Despite being a 100+-hour adventure filled with tough choices that ultimately impact the fate of all mankind, Persona 5 Royal doesn’t want you to panic. While you might be laser-focused on spending your days in Atlus’ incredible JRPG grinding through enemies in order to level up your party and amass enough money to buy the latest and greatest gear, Persona 5 is constantly there to remind you to relax, catch your breath, and soak in the world around you.
“Take your time” is a message that shows up in the corner of nearly every loading screen found throughout Atlus’ depiction of Tokyo in both the original Persona 5 as well as the enhanced Royal, and that suggestion is crucial. Because choosing to take your time on any one of the game’s free nights leads to a sensational mix of freedom, discovery, excitement, and potential that wonderfully taps into that real-life feeling of wandering around a big city and seeing where the night takes you, which is something that I so desperately miss in these recent strange times.
The city life and social aspects of the Persona series act in harmony with the dungeon exploration and combat. It’s the peaceful yin to the violent yang. It’s also where a wealth of decision-making stems from that might seem mundane on paper, but you’ll become hopelessly invested in it as you realize that each night represents a way to ultimately mold and shape your hero and their adventure.
Any given night throughout the year in Persona 5 begins in Cafe Leblanc, a cozy little coffee shop that doubles as your home for the year. The first thing you’ll usually hear is “Beneath the Mask,” the anthem for nighttime in P5, and one of the absolute best pieces of video game music in the past decade. It sets a perfect tone for the simple truth that, tonight, the world is yours to do with it as you see fit.
Let’s take a look at a specific night roughly midway through the game. Aug. 11 falls on a Wednesday. It’s the middle of summer, but it’s raining pretty hard, so we make sure to grab our umbrella on the way out of the cafe. There are nearby batting cages where we’ve spent some evenings working on our swing. There’s even a quiet little fishing pond that we’ve relaxed at, hearing tales of a legendary fish nicknamed “the guardian” that only the most talented anglers have caught a glimpse of. But it doesn’t feel like the kind of night for either of those.
Our phone buzzes with potential — two of the game’s Confidants message us asking if we’re free to hang out. There’s Hifumi, the shogi prodigy who spends her time contemplating her technique amidst the peace and serenity of a church in the Kanda district of Tokyo. We could continue our lessons with her, which not only deepens our relationship, but also enhances our combat strategies during those aforementioned yang sections. The other message is from Kawakami, our teacher by day who leads a secret life at night. Spending time with her opens up options for earning extra free time throughout the year, which is incredibly useful. But tonight, as the rain continues to fall on our umbrella, we ignore both messages and instead hop aboard the train into the heart of Shibuya.
Despite the awful weather, Tokyo is still brimming with life and energy. Crowds of people flow through the arteries of the subway station and into the iconic mass of Shibuya Crossing, one of the world’s busiest intersections. The main street is lined with potential ways for us to spend our time, including a movie theater showing a romantic comedy that can help raise our charm, as well as a Big Bang Burger that continues to tempt us with an eating challenge that we still don’t have enough guts to successfully complete. Both of these are solid options, but not exactly what we’re feeling tonight. And so, we hop back on the train and make our way towards Shinjuku, another one of Persona 5’s neighborhoods.
Shinjuku feels like a slightly more adult version of Shibuya. Guys who work at clubs bark at us with the promise of spending the night with beautiful women. If it weren’t raining tonight, our pal Chihaya would have her small table set up where she makes a living reading the fortunes of anyone who might pass by. And then there’s Crossroads, a bar that we’ve managed to become regulars at despite not quite being of age. We’ve worked a few shifts there for its wonderful owner and even become close with a lush of a journalist who’s helped us become more efficient Phantom Thieves. But again, neither of those feel quite right, so we grab another train to Kichijoji, a new area added to Persona 5 Royal.
Kichijoji is a covered promenade filled with various shops and activities, flanked by a couple alleys lined with tiny hole-in-the-wall eateries and bars. The underground jazz club has recently become a favorite haunt, but there’s no live music tonight, so we take a pass. We press through the narrow side street of the neighborhood, the sounds and smells of the tiny izakaya spots wafting through the air. We can’t help but look at the people scattered about these different locations and think about what stories they might have to tell. We’re knee-deep in a cyber war with a group of online terrorists known as Medjed, and we only have 10 days left until they’ve promised to publicly out our secret identities. We wonder if each and every person spending their rainy nights drinking in Kichijoji has a similar story to tell?
Thinking about Medjed got us thinking about our fellow Phantom Thieves. We’ve all been on edge pretty much the entire summer, and despite making it through the last Palace in one piece, our future remains uncertain. While we have our freedom, why don’t we spend some time together? And so, we head to the sports bar on the edge of the district and dial up our pals Ann, Ryuji, Makoto, and Yusuke for a night of billiards. They’re hesitant at first, but we assure them that we’ve done all we can with Medjed and the end result is ultimately out of our hands. Playing pool strengthens our bond and improves our technical attacks in battle, but that’s only a footnote compared to what’s really important. For one summer evening, we forget that the fate of the world is in our hands and instead act like the high schoolers we are.
Aug. 11 was a Wednesday in Persona 5 Royal. It was raining pretty hard, but that didn’t bother us. Our night was free, and the city was full of potential. That might seem mundane to some, but to us, it meant the world. And in that world, we’re absolutely going to take our time.