Most fans seem to agree that Persona 5 Royal’s third semester offers some of the game’s strongest highlights, giving the story a conclusion that vastly improves upon the somewhat meandering final showdown from the original game. In many ways I find myself agreeing with this, minus a small selection of rather significant pieces of character writing that just didn’t sit right with me, leaving me feeling slightly more hollow than the ending of a Persona game typically does.
There really isn’t any way to discuss the third semester without delving into spoilers, so for those who haven’t finished Persona 5 Royal and seen the true ending, I advise not reading on.
With the mandatory spoiler warning out of the way, the characters I found myself feeling slightly disappointed with were the three biggest draws of the third semester: Sumire, Akechi, and Maruki. Sumire spends a lot of the game acting as an acquaintance of the Phantom Thieves, being by far the closest to their leader Joker, but she doesn’t officially join as a member until the final Palace. While players will almost certainly feel some attachment towards Sumire, given her recurring presence throughout the game, she never ends up truly feeling like a part of the core Phantom Thieves unit.
She simply just doesn’t have the same amount of time to carve out her own niche within the squad dynamic as the rest of the members. By the time she finally joins and truly awakens her Persona the final conflict is already underway, and roughly 85 hours of playtime have elapsed. There was an opportune moment to introduce her as a core member of the group earlier on in Shido’s Palace, with her even stating that she had an interest in joining around that time, but she ended up being turned down by Joker, delaying her official inauguration far past the point where it felt natural to be introducing a new party member.
The odd handling of Sumire’s role within the group extends past the final conflict too. She’s completely absent during Joker’s final goodbyes with completed Confidants, and in the closing cutscene of the game she only gives Joker the briefest of farewells, as opposed to the rest of the group who attempt to surprise him with a proper send-off. There’s a lot to enjoy about Sumire’s own personal growth throughout the duration of the third semester, but it’s greatly undermined by her lack of chemistry with the rest of the party. Even Akechi ends up feeling more integrated within the Phantom Thieves, having spent a substantial amount of time with them all prior to the third semester.
Speaking of everyone’s favorite traitor, it was a pleasant surprise to see Akechi making his return at this point in the story, and his immediate characterization is hugely entertaining. His short temper and vicious retorts are over-dramatic to a degree that it’s hard not to have fun with him around, but it’s very clear that he’s still putting up barriers, much like how his friendly persona (no pun intended) in the earlier parts of the game was just an act used to deceive. After all, Akechi’s two Personas are the perfect representation of his duelling ideals.
Despite this, we hardly get to see a more nuanced side to Akechi, or much of an attempt at a redemption arc. This would have been the perfect chance to develop Akechi further, allowing him to attempt to atone for his sins with a more honest and remorseful demeanor. Instead, we’re mostly left with a rather shallow depiction of the character, outside of one poignant scene where he opens up to Joker, confessing that he would rather cease to exist than spend any more of his life being manipulated. Akechi was one of Persona 5’s more fascinating characters, and while it’s great to see more of him, and team-up with him again for the last stretch of Royal, the lack of development or remorse for his prior actions leaves his character arc feeling no more complete than in the original release.
Lastly is Maruki, who by all accounts is written perfectly, from his motivations to the moral ambiguity of his goals, to his dialogue that constantly reinforces the notion that his actions are driven by a desire to provide everyone with the best life possible. Despite this, he gets the short end of the stick during the game’s ending. Given that his actions weren’t driven by malice, it would have been rewarding to get a proper catch-up with his current living situation. His main life’s ambition had fallen through, but between his counseling career and presumably high academic intelligence, seeing Maruki continuing to pursue some kind of ambitious line of work in treating mental health (without resorting to supernatural powers) would have been a fulfilling end to his story.
Although he was the main impetus behind the final stretch of the game, we only get a glimpse of his new lifestyle working as a taxi driver in the closing cutscene. There could be some kind of thematic reasoning behind having him in that line of work (something to do with delivering people where they choose to go instead of forcing their paths in life), but what was Maruki’s decision behind this? What led him to this career in particular? Has he completely given up on his research, or is he still pursuing research into cognitive psience as a side interest? Does he actually enjoy being a taxi driver, or is this a job he landed while deciding his next step in life? Did he manage to rebuild his relationship with Rumi considering she would likely remember him now? Did he decide to receive some form of counseling of his own to help process his past traumas? Needless to say, it’s a rather questionable end to a character who really needed a more definitive conclusion.
Despite these character grievances, Persona 5 Royal’s third semester still felt like a success overall, just not one totally devoid of a few failings. The clash of ideals between the Phantom Thieves and Maruki is by far the most nuanced aspect of the entire Persona 5 story, and the bevy of fan discussion that has followed is a good indicator that Atlus managed to tap into something special. It’s just a shame that a few of the characters ended up being sold slightly short in the process. At least it acted as a far more compelling continuation to the story than Marie’s dungeon and storyline in Persona 4 Golden; that might be worth celebrating in of itself.