By Dillon O’Toole
Hey everyone, it sure has been a while since I last wrote something (at least if you ignore the advice column). In that time, many ideas have come and gone, but, in the end, I was unable to transfer any of them into concrete ideas. That is, until today.
Unlike a lot of the people I know, I never had any interest in either anime or JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Games). I watched an episode of Pokémon here and there and I played a couple of Pokémon games. That was my only experience with either anime or JRPGs for 21 years of my life (note, I am not yet 22). It wasn’t like I avoided things from Japan, in fact, some of my favorite games were made by Japanese developers. Series like the Dark Souls games and Resident Evil have given me plenty of great video gaming experiences. So what changed? You know something had to, or why else would I be writing an article right now? Simple, Persona 5 Royal was ported to Xbox, and it was simultaneously put onto Xbox Game Pass.
I’m pretty sure I have previously talked about Xbox Game Pass (and if I haven’t, oh well). To give a very brief summary of why I like the service: it allows you to try games that come onto the service without actually having to purchase the games. In October of last year, one of the games that launched on Game Pass was Persona 5 Royal. My only knowledge of the series (let alone the game), was that the main character was named Joker and that he was in Smash. Outside of that, I was aware that Persona 5 was considered one of the best JRPGs to have ever been released. That high praise (and also the fact that Starfield got delayed an indeterminate amount of time) was enough to convince me to at least download the game.
I’ll be honest, I started my playthrough of Persona as a joke. While playing the game Scorn, I made an offhand joke about how I always start a game while I’m in the middle of playing another. I then proceeded to ask a friend of mine a question: should I interrupt Scorn with A Plague Tale: Requiem or Persona 5 Royal. I bet you can guess the answer he gave. Now that I think about it, I still haven’t finished Scorn, guess I should get back to that eventually.
I will eventually spoil something from Person 5 Royal, Persona 4 Golden, and/or Persona 3 Portable, but for now I am just going to talk gameplay. Don’t worry, I will warn you before the spoilers begin in earnest. So, what is the main gameplay loop of the series, and why is it so intriguing?. In actuality there are two gameplay loops that work together: The first is a social sim, in which you, as the main character, experience life as a high school student. In this part of the game, you have to budget the two time slots you are given every day with various activities available to you. These activities all benefit your character in some way, whether they increase some of your character’s stats or improve your relationship with various other characters in the game. It is also in this part of the game where the majority of the plot happens. The other gameplay loop focuses on the combat within the games. In its simplest form, the combat takes the form of a traditional turn-based system. Your party members all have their own strengths and weaknesses, whereas the player character can change up their equipped ‘Persona” (it’s kind of like a pokémon) to change what they are weak or strong against. When looked at separately, these two gameplay loops may seem rather boring, but when combined they help the flow of the game. By that I mean the two systems compliment each other in a way that prevents the player from getting bored of one system by providing incentives to switch between the two.
The biggest downside to these games, at least in my opinion, is how long they are. For the third and fourth games, my playthroughs lasted about sixty hours. The fifth game is even longer, as my playthrough ended up being a few hours short of one hundred and ten hours. While I know these games are RPGs, it is definitely a long time commitment if you are unsure about playing them in the first place. I know I was certainly hesitant, and the main reason I even committed to trying Persona 5 Royal was that I wasn’t buying the game outright. While I can now say in hindsight that these games are well-worth the price of admission, I would still recommend finding a way to try at least one of them out before purchasing. While all the games are on Xbox Game Pass, the third and fourth games are available on emulators which are completely free.
Ok, I am actually going to start talking about the plots of the games and while I can’t possibly spoil every detail in three sixty plus hour games in about one thousand words, I will probably end up spoiling something important. So, if any of these games have piqued your interest enough to at least try them, I recommend putting down this article and just go play them for yourself. My opinions don’t matter, I am just ranting to those who don’t care or those who actually find my writing interesting for some reason. This was your final warning.
Persona 5 Royal follows the story of Joker, a high schooler who was expelled. This detail is subtly hinted at throughout the game, and in no way is it blatantly told to you repeatedly. You, as the main character, awaken to a power known as ‘Persona’, which lets you summon and capture various monsters and demons to fight other monsters and demons. As the game progresses you and your friends take down people whom you deem corrupt. Eventually, your group uncovers a conspiracy to take over the government of Japan using the very same power your group has been using. Shenanigans ensue, and your group is blamed for the various problems that have been plaguing Japan. After defeating what could have been the final boss, the game continues as it wouldn’t be anime enough unless you fought an incarnation of a gnostic God. What I just described is a very basic overview of the original release of Persona 5, and while I may have made it sound rather cliche it does a good job of keeping the player engaged in the story. They did kind of jump the shark by making you fight God at the end, but by that point in the game you are long past the point of just dropping the game. Now, in my opinion the more interesting part of the story comes in the content added in the Royal addition of the game. After defeating God, your group of friends feels like they are finally able to celebrate (for context’s sake the final boss of the original game is defeated on Christmas Eve). Things seem to be fine for the rest of the year, however on New Year’s day strange events start occurring. Characters who were previously dead are seemingly alive again, and some events that had happened either prior to or during the game seem to have no longer happened. This is eventually revealed to be the work of your former school counselor, who took advantage of the powers in the game to change the cognition of everyone in reality so that they can lead happier lives. This change in cognition also changed reality, thus the formerly dead characters being alive. The reason this content is more intriguing to me is because it actually provides a villain with a motivation that is not only understandable but also somewhat commendable. The rest of the game plays out with you having to decide to either accept this character’s new reality provided to you or to fight back against them and continue along your own path.
Of the three games in the series that I have played, Persona 4 Golden had the plot that kept me the most engaged throughout the entire game. In this game, the main character transfers to school in the countryside so he can live with his uncle and cousin for a year. Almost immediately after arriving, a series of murders start taking place in town which inevitably leads to the main character and his newfound friends attempting to solve the mystery. I’ll be honest, I don’t know why I was super engaged, because the pacing of clues is rather slowly drip-fed to you, but for whatever reason, I wanted to find out who the real killer was. After two separate fake-outs, the real killer is finally revealed and you fight and defeat them. At this point, you may feel like you are satisfied. If you aren’t, and you still want to know how you got your powers you can continue searching for more clues. This leads to another fight, where you get to fight God yet again. Can you guess what the final boss of Persona 3 is yet? To be honest, there is not as much to talk about for this game as the real key aspect is whether you like a murder mystery.
Persona 3 Portable was interesting to me, as initially it was easily my least favorite game when it came to its plot. The story revolved around defeating various monsters (known as shadows in all three games) as they appeared on full moons. The sub plot to that involved how these shadows came to exist in the world. For a while I thought the game was going to just be a generic plot about coming together and defeating the evil corporation. Then one of your friends is just killed. This drastic tonal shift comes about two thirds of the way into the game and it caught me completely off guard. This new darkness became ever more present as the game continues on, and frankly it transformed Persona 3 from probably my least favorite plot to arguably my favorite plot of the three games I’ve played. I am not going to get any more specific on this game’s ending because I honestly think experiencing it yourself is far superior than anything I could possibly write. Or just go watch some YouTuber talk about it, it’s up to you.
I always seem to have trouble thinking of ways to conclude my essays/articles/rants. So if there is anything you should take away from this specific rant, it’s that don’t let your preconceived notions of a genre or style stop you from experiencing new things. The worst thing that could happen is you realize you truly just don’t like something, and there is nothing wrong with that.