I didn't know if Persona 5 Royal needed an epilogue. Bolting on an extra 20 hours to an already extensive—not to mention poorly paced—game didn't sound appealing, but Persona 5 Royal's epilogue features a first for the series: a strong villain.
Spoiler Warning: Be warned, beyond this point there are full story spoilers for Persona 5 Royal!
Takuto Maruki is the greatest villain in the Persona franchise because he's finally a villain with actual depth. One of the chief new additions for the re-release of Persona 5, Maruki was brought into the fold as a guidance counselor for Shujin Academy students, who were often traumatized at the hands of the manipulative teacher, Kamoshida. Spurned at first by the agitated Phantom Thieves, Joker, Ann, and Ryuji eventually open up to and grow closer to Maruki, who genuinely wishes nothing but the best for the burdened students.
Maruki emerging as a villain in Persona 5 Royal's epilogue is a real gut punch. As someone who has been close to our heroes, seeming to genuinely care for and look after them, his turn into a villainous figure with godly desires is a shocking one. These godly desires are enabled by Maruki's enigmatic Persona, who allows him to bend and distort the very fabric of reality to his will.
After the better part of a year listening to the struggles of students, Maruki takes this power and forges a new reality for them. The new reality is based on the desires of the Phantom Thieves: Ryuji is a star on the track team, Haru's father is alive and well, Yusuke was never abused by Madarame, and so on. Maruki has handed them a ticket to paradise after listening to their hardships for nearly a year, but, of course, it's all a lie.
This reality is a fake, as Joker and his former archnemesis Goro Akechi determine. It's a reality where our Phantom Thieves never had to struggle, but more crucially, it's a reality where our heroes never grew and evolved through overcoming said struggles. Everyone's been provided a ticket to the easy and comfortable life they were always after, so you'd be forgiven for momentarily thinking that Maruki isn't even a villain at all.
In fact, that's how Maruki sees himself. The original Persona 5 ends with the fall of the God of Control, a deity that binds humanity in chains of fate and bends mankind to its will. In this power vacuum, Maruki ascends to a position of power over humanity, taking it upon himself to handcraft a better future for mankind with his power to distort and change reality. A counselor using years upon years of experience to forge a comfortable reality for trauma victims to live in certainly isn't your typical villain, and it's no surprise that Maruki sees his actions as the "right thing" to do with his newfound godly powers.
Maruki isn't your typical villain, at least by Persona standards. He's no "God of Control," shackling an unknowing humanity to his very will. He's definitely not Persona 4's god Izanami, attempting to "cure" humanity by merging it with a shadowy, monstrous reality, nor like Persona 3's Nyx. Simply put, Maruki is doing what he deems to be the right thing to do to help people around him that are suffering greatly. But there's an ulterior motive that shows Maruki's selfish goals: his advancements in cognitive psience and control of the mind are also done to stick it to a former investor of his cognitive research that abandoned him over a lack of evidence.
He might not be a typical cackling villain, but there's still a climactic showdown with Maruki in a city-destroying boss fight (the Metaverse, that is, not actual Tokyo). In the true ending, the Phantom Thieves want to return to the reality they knew and evolved in, and Maruki just can't wrap his head around it. "Why aren't you happy here?!" he bemoans the Phantom Thieves, fighting to keep them in the reality that he painstakingly constructed for them. In many ways, Maruki has become the abuser that he sought to protect our heroes from; he's not assaulting his students like Kamoshida, but he's still holding them uncomfortably close and refusing to let them go.
Maruki's story is one of good people doing bad things. He is by definition a good person, but that's all before he awakens to the godly powers of his Persona. His subsequent actions are those of a villain, regardless of how Persona 5 Royal gives you the option to remain in his reality as an ambiguous ending. Creating a reality for someone without their knowledge is still wrong, regardless of whether you did it with the best intentions or not.
Maruki's ascendance to godhood mirrors the fall of his ethics and the boundaries that should exist between him and the students that he counsels. Persona 5 Royal shows with Maruki's character that power inherently corrupts people, no matter their positive intentions. We see it with our very own eyes as Maruki time and time again in the epilogue oversteps his boundaries in creating an alternate reality for characters wholly without their consent.
Persona 5 Royal finally gave us a villain worthy of the Phantom Thieves. There's no more literal deities with powers unmatched, seeking to end humanity like in Persona 3 or 4. Our heroes this time aren't fighting to protect the world they live in, they're fighting to protect themselves and everything they've personally been robbed of. Persona 5 Royal's epilogue is excellent, and I'm glad I made the 100-plus hour journey to see the compelling villain that Persona 5 needed all along with Takuto Maruki.