What Does It Mean To Be Worthy? (7-12min)
To understand this article, it is reccomended to read Part 1.
The Ideal Reality
Following the group casually conquering the holy grail and taking down the god of control, Yaldabaoth, the game progresses and shows a happy ending. When the MC wakes up from a strange dream, he feels out of place and out of order. Nobody seems to notice this odd reality except Ren, Akechi, and Sumire. So the trio decides to investigate and search for a way to escape the altered world they are in.
They discover that Takuto Maruki is behind this phenomenon with a large, unique palace to boot.When they confront him, Takuto suggests testing out the reality he specifically created for them and come back in a week with their definitive answer.
In this week, Ren gets the chance to visit all members of the phantom thieves and experience the blissful lie they live in :
Ryuji : back to being mates with the track team and landed a scholarship to a big name college.
Ann : bonding with her best friend Suzui as if the suicide incident never happened in the first place.
Yusuke : learning painting from his teacher, Madarame, and him becoming a famous young artist.
Makoto : spending quality time with her older sister and father as a normal family. erasing the fact her father did not die.
Futaba : with her mother relishing the kindness that she did not have as a child and having a motherly role she lacked as a child.
Haru : directly learning from her father how to become a better company director and scouting future locations for the okumura foods coffee shops.
Honestly, it’s in this week where the game forces the player to see the ideal reality and realize that your teammates are happy and satisfied. When I was given the option to convince them to wake up from this lie, I felt hesitant.
After all, it is easy to say that living in a false ideal reality is bad when it is somebody you do not know, which is the first ending of Persona 5. However, make it personal and tailored to the people around you and suddenly the subject weighs more heavily on you. Nonetheless, the drums of life march on, so Ren is the bearer of the bad news.
At first, the phantom thieves denied this fact and did not face the truth. But after some events, Ren confronts them one by one to console them. It was at this confrontation that drove me to write this article as a whole.
D.uring this intimate talk each cast speaks sorely of their pain and regrets. Despite all of this trauma, they still find the courage to move on. One unique take the game discusses, is the question of happiness and whether we are worthy of it.
On one hand, all these negative experiences that the gang went through, forced them to grow, to mature, and to take caution, much like the real-life counterpart of crushing childhood ambitions after coming into contact with the “real world.”
So any positive attributes or events gained after these trials are deserved and serve as a reward which allows them to appreciate their victories even more.
On the other hand, living in a false reality undermines the entire point of pain and gratitude. After all, who is to restrict pleasure and happiness behind a gate of suffering? Maruki’s false reality questions the boundary and status quo that humans set for themselves.
Coincidentally, I was reading Brianna West’s “101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think” during my time with the game, and I remember the author mentioning that humans are naturally self destructive. We can naturally conclude that this gatekeeper of real happiness is a boundary of negative trauma that we established.
All in all, the third semester goes even further in this topic, even using religious symbolism from the garden of eden, messiah complex, etc. But I think now’s the time to introduce Takuto Maruki, one of the most memorable anti-heroes in video games.
The Savior and Naive :
Following the Kamoshida (P.E teacher) incident at Shujin academy, the school employs Takuto Maruki as a counselor for students who were deeply affected by this traumatic event.
He comes off as a reliable yet goofy and clumsy character who only has the best interest of students in mind. Throughout the main story Maruki is hardly mentioned aside from occasional cutscenes where each individual of the phantom thieves opens up to him and works together to process their history and emotions.
I like these cutscenes a lot since they shed a light on both the side characters and Maruki himself. We get the best of both worlds, as the phantom thieves are more deeply explored while we familiarize with Maruki and his mindset.
Moreover, to access the third semester and true ending of the game you are forced to interact with Maruki and complete his side story. To summarize his side story, Maruki makes a deal with Ren to have frequent discussions about his research where Ren provides some debate or theories that challenge his work. In exchange, Maruki teaches Ren some mental health tips and offers some snacks for his efforts.
However, Ren discovers that Maruki once had a girlfriend he loved very much. But after an accident where her parents died, the trauma was too much for her so she lost her memories and became unresponsive. As such, Maruki dedicated his life to heal her and similar individuals whose mental pain renders them unfunctional.
Unfortunately, Maruki’s side story is not the most engaging in Persona 5 (Iwai’s was much better IMO) but it helps portray Maruki as the noble selfless therapist. It also sets up the third semester by showing early signs of the prophet complex he develops later on.
The Promised Ideal Reality :
After exploring the false reality set by Maruki for a week, The Phantom Thieves have all unanimously decided (Sumire included) to reject Maruki’s reality and go back to their harsh world. So the phantom thieves go back for one last mission and steal Maruki’s treasure.
Maruki represents the sin of Sorrow and his palace is a futuristic dystopian research lab that houses the garden of eden where pain-free individuals are liberated and ascend to heaven.
Adding to his prophet complex, Maruki believes that he alone is chosen to save humanity and progress them to the future. One could argue that Maruki is imposing a dictatorship-esque reality where what he says goes, much like a tyrant god. For him, he views it as correcting the path of those forsaken and left to suffer, guiding them to a better life.
Although it would be unique to live in a pain-free reality, cracks quickly start to show in this utopia. As Maruki’s reality grants everyone dreams to remove suffering, but what happens when these dreams are harmful to others?
For instance, one case told in the game, is the story of a father who gets in a relationship with his favorite idol but forsakes his wife and children. His dream is granted but it impacts suffering on who he knows, so is the dream in this case valid? Should it be granted?
When the phantom thieves reach Maruki’s treasure, he is there to defend his treasure and fight them if necessary, and fight they do. His persona is Azathoth, a lovecraftian omnipotent god of chaos, who uses Maruki as a vessel to imbed chaos onto their universe.
It\’s important to note that Maruki’s final bossfight outfit is a shiny gold suit with a white robe along with a staff. Obviously, his outfit resembles that of a pope, which references his prophet complex.
During the fight against Maruki, the song “Throw away your mask” is played, which is the first song ever in Persona 5 to tell the lyrics from the perspective of a non phantom thieves member.
In this song, Maruki pleads with the group to throw away their masks (masks symbolize their fighting spirit) and accept the reality he has made for them, telling them to “Believe in me” and that they won’t “need to strive for greatness” and “no more tears shall drop form your cheeks anymore.”
While i’m writing this section, i am relistening to this song and it never fails to give me goosebumps.
A nice attention to detail is that in mid fight, Maruki makes personal remarks to each character in your party, trying to convince them with past trauma to accept his reality.
When you beat him the first time, Maruki’s treasure is shown; the torch of guidance, which is the torch said to progress mankind, allowing them to evolve and seek better.
Maruki ignites his rebellion spirit with this torch and calls upon his ultimate persona, Adam Kadmon, a religious entity said to symbolize the perfect version of man. Not to confuse with Adam from Adam and Eve, who is the normal man image created from clay.
He entirely believes that through his ideology of erasing pain and suffering, mankind is not stained or harmed, so Maruki can progress humanity towards an Adam Kadmon state, where material desires like food, sex, and money are irrelevant, where man and women strive for intellectual and spiritual ascension.
Following the final fight with Adam Kadmon, Maruki loses the will to fight and the phantom thieves save the world. During their escape, Maruki tethers onto the flying cat helicopter (Yes you read that right) to have one more discussion.
It is the final speech from Maruki with the MC and it nails the spot in every way. What seemed like this perfect, cheerful, high spirit character, finally breaks down and vents his frustrations.
He screams and shouts to the world how all his efforts was good hearted yet the world is denying him, how he realizes his mindset is flawed but can’t accept it just yet, how he lost and sacrificed everything, and how he lost to the phantom thieves despite them practically doing the same thing to others in retrospect.
The next logical step for Maruki, is to have an emotional fist fight withRen and then attempt to commit suicide only to be saved by Ren, allowing him to move forward in his life despite his loss.
Thus the third semester concludes and everyone moves on. Most of the phantom thieves go their own way, some chasing their dreams and others attending college, and Maruki also becomes a taxi driver for some reason.
To put it shortly, the real world ending is not satisfying. For the group is disbanded and major emotional damage cannot be undone (also one member dies), but that is the price the phantom thieves pay for living truly.
Just like real life, we never get the happiness ever after ending. Instead, we alternate between pleasure and struggle, not a single thing can be good without some bad.
When I first played Persona 5 Royal, I was already aware of the major plot points, but that did not stop me from enjoying it. Moreover, I spent 105 hours appreciating this masterpiece, and it encouraged me to start this blog as a whole.
I struggled whether I should write about my love for this game, or discuss the key question it displayed, and I decided on the latter. The latter topic was more interesting and it had more potential.
Overall, the discussion of true happiness and its worth is a refreshing concept. I don’t want to repeat what I had already mentioned in this essay but I feel that it\’s necessary to at least leave you the reader with this question: Would you take a false reality under someone else’s control with no pain or suffering? Or would you prefer a harsh bitter truth that allows you to grow and appreciate the good times more?
Author’s Note : I am very aware that I neglected some major plot points and characters. I felt that Morgana does not add any relevance to this topic, Shido did not have an effect on the third semester, and Sumire’s conflict was avoided due to spoilers.