Writing Redemption: Goro Akechi (Persona 5)

MASSIVE spoilers for Persona 5 Royal ahead. You’ve been warned!

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Akechi’s first battle finisher.

Jumping back into the world of Persona 5 with Royal was a great experience – a lot of quality-of-life changes and additions made the vanilla game even better. One of my favourite initial changes was to the Justice confidant, Goro Akechi. The progress of your relationship with this character (who I lovingly refer to as Light Yagami, because, come on now) used to be tied to story progression, but in Royal, he’s now a confidant like any other. You get to hang out with the games’ most contentious anti-hero – you can play pool, grab a coffee, or unwind at the bathhouse. I’ve always been fascinated with Akechi’s character – he’s presented as clever, charismatic, and endearing. A gentleman, and a scholar. However, in one of Persona 5‘s final twists, Akechi is revealed to be the culprit behind dozens of murders, and the “mental shutdown” cases. Though acting at the behest of would-be Prime Minister, Masayoshi Shido, Akechi is a villain in his own right. Since his story has been changed significantly in Royal, I thought a discussion was in order – namely, how does Persona 5 Royal set up Akechi’s redemption arc? And is it handled well? The short answer, in my opinion, would be no (the long answer being absolutely not). Persona 5′s writing fails to execute a satisfying redemption arc for the games’ chief anti-hero, and in doing so, creates an oddly unearned sense of tragedy for his character.

What is a redemption arc?

Starting with basics: in writing, the premise of a ‘redemption arc’ is the element of a narrative that (loosely) takes a certain character from being one of the ‘bad guys’, to one of the ‘good guys’. This doesn’t have to be a complete 180 – a villain can still be a villain, perhaps just making a singular choice to aid the heroes, or a decision that seems at odds with their (evil) characterization. There’s a basic flow to these kinds of arcs – the mistake, the enlightenment, the atonement/punishment, and of course, the resulting redemption. But there are different degrees to redemption – as we see in countless examples of popular media. The purest form of redemption would be the aforementioned 180 situation – as in Avatar: The Last Airbender, where Fire Nation prince, Zuko, abandons his throne and his pursuit of capturing the Avatar, to instead help Aang and his friends restore balance to the world. Then, you have the other side of the spectrum – where the villain is never quite ‘good’ but finally decides to make a good choice, and usually dies before the narrative concludes. We can see an example of this kind of redemption in Star Wars, with Darth Vader’s sacrifice – though not wholly redeemed, his decision to help Luke by turning on the Emperor ultimately changes the course of events for the story. Even if he cannot erase the evil he’s inflicted on the world, he does, to some degree, redeem himself.

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So where does Akechi fit on this spectrum? In the original Persona 5, he’s definitely of the Darth Vader variety – he spends the majority of the narrative hiding behind his false Detective Prince mask, before eventually betraying the Phantom Thieves. He reveals himself to be the culprit behind the mental shutdown cases, and tries to kill our merry band of heroes. After triumphing over Akechi in Shido’s Palace, the story takes another twist – Akechi sacrifices himself to save Joker and the Phantom Thieves, and is killed in the process. I would argue that his arc in the base Persona 5 is fairly well-written, with a satisfying conclusion. Akechi has experienced a hard life growing up, and molded himself into the Detective Prince, to strike back at his neglectful father and satisfy his own need to feel wanted, and successful. In other circumstances, Akechi may very well have been the hero, rather than the villain. Though he (in my opinion) is beyond redemption, his death offers the only fitting conclusion to his story. He pays for his mistakes with his life, and in doing so, is redeemed. So how has this changed in Royal?

How Royal shifted the narrative

Well, the main problem in Royal, see, is that Akechi doesn’t die. Sort of. Where the vanilla version of Persona 5 begins to wind down, and Sae asks Joker to turn himself into police, Akechi appears instead – claiming he will take Joker’s place and pay the price for his crimes. However, the narrative in Royal continues. In the new third semester, with the appearance of an unknown Palace in the real world, Akechi rejoins the Phantom Thieves in their quest to defeat Maruki. Dr. Maruki, school-councillor-cognitive-psientist-turned-God, has created a new reality in which everyone is happy, and all their secret wishes suddenly made real. Ryuji is back on the track team and headed for a scholarship, Wakaba is still alive, and so is Okumura, Haru’s (now extremely kind) father. It’s here that Akechi makes his reappearance – the police have let him go, and he’s determined to return to the true reality, offering his help to Joker. Though it’s fairly obvious that this might not be the “real” Akechi, he’s present nevertheless, and with his dark persona, Loki, now usable. Akechi’s true nature is the new norm, and though it’s fun from a gameplay perspective, from a narrative standpoint, this left a sour taste in my mouth. His presence is problematic, for the plain and simple reason that Akechi, as a character, is beyond redemption. Because his arc remains incomplete in Royal (as he survives the events of Shido’s Palace) he never atones for his crimes. The writing fails him. But why is Akechi beyond redemption?

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The story makes it clear, via dialogue, that Akechi approached Shido on his own, offering his service in manipulating the metaverse in order to further Shido’s political career. Though Shido would outline targets, Akechi carried out the murders, and mental shutdowns by himself. All to get back at the father that had abandoned him and his mother – Akechi wanted Shido to acknowledge him, presumably before he killed Shido himself. His motivations are selfish, and more importantly, extremely calculated. Akechi is clever – brilliant, even – which the narrative takes care to highlight. His intelligence indicates that he knows exactly what he’s doing, and that’s it’s wrong – he simply doesn’t care. He never shows any reluctance, nor regret when making his confessions to the Phantom Thieves. His only change comes when he is (almost literally) backed into a corner, and even then, this change feels forced, rather than a conclusion that Akechi would have come to on his own. He’s confronted by the Phantom Thieves, having his own philosophy challenged by theirs, but he never accepts that his vision is warped.

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Both Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal try to add this nuance, but fall short. Akechi’s troubled upbringing and his youth obviously make him detached from the true consequences of his actions. Akechi and Joker are often presented as two sides of the same coin – their rivalry highlights the fact that, had circumstances been different, Akechi might have been a similar person to our main character. However, this is where all the character-building and setup for redemption comes to a screeching halt, and the wheels fall off the catbus. The main issue stems from Akechi’s motivations, and ideology; though the heroes challenge this, he never really changes. He never acknowledges that what he did was wrong, nor does he show any remorse for his actions. He is never presented as uncertain, reluctant or fearful. He’s certainly influenced by the adults in his life, but when left to his own devices, it’s unconvincing that he isn’t just as twisted.

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Yes, yes they are.

This all culminates in the battle between Akechi and the Phantom Thieves in Shido’s Palace – we get a glimpse into Akechi’s true nature, via his dialogue, and the form of his persona, Loki. Akechi is revealed to be ruthless, and indifferent. This allegedly brilliant character is so blinded by his anger he can’t even see that Shido is using him, and plans to dispose of him once he’s expended his usefulness (this revelation seems to be the catalyst that ultimately pushes Akechi to save the Phantom Thieves). Akechi is cold, and downright unhinged – he expresses that he cannot abide their views of justice, teamwork, or their sympathy. However, despite seeing the depths of his depravity, once Akechi has ‘sacrificed’ himself, the narrative tries to highlight the tragedy of Akechi’s situation. Certainly the death of a teenager is tragic, as were his circumstances, but given Akechi’s actions, this sense of tragedy feels unearned. The Phantom Thieves have a few conversations, where some forgive him, and others (Ryuji) say they cannot. For me, once you’ve killed the father of one of the main characters, there’s just no coming back from that.

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Same, Ryuji.

With all these characters trying to justify Akechi’s actions (through blaming Shido, or professing that they forgive him), it feels like the writers trying to help his character squirm out from beneath the weight of his actions. Even Maruki comments to Joker: “Selfish adults abused his weakness to do horrible things, culminating in his confrontation with the Phantom Thieves.” All this mental gymnastics that the narrative requires for the audience to be “okay” with Akechi is too much – since they went the distance, far enough to make his character utterly despicable, there is no coming back, but the game wants to have it both ways. To have their pancakes, and eat them, so to speak. The game wants Shido to take the fall for Akechi’s twistedness, but doesn’t do enough with Akechi to make this believable – there’s no sense of remorse, or growth. Though Akechi seems to acknowledge his wrongdoing in a logical, objective way – that he broke the law, and he’ll do his penance by turning himself in to police – he never displays any kind of emotional remorse. He never admits his guilt, or seems to feel bad about what he’s done. It’s possible that he simply isn’t capable of feeling the weight of this emotional guilt, which is probably the most frightening aspect of his character.

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The end, and the means

One of the more nuanced elements of a redemption arc is what said arc asks of the audience – namely, does the narrative expect the audience to forgive that character? If the answer is yes, then the writer has to ensure that the former villain has not been presented as irredeemable. As in the earlier Zuko example, though Zuko has pursued Aang and co, he’s never killed anyone on-screen, or taken any other extreme measures against their crew. He manages to rise above his indoctrinated hatred, betray his father, and acknowledge his mistakes. Before his revelation in Book Three, he even shows sparks of promise and humanity in earlier seasons; he takes actions that either help one of the heroes (as when he saves Aang in the Blue Spirit episode) or help the world (as in the Book One finale episodes). Whereas, in the Darth Vader example, though he is redeemed at the end of Star Wars, the narrative doesn’t, in my opinion, ask the audience to forgive his previous actions. He’s simply presented as having made the right choice, in the end. And the fact that the arc ends in his death makes this redemption easier to accept.

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This is my other main issue with Akechi’s story – because he doesn’t die in Royal (as indicated by his appearance in the final cutscene), his redemption arc has shifted. The tragedy, and fixation that Joker has with ‘keeping his promise’ to his rival, presents Akechi as a tragic figure. Akechi’s actions, and role in the narrative, are too extreme for his character to be viewed this way – and yet, the storyline presents him as a character that should be forgiven (hence, why he rejoins Joker in the third semester). By highlighting the adults who abused and took advantage of him, the writers present Akechi as a hapless victim of circumstance. The audience is asked to forgive this character, who, by the way, still hasn’t been redeemed – he’s made the mistake, but failed to truly acknowledge his actions, or atone for them. He avoids punishment for his actions (at least, on-screen, as his final fate is left uncertain) and this is where the narrative fails him. The lack of nuance in Akechi’s characterization, and his heinous crimes push him past the point of no return.

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I think Persona 5 Royal simply suffers from a case of misguided good intentions – Akechi is a popular character. It’s pure fanservice, to shift the narrative so that he remains a playable character, and honorary member of the Phantom Thieves. In doing so, however, the quality of writing suffers, because Akechi no longer has a satisfying redemption arc. In fact, he’s barely redeemed at all, because redemption implies some kind of penance paid. Akechi, however, avoids the consequences of his actions, and is essentially forgiven by the heroes – they agree to work with him at the very least. He’s treated like any other team member. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy being able to play as Akechi, especially with his unique persona, and he was in my party all the way through the final Palace. I just couldn’t stem the sense of wrongness, or discomfort every time he finished a group of shadows, and made one of his more sinister comments. Persona 5 Royal sacrificed good writing for fanservice, and while I can’t say I hate Akechi’s presence in the end (he’s fun to play, I’ll admit that) it doesn’t sit quite right – especially within the scope of the Phantom Thieves brand of “justice”.

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Akechi’s second battle finisher.

Though Persona 5 Royal fumbles his redemption arc in a big way, there’s no denying Goro Akechi’s magnetic personality (hats off to English voice actor, Robbie Daymond) and his presence adds a dynamic element to the final Palace that I would miss, had he not been there. It’s perhaps this magnetism, his ability to pull the audience in despite his objective awfulness, that makes Akechi one of the strongest characters in the game. Despite his lack of nuance, he still remains one of Persona 5’s most interesting characters. So, maybe he’s not the kind of guy you want to take out for pancakes, but he’s a strong ally; though I can’t overlook how the narrative fails him, Akechi is no less compelling for his villainy.

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Published by


20-something-year-old hailing from the Northern badlands of Canada. Persistent gamer, avid reader, and fledgling D&D player. I’ve played video games for as long as I can remember, and they’ve always been a big part of my love for the art of storytelling. Just trying to make it in a world where my copy of Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure no longer works.

5 thoughts on “Writing Redemption: Goro Akechi (Persona 5)”

  1. While I agree with a lot of what you said I feel like you misunderstood the what akechi’s original intentions with shido were. It’s heavy implied that akechi originally only offered his psychotic breakdown abilities to shido and then was pressured/ manipulated into murdering for him. Shido also has a line that says that he had to teach akechi how to use metaverse to kill.

    It should be noted that the psychotic breakdowns akechi causes aren’t lethal and they aren’t all violent as well. It’s implied that weird events like people running around naked are also a result of his psychotic breakdown ability. So, akechi original intentions weren’t as bad as you made them out to be.


    1. Hi! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! I don’t think I misunderstood Akechi’s intentions, but rather, we just have different interpretations of his dialogue. Akechi says that he approached Shido on his own and offered his services in the Metaverse – he did this in order to get close to Shido, and collect dirt on the would-be Prime Minister. It’s implied he plans to expose Shido, and most likely, murder him as well. Shido definitely manipulated Akechi, but the game makes it pretty clear that Akechi makes his own decisions, and is pretty cold-blooded about it. I think this gives the player a good reason to sympathize with Akechi (because he’s essentially a child) but it certainly doesn’t excuse his actions.

      I know there are instances of people doing silly things which aren’t violent/outright awful, but those breakdowns are not the only ones Akechi is responsible for. Among others, he causes the train derailment in the very beginning of the game, which kills dozens of people. His ability to cause the psychotic breakdowns directly result in many deaths throughout the game. His intentions are pretty clear – and very dark. However, I think it makes him an interesting character, especially when foiled against Joker.

      As I already said, I think it’s fine to have a different interpretation of events than I did. Makes talking about a game much more interesting!


  2. To be honest, I think the phrase “redemption arc” is a bit of a loaded way of describing what they’ve done with Akechi’s character in Royal. At the very least, I think his case is so much more complicated than the writers simply trying to turn a bad guy into the “good” side.

    We should note that it’s not unheard of to present a villain as both tragic and iredeemable. While the game does try to paint Akechi to be just as much a perpetrator of his own crimes as he was also a victim of horrible circumstances, I don’t recall any of the Phantom Thieves ever saying that they outright forgave his actions, just that they sympathized with his motivations against his father. Furthermore, the only reason why they decide to team up again for the 3rd Semester is because their goals so happen to align against a common foe. Haru and Futaba in particular also have unique dialogue in safe rooms of Maruki’s palace, where they tell Joker that they could never see themselves forgiving Akechi. So, if anything, the other members only seem to tolerate him rather than accept him, much less forgive him.

    In fact, I’d argue that the entire point of Akechi’s presence in Maruki’s Arc is that you’re not supposed to forgive him. A lot of what you argued here about his inability to express any regret or remorse for his past crimes is honestly exactly the point. If Joker/the player has any fixations about “saving” Akechi, Maruki wants you to indulge in that fantasy, whereas Akechi wants you to accept the reality that he cannot change.

    The real Akechi is just far too gone now for a proper redemption, and even he seems to know that. The only real growth he ever has is how he now refuses to let his life be manipulated by others like Shido in pursuit of his personal justice, ever again. This lines up with the game’s overall themes of freedom, as well as the Phantom Thieves’ philosophy of rebellion, but that’s it. That’s the closest thing to “redemption” that Royal is truly willing to offer for Akechi, who then still acts proudly for his own self-interests and no one else’s.

    In all honesty, the idea that the writers might have been trying to redeem him through only that one final scene in vanilla P5 is exactly the reason why I initially felt very conflicted about his character. Personally, both his true culprit reveal and death go by so quickly and so suddenly, that this one act of sacrifice wouldn’t be enough to elicit forgiveness from me at all, if that was truly what they were going for. Thankfully, what Royal does is provide some much needed clarification that Akechi, despite how Joker and the others might view him for his tragic circumstances, is not worthy of redemption.

    My only real complaint with the change in Royal is how they decided to leave his fate more ambiguous in the true ending, rather than simply leaving it with certain death. Otherwise, it’s a fairly satisfying way to end his arc, imo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the super detailed response!

      I’ve definitely pulled the idea of him being a classic “redemption arc” example from the way his story worked out in vanilla P5 – his death at the end, and the characters discussions following, always indicated to me that the writers intended this to be a redemption of sorts.

      It’s definitely possible for a villain to be both tragic and irredeemable, however, I felt the writing of the game leaned too far into Akechi’s tragic circumstances and his manipulation by Shido. In doing so, I felt that the game wanted the player to have a clearer path to excusing his actions, if they wanted to. Because of this, it seemed like the game was also asking the Phantom Thieves to excuse his actions – though what you say is completely true, and I don’t believe any of them expressly say that they forgive him.

      You make a great point about his presence in Maruki’s palace! My personal opinion about his inability to express remorse/regret was simply to argue the point that Akechi was irredeemable, for both the fans of the game who believe otherwise, and the tone of the writing that I interpreted. Though of course, people are free to disagree with me there.

      Again, I felt his appearance at the end of Royal where he says he’ll go to jail to atone for his crimes was meant to be a form of punishment, which represented his repentance to the Phantom Thieves. But as you said, that could be simply playing into the fantasy of Joker and the gang wanting Akechi to express regret for what he’s done. I did enjoy Akechi continuing to pursue his own goals, but of course, it does conveniently line up with the Phantom Thieves for some good ol’ fan service.

      All the points you’ve made are great, and I definitely don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. For me personally, it’s just a disconnect between the writing/dialogue and how the story plays out. I do still feel as though the game wants to have Akechi be redeemed in some way (especially with Morgana and Maruki’s dialogue that emphasizes his unfortunate position/being taken advantage of by Shido) and therefore have the player/Phantom Thieves be happy about his presence in the party. I’m glad that Royal added that clarification for you to feel more satisfied about the way his arc plays out overall!


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