So who wants to hear some full spoilers about this game?
This is the first time I've ever actually gone about rereviewing a game, or at the very least, giving an addendum to the rating I gave it. I wanted to post this because Persona 5 is a complex game to talk about, and I feel like my original review wasn't effective in explaining my thoughts on the game. Furthermore, I didn't actually complete the game when I wrote that review and I was mostly looking at the game from a narrative structure standpoint as well as a gaming standpoint. I didn't really want to talk about the story of the game, but now that everything's said and done, now I want to give my final take and fully discuss the story of Persona 5 and all of the spoilery bits involved. So yes, I'm going to talk about everything leading up until the end of the game so... you have been warned.
I'm still in the mindset that as a whole, Persona 4 is the better game, both in terms of story and characters, and while I will say that Persona 5 has a far superior opening than its predecessor did, Persona 5 kind of fails to stick the ending. And things kind of fall apart for me.
It's not bad, far from it, but things kind of go off the rails in a big way. What do I mean? Well let's take it step by step, beginning at the revelation of the truth, mid November to be exact.
The events leading up to mid-November are pretty simple. The Phantom Thieves are being persecuted by the government and are under federal investigation. In order to stop this, they decide to enter Sae's Palace, the head investigator and Makoto's sister, and steal her heart to end the investigation. Your group has Akechi, who is a detective that wants to put an end to the Phantom Thieves but is teaming up with them because he knows they're being set up by a mastermind. Long story short, the main character gets caught, and through interrogation by Sae, it becomes apparent that Akechi leaked the operation, is working for the mastermind, and is actually super psychotic and evil, just like another member of the police force in a previous game that has murderous intent and Persona powers in direct opposition to our heroes. Oh, and he's also the mastermind's illegitimate son. Huzzah.
I'll give credit where credit is due and say that Akechi being evil was a nicely handled twist. Unless you were really paying attention, then the twist would be surprising. There are a few suspicious things that he does, but you mostly forget about them or chalk them up to translation errors. So yes, Akechi being evil was well done. What isn't so nice is that it's almost a beat for beat retread of Adachi and why Adachi was evil, though Akechi is more Lawful Evil than Chaotic Evil.
Here's where the story just falls apart. Revelation of the villain? Great job! And he kills the main character too. Wow! That's a great twist! Except for the fact that Akechi's plan was known by the entire team before they entered Sae's Palace, everyone knew he was evil, and they had a plan to stop him from winning and killing the protagonist. Ummm.... no. I know that our ragtag group of heroes needed to win, but the plan that they came up with to win is ludicrous. What they ended up doing was bugging his phone with a super app that could hear his conversations, let our hero get captured, only to give his phone to Sae in order to launch the app that takes them to the Metaverse without Akechi knowing, where there is an exact copy of our hero waiting. Akechi kills him, leaves, gloats, while all along our hero is safe and sound and dropped back off to Leblanc to celebrate his freedom.
I can't buy this plan solely because of the fact that at no other point where there ever an operation of this caliber for our heroes. They had heists before, but there was never any task this complex and crazy to accomplish. Hell, by this point in the story, the craziest plan they came up with was trying to stop a CEO in a space fortress that needed color coded ID's, and even then it was after our group had a major falling out. Just answer this question honestly. Could you believe that Ryuji could follow through with this plan? Makoto and Futaba, sure. Morgana, most likely. Everyone else? I can't buy for a second that they're that skilled to fool Akechi like that. Even then, so many things could have gone wrong. Sae could have not known how to activate the Metaverse App. Akechi and Sae may have missed each other. Sae could simply not believe the protagonist. And the most glaring flaw of all, why would the police allow you to keep your phone during an investigation? Shouldn't they lock it up as evidence and prevent you from contacting anyone in the first place? I've never been arrested before, but I don't think they would let you tweet or make a call behind bars on your cell phone.
And then we have the mastermind, Shido. Aka, the man who got the protagonist arrested in the first place, is obviously evil, wants to be Prime Minister, and is Akechi's father. He... really doesn't factor all that much into the proceedings. He's evil, yeah, but besides from doing a great Stephen Armstrong impersonation, he's really just evil for the sake of being evil. If Akechi was the mastermind, that would be one thing, but because we already knew that Shido was evil from the beginning of the game, the revelation that he's the big bad doesn't hit as hard. He's really just a bad guy to be the final boss.
And even then that doesn't matter, because he wasn't the REAL mastermind. And this one just... hurts.
So it turns out the Igor is evil, except that Igor isn't actually evil and that Igor has been replaced since the beginning of the game by the God of Control, Yaldabaoth, who wanted to play a game with humanity and see whether or not they desire control, so he uses Akechi and the protagonist as proxies for this battle, only when the battle is theoretically over, he tries to dispose of the protagonist except Justine and Caroline become Lavenza because they were originally the assistant of the Velvet Room before Yaldabaoth split them up, so he flees into Mementos and decides to take direct control of humanity because that's what humanity wants and desires and we have to say "No! Humans want to be free and live their lives!", and somehow this involves Morgana being a creation of the original Igor to watch over and help the protagonist in his fight against the fake Igor and save the world.
Did you get all of that?
Wow... I mean, I know that Persona loves to have its final fights against Gods and all of that, but this just right the hell out of nowhere, same as Persona 4. Back then, there was some context for fighting against Izanami if you were paying attention the same way you paid attention to Akechi, but literally none of this could have been predicted. You could have reread Igor's dialogue from across the entire game, but none of it would have clicked until Yaldabaoth just explained it all to you. The only clues you can get of this is if you decide to do the Strength Arcana, and even then the detail aren't that specific and left incredibly vague and only pertains to Lavenza existing, and three lines of dialogue from the very beginning of the game that reference the very end of the game before you even know what's happening with the world. Other than that, having fun trying to process everything!
Now to be fair, there are a few things I like about this. I like that a trusted figure like Igor was actually the villain this whole time, albeit an Igor impostor. We're supposed to think of Igor as an ally like every other game in the series, so giving him a villainous turn is actually kind of brilliant. Another great moment here? Everyone becomes aware of the Velvet Room. Everyone knows about Igor, Lavenza, and the Velvet Room actually becomes your base of operation for the final dungeon. It's some pretty clever stuff.
The biggest issues I have with Persona 5's ending comes down to its stakes. The game's stakes for most of the ending just feel really low. Shido trying to become Prime Minister? Even though he has direct access to the Metaverse and could commit further crimes, it doesn't have that big of an impact. Yaldabaoth merging Mementos and reality to create a world where he can control humans? Brought up in literally the last few hours of the game.
What made Persona 4's narrative so compelling was that you knew what your goal was from the beginning of the game; discover the serial killer and send him to jail. Done. Simple and easy, and when you finally catch Adachi, the game reached its climax. The Izanami business drags the game out a bit more and I do think its a bit unnecessary, but technically speaking it's optional. You can end the game without ever fighting Izanami and be none the wiser.
Here, you MUST fight Yaldabaoth, Shido, and Akechi, yet the latter two are brought up as major antagonists during their obligatory dungeons. They're the main villain for a couple of hours, but they share the same limelight with Kamoshida, Madarama, Kaneshiro, and Okumura. The one villain I had a legitimate desire to fight and was the most compelling antagonist was Akechi. We've interacted with Akechi for a majority of the game, he betrayed our trust, he was the perpetrator of the mental shutdowns which we've seen since the beginning of the game, he's directly mentioned by Madarama at the end of the second dungeon, and his fight is incredibly well done with three phases of increasing difficulty.
Shido and Yaldabaoth are servicable villains, but like I said in my main review, Persona 5 is a game focused on its villains more than our heroes. We have a new villain every dungeon, final boss included, and while they're good and have fun visuals and dungeon designs, they're not narratively fulfilling. A villain appears, we fight them, win, then move on to the next one. They're well made characters that we do get to hate, but outside of Akechi for his prominence in the plot and Kamoshida for his excellent first dungeon, I couldn't care less about any of them by the end, and that goes double for our heroes. The only two heroes that were compelling were Futaba and Morgana. Futaba's dungeon was pretty much a direct callback to Persona 4 where she was tormented by her own guilt and feelings and achieved a state of acceptance with herself by the end of the dungeon, giving her access to her Persona. Morgana had an arc throughout the whole game, and Morgana is just a pleasant character to be around.
I want to make this clear that I still think Persona 5 is a good game. Hell, it's a very good game. The gameplay is fun, the style is to die for, and several story moments and dungeons work exceptionally well. I just needed to get the ending off of my chest because it's been bugging me for some time now.
I needed to be hyper critical with this game because I love the Persona series. I think it has excellent ideas, gameplay, and characters, and Persona 4 is one of my favorite RPGs ever made. But in order to really make my feelings known, I needed to break down every inch of this game, and the worst thing about Persona 5 is its final third. It's not horrendous, since I've pointed out moments that work incredibly well and are very satisfying, but it left me feeling... okay.
Here's the best way I can describe it. When I beat Persona 4 after clocking in 80 hours, I felt like I was leaving a rich and developed world. I felt like I was leaving characters behind that I had gotten to know incredibly well, but I wasn't sad that I had completed a fantastic game. Instead, I felt content that I played a game that made me grow as a person and made me think about just how good video game story telling can be. When I beat Persona 5, my thought was "Well that was a pretty good game." I didn't dwell on it as much as I did with Persona 4, and that's the best way I can describe it.
I don't know, maybe it's nostalgia, but I first played Persona 4 five years ago and I was already an adult by that time. Persona 5 may not have clicked as well as it could have, but I don't regret sinking 90 hours into it. Still a 4/5, but that shouldn't be a bad thing.