Changing Hearts: Persona 5 and My JRPG Journey

Benedetto Regalbuto
Games Anime
Games Anime

As a kid, I played my fair share of Pokémon, enthralled by the wonderful designs and charming world. The games still hold a special place in my heart. Yet as I grew older, I realized that my love for Charizard had been veiling my disdain for turn-based combat. I tried again and again to get back into the series to no avail, instead turning to more action-oriented games like God of War and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

I gave other JRPGs a shot over the years, — the legendary Chrono Trigger among them — and each time, I seemed to find turn-based gameplay even more of a chore. I knew I was missing out on some of gaming’s finest adventures, making matters worse. I consider myself a patient and open-minded person, so why was I so impatient and close-minded toward an entire genre? That’s when Persona 5 (P5) entered my life.

My Homie

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Nothing and no one gets between these two.

My stepbrother, who comes over every other weekend, owns an Xbox. He thought P5 seemed incredible, but it’s a PlayStation exclusive. I have a PlayStation. See where I’m going with this?

When he started the game, I decided to watch — a bit of brotherly bonding, something we could enjoy together while everyone else was asleep. In the back of my mind, I also figured that if I liked the game enough… but no. It was a JRPG. And sure enough, neither of us were raving about P5′s first few hours. (“Where’s the f—ing Ginza line?!”)

But as he mastered the intricate balance between the protagonist‘s daily life and fight for a better world, my stepbrother’s growing enthusiasm for P5 infected me. I wanted to hang with Ryuji more than once every other weekend, to date Makoto instead of Futaba, to take the hearts of society’s scum with my own hands. There was just the issue of turn-based combat…

Beneath the Mask

persona 5 joker ren protagonist phantom thieves mask off playstation exclusive
"Please don't take off my mask — my place to hide."

… which I got over faster than you can say, “For real?!” It’s still not my preferred way to play, but that didn’t matter because what P5 gets right, it gets right. The soundtrack is a fusion of musical genres that keeps your adrenaline pumping as often as it has you in tears. The aesthetics are vibrant, fluid, and stylish, as effective in establishing the tone as anything else. The world is as full of wonder and disappointment as our own — and as alive, in that sense.

And the characters … the Phantom Thieves. Befriending them one by one, understanding what motivates them, setting aside time to spend with them — wasn’t this stuff reserved for real life? Fighting alongside them against the corrupt adults who serve as P5‘s villains was engaging in its own way, but learning who they all were beneath the mask was an experience like no other. This was the element that I’d been looking for in JRPGs but never found: personal attachment.

Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There

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If you don't wake up, get up, get out there, you'll never meet people like this!

I don’t know that any JRPG — any game, really — can truly replicate the feelings P5 spawned in me. It was the first JRPG I played through to completion and an amazing game in its own right. And yet, when it was over, I knew I wanted more; nearly 100 hours of life in Tokyo‘s Shibuya ward had convinced me of that. I was okay with turn-based combat now, but was that enough for me to enjoy other JRPGs? In short, yes.

My next JRPG adventure came in the form of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (which my stepbrother also played first), my first foray into the storied Fire Emblem franchise. I love me some swords and sorcery, so it wasn’t hard to get into, though its map battles proved a much different beast than P5‘s enemy encounters. Accepting that it wouldn’t impact me as much as P5 was the real battle, but I won that one, too.

Today, I’m keeping up the streak with Octopath Traveler, a JRPG with combat akin to P5‘s and a world not unlike that of Shadows of Valentia‘s. Over 50 hours in, I dig it more and more every second I play, in love with the characters and music. It’s simple, really: it’s a good game — JRPG or not, turn-based combat or not. Just like P5.

New Beginning

ann takamaki ryuji sakamoto futaba sakura ren amamiya joker protagonist haru okumura yusuke kitagawa makoto niijima persona 5 phantom thieves playstation exclusive
Thanks, everyone.

I don’t know what JRPG will come my way next, but thanks to P5, I know I’ll embrace it as wholeheartedly as any other game I’d normally play. Before P5, maybe I wasn’t as patient and open-minded as I thought I was. Who knew that that’d be a lesson that a video game taught me? I won’t get preachy or anything, but I will say this: don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know what — or who — you might find. For real.

(And … yes. For those wondering, all the headings in this article are the names of P5 songs. I may or may not have been listening to the soundtrack while writing this.)

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Benedetto Regalbuto
I wish I was Nathan Drake, but I'm much better at writing than I am at climbing, shooting, and discovering lost civilizations. Still, "Sic parvis magna."
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