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…

 

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.