Persona 5 Royal: Maruki

So in this post I’m going to talk about the other new S-link and story important character, the school counselor Maruki.  Again, I’m going to talk about how he fits as an addition to the original story and about his specific story, and so again I’ll be spoiling his story (and Yoshizawa’s as well) and so again if you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read past this point.

So, Maruki is introduced as a counselor brought to the school to deal with the fall out from the abusive behaviour of the first palace and the volleyball coach.  Given that, it’s pretty easy to get him interacting with the team by forcing the original three team members — Joker, Ann and Ryuji — into taking a session with him given that they were the ones who clashed the most and were abused the most by him (the latter two especially).  So there are a number of scenes where each team member goes to see him to enter into discussions about their issues.  The biggest disappointment with these scenes is that they don’t really reveal anything about those characters and aren’t really used in the epilogue, either with him using those desires against them when arguing that they should accept his vision or in crafting their perfect worlds.  Everything we see follows from what we find out in the palaces, not in what they tell him.  Yes, those would be the same things and we can assume that he got some detailed information about them from the sessions, but the link isn’t really made and so the details of the events aren’t really important to the story.  The most it does is remind us that he exists and lets us see him as someone who cares about the happiness of the team members.

In the S-link, Maruki asks for your perspective as a way to help him complete his paper on cognitive psience — the same thing that Futaba’s mother was working on — and in exchange he’ll give you some mental training — that mostly increases your SP — as well as some snacks.  I couldn’t resist going along with the joke when he is introduced to you and Ryuji and expressing interest in the snacks, when Ryuji, at least, really, really didn’t want to go.  The discussions are interesting and are a bit deeper than you’d normally find in the S-links, being about how to help people and what really makes people happy.  We also find out in the S-link that the main reason that he became a counselor was because he was engaged to be married and due to a robbery or some kind of attack on her parents she became mentally disturbed and he couldn’t really find a way to help her.  This not only makes him a more sympathetic character and provides a reason for him to have taken up that job and to be interested in cognitive psience and in his paper, but it also is important to the story and is shown later.  So the structure of the S-link is actually pretty good and does set things up really well for his role in the epilogue, which was a weakness with Yoshizawa’s S-link.

So, in the epilogue it starts with a bit of a mystery, which is that everyone seems to suddenly be living a perfect life, but Joker and it turns out Akechi remember things being quite different.  They trace the disturbance to a palace in a stadium that is being built that Joker first found with Yoshizawa, and at first he and Akechi explore it, and then they discover that Yoshizawa also at least can be broken from her delusion and she goes in as well.  This is when they discover that Maruki has the power to completely alter reality and that he used it originally on Yoshizawa.  They make a plan to stop him, but all of the team members other than them are caught up in the illusion and so Joker has to go through and try to encourage them to give up their delusions, but when the battle starts they don’t show up and it’s only these three.  At the end of the battle, however, it turns out that Joker has indeed converted them and they reject the delusion as well, which then leads to a debate with Maruki over what the right way to live is and a new deadline for the palace:  he’s going to be able to complete his plans on a certain date, and he wants you to come over to his side, but if you aren’t going to do that you had better stop him before then.

One of the more annoying aspects of this is that everyone on your team is incredibly and profusely apologetic over not siding with you and falling for the delusion.  Why this is annoying is that for pretty much all of them it’s absolutely and perfectly understandable why they would.  Futaba gets her mother back.  Makoto gets her father back.  Haru gets her father back and he’s not totally obsessed with money and business.  And so on and so forth.  So it’s perfectly understandable that they would be caught up in this new world.  And, in fact, it’s required to be perfectly understandable because Maruki is deliberately trying to create a world where everyone is happy.  So while them feeling guilty over staying in the delusion is reasonable, you can’t really ever tell them or get them to realize that it’s okay that they wanted to stay there and that even coming out of that is admirable itself.  So that you couldn’t really resolve that for them bothered me.

Another problem with the setup for me is that you spend a lot of time arguing with Maruki over what the right kind of world is, but you can’t ever really say or make any really good argument, or anything that could even convince him.  You can’t argue that while going through pain is bad overcoming that has improved their lives, and that a lot of things won’t happen if they didn’t, such as the satisfaction Futaba feels after overcoming her fear of the outside or Makoto gaining the resolve to set out her own life and want she wants to do.  Ultimately, the entire rest of the game sets out that while the pain isn’t great and is something that we’d want to avoid in general, going through some struggles is important for defining who we are and what we want in life.  Maruki’s model takes all of that away in favour of guiding people towards the most painless existence they can have, as some questions later explicitly state when they talk about someone who was struggling in one career being rewritten to have the career that they are best at, even if it isn’t the most satisfying.  Maruki himself talks about the benefits of overcome struggles but quickly dismisses it and, again, you yourself can’t really bring it up.  This makes the debates not really debates at all, which are the most frustrating sorts of debates, especially if they happen frequently, and here they happen pretty much every time you talk to him.  Yes, there’s no way this game would let you actually convince him that he’s wrong in a debate, but it might have been nice to shake him up a bit and make him question his approach with some of the options, before he clamps down on himself showing that he, himself, is caught up in his own delusions.

This is also where his having brought Yoshizawa to the school and having faked her records to make her appear to everyone as Kasumi would have worked better.  Maruki would already have been “altering reality”, but in a mundane way, and when faced with all the complications of doing that would grab onto the idea of doing it all at once and completely.  And given the issues with other people breaking that — remember, Yoshizawa kept having people and you make suggestions about things that risked breaking the delusion — it would be perfectly reasonable for him to hit on the “perfect” solution and change everyone all at once, which would avoid anyone having any reason or ability to break anyone else’s delusion and would achieve his goal of making everyone happy at the same time.  Why wouldn’t he do that?  But at the same time, he’d have to accept that this is the only way he can do that, so it’s this or nothing, which could explain why he can’t be talked out of it.

You also get Akechi as a team member for a much longer time than we had before — and entire palace and a long Mementos (the freshmaker!) sequence — and I both like and dislike it.  The thing I like about it is that for the first time in a modern Persona game — starting from Persona 3 — we have a member of the team who has a radically different perspective on things than the rest of the team and only sticks with the team because they have a common interest in stopping the villains.  This allows Akechi to snark at the team about their altruistic motives and suggest more … fatal options that the team wouldn’t consider.  Having that kind of conflict in the team is interesting and adds a dimension that the previous games didn’t have.  On the other hand, it’s annoying because Akechi is very one-note about this and tries to chime in on this at every opportunity, so it gets old rather quickly.  He has an interesting perspective and clash with the team, but it’s overused so much that he becomes annoying.

Let me talk briefly about the final boss fight.  I think it’s both slightly easier and slightly harder than the actual final battle from the main game.  I think it’s easier because Maruki is less of a threat and doesn’t do as much damage (at least on Easy).  But it’s harder because in the final battle from the main game if you have your characters with their evolved Personas you can simply fire off their multi-target attacks most of the time — especially for Ann — and attack all the arms at once to keep them under control, whereas for Maruki his tentacles are only weak to certain things and regenerate really quickly so the strategy I found that worked was being very careful about what weaknesses I hit and so working through the Baton Pass to be able to do massive damage and clear everything out to avoid him hitting me and to be able to get the most damage I could on him and his Persona.  It worked, but once I hit on that strategy it seemed like it was more a matter of time than that I was under a real threat.  Things, obviously, might be different on higher difficulties.

The ending of the entire thing is very cinematic, with a huge Persona and things falling apart and an attempt to save Maruki.  But the issue with this is that, again, you don’t win by convincing Maruki that his plan is wrong through the strength you and your team gained from your experiences and by Akechi’s willingness to sacrifice to have a world where he can choose his own path.  Instead, the fact that you didn’t give in and, presumably, wanted to save Maruki is enough to get Lavensa to reset everything so that the world will proceed the way it was supposed to (which means according to the events in the original game, including Joker being imprisoned).  That again makes the debates pointless and also conflicts with the theme of the other two games, where the team’s resistance and beating the final boss — and being willing to stand up and sacrifice to do that — ended up convincing those powers that their plan was wrong or that their idea of humanity was wrong.  And those were basically if not literally gods.  Here, we have a human acting out of human frailty and we cannot win the battle and get things reset by convincing him that he’s wrong.  Yes, the ending may imply that, ultimately, we did convince him, but the theme is not hit strongly enough to link to what we’ve seen before but it’s also not subverted enough to play as a subversion.

I also don’t like how the epilogue alters the ending, as it sidelines the team in favour of the new characters.  In the original ending, the team rents a van to take Joker to the station, and then decides to take one last road trip to take him all the way home.  In this ending, they instead distract the agents following them — in the original ending, Morgana sabotages their car so they can’t follow — and Maruki, as a taxi driver, takes Joker to the train station, so he goes home alone.  And the last person he sees is Yoshizawa in full Kasumi appearance, which gives her an importance that she didn’t have in the story and, again, contradicts her accepting herself as Sumire instead of Kasumi.  I really liked the original ending for how complete it felt and how it really was an ending that focused on the team and ended it in a way that perfectly captured how the team itself worked and interacted.  Here that’s all shoved aside to focus on the new characters, when they were themselves asides for almost all of the game, and the team was still important in the epilogue.  I found that very disappointing.

At the end of the day, though, the Maruki story works, the Yoshizawa story works not quite as well, and the additions to the game itself are generally good.  I have no idea when I might be able to find another 92 hours to replay this game, but I do have a desire to do so at some point.

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