-by Dylan DiBona
It’s quite a difficult task to review a Persona game, mostly because they inevitably become emotional. Taking a massive amount of time until the credits roll (in this case 120 hours) and having a specialized focus on player to NPC bonds, it’s hard saying goodbye and digesting everything. Internally there is a battle between my emotions as a human and critiques as an analyst.
Well today I’ve finally done it, Persona 5 has been beaten. Much like it clearly did from the developers, it took an extraordinary amount of time and care to finish this game.
It’s apparent from the first hour of Persona 5 that things are different this time around. Ditching the Shin Megami Tensei in it’s title, it’s fair to say that Persona is no longer a sub-series, but instead it’s own massive franchise. Initial planning of Persona 5 began back in 2008 alongside the fourth entry in the series; plenty of time and thought has been put into this game.
Having beaten Persona 4 only one week before the release of 5, every improvement within the new entry was obvious. Much like past entries, this game features a linear calendar with some days forcing story moments and others being free for the player to do whatever- study for exams, hang out with friends or just be a loner and go to sleep. What’s new is how the game plays with the concept of this calendar for the sake of an intriguing story. That’s all I’ll say to avoid spoilers, but this is indeed a tale worth going into as fresh as possible.
Through your journey you’ll meet new friends who become party members for the actual RPG section of the game. The combat shines from the moment you hear the first few violin notes of the main battle theme. Crucial yet obtuse things from Persona 4 like trying to get an ambush on your enemy, gaining new personas or even the actual flow of battle have been greatly improved here. There’s been an increase in stealth allowing for easier ambushes; don’t worry, I don’t like stealth games but the sneaking mechanics here are simple and fun. The rock paper scissors style combat from past entries and most evidently Pokémon makes a return; this time there are some new elements and with the innovative “Baton-Pass” mechanic there are endless combinations you can unleash onto your foes, making it easier than ever to perform the classic “All-Out Attack” where you and all your teammates chop up every enemies on field at once.
The main theme of Persona 5 is thievery and there is more to reflect that than the aforementioned stealth. If you manage to get the upper-hand on all enemies in the battlefield with elements, you can stick them up with a “Hold Up” and negotiate with them. A negotiation can reward the player with money, rare items or if you play your cards well- a new Persona. Alongside typical melee weapons and now guns which act as their own element and have their own set of moves and possible strategies.
Needless to say, the battle system in the Persona series has taken one enormous leap forward with this newest entry.
Another apparent and welcome improvement is in aesthetics. Everything to the HUD, to the cel-shaded graphics feel like they have a life of their own. Persona 4 has you running around the quiet country side of Inaba, but Persona 5 places you in the New York of Japan, Shibuya. You’ll ride the train to school and explore the underground mall, you’ll walk down Central Street and stop by the local arcade or diner to increase some stats that will reap benefits in both the battlefield and at home.
When you aren’t fighting monsters you’ll be living a normal life as a high-schooler. Basically Persona 5 is like a superhero anime but in JRPG form- and it’s addictive. It’s a common opinion to cite the social aspects as your favorite part of a Persona game. No other JRPG series allows you to take optional steps deeper into characters stories. It’s this feature that allows “party members” to become more than just that, they turn into actual friends. Maybe I’m too sentimental but I don’t care if we’re talking virtual or reality, these peoples stories left a mark on me and gave me a lesson to think about by the time the game was over; they are indeed my friends- no questions asked.
The story and the characters in this game are top notch and unlike with Persona 4 where I thought the story jumped the shark a little bit in it’s last ten hours, 5 holds up nicely all throughout it’s ginormous playtime. It’s not always that you get characters so worth spending time with in video games; so even though it pains me to do it, I won’t even mention a single name of a character. Like I said above, this is one game you want to jump into blindly.
So far I’ve only spoken of improvements and I have one more to bring up: dungeons. Persona 4 reminded me immensely of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, endless hallways with staircases being the goal. It was enough, but it didn’t live to it’s fullest potential. In 5 dungeons are fully fleshed out environments that don’t repeat- they never get stale. I was taken to some fantastic places thanks to this game and with all the loot and monsters within them, there was more than enough keeping me exploring.
So are there are negative aspects about Persona 5? Less than a handful of times I questioned safe-room placement within dungeons (safe-rooms are the only places you can save in dungeons). But other than that I had no real issues with Persona 5. I was going to say that maxing out all social relationships in one playthrough seems impossible, but it’s obviously not since there’s a trophy for it. I could see some people complaining about the easiness of the game; for some reason I decided to play on Hard Mode which I never do, but beat the game with only about five really frustrating experiences. One person on social media brought up the easiness of the bosses, but each boss save one, required me to go back and grind out a few levels and get better gear. The bosses felt perfect when compared to 4 which had overly difficult bosses even on Normal Mode.
I can’t really say I dislike anything about Persona 5.
This game has been making me look in the mirror and reevaluate what I like about video games. It even made me question The Legend of Zelda as my favorite series of games. I’ve never seen a sequel ameliorate so many aspects of it’s predecessor. I even wondered at times if Persona 5 could be my favorite game ever made (as of now it isn’t, but the power of hindsight is strong). I won’t be replaying Persona 5 for a very long time but that’s okay, it makes it all the more sweeter.
Persona 5 is an absolutely masterful video game.
So there you have it, my full spoiler-free thoughts on Persona 5! Have any of you played it or are currently playing it? Let me know what you think down below! Have you never played a Persona game and are interested in jumping into the series? Ask me a question in the comments and I’ll try my best to reply! As always, thanks for reading.