Content Warning: Mental health issues, violence, depression, trauma.
Hello again readers and welcome to another chapter of Anatomy of a Boss, the series where we shine a spotlight on a video game boss that we love for one reason or another.
We’ve covered plenty of different bosses from many different types so far but one type of game we’ve not touched yet is JRPGs.
There are plenty of memorable and legendary villains from the long and storied history of the genre.
However, many of them are already very well known and celebrated. So in this article, I’m going to highlight one boss that, while fantastic, doesn’t really seem to come up in the conversations of great JRPG bosses.
Maybe he’s underrated or underappreciated. Or maybe he just needs a day in the limelight for more people to see what a great antagonist he is.
The character I am referring to is the final boss of Persona 5 Royal, Takuko Maruki. (I’ll be referring to the game as P5R from now on, okay? Okay.)
In this article, I aim to break down what exactly makes him such a great antagonist worthy of standing proudly amongst the best that JRPGs have to offer.
I’ll be looking at his character, his abilities, his backstory, his point of view, and the themes in play during his story.
As such, this article will spoil some significant portions of Persona 5 Royal.
But if you’ve played the game or just don’t care, don’t let that stop you.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about this dorky-looking man and the heartbreaking dilemma he is wrestling with.
WEEKDAYS WITH MARUKI
When we first meet Maruki in P5R, it is right after the Kamoshida incident.
He is brought in by the protagonist’s high school to provide counselling to the students affected by the incident.
This puts him directly in the path of the Phantom Thieves.
His introduction scene has an amusing moment where he greets the students and tries to bow but hits his head on the microphone like the hapless dork he can be.
It paints him as a bit bumbling and good-natured, which I appreciate a lot.
Since Maruki is a new addition to the story of P5R, players will likely begin engaging with him from a place of suspicion and mistrust.
This sentiment is reflected by the characters themselves, who seem vary of this outsider inviting them to his office for a chat.
When the player takes him up on his offer, Maruki becomes a Confidant. The Councillor Arcana, to be specific. Kind of appropriate, I suppose.
Also, hanging out with Maruki as a Confidant increases your max SP, which is very useful at any point in the game. So the player has gameplay reasons to want to see him as well. Smart.
The Confidant stories with Maruki is where the many layers of who he is starts getting peeled back.
Initially, Maruki and the player talk about general psychological topics like dealing with adversity and stress. But soon, the topic of his “research” comes up.
It seems that Maruki was once researching something in the field of psychology.
As the player and Maruki develop their Confidant relationship, he goes on to talk about how he wishes that we could put medicine on emotional pain the way one puts antibiotics on a scratch.
This might sound hopelessly naive to us living in the real world but take a step back from cynicism for a moment and really consider what he’s saying.
What IF there was a guaranteed cure for sadness and pain? What if you could simply go to a doctor and be cured of your grief, just like if you went with a fever?
Maruki laughs off his own words by saying that there is no way something like that would be possible.
After all, there’s no way to influence someone’s mind to such a drastic degree, right?
There’s no way someone could have a change of heart overnight… right?
Luckily for Maruki, this is Persona 5.
Changing the hearts of people is literally what the game is about.
This change is brought about by accessing a mental world or dimension within a person where their desires are reflected.
The more distorted and harmful the desire, the worse it looks inside this “Palace” of their mind.
These Palaces exist in this separate mental world, known as the Metaverse. And this world is influenced by the unconscious desires of people.
You can think of it as a collective unconscious of the human race where all of our subconscious ideas, stereotypes, fears, and hopes exist in different forms.
So kind of like Twitter, but with a better soundtrack. (This is a joke. It’s actually not like Twitter at all.)
This Metaverse is influenced by what people believe but can also influence people back.
For example, if you are one of those types who think of people as nothing but sheep, they would exist as sheep within your Palace (if you have one).
On the other hand, if you were really passionate about art and someone went into the Metaverse and changed that about you, you would lose that passion.
Now how does all this relate to Maruki?
It is the missing piece of the puzzle for his research.
You see, he wanted to find a way to help people who were suffering psychological trauma and pain in their lives in a way that was more effective than simply sitting with them and talking through their problems as psychologists do.
He wanted a way to affect some fundamental part of them and help them in a visible and repeatable way.
The solution to this problem is the Metaverse.
Just like how the Phantom Thieves change the hearts of their antagonists in the game, Maruki comes to realize that one could also change the hearts of those who are innocent and suffering through no fault of their own.
To the game’s credit, these realizations never come across as sinister or evil.
It comes from a genuine desire to understand the hearts of all people.
It comes from a pure wish to help people through some of the toughest yet most intangible pain there is.
The fact that P5R let us get to know Maruki on our own terms and form our own opinions on him ourselves was great.
The slow reveal of his character, personality, and beliefs through his Confidant story was quite well done in my opinion.
Though it is nowhere near the best Confidant in the game, I still think that the dialogue and the situations that come up when hanging out with him were quite enjoyable and memorable.
If nothing else, the Confidant story really endeared me to this gentle, caring, and idealistic man
As I experienced this story, I went from mistrusting him to warming up to him to really, really liking him.
I kept saying over and over again, “Please don’t make him evil. Please don’t let him be a villain in the end.”
But sadly, this is Anatomy of a Boss so you know where this is ultimately headed.
Let’s talk about his Palace.
A HOSPITAL FOR BROKEN HEARTS
Every major villain in Persona 5 gets their own Palace.
It is their messed up desires and point of view given physical form in the Metaverse.
In less flowery words, each villain gets a dungeon that is themed after what they want or what they think of themselves (or sometimes both).
For instance, Kaneshiro thought of people as just walking ATMs for him to “withdraw” from and Shibuya as his own private bank. So his Palace ended up being themed after a bank.
When it came to P5R, Maruki got the same treatment. He got a Palace, which built up his character and showed us what his real “deal” was.
However, his Palace diverges from every other Palace we saw in the base game in a very notable way.
Maruki’s Palace wasn’t a castle where he is lording over others or a museum where he displays his victims or a casino where people regularly lose everything.
It is a hospital. And more specifically, it is a hospital that heals emotional wounds.
Now, I could go into the tale of how the player and a certain character stumble onto the place for the first time, but let’s leave some mysteries in the game unspoiled for you to discover if it ever comes to that.
I’d rather talk about the design instead.
The first thing I always check when it comes to any new Palace in P5r is “how do the people/humans look”.
As I mentioned before, the appearance of average people within the Palace (if any) is influenced by how the Palace owner thinks of people in real life.
So taking a look at how the random background humans appear is a useful insight into the mentality of the Palace owner.
In Maruki’s case, the random background humans look like… well… humans. They don’t appear distorted or messed up in any way.
This is something he has in common with Sae Nijima from a couple of Palaces ago and oddly enough, Masayoshi Shido.
Though in their cases, Sae saw the people as humans who are greedy and desperate for that “win” in the “casino” while Shido saw them as weak sycophants whose greed was barely hidden behind the thin veneer of a mask.
In Maruki’s case, he seems to perceive people in a much kinder way.
In my opinion, this alone speaks volumes about him as a person and subtly shows us the kindness inherent to his character.
The second thing I want to note is how the Palace is laid out.
The early parts of this dungeon look bright, white, calming, and have that modern hospital vibe to it.
This part of the Palace has people milling about in the clinic area, either seeking help for their emotional trauma or debating whether they should.
A lot of the posters and writing on the walls all talk about the importance of happiness and mental well-being.
It could have easily come off a facade to hide something more sinister and cruel but to the game’s credit, it never does.
I found the clinic part of this dungeon to be really pretty and calming.
Like, I knew there was something weird going on here (otherwise, why would the Palace exist, right?) but it didn’t seem like it was a cruel place.
While moving through these areas, the player has to navigate some puzzles that function like questionnaires to assess the personalities and beliefs of patients at the Palace.
These puzzles aren’t hard at all but are meant more to develop Maruki’s character.
The questions asked in these puzzles go places like “if you were doing what you were very good at but it made you miserable, would you be willing to give up on it?”
While it might be tempting to answer these questions using your own beliefs as a guide, the puzzle requires you to think about Maruki as a character and give the answers he would want to hear.
I think that’s a pretty clever trick to help players connect with the antagonist they are facing, without having them directly interact.
While exploring the bright and calming clinic area, the player eventually stumbles into a research ward and a warehouse.
This is like stepping behind the curtain of the pleasant clinic and seeing the machinations that make it work.
There are monitors spying out of cameras, various readings being taken, and strange vein-like designs running through it.
Also, it’s worth noting that the Shadows in Maruki’s Palace (those are the enemies of the game you fight in random battles or summon as Personas) are based on entities from a diverse variety of myths.
There are some demons and devils, along with a few gods, a particularly notorious dragon from Norse mythology, and creatures from the pages of HP Lovecraft!
That last one in particular made me very uneasy about what I might end up learning about Maruki.
Maruki’s Palace is a special dungeon that the player can access by completing certain tasks within the base P5R game to unlock an extra semester at school.
This special semester comes after the original ending of the game and exists as an epilogue or an extra chapter in some ways.
Due to the Palace being added to the Royal edition of the game, the developers had more time to design and flesh out this dungeon more than most others in the base game.
This resulted in Maruki’s Palace not only being larger than any other Palace in the game, but also presenting his backstory in a way that was more emotionally resonant than ever before.
Most antagonists of Persona 5 get some character development in the story through how they act in the real world and how the version of them that exists within their Palace acts.
But we very rarely get to see much details about their backstory or their journey from being an average person to the type whose desires are so distorted that it creates a Palace in the Metaverse.
In Maruki’s case, we get to see glimpses of his past in the form of video tapes that can be viewed.
These glimpses show us crucial insights into Maruki’s life and trauma. They give us an excellent window into his motivations and goals.
And it’s really, really sad.
Some time ago, Maruki was living a much happier life.
He was working on his research and he was engaged to a beautiful woman named Rumi. The way he describes it, he loved her very deeply.
Sadly, his happiness was not meant to last.
On one random February day, Rumi’s parents’ home suffered a home invasion. They were murdered during the ensuing chaos.
Though Maruki and Rumi were present in the house at the time, they luckily managed to survive.
However, Rumi was injured in the process and fell into a catatonic depression due to severe mental trauma. She was alive but she couldn’t speak or emote or recognize anyone, even Maruki himself.
In his attempt to comfort her, Maruki unwittingly mentioned her family. This was revealed to be a trigger phrase for her that caused her to suffer severe mental and emotional breakdowns.
This experience broke something in Maruki and in his moment of despair, he somehow managed to mentally contact a mysterious entity.
This entity made a deal with Maruki to share its power with him. This power gave him the ability to manipulate the cognition of others. The game calls this ability Actualization.
In a way similar to how the Phantom Thieves change the hearts of their antagonists, Maruki could use this ability to change the hearts of average people.
And to his credit, he consistently insists that the thing he wants to do with this power is to make people happy.
With that, let’s go back to Rumi’s tragic tale.
After Maruki obtained the power of Actualization, he used it for the first time on Rumi. He wanted to help ease her pain.
When the ability activated, it erased Rumi’s traumatic memories of the home invasion and her parents’ subsequent murder.
However, it also wiped away all the memories she shared with Maruki, effectively wiping his existence from her mind.
Tragedy like this would be the start of darkness or the moral downfall of any lesser antagonist.
But Maruki didn’t become hardened or cruel. He decided that he valued her happiness more than their relationship and his own painful loss.
And so, he cut ties with her and began his research into cognition, leading to his role in the story of P5R.
I. LOVE. This backstory.
I found it fascinating and heartbreaking. I was hungry for more and more of those video tapes so I could uncover the next part of this tragic tale.
I especially like Maruki’s response to Rumi forgetting him. I think it reveals a lot about the kind of person he is and reinforces the idea that he is someone who really cares about the well-being of others, perhaps even to his own detriment.
I really appreciate that the game shows and then consistently reinforces his kind and caring nature without it ever being fake or a mask hiding some evil intentions.
These days, it feels like we see antagonistic characters who seem to have reasonable points of view… right until they take it a bridge too far.
Either that or their reasonable points were a facade for some bad stuff behind the scenes.
But not Maruki.
Even several months after the credits rolled on the true ending of P5R, I genuinely don’t think he is evil or cruel, just misguided.
Unfortunately, Actualization is too powerful an ability for anyone to have, much less someone who wishes that trauma could be healed like a fever.
And so, as the original story of Persona 5 ends on Christmas eve, a new story begins.
YOUR IDEAL LIFE
The extra semester of P5R is a fascinating journey for both the player and the characters.
The basic premise of it is that one fine day, life suddenly changed for a whole bunch of people. A lot of sources of the discomfort and unhappiness in their lives simply vanished.
For some it was a matter of finding the will to adopt or give up hobbies or careers, for others it was a loss of interest in things that used to drive them and replacing them with other things, and for some, it was the literal resurrection of dead loved ones!
It slowly becomes clear that something is “wrong” with the world and not everyone can see it. It appears as though slowly, more and more people are achieving their “ideal” life, no matter how improbable it might seem.
Even members of the party are affected by this. We see many of them live out ideal lives that they cannot ever obtain due to present circumstances in the story.
We see Futaba living a happy life with her mother beside her, we see Haru and her father enjoy time together, and so on. Both of these things should be literally impossible as both these people are actually no longer alive.
This is all Maruki’s doing. By using his power of Actualization, he is taking people’s deepest wishes for happiness and making them real.
And throughout the game, he insists that he is doing this for no other reason than to make people happy and because he does not think suffering should exist.
The downside to all of this is that by accepting this false reality instead of the true events of your life, you are accepting a version of happiness that Maruki gets to decide.
For example, if you were a poor, underpaid, overworked, suffering artist, he might decide that you might be happier if you gave up art and did something else.
With the power of Actualization, he can not only make your mind change completely, but also affect your cognition of your own past. This means he could basically rewrite your entire personal history to help bring the change that he thinks will make you happy.
I’d also like to point out that these changes are very much based on the person’s own cognition so it’s not like Maruki is feeding people ideas. He is simply taking the ideas and thoughts they have deep down and making them real, hoping that it would lead to their ultimate happiness.
As Maruki’s influence over Tokyo grows, the Phantom Thieves slowly snap out of their ideal lives and realize some important things.
The first realization is that the hardships they went through made them who they are today. Even though they suffered, they healed and grew.
The very reason many of the party became Phantom Thieves is to prevent the creation of more victims by powerful people.
In the end, the party decides that denying all of their personal growth and all the good they were able to do for a chance to have a perfect dream life is wrong.
The second thing they realize is that Maruki’s influence is growing stronger.
As the days go by, more and more people begin to obtain their ideal lives daily at the cost of their original personality or personal history.
Something needs to be done before the change spreads everywhere and cannot be reversed.
After infiltrating Maruki’s Palace and speaking with him, the party (and the player) also realizes that he is truly convinced that he is in the right.
Maruki is trying to save the world in a way that only he can. And he refuses to back down.
There is only one way this could end.
WHEN WORDS FAIL
In this section, we are finally going to talk about the actual boss fight. Yes, I know, it took some time. But we’re finally here.
After all that story build up, it would be tragic if Maruki’s battle turned out to be easy or boring in any way.
Luckily, it is neither of those things.
The battle against Maruki has him ditching his nerdy doctor outfit for something that starts out like a cult leader dressed in all white before changing into what looks like an anime cleric.
He also finally reveals what that mysterious entity that helped him was.
It was his own Persona, Azathoth.
Before we talk about the battle itself, let me go on a brief tangent to clue you in on what Azathoth is and why you should care (if you like mythology and monsters, anyway).
Azathoth is an entity from Lovecraftian mythology, also known as the Blind Idiot God, the Nuclear Chaos, the Daemon Sultan, the Deep Dark, and the Cold One, among other names.
It is said to be “too horrible to be described” and is the ancestor of every weird horror in the Lovecraft mythos. In my book, this makes him Cthulhu’s scarier dad.
And you thought Makoto’s motorbike was a wild Persona.
As is tradition for most JRPG final boss battles, Maruki’s boss encounter comes in phases.
The first phase has him being protected by Azathoth’s tentacles as he uses physical attacks.
Both he and Azathoth have their own HP pools and the different tentacles are resistant to, immune to, or repel different types of attacks.
This is great because it kept me on my toes and forced me to carefully consider what attacks I used against which targets.
I didn’t want to use a physical attack that hits all enemies, only for one of them to reflect it on my character and instantly kill him. (And yes, that was something that happened to me more than once in P5R…)
After whittling down Maruki and Azathoth’s HP down to a quarter, the second phase will begin.
In this phase, Azathoth’s HP doubles and it gets more tentacles that do more things, while Maruki’s HP remains the same.
That being said, the second phase also introduces one tentacle that keeps healing Maruki’s HP.
Also, remember how I said that the different tentacles had different damage resistances and stuff?
In the second phase, the different tentacles that are active actually shuffle their damage resistances every turn!
This is pretty great from a challenge perspective because you can never fully relax and fall into any one strategy or pattern for too long. The battle does its best to keep you on your toes.
This phase is also lousy with status effects, which add another layer of complexity to the battle.
Azathoth attacks twice a turn and will keep trying to hit the party with the paralysis and dizzy status.
Azathoth also loves to inflict you with a status effect and hit you for extra damage (called a “Technical” attack in the game). At higher difficulties, these Technical attacks can be lethal.
While we’re discussing the battle, I’d like to briefly mention that in Persona 5, when the player levels up the social relationships with Confidants, they get additional abilities and powers to use in battles and dungeons.
In an ironic twist, one of the abilities that can be the most useful when dealing with Azathoth’s status effects is the very ability the player learns from Maruki’s social link; Detox DX.
This ability gives the protagonist the chance to instantly recover from status effects when afflicted.
I wonder if this was intentional and can be read further into or if it’s just a funny coincidence.
In any case, once the bosses’ HP drops low enough, they will start targeting individual party members. The player will get a notification that a particular person is being target and if they don’t make the character defend, it is almost certainly going to be a fatal strike.
Azathoth can also ban item use in battle, which can be a HUGE problem depending on the circumstance.
Also? If the player cannot beat it within 40 turns, it will cast an end-game high level magic spell that can deal around 1300 damage, which will most likely result in a party wipe.
So it’s safe to say that Azathoth isn’t playing around.
Defeating Maruki first will instantly end the fight. But defeating Azathoth will result in Maruki hanging on with 1 HP, so the player can finish the battle off on their terms.
But just as Maruki is defeated, Azaethoth begins evolving! This wasn’t even his final form!
Meet Adam Kadmon, Maruki’s ultimate Persona.
This entity is a reference to a story believed by some about a “first” or “prototype” man created by God before he made Adam and Eve.
In the context of the game, having the father of all of Lovecraft’s Gods change into an entity symbolizing the perfect form of Man is an interesting choice to say the least.
In the game, Adam Kadmon is created when the remains of Azathoth merges with the Treasure of his Palace (an object that represents that which he values the most).
It stands kaiju-sized in the city as Maruki makes his last effort to dissuade the Phantom Thieves.
This phase is somewhat easier than before due to the lack of tentacles with varying damage resistances, but Maruki still manages to attack the entire party and heal himself in huge amounts with the same move. So the player isn’t out of the woods yet.
Adam Kadmon itself is not targetable during this phase as the conflict is directly with Maruki.
At this point, the story and conflict have come to a head. The battle is more about a clash of ideals now, rather than a test of strength or strategy.
After the party depletes Maruki’s HP, he and Adam Kadmon fuse into one last phase. However this phase is more of a story thing and it’s impossible to die here.
As Adam Kadmon attacks the party with enough power to destroy buildings, they refuse to lay down and give up. They keep rising up to defy Maruki, much to his frustration.
Eventually, the fight culminates in a one-on-one fist fight between the player and Maruki on top of a cracking bridge.
It was heartbreaking and brutal in a way JRPGs very rarely are. Seeing these two characters beat the hell out of each other barehanded affected me in some kind of way, let me tell you!
So after all this, how does his story end?
I think I’ll leave that for you to discover.
WHY DO WE SUFFER?
Takuto Maruki’s character and story asks the player a simple question.
“Should suffering exist in the world?”
The simpleness of the question hides the true depth of the issue.
In the real world, we don’t get a choice about whether suffering exists or not. We cannot control much of our own lives, much less the world at large.
And even if we could control our lives to some degree, there is no accounting for the lives of others or even random accidents.
In such a world where anything can happen to anyone and leave them completely traumatized or changed for potentially the rest of their lives, is it really wrong to wish for something different?
Is it really wrong to want a world where no one suffers?
This is the conundrum that Maruki and his story lays at the players’ feet.
He has found a way to cure mental trauma as if it were a fever. With enough time, he can extend this cure to the entire nation and even the world.
Once a person goes through Actualization, they tend to give up on many of the major stressors in their lives and go do other things. They regain the family they’ve lost. They also change as people on a fundamental level.
Given enough time, Maruki could bring happiness and contentment to the whole world… or that’s what he claims, anyway.
In asking this question and wrestling with this issue, P5R gave me something truly profound to think about long after the credits rolled.
The canonical ending of the game does offer its take on the issue.
It makes the case that the reality and the happiness Maruki offers is false. That for whatever reason, suffering is part of the world and we can’t change that.
However, the game then suggests that by facing our suffering head-on and working through it, we can overcome it. Perhaps become even stronger than before.
Whether one believes this perspective or not, I think P5R asking this question and opening the doors to this discussion is ultimately a good thing.
We all face different kinds of adversity and suffering in our lives. We have had to accept it as an unchangeable reality of the world. Some might say that the promise of Heaven is so appealing because it is the promise of a world without suffering.
Takuto Maruki’s story gave me the opportunity to reflect on suffering in a way I’ve not really done before.
It was a fascinating and heartbreaking story that went to some really interesting and dark places to deliver a heartfelt narrative that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I never thought I would put this kind nerd on the boss list as characters like Kefka from Final Fantasy 6, but here we are.
I really loved the slow buildup of his story and how we got to befriend him as a Confidant. I also really loved his Palace design, along with the tragic backstory I learned within it.
And most of all, I love that throughout the entire thing, Maruki never revealed himself to be cruel or selfish or egomaniacal all along.
From start to finish, he was the same kind hearted man. Even when I fought him in his boss fight, he was more sad than mad. He seemed genuinely sad that we couldn’t come to an understanding and honestly, me too.
As the game ended and I watched the ending cutscenes of P5R, I kept repeating one sentence out loud, over and over. “Please let him survive. Please let him survive!”
Think about that! Here I was, a JRPG player, sitting at the end cutscene of my game, LAMENTING THE DEFEAT OF FINAL BOSS!
How often does that happen?!
For all of these reasons and more, I think that Takuto Maruki is one of the best JRPG bosses I’ve ever faced.
He will be the standard to which I measure almost all other “the villain has a point” type characters. If a villain can’t make a good point without invoking genocide or revealing that they were a secret bad guy the whole time, I’m out.
After Maruki, it’s clear that antagonists can be written with good points and nuance without ruining their argument for the sake of a good vs evil fight with the protagonist.
To pretend otherwise is a waste of our time.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it with others who might enjoy it also.
I would also love to hear what your perspective on the conundrum Maruki was dealing with.
If I’ve missed any details from the story (such as what happened to his old research job), I didn’t think it was that relevant to what makes him a good character.
Plus, the article is long enough already so I hope die-hard fans will forgive me for my omission.
Stay tuned to Emmen Gaming for more features just like this one!