They Changed it, Now it Sucks

I’ve been playing “Persona 5 Royal” for the past few weeks, and the title is pretty relevant to the game.  No, not overall, as the things they’ve changed and added have been mostly good, if potentially overwhelming.  But there’s one boss fight that they changed in Royal that caused me — and at least someone else — frustration, and I don’t think that it works either in gameplay or thematically.

The fight is the Okumura boss fight.  This was already a different type of boss fight because it was the only one that was timed, meaning that you had to focus on doing damage quickly when my main strategy was to target weaknesses — even with underpowered attacks — and then rely on the Hold Up damage to clear things out.  I think the Hold Up might not have happened in the base game either, but how the battle worked in the base game was that you faced wave after wave after wave of enemies, and while the early ones had weaknesses the later ones had fewer or lacked them completely, and so it was indeed a race against time.  One you wiped out all his infinite expendable forces, the villain then had to fight you directly, and he was a challenging fight — as most of the Shadows were — that you had to get through to win.  Yes, having to focus on doing damage and not having weaknesses was a change in tactics, but at the very least you wouldn’t be locked into a fight that you couldn’t win, and the Shadow was a villain in line with how the other ones worked.

That was changed in Royal.  Instead of facing many waves of enemies, some of which were identical, instead you faced individual waves of enemies that also had weaknesses, which sounds like an improvement and sounds like it would make the battle easier.  Except that especially with the later ones you had to kill them in two rounds or else they ran away and were replaced with a new wave that started at full health.  So this meant that you really, really needed to target their weaknesses and focus on doing lots of damage.  So you not only needed to have abilities that targeted their weaknesses, you needed them to be at a pretty powerful level to be able to kill them in time.  And you needed to know about this and work out the strategies that worked for this, especially for the last full wave which has a lot more HP than the first ones and so you need to perform pretty much perfectly to win.

Unfortunately, when I came into this I had weaknesses for the first ones, but I in general didn’t use Haru and in general was relying on the smaller Mapsi ability to save SP.  So for the last round I had to think to put Haru in to target that weakness, and then had to try to kill it with attacks that it was resistant to, since  didn’t have a Persona with the medium damage Psi or Curse spells.  That … didn’t work.  So I ended up in a position where I simply didn’t have the abilities to finish off that wave, but the wave didn’t have the abilities to kill me either.  So I would have had to wait until the time expired or commit suicide in some way.  I decided to quit in frustration — I had tried to push through at the end of my play session and didn’t have the time or patience to figure it out that day — and come back the next time I played.  In the interim, that’s when I found the walkthrough I linked above.

So I went to try to create a Persona that had a more powerful multi-target Psi or Curse spell … and failed.  But I did manage to create one with Megidola, which at least nothing can be strong against and resist so it would do its full damage.  I also had an advantage in that I had one Confidant high enough so that I could swap team members in and out, and so could keep Makoto and Yusuke in the party for the Nuclear and Ice waves and swap them out later.  I also realized that if you don’t think you’re in a position to take them out in two rounds you can use that wave to prepare for the next one instead of wasting SP in a futile attack.  I also managed to mess it up the first time through, but then learned that Ann’s ability to remove the defense buff from the one so that it could be targeted, and so finally managed to get past that one with Megidola.  I also lost the fight against the next boss for some reason — I screwed something up but can’t remember what, but it might have been not defending at the right time and losing two characters — but then faced a fake Haru and the final boss.  The fake Haru had a lot of HP but self-destructed, and didn’t do any damage before that, and the final boss went down with one physical attack from Joker, making that part completely anti-climactic.

From a gameplay perspective, as noted in the link above the problem with it is that it’s a cheap mechanism that gets introduced here.  It also works against the general strategies that you’d use in the game, since it removes the Hold Up but still makes targeting weaknesses crucial to the fight.  If you haven’t been keeping attack boost items or abilities — and I hadn’t — and didn’t keep the more powerful attacks for the elements that they are weak to, you might not be able to take them down in the two rounds that you are given.  If that’s the case, then you’d just face wave after wave of enemies that you could never kill.  And since it’s timed, you can’t stop and think or look up the right strategy if you aren’t getting it.  I at least had a number of retries of the battle that I could use, but even a Plume of Dusk wouldn’t help me much if I had them because that would restore my HP and SP but the issue was that I didn’t have the right Personas in my inventory.  And as noted at the link, I — like many players — saved over my save file in the Palace and so would have, at a minimum, had to return to the previous morning to fix these issues.  You can comment that I should be keeping more saves, but I hadn’t needed it for any previous battles and having played the base game multiple times had no reason to expect that this could be a case where I could get stuck.

As another example of how bad this is from a gameplay perspective, one of the pieces of advice from the link is to ramp up the difficulty because it gives you more damage.  This obviously goes against the usual advice which would be to ramp it down if the battle was too challenging.

But I don’t think it makes as much sense thematically either.  Okumura treats his employees as an infinite disposable force, and so more waves that you have to fight through until he’s used them all up makes sense thematically.  Here, you effectively get one wave of each “type” that you have to clear.  However, the idea that if you do enough damage to them they run away and abandon him makes more sense as being a good thing for you as opposed to a bad thing, as that should be a way to shorten the time.  I would have imagined that if you hit their weak points or hit their weak points when they’re all down they abandon him which would leave it so that you’ve gotten through one wave faster and using less SP, which means that you are being more efficient and so face less challenges with the time limit.  Instead, despite his workers running away, he can find new ones to replace them over and over and over again, and he will, in fact, never actually run out of workers of that type.  Instead, once you defeat the ones of that type he has no more to throw at you, and so he runs out of types of workers, not actually out of workers.  The original one did feel far more like you facing an infinite number of workers and having to run him out of workers, which is then odd because the game, at the end, still has the scene where he calls for more workers and no one comes.  Working your way up through his hierarchy doesn’t fit as well with that, as he should have known that he had already used his best and last employee at that point.

It also doesn’t play well with the time limit, because in the base game you were facing hordes of enemies and hoping to clear them and the final boss out in that time limit, which made it more tense given that you don’t know how many waves you have to face the first time.  Here, if you have the right abilities and the right buffs and do the right debuffs you can clear all of the enemies in one or two waves of two rounds, except for the single robot that you don’t need to finish off in two rounds, so time is only a problem if you don’t know what you’re doing.

While I like having a cognitive Haru that faces you and the fact that he sacrifices her to attack you, her being so weak in general, at least against my party, hurts things.  And while having him be pretty much useless as a combatant is at least a valid way to go, it contrasts with how the other ones were and so begs for an explanation of that, which wasn’t the case in the base game.

So I find it inferior to the base game both in terms of gameplay and in terms of theme, and if I hadn’t figured out the strategy and managed to merge a decent Persona it might have blocked my game 50 hours in.  That’s probably not what they wanted to do.

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