I remember downloading Persona 5 on a cool spring day in early 2019 when I was in-between jobs and had a lot of time to kill. It’s the first game in the series that I’ve played, and I figured I’d give it a go based purely on word of mouth.
Immediately hooked by its seemingly endless style and colorful cast of characters, I quickly dove into building relationships with those around me. Across the span of nearly 20 hours, I helped “Joker” (Persona 5’s protagonist) grow closer to his new friends and try to ace his classes (my success is owed in large part to Google, not unlike my own high school years).
Everything was wonderful. I hummed along to the soundtrack when I wasn’t playing, and when I was, I imagined myself getting to know the likes of Ann, Ryuji, and Yusuke (my favorite group at the time). Persona 5 is a game to lose yourself in, one that drowns you in style and drama, constantly pushing you to take your time and soak it all in.
So why did I stop playing it?
Somewhere in the game’s second palace (Persona’s version of dungeons), I absolutely hit the wall. I fought my way to the palace’s boss, a truly despicable and sleazy “artist” who preyed on his proteges’ work, and thought I was prepared to take him down. I failed miserably on my first try. And then on the next. And the next.
And so on.
After my third or fourth try that night, I put the controller down and went to bed. I told myself I’d try again in the morning, and then I didn’t play it for almost six months.
Growing up, I had always been the kind of person to tackle games on the hardest difficulty. I wanted to hone my skills and be the best at every game I played, whether it was clearing Call of Duty campaigns on “veteran” difficulty or playing through Kingdom Hearts on “critical” mode. I craved the challenge and the subsequent rush of victory.
Persona 5, up to the point I played until, had not been an overly difficult game. Sure, I failed once or twice in previous palaces where I overestimated myself and the strength of my Phantom Thieves, but it never felt frustrating or impossible.
Things have changed, though. I no longer have the time to play video games that I used to in high school and college. When I do play, I want to make it worth my while. I want to cut through the nonsense and have fun.
This had led me to playing the majority of games on easier difficulties, something I never thought I’d do. I like my games to have at least a little challenge, but due to real-life circumstances, I don’t have the time to attempt a boss fight six times in one night. I don’t want to spend my precious free time mindlessly grinding for better gear, leveling up aimlessly. I just want to enjoy the experience.
Recently, I’ve once again found myself in-between work (thanks, coronavirus!), and I decided to get the band back together, so to speak. Loading the game back up and seeing the Phantom Thieves again felt like reconnecting with a group of old friends. In the age of social distancing and quarantine, this feeling resonated with me more than it probably would have under different circumstances.
But before I did anything, before I even spoke to my party, I went to the Settings menu and changed the game difficulty to “easy.”
And you know what? The boss fight that I was stuck on was still difficult, but I beat it on my first try. Since then, I’ve been able to explore Persona 5’s beautiful and vibrant version of Japan once again, without the tedium of impossible roadblocks in my way. I’ve been able to dive into a game that I loved so much, reawakening and deepening that love even further.
Since that second chance and new perspective, I’ve stolen hearts, gone to the amusement park with friends, explored the metaverse, and studied hard at school. And I’ve done it without worrying about if I was leveled highly enough, without any frustration at all.
One of Persona 5’s tenants is “take your time.” It appears on every loading screen, encouraging you to soak everything in and enjoy the journey. Ever since I returned to lead the Phantom Thieves, I’ve done just that. I’ve made friends and enemies, explored a city, and contributed to high school drama—and I kicked a whole lot of ass in the meantime. They never saw it coming.