuke.

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 spent more time with the gang than with my real-life friends.

Conclusion

Did Persona 5 Royal steal my heart? No, but it stole my imagination on what a JRPG could look like.

Brain Blast??!!

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.

I like to talk about games in a way that make my heart go ugh and my brain go wow. Currently invested in JRPGs and interactive storytelling!

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