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Reviews Comments: Starts strong, but quickly looses steam. (Story review) Persona 5 game review by matteste

While I was initially skeptical of the game, given my opinions on the previous game, I\'m not afraid to admit that the first segment of the game was a real pleasant surprise. A strong villain that felt really evil but also felt evil in a real way, and an equally strong sense of importance permeates the games first arc. The characters all have stakes and provide some interesting viewpoints and overall feel like a step up from the previous game.

It all acts a start for greatness.

Sadly, that greatness never materializes.

After that point everything just starts to feel more and more contrived, with villains that are presented as so mustache twirlingly evil that they almost seem like the walked out of a Saturday morning cartoon. You could almost be forgiven for thinking they are satires. To make things worse, most of the time we are just told that they are evil but never shown, and if shown, it is done in a manner that has nothing to do with their actual crime. It ends up feeling less and less important and more like going through the motions with just some excuse for why it is happening.

And by the finale it all really falls apart, piggybacking of tropes and cliches from past entries and end up losing what little identity of it\'s own it had in the process.

The game\'s central theme equally stumbles. It presents it but then simply stops there and never actually explores it and only uses it at face value, resulting in an unfortunate case of Protagonist-Centered Morality, and the full ramifications of the characters actions are never addressed. Despite the game trying to present shades of grey, it simply ends up one sided, determined to never make them dirty their hands even the slightest bit. All it does is simply Debate and Switch.

And finally, the way it all is presented falls equally flat with a delivery that lacks subtlety and endlessly repeats itself over and over. Even the lines feel sterile and lifeless.

Ultimately, it felt it had so much potential that was never meant to be.

Comments

  • omegafire17
  • 17th Sep 17
As far as one point in particular, I think you got the wrong impression about the game\'s central theme. By your comments, you think it has to do with the PT\'s morally-grey actions and whether or not they\'re doing the right thing, when in reality that\'s only one indirect aspect - the central theme is really about standing up to corrupt authority, rather than standing by and doing nothing, as well as standing out instead of trying to blend in on a lesser scale

^Which it does very well, especially against Japan\'s own cultural system, showing what happens when certain things are taken too far.
  • KarkatTheDalek
  • 17th Sep 17
"You could almost be forgiven for thinking they are satires."

...I mean, I only gained most of my knowledge of this game secondhand, but...aren't they?
  • matteste
  • 18th Sep 17
^^omegafire17: I am well aware of the theme of standing up to corrupt authority. The issue is how it is presented. They are shown standing up to corruption with corrupt means, and fails to properly examine that issue. Sure, the way they use it is different, but the means and end result is the same. With the way it was handled, the bad ending actually feels like a more logical conclusion. If it had been a bit better written, then it could very had been taken for an actual ending. And sure, the characters have flaws, but never moral flaws, and any time they question their own morality it simply turns out that it was some outside party responsible, undermining their possible growth from a moral standpoint. What I am trying to say is that the game fails to point out just how dangerous their way of thinking truly is, and instead paint's it as heroic. The issue arises when what is right, and what is necessary are painted as the same thing. Sure, the end justified the means, but does the means justify the end?

^KarkatTheDalek: They could have been, if it weren't for the fact that the game tries really hard to play them seriously. And that's before getting into their shadows which are supposed to be satires.
  • KarkatTheDalek
  • 18th Sep 17
Well, to be frank, I thought you were talking about the Shadows.

And quite frankly, I'd say that the Thieves' actions were the morally correct option by default - the system was so utterly corrupt that there was no other way to change it. Here's the thing about Japanese society, as I understand it (and I will say that I am no doubt grossly over simplifying things here) - respecting ones superiors is deeply ingrained in the culture, to the point that speaking out against them is a major taboo. From what I recall reading, protest movements that might be commonplace in the West tend to die quiet deaths unacknowledged by society as a whole. Faced with such resistance against...well, resistance, what other choice do they have but to force change? And you would have them angst about their morality - perhaps even taking things to the point where they become villains themselves?

Honestly, it verges on insulting.

  • matteste
  • 18th Sep 17
^What you describe is good and all, in fact it could have been something wonderful, but remember what I said. The end might justify the means, but does the means justify the end?

The issue I have with the game is how it is treated. It fails to give it the proper weight and seems to constantly take steps to make sure the heroes hands are clean. Everyone who questions the thief's are either a strawman, a villain or someone who eventually changes their opinion about them and consider them just. Moral angst is not a must. Proper acknowledgement of the issue however is.

The game asks these questions, but skips the examining part. It just jumps to it's conclusion that it almost seems like it had decided on in advance.

Another issue is that it always portrays their solution as a universal solvent. It always get the happy ending, and the only time it didn't was due to outside interference. Remember that if hadn't Ann stopped him, Kamoshida would have committed suicide out of guilt. Then what about all the others where the Phantom thieves weren't around? The game fails to build on this properly, it's just fire and forget. Though that goes more towards plot hole I guess.
  • omegafire17
  • 18th Sep 17
Except their method\'s morality is only one aspect of the themes presented, and not even the main one. That honor goes to the fact that choosing to stand by and do nothing, because it\'s \'easier\' or whatever, is just as wrong as those who perpetrate crimes - in this case, their brainwashing method is the lesser of two evils, because doing nothing would only allow the evil to continue. It\'s true that the morality isn\'t examined as much as it could\'ve been, but the distinctly-different main theme is explored by every target, major and minor; those who give into their desires and do immoral things are wrong, but those who choose to let it happen/do nothing are equally so, so you should always try to rebel against corrupt authority

^Personally, I was fine with that; the PT\'s know that this feels like Protagonist-Centered Morality on some level, but they\'re trying to help people in need because it\'s the right thing to do, and that\'s the important thing they choose to focus upon. The morality didn\'t \'need\' to be fully examined to make the game\'s central theme have appropriate weight, as I think it did that well via it\'s own presentation, all things considered
  • matteste
  • 20th Sep 17
Problem is that the game itself only give the bare minimum of acknowledgement, if that, most of the time it brushes the issue aside.

Let's put it this way then. One laughably easy way for the game to have avoided this issue would have been to simply include a character who was morally good and upstanding that is in opposition to the Phantom Thieves and is fully aware of the corruption. This character could call them out on their bullshit while also acknowledging that what they are doing might be the only way. But just cause that might be the case might not mean that he/she actually agree's with them.

Heck even Akechi could have filled that role had he been genuine instead of a psychotic brat with daddy issues that the game is desperate to make me care about.
  • KarkatTheDalek
  • 20th Sep 17
"The end might justify the means, but does the means justify the end?"

So...you're asking if forcibly changing people's personalities justifies bringing the corrupt leaders of society to justice?

That...doesn't make any sense. Like, you can justify your methods with your results, but you don't justify your results with your methods - literally no one ever does that. At the very least, it doesn't make sense in this case - how do you make sense of saying that morally grey actions justify a righteous cause? It only makes sense the other way around.
  • matteste
  • 21st Sep 17
sigh...

I'm not sure how you managed to twist it that severely.

Does the methods the Phantom Thieves used (in this case, a form of brainwashing, to strip the villains of their freedom of choice to force a confession out of them via what is effectively guilt tripping. (Some of them deserved it sure, make no mistake about it.) But with time moving to smaller and smaller targets as well as larger ones, to force a conform to the Justice they decide. Additionally, all who call this approach into question are revealed to be either scumbags themselves or having ulterior motives for it) justify the end they received (in this case, the false charges are revoked, they are hailed as heroes by the public and by those who initially opposed them except for a few stragglers of the corruption. They are all shown to be on the road and get their happy ending)

Quite frankly this makes no sense. Action have consequence. That's what I mean by "does the means justify the end". Shido for example really ended up feeling this, so then why are the "heroes" exempt from this. When that consequence is nonexistent, especially in a supposed morally grey setting, you just end up with absolutes, a power fantasy where everything bows to your whims. This is why I say that the supposed bad ending makes more sense since it follows this line of though to the end and shows it for what it is.

There was in fact this one quote that kept popping up in my head during my time with the game. The truth is that you're here because you wanted to feel like something you're not: a hero.
  • MorningStar1337
  • 21st Sep 17
A little off topic, but did that quote come form Spec Ops by any chance?
  • KarkatTheDalek
  • 21st Sep 17
It is.

Now, I haven't played Spec Ops, but to my knowledge, the situations are not equivocal - Walker is not a powerless man fighting back against the powerful the only way he can, but a man who ends up committing horrific acts that could have been avoided out of his desire to be a hero. He's an American soldier who wants to have his big heroic mission in the Middle East, not a bunch of high school students being kicked around by the top dogs of Japanese society.

Persona 5 is about standing up to corrupt authority, not about protagonists slowly becoming villains. Not every game needs to have shades of grey - honestly, answering the question "Are we doing the right thing?" with anything other than a resounding "Yes" would arguably be betrayal of that theme, as again, there was literally no other way to hold these people accountable for their actions. As for portraying those who would object to these methods as morally deplorable...well, isn't it? If you care more about the free will of corrupt CE Os and politicians than the people they exploit, was does that say about you? Bothsiderism at its finest, I'd say.
  • matteste
  • 21st Sep 17
I'm not saying that every work needs to have moral grays. We have things such as Kirby and Mario just doing their own thing and there is no complaining.

Difference is that they don't try to present it, it's not important to them. P5 on the other hand does, so then it should bloody stick to it and treat it with the proper weight. And I am not saying that the corrupt officials shouldn't be dealt with, in fact quite the opposite. In fact I am all for standing up to it. But they are using evil to fight evil, sure they don't kill people, but they rob people of their future regardless so that others can have theirs. Persona 5 doesn't make the distinction between Just and Necessary and instead treats them as the same thing. And I don't think I need to say why that is a nasty was of thinking, given that this series already has dealt with that quite a bit.

I'm not saying that this is a story of them becoming villains, but the way it progress it could very well have been. Like I said, with a just a minute bit of tinkering then the bad ending could have been the proper ending since it flows properly with how they have been behaving. He Who Fights Monsters is a thing after all.

And the reason I brought up the quote was due to the fact that I just couldn't get it out of the back of my mind as I was going through the game, it felt like a complete opposite, like something was wrong, like the very thing Spec Ops criticizes, the fundamental Protagonist Centered Morality Power Fantasy.

"As for portraying those who would object to these methods as morally deplorable...well, isn't it?" ...what. I sure hope to hell I read that wrong, since by that logic, anyone who object to them is automatically evil and that the Phantom Thieves are always just since their actions are just with the very act of defying them being a crime. ....see what I meant about the bad ending being the logical conclusion.
  • KarkatTheDalek
  • 21st Sep 17
Well, I am curious what you would define as "Just".

Regardless, though, am I to understand that you view the Thieves' actions as evil, but being used for a good cause?

An understandable position, but I think that while stealing someone's heart can be used for both good and evil, the action itself does not have a specific morality attached to it - it's all in what you do with it.

Now, if you disagree with that, that's fine, but in that case, I think the game has a different view of morality, and that might have been the problem here.

As for the last bit...maybe I could have phrased that better - I was in a bit of a bad mood when I posted that. My apologies.

Certainly, I can understand having moral reservations about the idea (though as I mentioned, I don't necessarily think it is inherently evil). But I do think that someone saying "this is bad, and you shouldn't do it" is immoral, in the sense that is condemning the most effective method (perhaps the only effective method) of acting against the corrupt power structure. As I see it, to say that it should not be used is essentially telling people to accept their lot in life (which would not only be against my morals, but the game's as well).

Stealing people's hearts is not nice - I'll freely admit that. But you don't get justice by being nice.
  • matteste
  • 21st Sep 17
In my view, Justice is defined by the individual, and enacted by those with the power to enforce it. Cruel and cynical I know.

But hold on a minute, you're probably thinking, "By that logic, doesn't that make them Just?". Yes it does, they are enforcing theirs just as Shido is enforcing his, but that's not my issue. As I've stated previously, the real issue is that it fails to present other Justice's that are portrayed as valid, and that it fails to make the distinction between justice and necessity. The game doesn't present options, it presents one option as the only option, and only one view as inherently correct. By only presenting one option, and by presenting that option as the only and true path, it effectively undermines it's own message. It almost like it lacks confidence in what it wants to say and is afraid to challenge it, since it fears it is gonna lose. The best argument is made when scrutinized, and then, reinforced. If it doesn't, then it just feels cheap, like it is moralizing, and telling you to do as it says. That last bit is especially ironic given the games theme.

Let's just say that everyone follow the exact justice this game presents, since it again presents no valid alternatives. Just try to think what would happen. Worst case we would end up with a mainline SMT scenario on our hands.

I'm gonna make another comparison, so bear with me. Ever heard of Fate Zero? If not then I am gonna try to keep this as spoiler free as possible. But the reason I bring it up is cause it tackled this issue beautifully. It made the distinction between justice and necessity, several views are presented and next to none are presented as inherently wrong even though they conflict with each-other. Despite that, the various views get challenged, Justice against Justice. Even those who are treated as evil are still treated as having valid views on the world. Heck, even the Ultimate Evil is portrayed as having a point.

Suffice to say, that's more than what I can say about P5. In fact, it was the same issue I took with SMTIVA, only that one was even worse in that regard since it tried to present a choice when there really was none.

The core point is how it is presented, plain and simple. Something P5 fails at.

Also one other point I think I need to clarify before it slips my mind. I said that by making all those who question the PT's methods where shown to be nasty individuals, the game is actually engaging in a form of narrative Ad Hominem. It discredits the speaker while the argument is left unanswered and swept under the rug.
  • KarkatTheDalek
  • 21st Sep 17
Here's the thing - not all points of view are created equal. Some can - and should - be dismissed, like those that promote and support racism, to give just one example. I'd argue that "you shouldn't steal people's hearts" is one such point of view - as I said earlier, it effectively tells them to sit down and shut up. The writers of the game are not obliged to give credence to a perspective they think is morally bankrupt.

I mean, consider this: the Phantom Thieves are faced with corrupt people who have amassed enough influence to effectively be above the law (this is hardly a fantastical element, quite frankly). So even taking into account that not everyone's going to be perfectly okay with essentially brainwashing these people into confessing...what other option could be valid? That's not a rhetorical question - I'm genuinely curious what else you think could be a valid response here.

  • matteste
  • 21st Sep 17
Aaaaand again.

Basically by that logic, anything that is opposed to the view of someone is a fallacy by the nature of that they don\'t agree with it.

And you are once again dodging the issue, like I said, those people deserved it and it was perhaps the only way. The Thieves enforced their justice as they had power to do so, but that doesn\'t automatically make the critics wrong. It is as stated before, how the game presents the whole issue. Discarding anything that could act as a counter to their actions. Discarding it does not mean it was resolved, it is just left hanging. The game is just obsessed with it\'s Black and White thinking.

And you seem to misunderstand the concept of narrative argument. Even if the critics are right, it doesn\'t stop the Thieves. In fact, if anything it could potentially be used to reinforce them if one is clever enough. By showing a argument\'s flaws you can also expose it\'s strengths.
  • KarkatTheDalek
  • 21st Sep 17
My point of view is as follows: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." If someone says that the Phantom Thieves shouldn't steal hearts - and they don't have some sort of viable alternative for dealing with societal injustice - then they are essentially condoning the corruption around them. They condemn the Phantom Thieves because their actions make them uncomfortable, while at the same time ignoring the suffering that the corruption is causing. People do this all the time in real life - something as simple as a football player kneeling in protest during the national anthem enrages people, who then proceed to ignore the social injustice that led him to protest in the first place. That is the point the game is trying to make, and that is why I think the critics are wrong - I know where they're coming from, and I don't think it's defensible.

Look, I'll ask you this quite plainly: what are the so-called valid other arguments here? What ought to be presented as an argument worth taking seriously, and why should it be taken seriously?
  • matteste
  • 22nd Sep 17
Seriously, you are just walking around in mental circles now. I have a hard time seeing how to continue this in a sane manner with this if you are not gonna stay on topic. I'm gonna say this and then say my peace.

What other valid arguments are presented? Easy. None. And that's the issue. There are valid points, but any sort of counter argument get's neutered before it even has a chance to be made. But not only in spoken, but in a show-don't-tell manner as well, and that was the issue I raised with the games morals from the very start. The very game is structured to be absolute, and to be in their favor, other viewpoints be damned. It set itself out to be grey, does the exact opposite. Made the most apparent when the moment when some of your teammates start to wonder if they are doing the right thing, and then to only immediately be shouted down and told that they are just.

It matters not how important the point is that is made if it is executed poorly, especially if it is one sided.

And I see you keep bringing up corruption, thing is, corruption on it's own does not exist. There is always a human being behind that holding it up, and that's why it is so nasty. That's why I said the game opened strong. Kamoshida was treated as human and thus made the corruption they faced real. The others are treated as mere plot-devices and that's a mayor issue. If you can't respect your opposition, you can't respect you own. When the opposition is devalued, so is your message. If you create a cardboard cutout and then beat it down, you didn't address the problem, it's still out there. What has more value? Climbing a cardboard box and calling it a mountain, or actually scaling a mountain. And this especially a problem with Shido. He didn't even get humanized posthumously, he was always treated as a plot-device and nothing more.

I can share a bit of wisdom that is useful even in the context of when it comes to a narrative argument that gives it both meaning and weight (note: for the sake of clarity, I mean this in quite the meta and metaphorical way, and is aimed at the idea of the one who write the argument presented. And yes, I am calling P5, clueless.)

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Sun Tzu, The Art Of War

Now I've said what I wanted to say, so now I take my leave from this mess, and wish you a continued good day.
  • omegafire17
  • 25th Sep 17
So your argument is that because every side of the issue is not explored, it automatically cannot be valid? Just because a villain has zero/few dimensions, automatically means he cannot work as a villain on principle? Or something similar?

That\'s a narrow-minded way of thinking imo; not everything needs to be examined from all angles, or three-dimensional, to \'work\' within a fictional story. In P5\'s case, the villains aren\'t meant to be all that humanized, because they\'re scumbags who need to be punished (Kamoshida especially, who was specifically designed to make us 100% hate his guts - we weren\'t supposed to respect him as a villain, but hate him and work hard to take him down, which worked). And this is okay, because the game presents doing nothing against evil as a terrible thing, and taking action against it as a good thing. It presents this theme well, and while the general lack of exploring the morality is a point against it, it does not derail the entire thing, because it\'s a valid truth that taking action is something we all need to try and do in our lives, even without that exploration

More valid points about the morality would\'ve been appreciated, perhaps, but the theme itself works without it as presented. In fact, even if there was no exploring the morality at all, the theme would still work as a whole, if perhaps to a slightly-lesser degree.

You\'re entitled to your opinion as usual, but that is what I think. Plot devices can work as they are, one-sided stories can still speak to you, cliche can be played completely straight without being different and still work, etc etc.

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