June 1, 2017

A Lickety-Split Post on Persona 5

Well, I say that it’s going to be lickety-split, but this is Persona 5 we’re talking about -- a game so long that you could clear anywhere from 2 to 10 other games in the time it takes to finish this one.  Also, it’s me we’re talking about, so temper your expectations.  And cancel all your prior appointments.  Just to be safe.

Also?  It should go without saying, but this post WILL have spoilers in it.  Not through the end of the game, because I’m not that far along.  But I’m at the start of the sixth as of writing, so if you’re scared?  There’s your warning.

Also, also?  This post WON’T have anything about waifus in it.  I’m keeping that bullet in the chamber for later.  (Husbandos are fair game, though.)  So without further ado, let’s do this lickety-split.  Relatively speaking.

--I think one of my favorite things from the entire game is the Persona awakening scenes.  There’s no better way to establish the tone and impact of a new installment than by completely demolishing the tone and impact of the previous one.  So while P4 treated awakenings like a moment of triumph and solace, P5 treats it like an abject nightmare -- wrought with pain and struggling, and in the end it comes off as a really bad thing to give clearly-dysfunctional teens access to such monumental powers.

--With that said?  Now that I’ve seen all of the awakenings (that I know of), I feel like there are diminishing returns on some of them.  I was chomping at the bit to see the extremes that Haru’s would take me to (since I assumed hers would be the most violent of all), but then I got to it and she just gets a little headache.  Akechi had his awakening offscreen, and I would’ve loved to see what that entailed, but NOPE.  Futaba’s just had her pulled into a UFO via naughty tentacles, because of course it did.  Granted she gets a pass because her struggles were immensely based on the mental torture rather than the physical, but…ehhhhhhhhhhhhh.  They started off with striking imagery, and petered out by the end.

--If I had to rank the awakenings, I’d go Ryuji > MC > Ann > Makoto > Yusuke > Futaba > Haru.  It’s not like any of them are bad, but some are definitely stronger than others.

--But speaking of petering out, I think that that’s an issue with P5 as a whole.  Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s a great game, and good enough to surpass P4 (which I’m on record of saying is one of my favorite games ever).  But just because something is really, really good doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have flaws -- and having put more than 65 hours into the game, there are indeed flaws.  My biggest gripe?  The Kamoshida arc was so good that it ended up being too good for the rest of the game.  It set expectations way too high.

--Okay, sure.  Pretty much all of the targets the Phantom Thieves steal from are bad people who commit some heinous crimes.  (Even Futaba, potentially, because who knows what a genius hacker like her did in her spare time.)  Okumura’s abusing his workers and using them as stepping stones for a political career.  Kaneshiro’s a mobster running a student-harassing crime ring.  Madarame’s a plagiarist leeching off of his students and posing as an artist.  But those guys don’t feel nearly as immediate or potent in their execution as Kamoshida does.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he’s voiced by DC Douglas.  You know, this friendly fellow:

--Each Palace (i.e. dungeon) that I’ve seen so far forces the characters to have a personal conflict with the target that adds some extra stakes -- including Akechi, who has a professional relationship with Sae.  But Kamoshida’s arc feels the most personal -- the most immediate, the most threatening, and the most potent.  The Phantom Thieves have barely gotten started, so the routine of “meet a shitty adult, explore his palace, send a calling card, steal his treasure” isn’t quite so routine.  You really feel the pressure as he exerts his authority over you.  And since this is happening inside a school that he “rules”, his iron grip is emphasized a thousand times more than the rest. 

--That’s to say nothing of what actually happens in his arc, like the abused students scared into silence and the attempted suicide of Ann’s closest friend.  Kaneshiro may threaten Makoto with a ruined life and impending prostitution, but it’s exactly that: a threat.  Even if the blubbery boss has tendrils running through Shibuya, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s Kaneshiro’s implications of crime (as bad as they are, make no mistake) versus Kamoshida’s executions of crime.  We see it unfold more in the first arc than anywhere else.

--It doesn’t help that we see more of Kamoshida in action than any of the other targets.  There’s a long and weighty lead-up to the coach’s inevitable downfall, which gives us plenty of time for the hatred to bloom.  We do see that Madarame’s taking advantage of his students (Yusuke especially at the moment) in his art exhibit, but while that arc is also empowered by Yusuke’s enabling, it doesn’t hit quite as hard as Kamoshida’s. 

--It’s a long-ass time before you even meet Kaneshiro in his arc, and even then you only see his real-world form briefly -- which means that even though you see people suffering via his Palace (and hearsay picked up from the streets), it can’t hold a candle to the scared students running through Shujin.  You don’t even see Medjed in action -- something that makes sense given plot reveals later on (and it IS more about Futaba than anything), but it’s another rival to knock down and move past.  Okumura’s even worse on that front because the Phantom Thieves -- outside of Haru -- pretty much never see the guy in the flesh.  Nor do you get actual evidence or even a glimpse of him mistreating his employees or harassing competitors. 

--No joke: I legitimately thought that there was a plot twist coming where it was revealed that Okumura was actually a pretty decent guy, who had a Palace because public perceptions -- like the Phan-Site -- distorted his sense of reality and made him doubt himself.  And then the Thieves would lash out, and accidentally kill his Shadow.  I’m OK with how things play out in the actual game, but…well, I’m no stranger to letting alternate scenarios play out in my head.  I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t.

--I feel like the clock is ticking down towards the moment when Akechi royally screws over the Phantom Thieves, but for now?  I’m glad he’s in the game, because he did something I really like and did something that I feel is pretty important.  As someone who believes that the worst evil imaginable is to strip a person or persons of their free will, the Thieves’ actions left a nasty taste in my mouth.  They had to do what they did to stop the targets’ crimes -- and preserve their lives/secret -- but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re still effectively brainwashing people so that only one option is viable.  It ventures into “the end justifies the means” territory that I doubt a bunch of rebellious teens on the fringes of society would care about.

--But a ways into the game, Akechi comes straight out and voices his opinion on TV -- and says that what the Phantom Thieves are doing isn’t justice.  Honestly, I think he has a point.  It’s true that they’re doing what the police and the rules can’t do, but those rules are there for a reason.  As romantic as it may sound in your head, vigilantism is still a crime.  If everybody tried to impose their values and justice on others, then wouldn’t the Phantom Thieves be viable targets by way of completely rewriting a person’s brain without their consent?  Possibly.  But most of the game’s heroes don’t really dwell on that possibility, or the concept that they’re not in the right.  That’s kind of to be expected when a decent-sized chunk of your team is full of idiots.

--The existence of the MetaNav app raises a lot of questions and interesting implications, though.  If people are finding this impossible-to-delete app on their phones one day, then is there anything really stopping more widespread usage of the Metaverse as a whole?  I guess the biggest roadblock is that the proper conditions have to be met to enter a Palace -- a name, a location, and a distortion signaling what the target sees the location as -- but the MC and Ryuji stumbled onto the first one by accident.  What if others could, too?  Or what if they didn’t even bother going that far and just had a run-in with Mementos?  You think the Phantom Thieves would be so quick to claim that they’re just if and when they see other people using the Metaverse for their own ends?

--On the other hand, it’s not as if the prospect is inherently bad if used correctly.  Futaba’s arc showed that it’s possible (relatively and offensively speaking) to uncross someone’s wires in their brain.  The hacker girl went from a shut-in who effectively couldn’t leave her room to…well, not entirely cured, but at least able to be around others (she trusts) without a complete breakdown.  Can you imagine what it’d be like if the Metaverse was used by psychologists and other experts in the field?  Do you suppose they could make revolutionary breakthroughs and help people who would otherwise be entirely helpless?

--There I go again on a wild tangent.  I have to stop doing that one of these days.

--I kind of feel like P5 is going to give me a panic attack one of these days vis a vis all of the planning out a schedule and micromanaging.  Having just made it to November, I’m sweating over the fact that I’m running out of time to clear as many Confidant story lines and stat upgrades as I can.  I’ve gotten through Ryuji’s and Yoshida’s, with Mishima sitting at Rank 9.  But getting through my party members’ ranks is a top priority, and that got stalled because I had to grind out stat increases so I could prove my worth.  And on that note?

--I can’t help but resent the game for gating off Ranks -- and the right to even begin Confidant storylines -- until I have high enough social stats.  How many times do you think I had to deal with Morgana reminding me about Iwai’s bagged-up gun and how I didn’t have enough Guts?  And do you know how frustrating it was to progress through Yusuke’s story, only to have a brick wall shoot up because I didn’t have high enough Proficiency? 

--I don’t know how much time I have left in the game, but my biggest concern is that I’m going to run out it well before I accomplish everything I want to.  Soooooooooo…sorry, Futaba, but it looks like no one’s ever going to help you overcome your social anxiety again.  I’m just not kind enough, you see.


--I know it seems like I’m really down on the game, but I’m actually not.  Again, I think it’s better than P4, which means that in my eyes it’s officially a Hall-of-Famer.  But in the interest of (acting like I’m) keeping this post short, I’d prefer to save more in-depth thoughts on the story and gameplay for later.  Till then?  Even if the gameplay is fundamentally the same as earlier entries, it’s still solid and holds up remarkably well.  The battles are strategic, but snappy enough to let you blow through it in an instant or plan dozens of moves in advance.  Or you could be like me and play as sloooooooooooooooooooooowly as possible.

--I think my favorite new feature of the battle system is the Baton Pass feature.  It’s tactically relevant, of course, but it helps to emphasize the teamwork and synergy between the Phantom Thieves.  Plus you get to see the flourishes of their personalities each time you do one.  Granted it’s not as if the Thieves or P5 as a whole are lacking in chances to show off some personality, but I don’t mind seeing another aspect thrown on top of the pile that’s the size of Mount St. Helens.

--Cripes, Yusuke looks so ridiculously violent during his critical cut-in.  I like it, though, buuuuuuuuuuuuut I feel like Makoto’s the prime candidate for snapping and murdering anyone that crosses her. 

--Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about waifus, but it’s worth noting that Makoto decides to -- instead of writhing on the ground like Ryuji -- she’ll instantly call out to her Persona and tank the pain just so she can become a Kamen Rider that much faster.  That’s…that’s an irresponsible level of coolness that has to be respected.

--So like…was there a single element of the presentation and user interface that wasn’t stylized?  Nothing springs to mind, which would help explain why the game got delayed for as long as it did.  Atlus and crew put in some serious work, and it shows.  And there was just enough restraint applied so that it stayed just below the line of being too tacky or excessive; that’s how you know you’re dealing with professionals.  Although now that I think about it, it’ll be a way to put the devs of every other game out there on notice.

--With that said, I think that overall I prefer P4’s boss designs to P5’s.  The symbolism in the prior game was…obvious, but none of them made me hold back snorts like P5’s Madarame boss.

--So the opening minutes of the game imply that there’s a traitor among the Phantom Thieves, and I’m not looking forward to finding out who it is -- mostly because I like and enjoy the mere presence of the cast.  The idea that one of them is destined to become my enemy is a sobering prospect, for sure.  But with that said, I have a theory.  I’m not committing to it yet, but I feel like if they’re going for another seemingly-out-of-nowhere reveal, then it’d be with that character.  Motive, opportunity, modus operandi; you need those three things at a bare minimum to have your culprit nailed, and there might be one guy who fits the bill.  So we’ll see.

--I hope I’m wrong, though, because I like that guy, too.

--I’m going to talk about this later, but I think that P5 made me face one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever had to face in a video game, if not my life in general: whether I should spend time in Hawaii with Ryuji and Mishima, or hang out with Makoto (who asked for me specifically).  It’s like…okay, Ryuji’s an idiot and naïve as all get out -- in that adorable “kids rule, adults drool” sort of way -- but he’s still my bro through and through.  But Makoto’s a Kamen Rider -- oh, and nice, and smart, and level-headed, and all of that jazz.  But Ryuji’s my bro.  But Makoto’s a Kamen Rider.  But Ryuji’s…

--Real talk, though?  Yusuke = fantastic husbando material.  Seeing him walk into the scene with a pair of lobsters made me laugh in a way few games ever have before.  He’s basically the Kakyoin of the Phantom Thieves: comes off as reasonable and intelligent at first, but every so often he does something utterly bizarre that makes him strangely irresistible.

--Is “irresistible” the right word to use?  Maybe not, but I already typed it, so it stays.

In any case, that’ll just about do it for now.  There’s plenty more I can say about P5, but I think it’d be best if I cut this post off for now.  It’ll still be a while before I beat the game (I hope), so anyone who wants to see some conclusive statements will have to hold onto their butts.  In the meantime, though?  Don’t worry.  One of these days, I’m gonna talk about waifus.  These waifus in particular.  I’m sure it’s the sort of thing that won’t cause unbridled fury and the potential collapse of society as we know it.

I mean, it’s already long since been confirmed that Makoto Sako from Devil Survivor 2 is the best girl in all of the games in all of the world.  Why even bother having a debate at this point, I wonder?

Welp, I’ve thrown my Molotov into the ring.   GGGGGGGG TIME TO DISAPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAR.

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