(Ed. Note: This piece is long and will contain spoilers to Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal. If you haven’t played either and want to, please avoid reading any further. Hell, the title of this piece is somewhat spoileriffic. You have been warned.)
As I sit here typing this, I know that countless others have covered this topic–possibly better than I because of their experiences within the Persona series (I’ve only played 5, Royal and have yet to finish 4). I have wondered this since finishing the vanilla Persona 5 and, more recently, its sequel/reimaging Persona 5 Royal: was Goro Akechi redeemed by the end of the story? Better yet, is he even worth redemption?
For those unaware with what in the blue hell I’m talking about, here’re some thoughts about Persona 5. Goro Akechi is a character within the series of games, serving both as a frenemy and as a straight-up asshole of a tertiary villain with daddy issues. We’re first introduced to Akechi early on in the story as a detective, speaking out against the Protagonist Joker and the Phantom Thieves.
Akechi’s reasons for doing so are two-fold. First, he wants to show their brand of justice as out of line with his detective appearance. Second, he ultimately wants to use them to pin the blame for his own contract killings/mental shutdowns. Said deaths are caused by him entering into the Metaverse and killing the shadows of his targets, thus causing their real-life counterparts to die in a pretty violent way. Akechi worms his way into the Phantom Thieves’ plans like a calculating sociopath.
Saying that he’s the only thing that’s keeping the group from being arrested for said series of Akechi-perpetrated murders, the guy sets the Phantom Thieves up to take the fall (by bringing real-world cops into the Metaverse). It’s only through the Phantom Thieves figuring out what Akechi was after that they’re able to flip the script. And, you know, heroes heroing the hell out and some convenient JRPG goodness.
In the vanilla game, we’re given a somewhat quick and cobbled-together backstory to Goro Akechi. Masayoshi Shido, the guy who set Joker up and set forth the chain of events in the game, is Akechi’s dad. Shido’s a dickhead to Akechi’s mom. Akechi’s mom kills herself. Orphan Akechi swears revenge on a “rotten adult” and becomes a “detective” while also involving himself in the whole cognitive psience debacle Shido wanted to shut down (no one man–besides him–should have all that power, after all). Akechi and Joker are seen as two sides of the same coin in the Game of Fates between Igor and the God of Control.
Towards the end of the game, players fight Akechi in Shido’s Palace. After defeating him, we ultimately see Akechi turn face and say “go change Shido’s heart for my sake and your own.” His fate is left up in the air, even though we hear him shot and presumably killed at the hands of a shadow version of himself.
Before playing Royal, I’d read people saying that they empathized with Akechi’s plight and I just couldn’t see it. Yeah, he was rejected by society and the only way he could be close to his father was to murder for him. That’s sad, for sure.
With that in mind, the vanilla version of the character was, to me, pretty much irredeemable. He wasn’t even tsundere shonen rival levels of cold.
This dude was okay with shooting Joker in cold blood and faking a suicide attempt.
He was okay with plotting to murder the entire Phantom Thieves gang–along with actually killing countless others. He was manipulative and failed to be the appropriate Wildcard Igor and the God of Control wanted because he stayed by himself. Instead of utilizing others and their strength to complement his own, Akechi pretty much just used everyone he came across to finish his goal(s).
No amount of love for pancakes could make me feel bad for his fate. But a funny thing happened between the end of Akechi in P5 and the end of P5R.
In Royal, we get to at least see more of what makes Goro Akechi tick. He’s still seen as competitive, still an orphan killer-for-hire and the same frenemy to Joker. However, while he’s still insane with rage against the system that’s failed him, he’s more human. We find out that, while he hates Joker, he respects him enough to fight him one-on-one in Mementos.
His treatment in the core game made me feel for him more than it did for me during P5. Then, we get into the third semester and everything we thought we knew turns on its head.
Akechi is still mad AF but he’s more helpful towards the Phantom Thieves’ goal of stopping Dr. Maruki’s dream world. He tells Joker to try to get the rest of the team back to reality after first running into Maruki’s powers. Akechi starts to work well with others, often showing a sliver of empathy towards people. In the initial fight against Sumire, Akechi states that he can’t fight her because he knows good and damn well that he won’t stop until she’s dead. He attempts to kill Maruki, but only as a last result when the team’s battle(s) against Adam Kadmon go more left than a Sandy Koufax slider. He also once again sacrifices his own livelihood to keep the Phantom Thieves alive and well to finish off Maruki’s Palace.
The third semester version of Akechi is mostly just a manifestation of Joker’s wish to save him. Because of this, we then wonder if this is how real Akechi would act or if it’s just an interpretation of Joker’s wish. With Royal, we’re given more hints that, while Akechi is batshit insane at times (as seen through his Showtime gifs), he actually has a heart. He plays less like when we’re first introduced to Pain in Naruto or Shigaraki in MHA and more like Vegeta.
The third semester and parts of the Royal story leading up to that last palace, it’s a mindscrew in some ways that requires some mental gymnastics to fully comprehend. That’s especially when the true ending of the game sees Joker riding past someone who looks like Akechi, all the while having his Metaverse costume appear again.
So what we know is this: First, Akechi is possibly alive. Second, Akechi’s Dream World manifestation had a change of heart just like his vanilla counterpart. Third, while he was jealous of Joker has (friends, love, etc), he ultimately respects him and the team’s desires to change the world. In the end, Akechi (Dream World or otherwise) is a completely different person by the end of P5R (and P5, albeit in a more rushed sort of way).
Does he deserve redemption? Yes and no. Akechi is still a crazed person taking his frustration with the world out on the world. However, with Royal, players see more about Akechi’s backstory–thus giving us the feelings Atlus wanted us to feel for him at the end of P5.
I get why people love the Pancake Boy now.