Monday, September 25, 2017

RPG Talk: Persona 5

In which I talk (write) about RPGs from a storytelling perspective...

Platform: PS4 (also PS3)
Release: 2017

Persona 5 is my one sprawling JRPG for the year. There aren't many where I can go 100+ hours anymore, and even if I cut out some of the side stuff I was doing, How Long to Beat places the average main story only playthrough at 95 hours. Even by JRPG standards that's incredibly long, so what's taking up all that space?

I know this game is less than a year old at this point, so be aware there are late game spoilers below!

The story is structured to take place over eight elaborate heists that involve invading a Palace, a sort of mental construct that appears in the minds of those whose desires have been distorted. The Phantom Thieves steal the Palace treasures that represent the source of those distorted desires and thus return the target to the more compassionate human being they were before their desires took over their lives.

The bulk of the game takes place from April to December and with few exceptions, the player plays through each day on the calendar. The heists are spread out so there's typically a month or so in between each of them.

The payoff is that each Palace is a major event and they're so large that they're best broken up over multiple play sessions (or plan for your whole afternoon or evening to be spent clearing one). Seriously, a couple of them are so long that it might take five or six hours to push through. The cruise ship alone makes me wonder if I'll ever play this again. And each Palace prior to the penultimate dungeon brings a new party member, and as a result attempts to advance the story around them.

But the pacing suffers because of it. While new members are constantly joining it feels like the end is a far-off intangible thing. I remember being at the 70 hour mark and still wondering how much more I had to go, whereas with most other RPGs, I'd be done or tying off my last few side quests by now.

Both Persona 3 and 4 have all their playable characters in the party by September. In contrast, Akechi doesn't join until October, with his story dungeon taking place as late as early November depending on how much the player pushes the deadline, at which point it feels very late to be getting used to any new party members.

Akechi is introduced a lot earlier than when he joins, so he's not an unfamiliar face when it happens, but by the time he does it completely looks like final dungeon territory. I felt I barely had an opportunity to settle Akechi into my team dynamics (which turned out to not be a great idea) before it was confrontation time.

Though I realize there needs to be room to showcase all the characters from a main storyline perspective, there didn't need to be eight Palaces. Even allowing that each of the Palaces is thematically based on one of the Seven Deadly Sins, the designs double up on one, since they split Pride and Vanity into two different dungeons.

The thing is, the game settles into a routine. The Phantom Thieves decide on a target to reform, they infiltrate to figure out where in the target's Palace the treasure is located, they send a calling card which buys them real world notoriety as well as causing the treasure to manifest in a stealable form, and then steal the treasure so the person owns up to their crimes.

There's obviously a larger story going on, and there is a conspiracy involved that is happy to take the emergence of the Phantom Thieves as another pawn in its scheme, but the secrets are doled out so slowly that it doesn't really get going until the end of fifth Palace, when we see the black masked Persona-user kill someone for the first time and the Phantom Thieves take the fall.

This really needed to happen at the halfway point once all the setup was done, because it felt like the meat of the story was being held too far back. It's not that the earlier portion wasn't fun, because it was, but it was so long in getting to where it needed to be that my enthusiasm was waning in the final quarter even though I was finally getting the answers I wanted so much. That final leg was crazy good. It just needed to come sooner.

(From a gameplay perspective I might have been less critical about the pacing if the Palaces were shorter and Mementos did not exist. I'm fairly certain if the Palaces were half the size and the 67 floors of Mementos proper was removed, that would shave off a minimum of 30 hours. That's a lot of dungeon running.)

Once past the pacing issue, there's a lot to enjoy here.

The Persona games are a work of urban fantasy and typically tackle modern day concerns about apathy, alienation, and the effect of media on people's lives. Persona 5 is not any different, though initially it tackles it from the perspective of corruption.

The Phantom Thieves are "ordinary" high school students who, for one reason or another, are social outcasts. It could be because of a criminal record (in the protagonist's case), ethnic heritage (Ann's), poor social skills (Yuusuke's), etc. When they're pulled into the Metaverse, they recognize the unfairness of their situations and their decision to fight awakens their Personas. With the catlike Morgana as a guide to the Metaverse and how to use their powers, they become the Phantom Thieves to reform criminals and expose the corruption in society (becoming famous isn't a bad side effect either).

Persona 5 builds the methodology of the Phantom Thieves remarkable well as I've already written about, and lays out the possible ways their heists could go wrong early enough that it's less of a surprise when things finally do go belly up. It also makes the characters question whether or not what they are doing is right, though they typically talk themselves into it.

The thing is, the targets have no choice in the matter of their reformation. In fact, in most cases they don't want their hearts (treasures) stolen. Doing so causes their world to fall apart around them in an incredibly public fashion as they confess everything in front of as large an audience as possible while demanding that they be charged for their crimes.

Do they deserve it? Probably. Is it right? That's the harder question.

Ironically it's the traitor Akechi who voices the most reasonable argument against the Phantom Thieves. Regardless of their intentions, what they're doing is circumventing the law and administering justice on their own terms. Not only that, but going into the Palace is potentially dangerous to the target, since if their shadow is killed, they die in the real world as well.

I wish there had been a little more introspection on the part of the Phantom Thieves. While they don't have many options available to them (which is why they become the Phantom Thieves to begin with), they don't spend much time thinking about the morality of what they're doing. It does comes up, especially in the beginning, but pretty much drops off by the end, to the point where if they didn't destroy the Metaverse in order to defeat Yaldabaoth they probably would have continued being Phantom Thieves past the conclusion of the game.

Since the agreement between the team is that they only undertake an operation if all of them agree, it's a shame this wasn't exploited since it would have made for some interest teammate conflict if someone started to have second thoughts about their methods.

I feel like I'm mostly talking about bad things, even though I did enjoy the game, so there is one late game twist I want to discuss, because I think its execution was fabulous.

The Velvet Room has always been a safe haven in the Persona games. In fact, in more recent iterations, it even feels a world apart from the rest of the story since the protagonist is the only character who interacts with it and Philemon, Igor's master, no longer plays an active role in the series.

So when the protagonist landed in the Velvet Room for the first time, I had no reason to doubt the Igor I found in front of me. I was surprised that his voice had been recasted in the English version, but supposed that it had been done to match the Japanese recast, which similarly featured a deeper-voiced Igor. (Igor's original Japanese VA passed away after Persona 4.)

Igor's purpose is typically as a game mechanic. He fuses Personas for the player and provides some atmosphere regarding the protagonist's potential growth. Sometimes he alludes to events yet to come, but he's not an active player. Outside of the Persona fusion, he's very much on the sidelines. I did find it strange though that I could forge a Confidant link with him, seeing as he's less of a character than an idea.

In retrospect there are other clues that Persona 5's "Igor" is not who he seems. He does not fuse Personas like he normally does. Instead the Personas are "executed" by guillotines managed by the twin wardens Caroline and Justine. This initially seems like a thematic change due to the protagonist's Velvet Room looking like a prison (the Velvet Room takes on a different appearance depending on its visitor) and serves as an excellent way to hide that things are not business as usual.

Chances are "Igor" does not have the ability to fuse Personas at all, because the twist is that the Velvet Room has been taken over by another entity. I can't imagine that anyone saw it coming since it took advantage of a real world necessity (recasting Igor) and furthered covered it up with some clever misdirection in the game itself. Series newcomers would have been surprised regardless, but fooling the long time fans was well played indeed.

Sadly, Yaldabaoth himself is not a terribly interesting character, since as a supernatural entity he's more a force of nature than a complex personality. He masquerades as Igor for most of the game and is responsible for the protagonist's awakening as a Persona user, but it's more because he has a grand game in mind and he wanted to see which pawn (Goro Akechi or the protagonist) would win. And everything in the game stems from that.

It's not the shiniest bit of writing, but allows for a Seven Deadly Sins-themed boss fight at the end and some feel-good rallying around the Phantom Thieves as the rest of Tokyo cheers for them.

Really, the most appealing part of the later Persona games is the journey, the friends made along the way, and the stuff right up until the final boss. It's still too long for my tastes, but for the most part Persona 5 does this well and I'm looking forward to spending another bout of time with these characters when the anime comes out next year.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Persona 5: Logistics of a Female Protagonist

Having finished Persona 5 this past week, I starting thinking about what it would take to include a female protagonist in the inevitable re-release with bonus material.

I was disappointed that Persona 4: Golden didn't have an option where you could play as a female protagonist, considering that Persona 3 Portable did, but when I look at what was involved with making Persona 3's female main character (FeMC), I can see why they'd be reluctant to do it again.

Unlike a game like Dragon Age or Elder Scrolls where the character's gender rarely comes into play aside from romance options, the Persona games are heavily gendered even outside of romance. I'm not sure if it's a Japanese cultural issue or just that life as a teenage girl often is different from that of a teenage boy. For instance, in Persona 3 one of the male MC's friends is a high school boy crushing on his teacher and he wants to start a romantic relationship with her. It's not terribly likely that he would confide this kind of crush to a female friend.

That Social Link was completely replaced in the FeMC's version of the game. (The student himself still exists, but he's not one of the FeMC's friends.) And it wasn't the only Social Link that was either replaced or rewritten. All existing female party member Social Links were redone to bond as girls rather than romance a guy, and all the male party members, who didn't even have Social Links in the original (!), had to be written from scratch and added to the game.

Persona 5 as it stands has nine female characters who are romance options, and because this is Persona the player will be getting to know them regardless for gameplay bonuses (though romance at the end is still optional). Looking at the list of Confidants, and likely male targets of affection, we have the player's fellow party members, Yusuke and Ryuji, classmate Mishima, and that's pretty much it.

It's possible a tortured romance could be managed with Goro Akechi (they did manage one with Ryoji in P3), which would bring the number up to four, but most of the male characters in the game aren't suitable. Shinya's too young, Iwai's too old (though if my character was 10-20 years older sure), and Sojiro's the player's surrogate dad. So if they wanted to do a female route, it would require an extensive reworking of the Confidants.

Kawakami would probably go, since hiring a cosplay maid to clean your room on a dare from your guy friends is less probable for a FeMC. A few other female links would probably have to be replaced without anything inherently being wrong with them to allow enough romance options.

While I wouldn't mind female love interests for a FeMC, the game would still be short of male options, and a lot of dialogue would still need to be changed. For instance, someone seeing two teenage girls hanging out together probably won't jump to the conclusion that they're dating in the same way they would if it's a boy and a girl, unless there's some other context involved.

Also worth noting is that three, possibly four, of the current romance options are adult women. (Chihaya seems out be out of high school, but she might still be a teenager and in Japan the legal age of adulthood is 20.) While dating your teacher or a twenty-something woman is a teenage male fantasy, the situation becomes a lot creepier when playing a teenage girl with her adult male love interests.

It might not be fair, since teenage girls crush on adults just as much as teenage boys, but I think the potential squick factor and the chances of the adult being viewed as a predator is higher. (Granted, the consensual male teacher, female student relationship is not unheard of in shoujo manga so it's possible the Japanese player base might not bat an eye at it.)

I remember a relatively obscure visual novel, Sweet Fuse, came out to the US a few years ago which originally had a seventeen-year-old female protagonist. Half her potential love interests were in their 20s and one was even in his 30s. When it came out in the US, her age was bumped up to 18 so she was at least legal. This wouldn't work for Persona 5 though, considering that much of the game takes place in school and the player is pretty obviously not a senior since they have upperclassmen.

Also an issue, especially for the English localization since our language is more pronoun dependant, is that all the spoken dialogue that refers to the main character's gender would have to be re-recorded. Considering that there was not enough room to hold dual audio Japanese and English audio (Japanese was a free DLC), adding a gender might take up enough space that the audio wouldn't fit (and hitting download to get your gender VO DLC just sounds terrible).

Considering the work involved (and this is assuming no other new content), is there enough reason to go through all this trouble for a game that's already out in the wild? I'd like to say yes, but I don't know what the sales figures were for P3P. It's possible that for a re-release it wasn't worth the money spent and that's why Persona 4 Golden didn't off a gender option.

Financially I'd like to hope that Persona 5 knocked it out of the park. The series has been getting increasingly better recognition ever since Persona 3 and P5 has been the fastest selling installment in the series. It's far too soon for Atlus to announce a re-release, but give it a couple more years and something will likely come down the line.

And I really hope there's a female protagonist. I want to be a female Phantom Thief next time around.

Monday, September 11, 2017

In Memoriam: Jerry Pournelle

We lost Jerry Pournelle last Friday, and like a lot of senior authors in my field, I only happened to meet him because I had won the Writers of the Future contest. While he had been in declining health these past few years, that didn't discourage him from traveling or attending conventions, even as recently as a couple weeks ago when he went to DragonCon.

Jerry was the kind of man who embodied the word "cantankerous" more than any other person I've ever met. It was difficult to argue with him, because not only was he sharp and opinionated, but he was also hard of hearing.

As a newbie in the field I was afraid to approach him, because I figured getting away with a light burn would be a best case scenario. I probably would not have talked to him at all if Brennan Harvey hadn't approached him first at our local Loscon convention, where Jerry was a regular. Brennan waved me over and introduced me to Jerry as a former WotF winner.

I figured Jerry had forgotten all about me, and even though I introduced myself again, he still didn't recall my name. That was all right. There are a dozen winners every year and after a while I'd be surprised if anyone could remember all the names. By then it had been a few years, so forgetting me wouldn't be unusual. But then Jerry asked me to tell him what my winning story was.

I explained that my story was called "Living Rooms" and it was about the daughter of a magician who had come home to discover her father had passed away, leaving her with a magical house, if only she can stave off a rival magician who wishes to claim it.

Jerry did not remember my name, but he remembered my story.

Each quarter of Writers of the Future has four judges. I had known who three of mine were, but the fourth had remained a mystery. It turned out that Jerry was the fourth. I was surprised, because he's a hard science fiction author, and my piece was clearly fantasy, but as Larry Niven told me, it's not that Jerry disliked fantasy. He just didn't write it himself.

For the next two Loscons, whenever I ran into him and had to introduce myself again, I always told him my story, because otherwise he wouldn't remember.

But once he did, it was easy to talk to him again, and he was an entertaining man to listen to. He was one of the first established authors I told the premise of my upcoming novel to. At the time I was nervous, because speaking about it was like jinxing it, but Jerry liked the idea. He laughed, with a big smile on his face, and said it sounded good.

It was incredibly encouraging, and I hope when it finally comes out, other people will smile and laugh as well.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Otome Has Grown in the US

When I was a kid, things that were considered girl games were more like Strawberry Shortcake. Take a popular girl toy property, slap it on a video game, and that made it a game for girls.

When I think of the female-oriented games I play now, I usually think of otome visual novels, which have surprisingly caught on in the US. When Hakuoki first landed a few years ago I picked it up as a novelty, not realizing that it was the opening of a floodgate. Sweet Fuse landed shortly after from the same US publisher, Aksys, and though it was fun, most of the character designs weren't very appealing and some of the age differences between the teenage protagonist and her potential adult love interests were pretty skeevy.

I thought Sweet Fuse was likely a miscalculation and dampened unethusiasm for anything that wasn't more Hakuoki, seeing that Aksys ended up releasing the latter over and over again on just about every platform available (and is still re-releasing more Hakuoki with new, bonus content).

But then more stuff landed. Otomate released Amnesia on Steam via its own international branch and the indie scene developed. Re:Alistair, Seduce Me, and The Blind Griffin are all free or name your price English-language originals that serve as introductions to the developers' commercial works, but even at the price of free, they're all good, though much shorter than the average Otomate title. (I particularly like The Blind Griffin for letting me play a Chinese protag in Roaring 20's San Francisco.) And they're just the tip of the iceberg.

A quick scan through Steam will uncover dozens more, mostly indie, though there are a few from more established publishers, particularly from Japan, Korea, and China, and though I'm not a mobile gamer it seems like iOS and Android has tons of them, of which Mystic Messenger is probably the most prominent. The Vita is still the flagship for most of the non-mobile otome produced by Japan.

Otome is common enough now that we have Hatoful Boyfriend (in which the player romances pigeons) which wouldn't work as a parody of the genre without some level of genre knowledge to begin with. I mean sure, it can be passed off as a dating sim just to get the point across that the goal is romance, but what the player is doing isn't really dating. Usually an otome is like playing through a choose your own adventure romance novel with fewer choices and more novel. (And lots of lovely pictures!)

Now there are more coming out than I can reasonably expect to play, even if I limit it just to Otomate translations (which is admittedly my favorite publisher, because they usually have a very engaging story beyond the romance and they don't use stat-raising mechanics). I'm currently sitting with Norn9: Var Commons in my backlog. I bought it last year because Aksys had a sale at Anime Expo and I probably won't get around to it this year either.

I'm mildly curious about Period: Cube, but I don't have time to add it right now, and supposedly Bad Apple Wars is coming later this fall. Aksys has already announced three more otome titles for next year, and Otomate, which makes the bulk of otome that Aksys localizes, just announced eight new titles at their Otomate Party event this past weekend, not counting fandiscs and new installments of existing series.

It's a way to look at what we might see down the line in 2019, and I figure Aksys will pick up the cream of the crop.

I have no idea how the writing's going to be, because that's what really decides whether it's a good game, but my personal hope is that Variable Barricade makes the cut.


Otome heroines are often sweet, compassionate characters without rough edges for the guys to fall in love with. At most she might be "spunky" but never too assertive. Variable Barricade's protagonist looks like she's ready to kick the asses of all her over the top suitors. While I'm sure romance works out in the end, having a combative protagonist could be a lot of fun.

At this point I think otome is here to stay. Even if all the Asian publishers pulled out, the indie scene is strong enough to keep going, and it's better to have too much fluffy romance gaming than not enough!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Thoughts on Netflix's Death Note

I'm in a month where I'm currently subscribing to Netflix, which is not my usual state of being. I don't watch much aside from anime (maybe one live action series and a movie two or three times a year). But Netflix's rendition of Death Note landed last Friday, so I'm actually in a position where I could watch it.

And there was a part of me that was morbidly curious about it.

The thing is, Death Note has been adapted multiple times already, so I'm not concerned about fidelity to the original. The anime exists for that. (When I mean original, I mean the manga.) Japan has already made live action movies and a live action TV drama, the latter of which I enjoyed and reviewed for Diabolical Plots last year.

You can deviate and still tell a good story. The TV drama Light was a softer, more sympathetic character than the original and his father actually confronts him over being Kira. It added a nice tension that didn't exist before. As someone who was already familiar with the story, it was a nice alternate take on the series.

I hoped, in my better moments, that the Netflix version would be the same, but the more I saw of it, the less I liked it, and ultimately I decided to pass. I don't need to add a view to the tracker that Netflix uses to see who's watching want. I don't want to give it that kind of recognition.

But on the other hand, I think it's worth talking about why I'm not watching, because it might be of use.

1) The best thing about Death Note is the cat-and-mouse game between Light and L

Apparently, this is not a thing in the Netflix version.

Particularly, in the early volumes of the manga, how Light manages to track and trick his enemies so he could kill them was freaking amazing, especially when he manages to murder a bunch of FBI agents without seeing their faces or even knowing where they are.

The Death Note is the supernatural device that allows the story to happen, but how people use the Death Note is what makes interesting. It's all about discovering the limits of the rules and then bending them in a creative fashion. Light's tests of his power are what attract L's attention.

L knows that Light requires certain information to use his power, because of his behavior, but he has no way of knowing about the Death Note's existence, so there's a lot of the two feeling each other out to find out how much their opponent knows.

2) The series follows Light becoming an irredeemable psychopath

One of things I really disliked from one of the Netflix trailers was that Light looks like he's pushed into using the Death Note by Ryuk, which implies that he's a victim of some kind and it's not entirely his fault.

Whereas in the original, Light tries the Death Note and murders dozens of people before Ryuk ever shows up. Ryuk is more of a witness, who is there neither to help nor hinder Light, so much as to have a good time observing the chaos unfold. Light's fall is entirely due to his own hubris.

If he had been a less arrogant criminal, he probably would have continued long past the point the manga ended, but Light's character flaw is that winning is not enough. He has to rub the win into the face of his enemies. That's why he falls.

3) How the whitewashing concern was handled

I am not as bothered by the accusation of whitewashing for this one, because I don't think it's a uniquely Japanese story aside from the concept of shinigami (though I could be wrong, I'm certainly not Japanese), and I think this could have been adapted without Ryuk if it came down to it.

But the way the criticism was handled was lame. Saying that the roles had already been cast before Ghost in the Shell blew up isn't an excuse, because whitewashing has been concern since long before Ghost in the Shell. It's more of an admission that they didn't think they would get bitten in the butt over it. I've written about how Asian Americans who can find careers overseas often do, because there aren't the opportunities for them here.

I find it incredibly ironic that the one Asian cast member in Netflix's Death Note is for a character who likely wasn't Asian at all in the original. (Watari's real name is Quillsh Wammy and he hails from England.) Considering that the original cast was mostly Japanese, it would have been nice to have someone in the main cast who wasn't the assistant played by an Asian actor.

My Netflix sub is still good for a few weeks so I'll probably watch something to make use of it while I can, but it's not going to be Death Note.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Baen Fantasy Adventure Award

I've been sitting on this news for about a month and a half now, but I finally can say that my short story "And Not Go Hungry" placed third in the annual Baen Fantasy Adventure Award contest. The award ceremony was at GenCon this past weekend.

Unfortunately I was unable to go, so editor Jim Minz read a speech I had sent him and accepted on my behalf. I was pleasantly surprised when "And Not Go Hungry" was announced as a finalist, as I hadn't expected a story about Chinese laborers in World War I to have done well, even if involves guardians of the underworld and jiangshi. It's an unorthodox setting for fantasy adventure, though the judges seem to have been open to that and for that I'm grateful.

It's also an excellent example of why writers should not self-reject. If it looks like it could work, let the editors decide.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Persona 5 - Flashback's Over, Caught Up With the Present

I'm a bit slow compared to other people, so I'm still winding my way through Persona 5, and this weekend I finally caught up to where the story starts.

When the game begins, it's in media res. The Phantom Thieves are in the middle of a heist gone wrong and the protagonist, code-named Joker, is captured by the police. He's told that there was a traitor among his teammates and he's been sold out. That's not a spoiler. That all happens before the player even gets to enter his name.

As he's being interrogated by the prosecutor in charge of his case, the game flashes back to the chronological start of his story, when he first arrives in Tokyo, and then proceeds forward from there, in the day by day fashion of the Persona series since the third entry.

Spoilers from here on!

The real reason I wanted to write this post is because of Goro Akechi. He is the last party member to join the team and the one I was looking forward to the most, because I knew from early promotional material that he was a teen detective and I liked the idea of hauling a detective around with my band of phantom thieves after he became convinced that what we were doing was actually for the greater good.

I knew he had a Persona, so it seemed like a done deal that he would be part of the party. And he was portrayed on my lovely Steelbook disc case, just like all the other thieves. He's also shown with the gang on the title screen, towards the back of the line-up along with other late comers. His Persona, once we see it, is Robin Hood, and considering that the Persona is a manifestation of what's in one's heart, it's easy to read him as an honorable sort of thief. One's outfit in the Metaverse is supposed to be a sign of how a person rebels against society, and his a white, princely set of attire. Akechi sees himself as a good person.

Which is really weird, because of the plot revelations that happen at the end of the sixth Palace.

Mind, I haven't played past those plot revelations yet, so there are possibly good explanations of everything. I'm only going to cover my thoughts up until the day after Joker's arrest, because I have thoughts on the handling of Akechi's betrayal.

We first meet him as a high school detective who's a bit of a media celebratory due to his age and capability, and he's one of the first to speak out against the Phantom Thieves, not because he thinks they are bad people so much as they are taking the law into their own hands. He's the Confidant representing the Justice arcana, so it makes sense that he would take such a stance.

He continues to appear throughout the story, gradually befriending Joker despite their opposing views on the Phantom Thieves. Though Akechi is against them, it never comes off as malicious, and when the Phantom Thieves are framed, he defends them because the crime doesn't fit their usual MO.

This culminates in the Phantom Thieves reaching out to Akechi to help clear their name at the same time that Akechi reaches out to them to bring the real criminal to justice. However, unlike my hope of Akechi joining the team because he has been persuaded, he actually blackmails the team into working with him. They help him with this job and he won't reveal their true identities to the police. Also, they will have to disband afterwards.

It's a pretty crappy deal, but I could see where he was coming from. The Phantom Thieves, despite their good intentions, are vigilantes and working outside the law.

Now, ever since Akechi was introduced, some odd things happened, some of which the player is likely to remember, others which might slip by unnoticed or forgotten (especially the early ones).

The first one that happens in the story is that Akechi unknowingly hears Morgana without knowing that it was a cat talking. Only people who have been to the Metaverse can hear Morgana's real voice instead of a cat meowing. So when Akechi comes around the corner he remarks on Morgana's suggestion to get pancakes, thinking it had been another member of the group speaking, but if he had been an ordinary person, he shouldn't have heard that at all.

He reacts a second time to hearing Morgana ahead of going into the Metaverse with the Phantom Thieves when they arrange a meeting with him at their school, though by this time the Phantom Thieves are aware of his prior screw-up.

Also, just from the player's perspective, when the president of Okumura Foods is killed, there is a silhouette who walks in after he is shot. The silhouette matches Akechi's distinctive mask when in his Phantom Thief outfit.

Finally, getting one's Persona in a Persona game is a big deal and generally involves overcoming a personal obstacle. We never see or hear from Akechi about how he awakened his.

So even though I was happy that he had finally joined my team and I used him throughout the sixth Palace, I had some suspicions about him, even before he figuratively stabbed the Phantom Thieves in the back. Knowing what I did, it felt incredibly obvious that Akechi would be the traitor in the opening segment of the game, and I was hoping for a twist where I would discover it was someone else.

But Akechi was the traitor, and when he walked into my protagonist's holding cell and "killed" him (not realizing that he'd actually off-ed a dummy), that pretty much ruined any chance of him having an alternate agenda.

So what bothered me about this, is that there was a plan underway, and I didn't know it was happening.

I knew that Akechi was likely the traitor, and most of the game up until now has been Joker telling the prosecutor his side of the story. But the problem was that Joker was now caught and there's a traitor on the loose. And just how was Joker going to avoid getting killed?

After a lot of story scenes, it comes out that the the Phantom Thieves have been planning this operation for the better part of the past month, though the player has been left in the dark. We see some of the scenes, but not all of them, so the characters have context, though we do not.

Considering that Akechi's betrayal was not entirely unexpected, I felt a little disappointed being left out of the planning process.

I assume this decision was made so the player would end up at the opening scene of the game with a feeling of dread, knowing that they were about to get caught, rather than an "All right! It's time to put this plan in action!"

It worked, but I can't help feeling a bit cheated. Joker is supposed to be the player surrogate so everything he knows I should know, and while the game waves it off as part of the drugs he got injected with at the start of his imprisonment, it still bothers me that a lot of other memories are crystal clear.

If the injection was messing with his memories, there should been other things that Joker ended up forgetting aside from details related to the plan to expose Akechi and his boss. Just a little blurring or not entirely remembering things in the days leading up to the heist would have gone a long way. Not only would it have tipped off the player, but it would probably do so in a way that increased the amount of dread because the player would know something was being lost.

And while Akechi being the traitor is a thing, I'm still puzzled by him. I assume the answers will come later, since I'm not done with his Confidant storyline. He has a Persona, and the representation of his inner self in the Metaverse is one of good, so even though he appears to have the capability of a cold-hearted killer, there's got to be more to his character than being a teenage assassin.