The Tokyo Olympic Games are postponed to 2021. With coronavirus cases mounting, athletes and their countries started bowing out of the competition ahead of the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee’s official announcement on Tuesday, March 24.
It’s a shame on multiple fronts. As governmental powers have ramped up the blame game, finger pointing at which nation amplified the spread of COVID-19, the Games would have been a unifying break from the madness. Also, the possibility of seeing gaming, one of Japan’s biggest exports, incorporated into the two week-long event would have set my, and plenty of other gamers hearts a flutter.
(Fun fact, these Olympic Games mark just the second time the IOC has licensed an official, non-Mario and Sonic, video game.)
Instead, fits of wanderlust and gaming Easter egg hunting are going to be replaced by the summer doldrums. Experts suggest herd immunity, or the immunization of at least two-thirds of the world’s population via vaccine or infection, is the only way for earth’s denizens to jaunt past the social distancing status quo.
To put it bluntly, I’m not going to Tokyo (or very far outside) any time soon and neither are you.
While I can’t vouch for the enjoyability of the official Tokyo Olympics video game to pass the time, I will put all my eggs in a basket labeled Persona 5 Royal. This turn-based-RPG-slash-life-sim-slash-dungeon-crawler arrives in the states on March 31 for PlayStation 4. I’ve been playing the Japanese version for the last few months and can wholeheartedly say that this game is exactly what the quarantine doctors ordered.
P5R is a director’s cut of the original Persona 5. It follows the narrative of a reserved teenager sentenced to a year’s probation under a guardian’s care in Tokyo. Played leisurely, the story spans upwards of 50 hours. But the game’s length is only a small part of why this spring is well spent playing Persona.
The game’s tagline, which rotates in the bottom-right corner of the loading screens above the main character’s disembodied head, is vital advice for these pandemic days: take your time. P5R is best played methodically. The main character has a host of responsibilities, not limited to improving his personal stats, like courage and charm, confiding in his friends and colleagues, and changing the deviant ways of corrupt individuals like plagiaristic artists and abusive teachers.
Each game day is separated into segments, encouraging players to plot out exactly how they’ll spend their time. Should you level up your bond with Ryuji (yes, you should) to improve his support abilities in battle? Or should you try to devour a giant burger (yes, you also should) to raise your guts stat and unlock a vital character early on?
As we wait for the coronavirus to have its way with us, Persona 5 Royal gives players the sense of control that is missing from the world right now. I’ve spent hours in the Velvet Room, the game’s inner sanctum where the main character fuses the deities he uses to fight (aptly called personas), hunting for the right combination of spells, stats and passive natures. When I’m ready for some action, I advance the story, which barring a usually lengthy deadline, plays out at my leisure as I comb through palaces leaving no chest unopened.
And sometimes I’ll just wander around the city — In addition to the original, explorable hub worlds of Shibuya, Shinjuku and Shibuya, P5R adds Kichijoji, a shopping arcade with stores and mini-games, like darts — listening to cuts by series composer Shoji Meguro (“Beneath the Mask” one of the best songs to come out of gaming, ever).
Plenty of people, myself included have their sights set on playing Final Fantasy VII Remake or are sinking their teeth into Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but Persona 5 Royal provides a perfect blend of story, strategy and freedom, while skimping on stress. It’s a therapeutic escape. Just make some backup save files.