The constant pressure to be productive in Persona 5 Royal
Stop and smell the curry.
There's an ever-present comfort that welcomes me every time I return to Cafe LeBlanc in the evenings. One that smells as fresh coffee mixed with curry, the menu specialty that would raise customers' eyebrows anywhere else but here. A feeling best illustrated in the old couple that have been regulars for years sitting at the same table, asking for the usual each time. For both the protagonist and myself, this is home. But I never get to enjoy it.
Compared to its predecessor, Persona 5 Royal does the unthinkable: now the 16-year-old main character isn't forced to go to sleep at 7pm almost every day. This means evenings are free to tackle however you see fit, even after spending hours inside a palace fighting shadows. Naturally, this in turn means there are more places to visit and activities to invite your friends to. Pool, darts, a jazz club. It's great.
When I first played Persona 5 in 2017, I fell in love with its digital routine. The back and forth of hanging out with friends and taking part in activities that later benefited me during my heists inside adults' distorted realities was truly engaging. I became fond of the "take your time" premise it evokes. But I quickly realized it doesn't hold the same meaning in Royal. There is no real penalty for overworking yourself with this new freedom, and as with any other JRPGs, you end up filling every possible slot in your schedule. As someone who has a tendency of using breaks to try and complete something from my endless backlogs and to-do lists, even more so in lockdown, I saw my habits reflected in this routine like a mirror.
There were many times when I really just wanted to hang out with a certain character, or just do a fun activity for the sake of it. Seeing that it wouldn't improve my stats or confidant relationships, however, erased the desire. It's expected, in a way - this isn't the normal life of a high schooler after all. But I kept thinking about my own experiences. Work is my sole responsibility nowadays, and it's often the only thing I do. I rarely make time to play games online with friends, unless I'm planning to write about them. I keep telling myself that I'm gonna make some time to read, to go and take a walk, or at the very least pick up my Ring Fit more often, but I end up filling each possible slot in my schedule with responsibilities. And another day passes by.
I realised how ironic the parallelism was during a gaming session with Morgana in our room after a long day at school. Playing with your home console usually involves a series of button prompts or a bit of luck throwing dies. If you succeed, you obtain an extra star, but you still obtain experience otherwise. And yet every time I failed, I went ahead and reloaded my previous save file. I needed the best outcome, to obtain as many points for my stats as possible, so it wouldn't count as just a wasted evening.
That moment, as silly as it was, allowed me to come to terms with my own pressure to stay productive. I shouldn't have to blame myself for repeating the same mundane activities that give me comfort, even if they are not part of my endless lists. Persona 5 Royal might go against its own rule, but it served as a personal lesson. I realised it's important to take your time - to allow the world to pause, and enjoy the smell of coffee.