Black Lives Matter: My story, and how you can make a difference from where you’re at

Off the top, I want to say that I am not qualified to talk about any of what I’m going to talk about today. As these recent events — and their aftermath — have unfolded, the need to speak out has become necessary, so I’m going to share some of my story today and go from there. I hope you hear the heart behind it.

I grew up in the Irish countryside and went to a small countryside school. There were no black people in my class or in the school for that matter. I guess my first exposure to someone of a different skin colour would’ve been sports, footballers for the most part, whether it was through real life or in video games. Players like Michael Essien, Claude Makelele, Ronaldinho. As a kid, the different colour of their skin didn’t bother me or strike me as odd. They were just people, people who could also do incredible things with a ball.

Honestly, as a kid, I thought black people were the coolest. They had the best hairstyles, they had the cool music, they could wear the cool clothes, they spoke in a cool way, they were the fastest, the most athletically gifted — these were the things I thought as a kid.

Playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (admittedly, a little too young), the main protagonist you played as was Carl Johnson, a black man. CJ was the shit. He was awesome. Plus, I could give him the cool hairstyles, the cool clothes that I had conceived in my young imagination.

In short, I thought black people were so much cooler than white people as a kid. Still do, really.

It wasn’t until I started secondary school with a large populous where I saw the diversity in a place I would be attending frequently. The only black guy in our year happened to be in my class. His name was Samuel, and he was one the nicest kids I knew. I really liked him and we got on pretty well. He was a day student (I was a boarder) so our interactions were only in and around class, but I thought he was great.

I met a lot more black people of all ages as I started going to church when I was about 15 (2009 heading into 2010). People of all countries, all colours. I initially struggled to fit in with people, and people my age, but got to know a few people my age who happened to be black. We became really good friends, and I can say with ease that I spent more time with them than anyone else (other than the people in school, as in, when were actually in the school). Outside of school, I never really spent time with the people in school, nothing even came close to the time I spent with my friends from church. The hours we spent together had to be in the hundreds — we stayed at various houses, went on various adventures etc. Endless memories.

As we progressed through our later teens, we became brothers by bond.

I was often the only white guy in the group, the only white guy when we met friends of friends. But I never felt uncomfortable or out of place when I was with them: they are my brothers, they are family, and those friends of friends we’d occasionally see were always accepting of me — they didn’t say anything about my skin colour, or the fact I was very much out of place compared to everyone else. My friends helped me to understand the different things they did that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise (such as African dishes and traditions and the such), corrected me if I said something wrong, because there was a lot I didn’t know or understand about their background or upbringing.

I probably wanted to be black at some point in my teenage years (not that I knew what that meant at the time, of course). Their influence in my life was incredibly strong, in an extremely positive way.

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A Facebook profile picture from 2011

It’s 2020 now, and I still have my brothers: Matt and Ronn. Life may have taken us in all sorts of different directions over the years and while contact was sometimes lost on my end, the bonds we made were never lost.

We make time to see each other whenever possible in our busy lives, and they’re great times that I treasure as new memories are made and the bond further strengthened. They’re my brothers, and I love them.

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From 2015

I am incredibly lucky to know them, and incredibly lucky to have known and befriended many other black people as well.

It pains me that they, and people like them, have to live through this oppression, simply for the colour of their skin. It pains me they (generally speaking) don’t feel the same acceptance as I did when I was the only white guy in the group

This George Floyd situation hit me differently, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a maturity on my end, but one that should’ve taken place sooner.

I also think part of it is because I’m so much more plugged into things that happen in America these days because the majority of my Twitter timeline (which I use for work) is of people from the States, and I work with people in the States and I write for an American website.

I think that’s definitely part of it, because even though these horrible things were happening throughout my teenage years and early adulthood, I didn’t really know about police brutality to black people (that, seemingly, only happens in America) only but a few years ago.

The situation bothered me, I struggled to sleep thinking about it and it was on my mind every day.

Meanwhile, people from all across the world made their stand, whether it was on social media or taking part in protests. Initially, I sat on the fence. I knew my silence for those first few days was wrong, but I didn’t believe I wasn’t qualified to talk about it. What am I going to say? I just didn’t know how to go about it.

This is what I eventually said to break silence.

But I didn’t know what else to do after this.

My fellow writer at Peachtree Hoops, Glen Willis, wrote about his ‘exhaustion and the challenge in confronting his own ego’, which goes into many aspects but also his place in all of this as a white man. There were parts that really spoke to me, questions to ask, and these were general things I had felt too.

How much speaking up is too little? How much is too much? How do I know if I am taking up space in the conversation that’s not mine to consume? Am I amplifying the right people and messages? Or am I taking over a part of the dialogue?

What does constructively showing up look like? How do I know if I am stepping into a place that is not mine to occupy?

Does it mean anything if my intent was to help? Because I know that I still have so much to learn, I know that I still function with a ton of ignorance. Does that prevent me from being able to join in the fight?

These are really good questions to ask, as a white man. It’s a difficult balance: you want to be part of it, as a white man, to acknowledge that, collectively, we have to be better, but at what point is it not about you? At what point do you, as a white person, back out and let others have their voice and their say?

How do I go about it? What can I do, as a white man living in Ireland living in a town near the countryside? 

There’s a great pressure to do and say something on social media, because if you don’t ‘you’re part of the problem’ and other such comments might be made. Silences are being noted during this time. People will remember. How do you let that challenge you but at the same time not be pressured into saying something for the sake of saying something? Because in this situation, that’s the wrong reason to say something: for the sake of saying something.

I love my brothers, I had to say something to show support. But what else is there that I can do after that?

I’m a white man living in Ireland, a place where, yes, racism happens (it exists everywhere across the world) but it’s certainly not a racist country by any means.

I asked my closest friends, Matt and Ronn (two of the wisest people I know), about the whole thing to try expand my horizons on the whole topic and seek their viewpoint as black men living in Ireland, and it was a really meaningful discussion. It was a critical learning experience to further my understanding of the whole conversation.

There was a Black Lives Matter protest in Dublin on June Bank Holiday Monday. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve liked to attend. But travel restrictions still exist (and I don’t drive), and I’m here in Carlow.

What can I do as a white man in all of this, what’s my role? How can I make a difference?

I posed this question to Ronn and one of the things he mentioned was understanding the limitations.

“For people to understand the struggles different people face. Understand that some of us don’t have certain privileges and have to work harder for things that a group of people can have way easier than most.”

I hadn’t actually thought about how there might be prejudices or preference when it comes to, say, job interviews or promotions, so this was really eye opening from that perspective. Not exclusive to employment of course, but it just helped me see things from another perspective.

We got further into the conversation and Matt chimed in, I want to share some of these and talk about some of them.

“I think when you see injustice and don’t speak out against it that can be deemed as siding with the injustice. But if you’re sitting in your flat in Carlow and someone unjustly kills a black man in Minnesota, it’s not necessarily on you to change America.

“Showing support is good but living out that support is better…”

“I think correcting discrimination whenever it comes up in my circle of influence, and raising my family to treat everyone as equals is the biggest thing. Circle of influence is key.”

After a follow up question I had about silence, Matt added, “I think there’s a difference between silence and the presence of injustice, and about silence about injustice in general. If silence about injustice in general was an issue, we’d all be guilty since we live in a greatly unjust world and most of us speak out about it very rarely.”

So much wisdom in those.

I’m a big advocate of the phrase “control what you can control.”

I can’t control when a black man is unnecessarily killed in America, I can’t control that I cannot attend a protest…there’s a lot I cannot control from where I am in all of this.

But, at the same time, there is plenty I can control/do.

I can control how I react when I hear racism — casual or otherwise. To correct them, to let them that this isn’t acceptable and that it’s absolutely not necessary. To correct people in my circle of influence if there is an understanding that is incorrect.

I can’t control that I can’t attend a protest happening further away than I can travel, but I can donate so that others are empowered to do so.

I can use my talents when it comes to forming and writing words, I can use my platform to share my story, my thoughts.

We all have a voice. Some of us are better at using it than others. I’m not a man who speaks a ton of words, by which I mean I’m not great at formulating words in person compared to what I can do when I type them out. I don’t have a great ability to convert those thoughts on paper into in-person speeches/public speaking, but I’m good at writing my thoughts down on ‘paper’ and posting them. That’s a talent I can use to make my voice heard.

If, like me, you don’t have the means to attend a protest, you can help others who do have the means by donating, that’s one thing you can do.

I felt helpless at first because I didn’t know how to help, but there’s a bunch you can do. You can donate, you can sign petitions, if you have black friends ask questions. Read. Learn. Listen.

One of the things I’m being challenged with is that ‘you have more of a reach than you may believe.’ Tap into that.

You can make a difference from where you’re at right now. You have a larger reach than you think…

 

 

The Enhanced Story Arc, Relationship Dynamic of Goro Akechi in Persona 5 Royal

Spoilers for Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal ahead, so fair warning…

Goro Akechi was one of the most fascinating characters of the original Persona 5 story.

On the surface, he is a charming, extremely intelligent, courageous, pancake loving young man whose talent is abundantly clear, but deep down harbours an incredibly vicious and unstable side, shaped by the events, relationships and people missing in his life that saw him navigate life without his father, who abandoned him, and his mother, who committed suicide when Akechi was young, before then passing through the hands of foster homes.

Akechi’s traumatic childhood saw him build a desire to exact the vicious revenge he desired, and once he awakened to his Persona and the Metaverse, he used it to aid the rise of politician — and father — Masayoshi Shido to the position of Prime Minister with the intention of informing Shido that he was his bastard child who he abandoned, before using that information to ruin Shido.

Akechi’s goal was within his grasp before falling at the 5-yard line of his end-goal when he was defeated by the Phantom Thieves after revealing his real nature and his identity as the True Culprit.

Despite being responsible for the mental shutdowns and the murder of, well, who even knows how many, Akechi found some redemption as he sacrificed himself to save the Phantom Thieves aboard Shido’s ship, allowing the Phantom Thieves to escape their plight and change Shido’s heart.

Once Shido’s heart was changed, the Yaldabaoth arc unfolds and once Sae-san approaches you after the final battle and talks about the Shido case, you’re reminded of the cold fact that Goro Akechi — the only other person who could testify against Shido’s crimes — is missing. Of course, you know what Sae-san does not, that Akechi is gone, and it’s just an empty feeling. It’s a similar feeling when you see all the confidants you maxed out during the Yaldabaoth fight and, again, Akechi is the sole exception…

It was a sad end for a character that perhaps wasn’t truly evil at heart in the end, and his absence at the end of the game/credits (which is a scroll of the Phantom Thieves and their moments in animated cutscenes) is one you certainly note. It’s harsh seeing his absence, knowing what we know.

That is a basic synopsis of Goro Akechi from Persona 5.

The events of P5R have only added to this incredible character, as well as offering redemption for an extremely popular character who many felt met an unjust fate.

Firstly, Akechi becomes a confidant you actually spend time with instead of his confidant arc being strengthened automatically through interaction in required scenes. This means that instead of spending time with another confidant, you have to choose to spend it with Akechi.

I was a little skeptical of this confidant arc because I didn’t really want to spend time with someone I knew was ultimately going to try shoot my face, but I went with it because you obviously have a grasp of the relationship between the two from P5.

You learn more about Akechi himself, a little more of his backstory and his ferocious competitive side that even has you duking it out to near death alone in Mementos as a competition of strength.

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But you also spend meaningful time, such as conversations over coffee and at the jazz club and discover that Akechi and Joker aren’t so different. You also learn of Akechi’s jealousy of Joker’s natural ability, his ability to be deal with adversity (he says “hatred” but I really don’t believe it to that extent), among other things, which sets the table really well for their eventual confrontation aboard Shido’s ship.

P5R makes a very intentional effort to expand on the relationship between Joker and Akehci, something that’s eluded to in the animation but taken to another level in P5R.

Even though Akechi says he hates Joker, you can sense a strong respect for someone with immense talent, but ultimately someone Akechi can relate to as a person, which is something Akechi has been missing in his lonely life. Sadly, his desire to make Shido suffer and his hatred for Shido is stronger than his respect of Joker, which is why he follows through on a plan that, he believed, killed Joker.

Persona 5 Royal_20200414224337After which, when Shido ponders if there’s an immediate need to take out the remaining Phantom Thieves. Akechi dismisses this, effectively labelling the remaining Phantom Thieves as ‘spineless’ without Joker’s guidance.

It seems Akechi’s negative view of the Phantom Thieves members outside of Joker carries through to the Maruki arc, and perhaps are even further validated as they fell under the influence of Maruki’s reality. The did eventually show up, but I think Akechi’s overall opinion of the Phantom Thieves still isn’t the highest.

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Their opinion of Akechi, however, is only strengthened when they discover that he fought Maruki even though it meant he would disappear from the true reality (but we’ll get to that).

As the Maruki arc begins on December 24th, Goro Akechi stands in the gap for Joker and agrees to testify against Shido in place of Joker, to the shock of everyone considering the fact that, well, he should be dead. Of course, we find out that this is due to Maruki’s reality, creating a reality for Joker where Akechi is alive and one where neither are criminals.

During the Maruki arc you do, once again, get to play as Akechi and use his Persona, only this time it’s not as Robin Hood, but Loki — THIS IS AWESOME. To be able to use Loki in battle and to witness Akechi’s true nature and power, without having to hide his deception, is really, really flipping cool. Severe Almighty damage to all foes? Hell yes.

As evidenced by his decision to explore Maruki’s Palace in his dark attire, Akechi no longer cares about hiding his true self, and his maniacal, ruthless nature shines through a lot more in the Maruki arc, now that he no longer has to hide his ulterior motives. He’s also a lot more direct, to the point in his conversations (though, he does crack a few jokes in the Phantom Thieves Den), impatient to get the job done and shows little hesitation to resort to extreme violence to get that done if that’s what it requires, as he attempts to shoot Maruki during the final battle while having to remove himself from the equation as Joker and Sumire square-off in Maruki’s Palace.

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His ‘Showdown’ move with Joker is especially satisfying but also has significant meaning.

Joker’s and Akechi’s fates have been intertwined, as Wild Cards — one who would incite the masses and chosen to reset the world (Akechi) and one to oppose who would rebel to keep things as they are (Joker). There are many aspects of both similarities and opposites that the two of them share, but that’s the main one.

In their Showdown move, you see the words “Prodigal Sons” in the background but the one that stood out to me was ‘Two sides, same coin,” referring to how they’re pulled from the same thread of fate (Yaldabaoth) but are very different in their own way. Another way you can look at it is that they are the same, yet completely different. It just continues to highlight the fact that Joker and Akechi were linked by fate and, even after Yaldabaoth’s demise, are still linked. Possibly forever.

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Akechi and Joker are among the only ones who can see through Maruki’s reality and both vow to work together to help return life to the way it should be. But while they can see that things aren’t as they should, they still live in a reality where dreams are reality, which begs the question: what dreams do Joker and Akechi have? What did Maruki show for them in his attempt to convince them to accept his offer?

I think both of their wishes involve each other: for Joker, I believe it’s not just that he’s still living with Sojiro and in Tokyo but also that Akechi is alive. For Akechi, I believe it’s that he and Joker can live as friends without criminal records and is part of the group of friends that is the Phantom Thieves, a place where Akechi is accepted and loved as he always wanted — alluding perhaps to the life that Akechi referenced aboard Shido’s ship, on which Akechi wishes he had met Joker before he awakened to his Persona.

Neither, however, are swayed by this reality and know in their heart that what they’re living in is a fabrication. Akechi is absolute in his refusal to live in such a reality.

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Akechi made it clear that teaming up with Joker made sense in order to overcome their common problem and foe, but he was fully aware that there were obviously trust issues from his past deception. His intentions as to what he would do when the Maruki business was behind him were unclear, and some part of me still believed he would turn again and try to kill Joker again (I’m not sure why, seeing as Shido had been taken care of). But, as we find out, it goes so much deeper than that.

Akechi discovered that with the collapse of Maruki’s Palace, the events from the real December 24th would be where the true reality resumes… A reality that, of course, he doesn’t exist in anymore…

You have the choice to either save Akechi’s life by accepting Maruki’s reality (though, this goes strongly against Akechi’s wishes) or show a similar resolve by agreeing to go through with the plan, even it means that Akechi will no longer be part of reality, having made his ultimate choice aboard Shido’s ship.

Maruki made it known to Joker that the dream he made reality for him is one where Akechi continued to exist, as friends, sensing Joker’s regret of the happenings that occurred on Shido’s ship (which is the one moment in the anime where Joker really lets his emotions get the better of him).

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Despite knowing that he would disappear from reality if they went through with the plan, Akechi is resolute in his decision to oppose Maruki’s reality when it would’ve clearly been in his interest to embrace it…to live again. Instead, Akechi’s resolve is absolute, refusing to live in a false reality under someone else’s manipulation again even if it means he will no longer exist in reality…

“That’s the path I chose.”

It’s incredibly moving to see Akechi’s resolve amidst the obvious consequences of what ending Maruki’s schemes would mean for him: which is the end of his life also. It also highlights the fact Akechi does not regret standing in the gap for the Phantom Thieves in their quest to bring down Shido, even at a cost to his life, as he turns down Maruki’s ‘do-over’ in life.

Despite Joker’s initial protests, Akechi insists that, of all times, he isn’t shown mercy by Joker. Joker agrees to carry the plan through.

Sadly, after the battle with Maruki, Joker doesn’t get to say goodbye to Akechi — or any scene of the sort — once the Palace collapses, which I think was a missed opportunity by Atlas. Alas, you’re left to deal with the reality that Akechi, once again, is gone, choosing once again to look at the bigger picture at the expense of his own self-interest, his life, as he chose fight to return the world to its reality, even if it meant he would no longer be part of that reality.

As you say goodbye on your final day before returning home, if you visit the jazz club, Joker reflects on this as a place of memory that he shared with Akechi, and ponders on their unresolved duel and the fact Akechi is no longer present and won’t be able to come return to the jazz club with him.

Just like the original Persona 5, it’s still a little harsh that Akechi doesn’t appear alongside the Phantom Thieves in the credits scroll, but seeing as he’s responsible for the murder of a lot of people and ultimately — as Akechi knew it — followed through on a plan to deceive, betray and murder Joker, it makes sense as to why he isn’t glorified too much at the end. Still, with the events of P5R, I believed he would’ve earned his spot in the final credits a little more in P5R than P5.

However, there’s something regarding the P5R ending when it comes to Akechi that is worth talking about, and it involves Joker too.

There appears to be two different ending scenes of the True Ending, whose beginning and ending are the same but differs in the middle. One is titled “A New Road,” the other, “Promises” (you can view these in the Phantom Thieves Den).

In “A New Road,” Joker is seated inside the train and receives an alert on his phone. When he looks at it, there seems to be a sad expression on his face — one seemingly of regret, which is incredibly rare for Joker, who is calmness personified and doesn’t let on much on the outside. It’s certainly an alert that has Joker reflecting on something that clearly bothers him. The train departs and Joker sees his Phantom Thieves attire in his reflection, takes off his glasses, pull down the blind and end-scene.

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Given the absence of Akechi in this particular scene, I think that’s where Joker’s thoughts lie. I don’t think it has to do with leaving Tokyo or his friends behind, since the majority of them are going their separate ways for the next year anyways, but Joker’s regret of Akechi’s fate and how events unfolded are made a bit more known in P5R.

My guess is that “A New Road” is an alternate True Ending with all of the necessary conditions (i.e. reaching Rank 9 with Maruki by November 18th, max out Yoshizawa to Rank 5 by December 18th) minus reaching out Akechi to Rank 8 prior to November 18th.

In “Promises,” it begins in the same way: Joker is seated on the train, he receives an alert but this time there is no sad expression found on his face. In its place, two men in black suits and a coat that matches that of Akechi walk by Joker’s window. Joker looks at his phone and seems content enough, before glancing out the window just as the three men have walked out of sight and the rest of the scene unfolds in the same way as it did in “A New Road” — Joker sees the reflection and closes the blind. The obvious implication and main takeaway is that Goro Akechi does appear to be alive after all, while the other scene would imply the opposite (given his absence).

I think the fact the cinematic is called “Promises”, the fact it doesn’t have Joker’s expression of, seemingly, regret and the fact Goro Akechi would appear to exist in this cinematic and not in “A New Road,” leads me to believe the difference between the two alludes to the Akechi-connection in both, and the cinematic being titled “Promises” I think refers to the one they made to each other, the one that the two see each other again to make good on their promise.

P5R has been very intentional about furthering the connection and the relationship between Joker and Akechi. What P5R did for Akechi only added to his incredible character and his complex, layered relationship with Joker, and even Joker’s own relationship with Akechi. Joker’s feelings of Akechi, unsaid or not, are clearer to read and understand in P5R, perhaps reflective in an added scene as Joker lays in bed the day of Akechi’s death and ponders it in his head.

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There would appear to be some hope for Joker’s unresolved promises with Akechi, as it it seems pretty clear that Akechi is indeed still alive, as the ending cinematic would suggest.

If there’s a sequel to be had for P5R, I imagine we’ll see Goro Akechi again…

 

Dreams and Reality: An Overview of Persona 5 Royal

The original Persona 5 was such an incredible experience to me, so much so that I labelled it my favourite game of all time — a pretty large claim for someone who has been playing games for almost 20 years now. I wrote that over a year ago now and I still stand by it, so I guess it wasn’t just a spur of the moment emotion.

However, not long after that experience, Persona 5 Royal (which I’ll refer to as P5R from here onwards, and the original Persona 5 as ‘P5’) was announced and I was obviously very excited — the idea of more content for the game that had already (excuse the pun) stolen my heart was obviously a very exciting one.

The only unfortunate side of that announcement was that it wouldn’t release in Europe until late March — effectively, April — a lifetime compared to the October release Japan was getting…

I scrambled (way too late, admittedly) to find a special copy of P5R to order, eventually pre-ordered the Phantom Thieves Edition with all the fancy shwag and all I had to do was wait… Eventually, the end of March arrived and it was a sweet, sweet moment when she arrived.

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Prior to this, I’ve played through P5 three times, the most recent of those around Christmas time, so I’d be somewhat fresh of the game but not too fresh for the April release. I wanted to be able to tell the little things that might be different between P5 and P5R.

I have a notebook for almost everything, including a miscellaneous notebook for, well, exactly that. As I played through P5R, I took notes on basically my thoughts on the new things, maybe things I hadn’t realised or something I wanted to remember — whatever. Many pages, and many hours later, I have beaten P5R and now that it is conquered, I wanted to write about.

So that’s what’s happening today. This is mostly a story and character introspective, so those thoughts will come first and the gameplay stuff will come later.

Obviously this should go without saying, but there are spoilers for not only the original P5 but P5R too, so fair warning. I’ll probably add some of my favourite screen shots from the game’s cinematics along the way, these also contain spoilers. If you do not want to be spoiled…STOP, now.

So, I guess the major thing that was being pushed for P5R, the major addition, was the introduction of a new Persona user, whose name is Kasumi Yoshizawa.

It’s implied from the E3 Trailer that while she’s a Persona user, she doesn’t seem to agree with the Phantom Thieves, certainly, she didn’t belong to them (which makes her different to most Persona users in Persona 5) — that was the impression I got at the time. It was confirmed very quickly in the escape from the casino that Kasumi was not a member of the Phantom Thieves, as she aides in your escape in an added scene (which was a good introduction to her).

Her ‘anti’-Phantom Thieves stance isn’t so much of a thing in the actual game itself but the point remains in that Yoshizawa is not a member of the Phantom Thieves. In fact, her role in this game is not what you would have expected heading into P5R.

I guess, in retrospect, the early Kasumi appearance was not really an outlier of what was to come. Sure, she pops up every now during the story and then but she’s not as much of a feature in this game as, say, the size of her character on the cover-art would suggest.

Let’s talk about the story, which is the main thing I kept coming back to once I had finished my 121 hour playthrough.

I’d say 90% of the core story is largely the same — Akechi, Shido, Yaldabaoth, and obviously everything before that, all pretty much the same. That’s a good thing because the story of the original P5 was absolutely brilliant. My thoughts I wrote about the story from P5 still absolutely stand.

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However, the most extreme changes from P5 to P5R’s story comes once you defeat the final boss of P5, Yaldabaoth, and are lingering in Shibuya on Christmas Eve evening — which is about 100 hours in in P5R.

Instead of turning yourself in on Christmas morning as was the case in P5, Goro Akechi, who was presumed dead, conveniently arrives and says that he will turn himself in, leaving Joker to celebrate Christmas with the Phantom Thieves.

Then on New Year’s, things get weird and you obviously learn that Dr. Maruki, yep, the handsome counsellor who you thought pretty much nothing of — on the same day as you defeated Yaldabaoth — was successful in his endeavour to realise a reality where everyone’s dream came true, and the added third term to P5R has you infiltrate Maruki’s Palace with the idea to steal his heart and return reality to what it once was, what it should be.

Maruki is the final arc of the story, and while ensuring the true reality is restored is obviously important, I still think the Yaldabaoth arc should have been the final arc of the main story — it’s still the bigger threat. I think Atlas tried to top Yaldabaoth in some way by making sure that the Maruki arc showdown was as ‘epic’ (they sure went for it) and ‘important’ as Yaldabaoth’s, but it just isn’t. It really just isn’t.

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As the fake-reality ending showed, life would’ve still carried on on had Joker agreed to Maruki’s reality. It’s actually eery how happy that ending actually is for it not being the True Ending.

With Yaldabaoth, it’s life or death of not just the Phantom Thieves, but of everything, and since he was the one pulling the strings for basically 100 hours of the game (not to mention years in the lives of Goro Akechi and Joker), I still see him as the main antagonist of Persona 5 and his defeat should be the final player input in P5, not the 12 or so hours that Maruki is the target.

This should’ve been a post-game episode, perhaps similar to the Delta Emerald post-game adventure of Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, for example — something that shouldn’t negate the real victory after beating your main goal but a collective problem to tackle afterwards. I’m struggling to think of other examples, but you get the idea…

The Maruki arc should not have been part of the main story itself but something after the main credits. I understand the issue with that, so the obvious question spawns: how else do you handle it?

I think the Maruki arc should’ve come either before or after Okumura, so that it wouldn’t interfere with obviously the aftermath of Sae-san’s Palace, which obviously leads directly into the Shido arc which, in turn, leads directly into Yaldabaoth. Everything that has taken place leads to Yaldabaoth. Everything. This is not the case for Maruki — he shouldn’t have been the endgame.

I understand that’s basically impossible, because of how it has to do with the fact that Mementos and the real world are still fused and Maruki is able to take advantage of that, and happens to do so when Yaldabaoth falls (not that he knew anything about that, of course).

The Maruki arc, for me, lasted about 13 hours from when I last saved before fighting Yaldabaoth, which is far too long to finish the game after what I view as the true evil of P5 and P5R, again, as much as they seemingly tried to make the endgame of the Maruki arc more significant as Yaldabaoth… It just isn’t.

Heck, even Shido feels like a lifetime ago when it’s all said and done. Shido was the main antagonist right until hour 95 out of 100, we’ll say, and it’s a quick turnaround from the end of his arc to the Yaldabaoth arc. Between the confession and all of the events that unfold on Christmas Eve, that’s only a matter of days. That’s nothing, so you don’t feel too far removed from the Shido arc when the game is finished. This no longer applies in P5R.

Then comes the events after dealing with Maruki.

As you near the end of the arc, you learn that the day you defeat Yaldabaoth is the same day where the “actualisation” occurs, starting at the moment the previously deceased Goro Akechi reappears and reality would pick up from there, since in true reality he wouldn’t have been able to bail Joker out of having to turn himself in because, well, sadly, Akechi is no longer here in the true reality…

I had been hoping that the calendar would return to Christmas Eve, the moment that Sae-san asked you to turn yourself in and then the original ending of P5 (plus the added bits that were possible, like White Day) would play out from there: you turn yourself into the police on Christmas Day and the rest of the Phantom Thieves would rally around their incarcerated leader and spur themselves and others into action to have him released.

That would’ve been something I would’ve truly been happy with, minus the long gap between defeating Yaldabaoth and the actual ending of the game. As soon as I found out that moment reality would begin again would be from that point on Christmas Eve, I had hope that would take place.

That’d make the most sense for everyone, right?

You’d tie up loose ends with Yoshizawa later as you would other confidants (since she’s not a member of the Phantom Thieves, they come first), you assumed Maruki would be dead (which I wouldn’t have been upset with), Akechi is still this villain who got his opportunity at redemption (twice now) and dies a hero, you’d get out of jail in January (since the third term didn’t technically happen in reality) and the animated sequences from P5 wouldn’t go to waste/be retconned.

No. Instead of any of that, it’s still February and the reality is that Joker has been in jail from Christmas Day — imprisoned now for months that this stage. The scene were the remaining Phantom Thieves are resolute in their determination to free their leader on New Year’s Eve is completely absent and the gravity of Joker turning himself in is lost compared to the original — that’s a huge moment in the story.

The whole idea throughout the entire game was that he avoided another criminal charge or anything that would end up with him going to juvie, and he took the bullet for the team by taking sole responsibility to protect his teammates. That moment, that recognition of sacrifice and the immediate aftermath of that sacrifice as the other members discover what Joker did, is basically absent in P5R — it doesn’t carry the same weight that it should.

For reference:

Next comes probably the worst bit of all, the True Ending animation.

In the P5 True Ending, instead of Joker getting back on the train home as he had expected to, the members of the Phantom Thieves — who are basically family at this stage — drive Joker home (after stealing a spark plug from, I’m assuming, police officials, who had been tailing them, to repair their stricken van). They drive away, leaving the officials stranded as they hit the open road, with various hijinks before the credits sequence rolls.

It’s a beautiful moment that leads into a beautiful ending credits song and sequence. After the incredibly emotional sequence plays, the ending cinematic closes with Joker opening the sun-roof, standing up to the point his torso is outside and he basks in the on-rushing air, the sunlight and the freedom he and the Phantom Thieves worked so hard to attain, as the music from the game’s menu cutscene plays, bringing everything full circle.

The theme of the final cinematic in the original was: ‘Who cares what others think, we’re free to choose our own path, our own destiny. This is our life’. It’s extremely beautiful and moving. When I finished the original, the ending was so satisfying, it was the right way to end a truly epic journey with the most amazing characters.

The new True Ending… Why?

So, in this ending, the officials in the black car are still surveying you as they did in P5 but there’s a a lot more concern given to them this time. Then, Maruki — in his first appearance since trying to kill you and punching your face repeatedly before his Palace collapsed — pulls up in a taxi to take Joker to the train station while the rest of the Phantom Thieves act as decoys in the van by driving maniacally to throw the officials off the scent?

What?

Then when they arrive at the station, Maruki and Joker call it even (which makes some sense seeing as it’s easy to forget that the end result was not just returning reality but changing Maruki’s heart) before the Phantom Thieves just pull up, hastily say goodbye and drive off? OK? Then Joker bumps into Yoshizawa at the train station (sure, OK) before getting on the train with Morgana, who, surprise, was in his bag and not fixing the van like in the original.

What? They actually didn’t drive him back and their intention in this old van was to simply drop him to the train station?

Finally, after a credits song which lacks in comparison to the original plays, the final scene sees Joker arrive at some station and we see the famous coat that Goro Akechi wore, indicating that he is more than likely alive (somehow), as Joker reflects in his train window’s reflection, seeing his Phantom Thieves attire before taking his glasses off and pulling down the blinds. The end.

What?

I’ve had some time to think about this because I was pretty conflicted seeing it for the first time.

I guess it all had to do with expectations. I expected the original ending because it was basically perfect and I hadn’t anticipated the possibility that they would ever change it. I also had the credits song stuck in my head and I had gone months intentionally without listening to it so it’d be ready for this moment and the emotions, as they have in every other playthrough, would come. I embraced the end of an incredible journey each time it came.

So, to not have that ending and receive a worse ending than the original was disappointing, that was an unmet expectation. Does that make the True Ending itself bad? I wouldn’t say bad, but it just sorely lacks because the other ending from P5 exists.

What was so wrong with the original ending that required this much deviation? This ending only creates more questions than it does anything else. Did they have to make a different end because a sequel to P5 (Persona 5 Scramble) exists, or that a P5R sequel will eventually come? It was just a bit unsatisfactory. The one part I enjoyed of it were the scenes during the credit scroll as the rest of the Phantom Thieves prepare for the next stage of their lives, with most of them going their separate ways (which is a vast departure from the original ending, which is why P5 Scramble is not a sequel to P5R). Poor Yusuke…

If there ends up being a sequel to P5R, then I think I can forgive them a little more for this ending. To be fair, I’ll probably have a kinder view of this ending the second time around, now that I know what to expect. I will, however, take solace that Persona 5 Scramble is a sequel to P5 and not P5R. Now, if only we could get an English version of that game…

I’m trying not to let the ending bother me too much because other than the ending  being slightly disappointing, P5R is absolutely brilliant. It is incredible. Even Maruki’s actual Palace, his story, Yoshizawa’s story, they’re all fantastic. Atlus stumbled just at the end after a near flawless race.

Again, my issue with the Maruki arc isn’t the arc itself but that I don’t agree on the placement of Maruki’s arc in the context of the main-game itself (it should either come before Yaldabaoth or as a post-game adventure). Maruki’s arc could’ve been, almost, absolutely fine — better than that, even — had time just gone back to Christmas Eve and the original ending gone from there. The fact that it’s as different as it is leads me to believe there’s going to be sequel, but even then it seems strange to have two sequels, two separate timelines between the sequel to P5 and P5R.

For all that I dislike with how the Maruki arc was handled in terms of its placement, there were a lot of things to like with the Maruki episode, where the main new characters come to the fore and the majority of the new content for P5R.

You spend a bit of time with Maruki throughout the main story and see his interactions with the other Phantom Thieves in their counselling sessions (which ended up being far more important than I think you could possibly imagine), and you spend a little more time with Yoshizawa throughout the first 100 hours than you do with Maruki, but the majority of their screen time comes during the Maruki arc.

Again, a little strange for Yoshizawa that the majority of her material, so to speak, ends up here, 100 hours later, but alas…

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Despite awakening to her Persona before Okumura’s death, Yoshizawa only forms her contract with her Persona and joins the group during the Maruki arc but is still not a member of the Phantom Thieves even then, that much made clear.

And because she wasn’t a member but is a character that’s obviously been given quite a bit of attention to and is obviously important to final arc, I was afraid that they may shoe-horn her alongside the Phantom Thieves in to the major events after, such as the final cinematic scene, like she was one of them.

She wasn’t one of them, and I’m glad they didn’t force her to be.

I’m happy she wasn’t there in that van because she wasn’t part of the main story, the main struggle, really. She wasn’t a Phantom Thief, she didn’t have to deal with Akechi’s betrayal, she had nothing to do with Shido (though, not entirely her fault on that one) and she’s absolutely no where to be seen on the Day of Destiny (Christmas Eve/Yaldabaoth) to support the Phantom Thieves in their moment of absolute need. Where even was she? At least with Maruki, we know where he was that day and why he wasn’t on the ground cheering for the Phantom Thieves to pull through.

I like Yoshizawa, I do. But she had no place to be side-by-side with the Phantom Thieves at the ending — like, the majority of your involvement came in the last 12 hours of the 120…You’re not really a part of this. That might sound harsh but that’s the truth. She’s not a Phantom Thief. She has her own role, her own story but she’s not ‘one of the gang’ and I’m glad she had he separate thing with Joker to end, but not as the Phantom Thieves.

Kasumi’s story, or rather, Sumire as you find out, was excellently handled.

The twist that she was the sister that survived and that real Kasumi was the one that died to save her was a twist I didn’t expect, and the animation of the event itself was pretty stirring, especially seeing Kasumi lie dead in the street and blood on the street.

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The reasoning for Sumire wanting to live life as Kasumi is understandable. That’s a lot of guilt, shame and grief to live with so young but to run away from it and her defiance to refuse to accept reality — and her identity — was ultimately wrong. Pain is a part of life, as cruel as it can be. Sadly, the only way is forward. Nothing could bring back Kasumi. Even if she wanted to be her, Sumire was always running from reality and the path forward. She may have believed she was Kasumi, but there was no future for her as Kasumi. The reality is that as much as she trained, she wasn’t as good as Kasumi was — she wouldn’t have been able to get the results Kasumi did. She’s Sumire Yoshizawa, and this is the focus of her Confidant arc from 6-10, now that she accepts the truth.

Maruki himself is a fascinating character. You would’ve learned some of his past through his confidant arc but obviously a lot more is discovered here. You learn the root of his distortion and the key moments of how this fake-reality all came to be. The Treasure turning about to be an extract from the incident that killed Rumi’s parents and caused Rumi to effectively show no life in hospital was touching, as is his sacrifice in order to secure her health, even at the expense of his fiancé to be, Rumi, having no memory of Maruki.

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Maruki’s intentions behind his distortion of reality is understandable. A reality where dreams are reality with no sadness, no strife. Sounds great, in theory. However, his decision to run away from his own past is wrong and refusal to accept the hand life dealt him and the decision to impose a false reality among people against their choice — as happy as it makes them — is wrong, and that’s the motivation to stop him, at least for me. Life is about acceptance and finding a way forward, even though it’s not seldom fair.

In addition to that, it would have negated everything the Phantom Thieves fought for up to this point. They risked their lives to face Yaldabaoth so that people would have control over their lives, as they have control over theirs. This is not control.

Though his distortion is strong, Maruki certainly not an evil man.

I imagine a lot of people were conflicted about Maruki’s reality — it’s excellently thought out and rationalised, truly. The idea of a reality where there is no pain, only happiness is one that many would surely jump at — I’m sure some people had no problem accepting his deal. And you’re tasked to wrestle what is right, not just for you but the friends you love. The choice is ultimately yours to make, there is a choice.

The ending where Maruki’s reality becomes irreversible, on the surface, is a happy ending as people live out their dreams but you know that it’s not the right one, as indicated by the music (which is a really great song) and the credits sequence. It’s almost worth considering following through on, given my issues with the True Ending. But ultimately, you know it’s a false happiness imposed against the will of people.

Getting to see each Phantom Thief live life as they dreamed was moving though. All of them are significant in their own way but I think the ones most moving to me, personally, were Futaba and Haru, more Haru than anyone else.

For Futaba, she had the family she always wanted — Wakaba, Sojiro and Joker — and spent her time happily doing life with them. Knowing what we know from the story, it’s obviously incredibly sad seeing Futaba have a glimpse of a life with her mother and Sojiro knowing that it was taken away.

Haru was moving to me because she spends with her dad, Kunikazu Okumura, who of course is killed in the main story. Not only is he alive here, but Okumura converses with Haru as his beloved daughter, looking out for her, concerning themselves about some personal and business matters together as father and daughter, which of course was the complete opposite of how it was in reality.

Seeing glimpses of their lives as they wished for, I’m sure it does raise a hint of hesitation about whether the true reality should be restored, or this alternate reality should exist, with people living happily in the dreams Maruki has woven.

Joker’s reality is a little different. He can obviously still see through the lies but I think his reality would’ve been one where he continued living in Yongen with Sojiro but I think, most importantly, his dream would be that Goro Akechi is still alive.

Clearly, Joker has regrets about how things ended with Akechi, reflecting in his bed the day Akechi was killed about their unresolved duel and how Akechi would’ve hated for things to end like that (though, I personally think that duel took place when they went with all their strength in a fight of life and death, in a fight that, unknowingly, was a fight for the future of the world. Though, I guess the argument would be that it was the Phantom Thieves vs. Akechi, not Joker vs. Akechi).

As for Akechi himself, I’m really not sure. I imagine his dream would perhaps be the alternate timeline he wished for, that Joker and himself could be friends (as he eluded to aboard Shido’s ship, which, speaking of, it was cool to see how the Akechi confidant arc was tied nicely into the conversation on the ship), instead of the events that ended up unfolding in the events of Persona 5 where he was destined to walk down the path he did, set up by Yaldabaoth. That Akechi was loved and had a place to belong, as he sorely desired in his life but never received.

But it wasn’t reality, and even though people are happy, it isn’t true happiness — it masquerades the pain of the past which, as sad as it is, shapes people into who they are, for better or for worse.

Part of what makes the Phantom Thieves who they are is the fact they faced the truth of their situation because they could no longer run from the truth and decided to act, and they grew from their adversity with the resolve that they’d never go back to their old selves (this was particularly a theme for Ann, Makoto and Haru).

To Joker and Akechi, they know the truth that things aren’t as they should be and made the resolve to fix it. After Joker’s conversations with his teammates, they all feel uneasy about their reality and how it doesn’t quite add up and meet up, where they discover the truth for themselves as they exit Maruki’s reality.

The ending arc of P5R kind of paints the rest of the Phantom Thieves in a somewhat poor light.

When Akechi believes he has killed Joker, in his conversation with Shido after the event, he dismisses the idea of killing the remaining Phantom Thieves immediately and labels them as, not in these words exactly, spineless — that without Joker, they are nothing and won’t exact revenge for their fallen leader.

It’s true that, many times, Joker saves the Phantom Thieves time and time again, be it with his actions (Makoto, in Futaba’s Palace), his words (the Velvet Room Prisons) or his sheer determination and resolve (Shido, to name one). It was disappointing to see, again, that the Phantom Thieves had to be bailed out by their leader for their part in allowing Maruki’s distortion to become reality, especially given the fact that the New Year’s Eve scene where the Phantom Thieves resolve to free their leader is missing from P5R.

Now, they do make up for the fact somewhat as they — and Akechi — all take the brunt of Adam Kadmon’s, effectively, killing blow which allowed Joker to climb and put an end to Maruki’s fight — some points clawed back there.

I have a bunch of thoughts regarding Akechi himself, his relationship with Joker, the ending and other thoughts of what Atlas did with Akechi in Persona 5 R, you can read those here.

Anyways, circling back, some final thoughts on the Maruki arc, more so from a gameplay perspective…

It was great. It was also really fun to use incredibly high levelled Personas as your roared through the 70’s and into the 80’s (and I was on hard mode and finished on 84, I’m sure you could easily reach the 90’s on a lower difficulty). One of the things I always wanted to do was to actually use the very high levelled Personas that you acquired on the ascent to Yaldabaoth but were never useful because, well, the ending fight was literally right there, so it nice to run through a Palace with some of those Personas, as well as the ones you can acquire in Maruki’s Palace, which in itself was very enjoyable despite its length.

Going back to Mementos after you believed it to be erased, and back to the Hall of Grail, where the Holy Grail once stood, where Yaldabaoth emerged, was incredibly weird after everything. Though I enjoy the fact you return to an area where the Holy Grail once stood, and with it, the place where an epic battle took place, I’m not huge on returning to Mementos as a whole. Added to that, another 16 floors to climb to progress the story? Meh…

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The Maruki arc is very good, really. Music, ambience, characters, themes, motives… So many elements at play, so many emotions invoked. I just don’t agree with how it stacks versus Yaldabaoth and how it is tied into the main story.

Let’s, briefly, talk gameplay and quality of life changes that I really enjoyed in P5R as a whole, which helped broaden the entire experience, because as good as the Maruki arc is, it only accounts for 12 or so hours of the 120 that P5R provided me.

Basically everything that was tweaked for P5R was either well needed or a great addition.

One of the things you had to be conscious of was your ammunition in a Palace — once you had spent your lot of bullets, that was it for the most part. However, in P5R your ammo is replenished after every battle…you just have less bullets overall. That’s a fair trade-off. I’d take less bullets overall if I can have them for every battle. Hurts a little for boss fights but in terms of navigating a Palace, that’s fair.

The fact that you can Baton Pass from basically the get-go is fantastic. Sure, it obviously matters less after Kamoshida’s Palace but if you have a new party member for a Palace, they obviously weren’t going to have Baton Pass available to them until you can start their confidant arc, which is after the Palace they join you. So to be able to do that was an extremely welcome addition.

Let’s stick with the Palaces… I feel like I learn something new to help me progress either more efficiently and/or quickly, but I feel like it was easier to KO Palace’s on the first day (if possible, obviously for some that isn’t possible due to plot). This is pretty easy in New Game+ but I wasn’t expecting it for a new playthrough — it felt like the Palaces in general were a little less tedious (hello, barracks section from Okumura’s Palace).

As well as that, with the introduction of, let’s call them abilities for the sake of keeping it simple, SP isn’t run through as much — replenished bullets after fight also helps in this regard — making it easier to extend Palace exploration. Throw in the small amount of SP you recover from the new Will Seeds…it all adds up.

Speaking of the Will Seeds, I love their addition. I love their eery, echoing voices in the room you collect the seed as they whisper their words of distortion, and the items these eventually turn into are basically useful even at the end of the game, with the exception of Kamoshida’s Crystal of Lust. It’s fantastic in the early game, and for a lot of the game, but basically once you reach, I’d say, Sae-san, the health recovered just isn’t enough anymore, even if the attack boost is nice. They’re basically all extremely useful, though, I think I only used the one from Futaba’s Palace once — it’s probably best used for mini-bosses that aim for party status affliction (if you’re able to remember what those are heading in).

All of the Palace bosses in the game had some sort of makeover to their fight, some more drastic than others.

With Kamoshida, the extra phase involving Mishima, Shiho and the volleyball really added to the fact that the actions of Kamoshida didn’t extend just to the Phantom Thieves but others too. It also made the fight a bit more difficult, only because I had to babysit Morgana, but alas…

Madarame’s new phase is basically a Baton Pass phase, hitting each weakness before saving the final pass for a sizeable blow at Madarame.

I don’t want to go over every single one because some changes aren’t that major (such as Kaneshiro and Sae-san) but the one battles whose dynamic was changed and absolutely beat my ass was the Okumura fight, which they completely changed the dynamic of from start to the end — it’s similar to the Madarame fight in some ways where you need to defeat all the pieces at once, only infinitely more annoying.

So many of the other additions to the original story are fantastic. The extra scenes (such as the Summer Festival), the extra phonecalls after visiting your confidants, spending time with the twins…they all add to the amazing story and the depth of the characters.

The addition of the Phantom Thieves Den was fantastic: a place to relax, put on whatever track you have encountered thus far, watch whatever cinematic you want from an arc, look at some of the many visual elements of the game (the added photos throughout the game taken are great to look at), decorate your den as you saw fit — from Personas, bosses, locations, dungeon themes etc. — to be able to roam around as other characters (who didn’t enjoy just running around as Morgana the cat?) and perhaps play a bit of Tycoon. Oh, and when it’s all said and done, you can even roam around as the mice from Shido’s Palace. That is absolutely fantastic.

A home away from home, one you can decorate to your own end. Great addition.

The added location of Kichijoji adds quite a few things, such as a location to sell sooty equipment for a good price, some overpowered items that increase elemental attacks by 50%, the jazz club but best of all is the Penguin Club, a.k.a daaaaaarts! Darts is great fun, and the idea to have levels for baton pass ranking is a nice bonus too — extra attack and a very small amount of HP and SP recovery is a nice bonus too. Never got to play billiards, sadly. Maybe in New Game+… Oh, speaking of added areas, the aquarium is a nice addition too. Aquariums are awesome.

Speaking of battles, I’ve talked about Joker and Akechi’s showtime move…these new showtime moves are pretty damn cool, really loved these. My favourite ones both are both of Yusuke’s and Ryuji’s — not only with each other, but Yusuke with Ann, and Ryuji and Makoto. But Yusuke and Ryuji’s together was my favourite — I still laugh at it when I see it.

One of the things added to the Maruki arc is the introduction of third-stage Personas belonging to the Phantom Thieves (if you have maxed the confidant), which are a combination of the previous two.

My favourite of these were Ryuji (it’s exactly what you want it to be), Makoto and Futaba. Morgana’s is pretty cool too, but I wasn’t huge on Yusuke’s (Susano-o was so much better) and not massive on Ann’s and Haru’s. But it was very cool to use these and some of their ridiculously overpowered abilities — in fact, Ann’s party-wide Concentrate saved my ass in the never-ending Azathoth/Maruki fight. Again, being level 80+ and using severe and colossal damaging moves was really enjoyable.

What’s next…the soundtrack, right…

I mean, the P5 soundtrack was already a master to behold but P5R has topped that, and then some.

The new tracks added for the Maruki arc — and P5R as a whole — are incredible. The Palace theme, the deep theme for the Twilight Corridor, the boss battle itself and the awesome track on heist-day: “I Believe”.

I love “Life Will Change” (more so the instrumental version) but I think I might prefer “I Believe: more. That’s saying something. The one thing I will give the Maruki arc over the Yaldabaoth arc is that the final boss theme is better — possibly much better.

Again, 90% of the soundtrack is the same as the original — which is obviously a fantastic thing.

The main gripe I could see people having with the original soundtrack is how repetitive the main battle theme (“Last Surprise”) and the Mementos theme could get.

This is not an issue in P5R.

They added a new song for an ambush (“Take Over”) while using Last Surprise for non-ambush fights. Take Over (which is the majority of fights that you’re going to be taking part in) is fantastic, a much better song than Last Surprise, which does get going eventually but not all battles take a long time.

As for Mementos, the music differs in certain areas as you continue to progress downwards and these songs are also fantastic — helps break up Mementos exploration, because it can really drag on at times.

Speaking of breaking things up, fights can obviously get repetitive but the introduction of showdowns as well as ‘disaster’ shadows helps break up the battles somewhat. It’s a J-RPG, if you can’t deal with battles, you’re playing the wrong game.

Let’s see, what other notes do I have. Morgana’s still a bitch, check.

Oh yeah, one thing that was sorely missing in P5 was voice-overs for the entirety of the dialogue as the Phantom Thieves, minus Joker, are in the Velvet Room prison — this is made right in P5R, as well as on the final day as you say goodbye to your maxed confidants. Not that it was a massive detracting factor from the first game but a nice addition to P5R.

Overall, Persona 5 Royal was an incredible experience. Same amazing characters and, for the most part, same amazing story…but more. And more Persona 5, already my favourite game of all time, is a wonderful thing.

On the whole, taking everything into account, I don’t think P5R has displaced P5 at the top of my list (the issues with regard the ending and the placement of the Maruki arc are the contributing factors), but it’s still brilliant.

The ending left me a little disappointed, personally, because I absolutely loved the original ending and there was really no need to alter it as much as they did, and I still don’t like how Yaldabaoth isn’t the final boss of the story — it’s a battle between life and death of everything against the antagonist who pulled every single string… He really should be the final boss, and the last descent in Mementos to its depths should’ve been the final dungeon, the final Palace: the Public’s Palace. Mementos was a question mark the whole time in P5 and the final descent down to its depths was chilling, but brilliant. Maruki’s Palace, as great as it was, just didn’t have that same gravity as the Mementos Depths.

But those won’t take away too much from an incredible 120 hours — Persona 5 Royal is still a fantastic game.

Thank you, Persona 5, for stealing my heart once again.

Why Persona 5 Became my Favourite Game of All Time

(If it wasn’t obvious, there’s going to spoilers for Persona 5 here. So please, if you’re still playing it or haven’t finished it, please don’t read this)

Gaming is part of who I am. Ever since I’ve been young, I’ve loved gaming.

It always provided me with an escape from reality and an opportunity to delve into a fantasy world/setting where my imagination and mind can run free and dream. Where I could spend endless hours of enjoyment and enjoy the creation of someone’s imagination through the splendour of a great story or gripping gameplay – and in some cases, both.

But such an occurrence is rare — usually it’s one or the other. Or, perhaps one of one and a half of the other. The gameplay could be fantastic but maybe story doesn’t add up to that level — or visa-versa.

For example, I love Horizon Zero Dawn. That’s an amazing game, truly one of my favourite games in terms of gameplay, mechanics and its overall functionality – it’s an absolutely amazing experience. Almost perfect to play. But the story isn’t quite on the same level. The story is good, don’t get me wrong. It just didn’t grip me the way the gameplay did. I was left wanting a something a little different in the end.

Look, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I love that game and would recommend it to anyone and it’s one of my all-time favourites, but the story couldn’t match its incredible gameplay.

But I played a game recently that did keep up in all areas: Persona 5.

I actually first saw the game when I was over in America in February 2018 when I was at a friend’s house and saw her playing it. It looked interesting but did nothing more for me than that at that moment.

The part of the game she was playing was when Ann Takamaki discovers her Persona — so the part with Kamoshida in his gown and pink, um, undies and the such… At the time, I didn’t realise that my first viewing of the game was not a normal part of the game but more so a rare occurrence — not every day in the game does someone discovers their Persona…

But I didn’t let what would’ve been an odd scene to someone seeing it for the first time with no context stand in the way of my initial impressions: it looked interesting. Certainly, the art direction and its main colour of red got my attention.

Anyways, fast forward to near the end of 2018 or so. I’m spending time with some friends and one of them mentioned Persona 5, and I at least knew of its existence at this stage and had seen enough to have a little conversation about it and he mentioned that it was an amazing game.

All of these things intrigued me enough to check it out on the PSN store to see what the story was.

Sure enough, there was a sale for the game and it was going for 40 euro. Before I committed to that price, I had a quick look at some of the ratings/reviews to see what others thought of it and it received really positive scores: IGN gave it a 9.7.

Now, IGN’s ratings have been known to be odd from time to time (see: Pokemon ORAS) but to throw out a 9.7 on a game that looks styled and fashioned like a Japanese anime — and a game mainstream gamers would never play or could appreciate — is a rarity.

So, I bought it and hopped in not knowing a thing about Persona 5 or the Persona series (I had at least heard of the Persona series but no more than that) and little did I know what adventure would lie before me.

Not only did Persona 5 leave a lasting impact on me, but it would end up becoming my favourite game of all time.

For the longest time, the original Ratchet and Clank held that mantle. I’ll love Ratchet and Clank forever, and the original boasts a wonderful sense of adventure, humour — among many other things. It’s the game I know off of by heart and could play with my eyes closed, tell you where all the secrets are etc…

That’s my jam.

The original quartet of Ratchet and Clank games for the PS2, Horizon Zero Dawn, Skyrim, Shadow of Mordor, the original Need for Speed Most Wanted, Need for Speed Carbon, Tony Hawk’s Underground, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for PS1… These are some of my other favourite games. 

Some timeless classics in there, future classics and some games that wouldn’t mean a lot to anyone else other than myself.

And now Persona 5 has climbed to the top of that list, ahead of games I’ve spent countless hours and have known, in some cases, for well over a decade — heck, nearly two decades when it comes to the original Ratchet and Clank quarted for PS2.

How did this happen? What was it about Persona 5 that caused this?

One of the biggest things for in Persona 5 me is the story.

It’s obviously extremely well thought out, well written and it always kept me guessing. I was never sure how exactly it was going to go or wind up.

But there’s the story itself and then how one tells a story.

For the majority of the game, the game goes back and forth between past and present as you recall your past events to prosecutor Sae Nijiima after your arrest in the game’s opening sequence, in what is the present-tense/present day.

I do enjoy this method of storytelling, especially in Persona 5 and the way it’s handled. Well, that is once you get used as to when and why you go from past to present, because at first it can be a little confusing.

When you reach the, I guess, ‘next chapter’ of the story, you’re returned to the present to help set the table for what’s going to happen in the story — for example, you know who your next target is but don’t know how you get to that point when you see it.

The instance of going from present to past is when you create a bond/establish a relationship with a character (referred to as ‘confidants’), as you’re recalling your memories to Sae.

As you go from past to present, Sae asks how about key members of your journey and what their role with assisting you and the Phantom Thieves was — which, of course, you already know once you establish that confidant, for example, Kawakami helps you skip classes which allows you extra time to do a variety of things.

I really enjoyed that method of storytelling but if you haven’t played the game before it can get a little confusing.

Another thing I loved about Persona 5 was its length.

Generally speaking, I love games that are long but that comes with a condition: it can’t be long for the sake of being long — there needs to be substance to the length and it’s not just long for the sake of being long. Meaningful length.

For example, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a long game, and it’s unnecessarily long.

Alright, here’s a basic synopsis of Skyward Sword.

You have your first visits to Lanayru Desert, Eldin Volcano and Faron Woods and then, during your second visits to each area, you explore a brand new area that you didn’t on your first — new skills/items to be applied and applied etc.. Cool.

Then, you have your third visits to each area but there’s no new area to be found but instead it’s the conditions/environment that have changed (though, that isn’t totally true for Lanayru where you do, kind of, explore some new ground).

The reason behind your third visit to each area is to search for the Song of the Hero, key to unlocking the last temple. The whole chase for the Song of the Hero is too long — too many rings to jump through for a measly song. And during that time, little story development actually takes place — you’re just going to get part of a song in each dungeon/area. Nothing new is really revealed in this time in the game’s story — it’s just spending HOURS doing things like collecting tadnotes under the water for one part of a song. There’s no story development, that’s it. You’re assembling a song.

That part of the game feels repeated, it feels arduous and it drags on and you’re truly ready to be done with each region when it’s over — after all, how excited can you be about returning to the same three areas throughout your incredibly long adventure while not being able to fast travel on the ground? It takes its toll.

But these are feelings that I never got that feeling with Persona 5, even as the hours racked up — 50, 60, 70, 80 hours later I never felt as though the game was dragging. I was always fascinated by the direction the game was going, where the story was going, and you were still exploring new areas, all the way to the end. New things were always coming to light and not for the sake making up things — it all feels connected. Even when you get to the Mementos Depths and while Mementos itself is nothing new (arguably, the one area of the game that does feel like it drags on but you’re never there for too long and it’s rarely required), it’s drastically different to anything you’ve seen of/in Mementos up to that point.

With the story as a whole, you just take it all in your stride — the ups, the downs — but the really big plot stuff starts to go down after you complete the sixth Palace of the game: Sae Nijiima’s Casino.

When you complete Sae’s Palace you really feel things have come around full circle, as the escape from Sae’s Palace is where you begin the game originally — the failed heist.

But this time, you now know almost everything that has happened in the build up to your arrest (how you became a Phantom Thief, the people whose hearts you changed etc.), so when you go sacrafice yourself — which you didn’t know first time around — in order to ensure your team escapes, there’s a certain heaviness when you repeat the opening scene again, because you know what’s coming and you don’t know what happens after this point. You now know how you ended up where you are but now it’s all truly into unknown. It’s the same kind of heaviness that you feel when you see the casino interior the first time you see the inside of Sae’s Palace and recognise that this is the same casino that you know your eventual arrest is coming in. A sense of ‘what goes wrong here?’.

But one difference between the beginning of the game and this time is that you’re greeted by your starting Persona, Arsene, which did not happen in the game’s opening sequence.

You fuse away Arsene very early in the game, so seeing him again was very cool after all of this time, but his reunion is not one of happiness but of duty and he implores Joker to ‘recall’ his friends and his bonds, as his ‘fate will be determined soon’.

Having played the game, I’m sure you know that there are multiple endings — and multiple bad endings at that — and you’ll be greeted with one of them you sell out your friends to Sae in the interrogation, but you are told you would see Arsene again if you ‘fated to continue past this point’ if you follow his drift — in other words, you’ll see him again if you’re not an asshole and you don’t sell out your friends.

I really like Arsene and the fact he knows what lies ahead of you and that the moment that arguably, changes everything in the game (if not, it’s at least one of the most defining moments in the story) is coming — I just really loved that part. He knows what he knows and there’s a ‘I’ll see you on the other side’ kind of element to it, which I personally really love.

Though, I’m not sure anyone could’ve expected what happens after you finish wrapping up your testimony to Sae, who, throughout the game, slowly comes around to the truth as Joker’s testimony lines up with some of her thoughts and theories, even though they makes no earthly sense.

Well, I’ll rephrase somewhat. When you’re arrested, you’re told you’ve been betrayed by one of your team members. As you progress through the story, there’s no question in your mind that anyone in your team — Ryuji, Ann, Morgana, Makoto, Yusuke, Futaba, Haru — would ever betray you. But what you didn’t know when the game started was that Goro Akechi — a detective with a Persona of his own — was a late addition to the team, joining only to take the Treasure from Sae’s Palace and joined with the condition that the Phantom Thieves disband after the job was done, threatening to expose the identities if they refused his offer. With how he joined the Phantom Thieves in the first place through blackmailing them and being someone who has spoken out against the Phantom Thieves throughout the story, you were always a little suspicious of him when he joined and it wasn’t really a surprise when you learned he was the traitor that sold out the Phantom Thieves.

Once he reveals his true affiliation, he kills who he believes is the leader of the Phantom Thieves in the interrogation room after Sae leaves and you’re left to believe for a minute that you’ve chosen the bad ending (which you get if you sell out your friends when Sae asks you to confess the names of the other Phantom Thieves).

Of course, as it turns out, this is not the bad ending, and that Akechi only killed a cognitive replica of Joker — all part of a plan to trick Akechi, who the Phantom Thieves knew joined with ulterior motives from the get-go (which is revealed after the event itself).

I loved the twist that the Phantom Thieves actually knew Akechi joined with ulterior motives the start and how they knew something was off; flashing back to a conversation that took place many, many hours ago — and, in-game, months beforehand — and one certainly most would’ve forgotten or disregarded. It was during a school trip to a TV studio where Akechi overheard talk about pancakes, which came not from Joker, Ryuji or Ann but from Morgana, the cat.

As we find out, only people who have been into the Metaverse can hear Morgana speak in the real world — to everyone else, he’s just a normal cat meowing.

The plan to get caught at Sae’s Palace, placed into the interrogation room, earning enough trust from Sae to go along with a plan she had no idea was taking place and show Akechi Joker’s phone, which would place him in the Metaverse — where the interrogation room is the same in reality as it is in the Metaverse – thus, leaving Joker to twiddle his thumbs in the real world as Sae saves him and smuggles him back to Leblanc while Akechi believing he killed the real Joker. It was so well thought out and I had to go back and watch how the whole thing played out again on YouTube to try make sense of it again.

Sae’s Palace was the sixth in the game, the Palaces being the main dungeons/temples in Persona 5.

The Palaces themselves were really cool, touching on so many different themes based on the ruler’s distortion. Arguably, they started the game off with the worst Palace with Kamoshida’s Castle. It’s just a slow climb up without a ton of puzzle solving aspects to it (at least the music was great), whereas Madarame’s, Kaneshiro’s, Futaba’s, Okumura’s, Sae’s and Shido’s Palaces are filled with a ton of puzzles and are just much more interesting Palaces than Kamoshida’s.

Futaba’s was one of my favourites, not just because of the music but because her set of circumstances as to why you’re in her Palace to begin with was so different from everyone else. And seeing her story and tragedy told as you progress through the Palace was very moving.

Kaneshiro’s Palace was really interesting puzzle-wise but, I think, unlike the other Palaces, you kind of stumble on the end of it whereas you knew with the others where the Treasure was. For me at least, it was just getting to the middle of the that giant vault and expecting more after solving the puzzle and getting to the middle, only to take the lift down and see the Treasure floating in mid-air and go ‘Oh, this is it.’

The Palaces music was usually great. The only Palace that was left really lacking in the music department is Madarame’s, and I guess the first theme in Kaneshiro’s gets a bit repetitive, but it is catchy.

The music in general in Persona 5 was something I thoroughly enjoyed. From the start when you’re greeted with ‘Life Will Change’, from the main overworld theme and to the final credits… Just a wonderful soundtrack. I can’t say enough about it. From conveying urgency, humour, to the battle themes, Palace themes…absolutely fantastic.

The story progresses after Sae’s Palace and you’re left to infiltrate one final Palace, the one belonging to the man who is the reason you had to relocate to Shibuya in the first place and the man running for Prime Minister — Masayoshi Shido.

Shido’s Palace was a great last Palace. Not only was a luxury ship a great idea (and the theme of his ship sailing while everything around him is submerged being a really twisted one), the main mechanic of the Palace was extremely clever.

Placed in certain rooms are statues of Shido that, if activated, will turn you all turned into mice. Being turned into a mouse is a status ailment (called ‘Rattled’ … ha-ha) that can be afflicted onto you in battle and seeing that turned into a major dungeon mechanic and having to crawl through holes/vents to progress and find the switch to turn off the statues (and sometimes needing to find one to become a mouse to progress) I think was really inspired. The music was incredible too, a really fitting final Palace theme (and some great Yusuke mouse puns too).

When things came to Shido, you knew you’d get a crack at him — everything had been leading up to it. The revelation that Akechi was working directly for Shido was a bit of a surprise but not the confrontation of Shido himself. You knew that was coming.

Anyways, the obvious showdown takes place but even then (and maybe this was just me) when you’re fighting him, you should’ve been feeling like this was your final battle — everything should’ve, in theory, ended with Shido. You beat him, you help save Japan from a cruel ruler and you’re cleared of the crime you didn’t commit — happy days.

But it didn’t feel like that. It felt like there was more to come, that this wouldn’t be the end.

And that, indeed, turned out to be the case. Even though you took down Shido and everything should’ve felt like a victory lap after that, it wasn’t. People didn’t recognise your victory, even as Shido confessed his crimes.

And indeed, just as I thought, there was more to come. A lot more to come.

You end up journeying to the depths of Mementos to steal the public’s treasure in one last mission but the journey downward is unsettling as you see people behind bars, chained but wanting to be chained and locked away as a means of ‘not having to think’ for themselves.

Did I expect the plot-twist with the Holy Grail, Igor and Mementos? No way. I didn’t expect the scale of things to become that big, though, I guess that had been a theme throughout the game as each target steadily increased in the societal chain — the steady progression from Kamoshida to Shido.

I think you always were a little suspicious of Igor because, I mean, how could not be at first? They say don’t judge a book by its cover but with Igor that didn’t apply for the first few meetings.

But you just kind of let your guard down after a while as you continue to meet with Igor in scripted and non-scripted cutscenes, due to your constant need of the Velvet Room. Added to that, the help you receive from Igor throughout the game builds up some aspect of trust, you do think he’s on your side but there was always that part that wasn’t totally sure.

It ends up becoming a whole lot bigger than the Phantom Thieves themselves as it becomes a fight for life itself, a life where people are free to think for themselves. I’m personally not always a fan when it suddenly becomes a battle for life itself after dealing with issues that were a big deal before but now seem trivial in comparison to the fate of the world, but with everything you’ve gone through and how things have steadily progressed, you just kinda roll with it and it’s something you want to face with your friends that you’ve grown so close to — it works here.

But how the story unfolded, it reminded me of one of my other favourite RPG stories ever: Final Fantasy IV.

In FF4, you think Golbez is where it’ll all end, similarly how you thought the game would conclude with Shido. But it ends up become a lot more than that and just as you descend to fight Zeromus in FF4, you descend down Mementos in Persona 5 and fight what awaits at the very bottom — the Holy Grail.

And then, coincidentally, it ends up being similar to the FF4’s sequel, ‘Final Fantasy IV: The After Years’ and with its final boss, The Creator, where it becomes the fight for life itself as you rebel against the ruin that the evil Igor — later revealing himself as ‘Yaldabaoth’ — begins to bring upon the world as Mementos and Shibuya fused together.

I think there’s more similarities between The Creator and Yaldabaoth.

Their reasons for bringing ruin upon the world, at first, seem similar. The Creator’s reasons for bring the second moon closer to The Blue Planet was that mankind had not progressed enough.

With Yaldabaoth (the Holy Grail/evil Igor), he set up an experiment that pitted two designated people (Goro Akechi and Joker) against each other, with Akechi representing the change to bring people under rule behind under an iron-fisted ruler like Shido (which is what Yaldabaoth is to begin with, the will of the people to be ruled over) whereas Joker represents the rise against corruption to see which would prevail but Yaldabaoth ended up rigging the outcome so that he would rule no matter who won.

The similarity comes in that both, initially, gave humanity the chance to do more, to be more, but ultimately didn’t. Yaldabaoth’s reasoning at the time was that ‘how could humanity continue’ when the masses didn’t recognise the Phantom Thieves, despite everything they did.

I hoped seeing a righteous thief vanquish would spur mankind to change their own indolent hearts. However… the result is as you know — the masses have made it so none of it has transpired. Humans should be met with ruin: you brought forth that answer.

— The God of Control

We find out of course that this was all a game that was rigged by Yaldaboath so he would rule — preventing the people to have the ability to think for themselves and have free will.

After you turn down his offer to keep the world as it is — where people aren’t free to think for themselves, without free will but the Phantom Thieves will be famous — the real Igor is returned and what seemed bleak may not be as bleak as it seems. That you or your friends didn’t die.

There’s a very touching part of the game where your friends are imprisoned in the Velvet Room and in their regular attire, having lost the will to rebel after their defeat to what ended up being a god. You find each member locked behind a cell and talk to each one to re-invigorate them and basically say to them ‘Look, I don’t know if we can win either but stand up for what you believe in and believe in yourself. Let’s do it together.’

Various members question if what the Phantom Thieves have been doing was the right thing and it’s just a touching part of the game as each member of the team, with your help, find the will to rebel again.

Well, everyone except Futaba, who doesn’t need much convincing from Joker to get up and go again. It’s just one aspect of her incredible character development.

In the final confrontation — and rematch — with Yaldabaoth, similarities are drawn from another game and another of my favourite stories: Okami.

Not only is it a flipping tough fight (I was not good at the game on my first playthrough, struggling massively on easy mode) but, like in Okami’s final boss fight with Yami, you’re down and out for the count in a fight that you seemingly can’t win.

How could you win? You’re against a god after all.

But, like Okami, the belief of the people below — spurred by the confidants you’ve spent the game developing — rallies you to get up and fight, and with the help of Arsene’s ultimate Persona after he is unchained (and the ultimate Persona) Satanael is born and he, through Joker, shoots Yaldabaoth in the head and thus, ending the final fight.

Pretty badass — somehow Satanael makes Yaldabaoth look small.

You think it’s over after that, and while the fighting is over, there’s one more thing left to do.

When the dust settles for a moment and you’re back to how things should be, initially there is no happy ending. After everything, Sae asks you, for the sake of prosecuting the changed heart of Shido and to ensure the protection of your friends in the future, to turn yourself in as the leader of the Phantom Thieves but to do so will land you in juvenile prison — the thing you’ve been trying to avoid from the day you arrived in Shibuya on probation. Doing so will also mean that the Phantom Thieves will not be recorded as heroes.

It was a sad twist that and one that Joker nor the Phantom Thieves did not deserve. They saved everyone and risked everything to save everyone. After everything, Joker will still end up going to go to prison. But it’s a decision you make not for your sake but for your friends, who’ll you happily do it for to protect them.

It was another twist to an already amazing story, and seeing as your friends and confidants spend the next few months trying to free their leader and friend — doing everything in their power and using their various connections to help move things along — was moving

A few months later, you are eventually set free and learn that Shido will stand trial and everything has come full circle and, now, you begin to feel the closure taking place.

With how long the game is, by the time you’re nearing the end of the game (and you know when you are), you really do feel like your first Palace heist in Kamoshida’s Castle was a thousand years ago and during a different lifetime. Heck, when you’re at the end of the game, even Sae’s Palace seems like it was so long ago – so much happens from that point. And that’s the sixth Palace of the game.

Such is the level of growth and progression of time in this game not only just through you, the protagonist, but your team too. Your friends.

That’s one of, if not, my favourite aspect of this game: the characters.

Joker is a character you’re drawn to right away.

To begin the game, you’re dropped into the past, seven months in the past to be specific, to when you first arrive in Shibuya to start life anew. The reason for this relocation is made pretty clear early on: you’re a school kid who tries to step in to a case of abuse between a man (who ends up being Shido) and a woman and end up injuring the Shido, who sues and uses his ties to the police to manipulate the truth, accusing and eventually having you charged for assault. This results in the Joker obtaining a criminal record, expelled from school and relocated to another part of the country, away from everything and everyone who knows him, as he serves a years probation.

You learn pretty quickly that you’re innocent of assault and not a malicious criminal as people you are introduced to initially make you out to be/feel at first. — the likes of your guardian, Sojiro Sakura, Principal Kobayakawa (who I end up feeling quite sorry for) and Ms. Kawakami

I think that’s what helps draw the player to liking Joker almost right away. The fact he has been wrongly accused and is, at heart, a good person sent away and living under people’s perception and opinion that he is a no-good delinquent who would lay his hands on you the first chance he gets. The fact he is mistreated and misjudged in the eyes of everyone for a crime he didn’t commit — that he doesn’t belong.

The sense of belonging is a huge theme in Persona 5. The characters you meet and become members of your team all have their issues, reasons as to why they don’t belong or fit in with the normal masses — they’re blacklisted in their own way.

And that’s why they make perfect Phantom Thieves. It ends up being a group of people who don’t belong, belonging together.

Ryuji Sakamato, Ann Takamaki, Morgana, Yusuke Kitagawa, Makoto Nijiima, Futaba Sakura and Haru Okumura — The Phantom Thieves. All amazing characters in their own way.

All of these people — with the exceptions of Ryuji and Morgana, who you kinda meet straight away as you’re thrown into the action — you get know a bit before they join you as Phantom Thieves. And they take some time to grow on you, like meeting anyone for the first time.

I didn’t really like Ryuji, Yusuke, Makoto or Haru as they were introduced but when you get to know them a bit — whether it’s through the story or through their Confidant arcs — you really do warm up to them.

Morgana was one character I had a particular love/hate relationship with.

He was an asshole at times and I preferred to take the piss and call him a cat whenever I could. He could call Ryuji stupid and unintelligent all of the time but when Ryuji would joke about him being useless now there were others on the team who excelled at planning and intel (mostly Makoto and Futaba), he gets all in a fit and leaves.

I just never felt a ton of affinity for Morgana as I did for, say Ann or Makoto.

When he left the team prior to Okumura’s Palace, I wasn’t really upset. I was hoping that there’d be a fake boss battle where you truly believed for a moment he had really switched sides and then something would change and he’d come back to you.

I hated him at times and I loved him at times.

It was sad when he disappeared when Mementos faded away after Yaldabaoth is defeated but it wasn’t gut-wrenching for me as it almost was when you thought Ryuji had been blown up on Shido’s ship. It was nice to see Morgana return as a real ass cat (and the reason why he returned was cool: cognition and stuff!) when you celebrate your release from juvie, that he was still kicking.

The twist that he was created by the real Igor as a means to assist Joker in his journey and that he was never really of this world was a cool one. It was nice for him that he was clearly not just a cat but someone who with immense purpose and importance, whose role is arguably under-sold when all is revealed, said and done.

It was tough at times to watch him see every one of the team find their purpose while he didn’t have a clue who he was or why he was a cat, and nothing seemed to move for him for the majority of the game. He didn’t remember anything about his past until the Mementos Depths, 80+ hours later.

Though he wasn’t a member of the Phantom Thieves, Goro Akechi was one of the most interesting characters out of of everyone.

The bastard child of Shido, Akechi just wanted to be loved and respected but went about it all in all the wrong ways as he used the power of the Metaverse bestowed to him by Yaldabaoth to turn killer for Shido and Akechi turned out to be the one who was behind the mental shutdowns within the Metaverse as part of Akechi’s own plan to ruin Shido after he was elected as Prime Minister.

There’s a serious conflict within Akechi even after he declares himself the Phantom Thieves’ enemy — that, perhaps, things could’ve been different had he met Joker a few years earlier. Of course, when we find out that Yaldabaoth had intended for Akechi and Joker to go against each other, you realise this could never have been the case. Which is sad.

Akechi’s ending is sad: he realises that he’s been Shido’s puppet the entire time and that Shido had always planned to kill him after his election as Prime Minister. Akechi makes peace with Joker before saving the Phantom Thieves from Shido’s cognition of Akechi but dies in the Metaverse himself as the two Akechi’s shoot each other. And when, after everything else happens and you defeat Yaldabaoth, Sae tells you that Akechi is missing, and it’s a painful reminder of an end of a character that wasn’t so evil at heart and played a significant role in saving the Phantom Thieves that is understated, that no one really ever talks about after his death. Heck, he doesn’t even get a little screen as all of the other members of the Phantom Thieves do in the credits, even after his redemption.

I grew to love all members of the Phantom Thieves but my favourite team member was Ann.

She was someone I was drawn to from the start, the one I’d prioritise spending my time with when she asked, and when the chance came for Joker to be in a relationship with I jumped at the chance instantly. To me, she was the sweetest of the bunch and the answers you can give her compared to the other women you can get involved with do not compare to Ann’s. Being able to tell Ann you love her in Hawaii for example…you can’t get that intimate with any of the other female characters and it just makes your relationship with Ann so incredibly special.

Yusuke is a chatacter I admire greatly too, maybe because he reminds me of myself in many ways. I love his calm demeanor, his level-headedness. Not only that, but he has some of the more memorable lines from the game and his Trickster taking the form Susano is one that is one of the memorable Tricksters for me, because of the Okami connection.

The character development in Persona 5 is fantastic, you really do see the growth in everyone as the story progresses and you get to see sides you never would’ve imagined existed on the surface. They’re all deep, thoughtful characters who you spend so much time with over your adventure — you really do draw close to them. That’s why, when you’re arrested and told that you’ve been betrayed, you have no doubts whatsoever that any of your main team would’ve ever sold you out.

That was my favourite part of Persona 5: the relationship building and the confidants Not just with your team but with others like Kawakami and Sojiro (one of my favourite character turnarounds) as you learn their story and help them through their struggles.

It was one of my favourite things to do after I beat a Palace. I liked getting Palaces done early, so I could unwind and just spend extended time with my friends before the next phase of the story kicked in.

Building your relationships with your confidants was a really rewarding experience — you get to know them for more than just what they do. You get a peek in their lives and make an impact on them too as they all go through something different.

In life, you have an event and its aftermath. For every action there’s a reaction, and a lot of the confidant quests deal with the aftermath of an event — which I love, because it’s real. When you have the event happen in the real world, there’s an aftermath for the people involved.

For example, with Ryuji, it’s him dealing with the aftermath of his decision to hit Kamoshida and the subsequent disbandment and fallout with the track team, which he was a part of. Even though you change Kamoshida’s heart and he’s no longer in the picture, the fallout from that action still applies.

For Ann, it’s the aftermath of dealing with Shiho’s attempted suicide and how she didn’t have a strong enough heart to do more for friend, and trying to be better in that regard.

For Yusuke, it’s dealing with artists-block after the Madarame incident …. and so on.

In nearly all cases, the aftermath lasts far longer than the event itself. Life goes on but you have to deal with the aftermath of the event and I love that dynamic of working through that with your confidants.

It’s really rewarding that your ever-improving relationships with your fellow Phantom Thieves have an impact in the Metaverse too. As you grow closer to them (not just through their confidant but with the story too), it really does feel like they’d do anything for you once you grow your friendship.

One of the later unlockable abilities for your party members is the chance to shield not only Joker but other party members too from what would be a fatal hit — to shield one from death. And that helps just bring the characters not only closer to you but to each other — that they’d put themselves between a fatal attack and you/other party members.

It just helps add that little bit extra to your relationships with these characters, and makes the relationship building with your confidants rewarding, because it actually has such a significant bearing in the Metaverse. And that goes for your confidants that aren’t Phantom Thieves. Without the likes of Hifumi’s abilities (the ability to switch out party members in battle), it feels like true victory would never be achieved. I love how your experience in the Metaverse is different based on the standing of the relationship with your confidants — what do in the real world matters in the cognitive one.

With how many hours you spend playing the game, you grow so attached to these characters and it was the main reason I was going to be sad when I finished game because it meant that I’d have to say goodbye to these characters I spent over 80 hours with on an incredible journey during my first playthrough.

And saying goodbye to your confidants on your last day in Shibuya was emotional. They all mean something in their own way, but your teammates… Saying goodbye to them was the toughest of all. The pain of parting…

It takes a while to get there (and you have to dodge a few bullets to get there) but the true ending is one of great satisfaction. After everything has happened, it gives you a chance to unwind and spend time with those you really care about before you go back home, with your friends driving you back.

The overall lasting impact of the story was overwhelming for me. I knew that the end was coming and I wasn’t ready for it to be over. When the final credits rolled, it was tough. I had a moment of ‘Well, what do I even do now this is over?’

That’s the true mark of an incredible game.

There’s one issue I had though. With some confidants requiring certain level of a certain skill you need (be it proficiency, kindness etc.) there’s just no way you’re going to max out your bonds on your first playthrough. And that sucks, because when you’re saying your goodbyes on your last day in Shibuya, you can’t properly say goodbye to everyone that has had an impact on your journey.

For example, I wasn’t able to max out my proficiency so I could never even get to know Haru at all and learn her story (which was incredible, experiencing that during my second playthrough).

I didn’t have enough charm to finish Makoto’s story either.

So, two members of the Phantom Thieves, who I’ve spent hours with and really admired, I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye to properly and I think that’s a great shame — especially Makoto, who I think is absolutely fantastic.

But, between missing the game itself now that it was over and missing the characters, missing out on maxing those bonds drove me to immediately hop into New Game + and right that wrong.

With Horizon Zero Dawn, after everything was over I felt I needed time to cool down and I’d play through it another time for a second playthrough — to see the game a second time now that I know the end. That was in late 2017 and I still haven’t done it. Again, that’s not to say that Horizon isn’t a great game, it’s fantastic — it’s to illustrate how much Persona 5 had an effect on me.

With Persona 5, I immediately jumped back in. For a game you can easily spend 100 hours (I spent about 80 hours playing on my first playthrough, I did not spend a ton of time in Mementos) on your first playthrough, to immediately hop back in shows, well, not only shows my love for the game but its replay-ability.

There’s so many different things you can do during a playthrough of Persona 5 that you’ll struggle to find two playthroughs of it that are the exact same. So many different paths to take on a second playthrough but, above all, I had to right that wrong of not having all of my bonds maxed out and only then will I consider that the true ending.

Having now gone through a second playthrough, there was so much I learned that I didn’t know the first time.

Firstly, I ended up raising the difficulty to normal after Futaba’s Palace and expected things to really get tough — like fighting Okumura’s shadow — but they didn’t really. Part of that was me learning the game and the personas more and realising — for boss battles — that stat raising across your whole team (evasion/accuracy being so key) really helps so much.

I learned more about the Persona fusing, Persona types and I still want to try to complete as much of the Persona 5 ‘Pokedex’ as possible in a third playthrough because, yes, I’m going to play through it a third time — but probably after a little break.

Though there’s a few things I did differently in my second playthrough, I still ended up choosing Ann. Spending Christmas Eve with her knowing Joker would turn himself in the next day, spending Valentine’s Day with her and then saying goodbye to her was emotional and special to me (as sad as that sounds). I wanted to go through that all over again because I do think she’s the one for Joker. It just always felt like she looked at Joker a bit more longingly than the others and that there was something between them in other scenes in the game — like that scene when you arrive back to Leblanc after you’re released from prison, she’s the last one to say something and it just feels like there’s just something more there than there is with Makoto and Haru.

Makoto and Haru made huge impressions on me in my second playthrough but I locked in Ann early and I ain’t about that cheating life. But I won’t lie when I say Makoto made it difficult…

The ending was a lot more emotional for me second time around and I’m not sure why. I guess it’s probably because I was just so caught up in what was happening as it happened and trying to process it, compared to this time where I knew the ending.

As I mentioned, I will be going through Persona 5 a third time and I’ll be doing it for a few reasons.

Having devoted time to maxing out all of the confidants (including Yoshida, who I didn’t know even existed until my second playthrough) and thinking I had them all I, somehow, never knew about Shinya Oda — a confidant that you’re never introduced to and doesn’t show up on the map as a confidant and that really annoys me because I’m scrambling as it is to complete the final few confidants before December 23rd and it turns out there’s one I completely missed because I didn’t know about him — through two playthroughs!

Even though I’m not going to get the trophy for maxing out all confidants on my second playthrough, I achieved what I set out to do on this second playthrough.

I wanted to complete Makoto’s and Haru’s stories and after that, everyone else’s that I didn’t get to the first time, such as Takemi, Iwai, you know, the people who you see often on your journey and ACTUALLY MATTER.

Little brat, Oda… I still can’t believe I missed out on a confidant, because I literally spent the entire game-year with confidants and on the very last night (December 23rd) I maxed what I thought was my last confidant. So, I’ll have to look up how to do rank up confidants quicker because there’s got to be a way…

So, between that, and there’s a few more trophies I want to pick up for completion’s sake, such as the trophy for completing all of the Mementos requests and things like that — things that’ll take me closer to 100%-ing the game. I also want to try make Arsene a usable persona. The ultimate fusions…I’ll do my best and do some research as to how one gets to that high of a level and merciless difficulty seems like a realistic target now after the second playthrough.

Ultimately, Persona 5, for me, is about relationships and friendships. That’s what feels most real to me. To be immersed in a world that understands how to develop characters and relationships, what they mean and what the characters mean to each other… That’s something that’s truly special.

After that, it’s about standing up for what’s right, standing up for what and who you believe in.

Persona 5 is an experience like no other. I began the journey with an open mind and finished with a blown one.

Sure, it’s easier to just hop into Ratchet and Clank and you just pick it up and go compared to Persona 5 where you embark on an 80-hour journey, but as an overall experience there’s no comparison between the two (and it is comparing apples to oranges — different games, different times)

Persona 5 is the greatest game I’ve ever played. And more than a game for me, it’s made me think about what I can take from it and apply in the real world. How to be better, my relationships with others, how to stand up for what’s right.

I think that’s the mark of something truly special.

Thank you, Persona 5.

 

 

 

 

I’m Trying

In anything I’ve ever done, my mum has always told me to try my best. Try.

I’m trying to stand on my own two feet.

I’m trying to chase my dreams. I’m trying to pay bills while I chase dreams. I’m trying to juggle two jobs. I’m trying to turn that passion into a living.

I’m trying to be myself when people told me that that wasn’t good enough, when I was picked apart for being myself. I’m trying to be my own man.

I’m trying to understand and learn more about myself. I’m trying to live with myself and my dyspraxia and how it affects me everyday.

I’m trying to deal with my insecurities. I’m trying be comfortable in own skin. I’m trying to brush off what others say about me. I’m trying not to care what others say about me.

I’m trying to be a better person. I’m trying to be someone that someone else will want to spend time with and that other people want to spend time with.

I’m trying to faithful to what I believe in. I’m trying to live to the values I believe in. I’m trying to be faithful to others while trying to be faithful to myself. I’m trying to have my actions and words line up. I’m trying to be real.

I’m trying to be there for others. I’m trying to be a better friend. I’m trying to be a better brother, a better son, a better grandson and I want to be a good uncle to my beloved nephew.

I’m trying to deal with loss. I’m trying to deal with rejection. I’m trying to deal with loneliness. I’m trying to find a balance between wanting my own space to be alone and wanting to be with people, which comes and goes like a flick of a switch. I’m trying to find a never-pleasing balance between accepting help and wanting to deal with things myself.

I’m trying to tell myself I’m young when I feel so much older than I am. I’m trying not to be undone by weariness.

I’m trying to deal with my mental health. I’m trying, as I’ve done for years, to deal with depression. I’m trying to be happy.

I’m trying. I’m trying my best.

I plough on as I always have, as I always will. I always pull through and I have pulled through much worse. Do not be concerned, for I write this so maybe others may feel empowered knowing they are not alone, that maybe someone feels just like they do. That they have permission to feel the same and not run away from the truth but face it and fight. To say, in this moment, there is hope and there are better days ahead. To help shine a spotlight on mental health, and not just when someone famous commits suicide.

Graham

Screw It, You’ve Worked Hard…

After I finished up my two years of Game Design in Bray, I had planned to get a basic job and earn a bit of money while I figured out what I actually wanted to do for a career. Seemed like a decent plan at the time until I realised how hard it was to actually get a job.

So, because I couldn’t get myself a job (or even a call for an interview for that matter) I was left stuck at home on very low-income that made saving almost impossible. But it also meant that if I saw something I liked while I was out and about I couldn’t buy it — or at least give it damn serious thought first — because it would mean that possibly 4 weeks savings just were just thrown out the window.

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