September 22, 2019 at 8:18 AM #1016
Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding
Persona 5: a perfect fusion of visual novel and dungeon crawling
Persona games have typically struggled with the division between the visual novel and dungeon crawling gameplay styles. Although previous games were of a high quality, they required an interest in two disparate genres in order to be properly enjoyed, and the dungeon crawling was generally considered to be flawed compared to dedicated dungeon crawlers.
What does Persona 5 do to combat these issues? Well, if anything, it’s more demanding than previous games in the series. Dungeons are longer, hand-crafted, and require constant concentration to succeed on the normal level of difficulty. Long-term Shin Megami Tensei fans will be pleased to learn, however, that the battle system has received a level-up. Now you battle the same personae that you recruit, and indeed, you can use an improved SMT conversation mechanic in order to recruit or extort your opponents. Unfortunately, they didn’t decide to inherit the press turn system, but otherwise it feels much more at parity with the mainstream SMT combat system.
The game commits itself to a heavy mechanical connection between your social experience and your dungeon crawling experience. Leveling up your social links will now allow you to have additional combat abilities, such as periodic buffs, ambush mitigation, negotiation help, and much more. In addition, you can receive a lot of aid towards your action efficiency in the visual novel gameplay. Impressively, the game ignores modern trends and is actually the most complicated Persona to date, requiring some mastery of both gameplay aspects in order to succeed.
The plot of the game is a massive disappointment. It begins strongly, with some social commentary and intrigue, but it meanders for far too long and when it does show its hand, you’ll have already imagined far more interesting possibilities than what actually happens. This is a criticism that could be leveled at Persona 4, too but I feel like it’s worse here than it ever was before. Even the pace of the plot is far slower than Persona 4; nothing really happens until the final act, and your character spends most of the game failing to realise something which has been made obvious to the player for a long time.
Special mention is due to the soundtrack here. It’s a solid 5/5; given that there are over a hundred tracks here, there are a few weak points, but the majority of what you hear is incredible. The style is in clear defiance of modern game development, without the sort of obsessive focus-testing and popularity-reaction that occurs in mainstream Western development and increasingly in Japanese games. They opted for a Jazz/soul style. The quality of the music is very high. Shoji Meguro took charge here, and the lyrics were sung by Lyn Inaizumi, who puts in a very convincing English vocal performance; the songs in which she sings are generally the strongest in the game. One of the final boss fights in the game – certainly the most climactic – features music which motivated me to push through the fight despite several failures.
This is a difficult game to rate. It is unambiguously the best Persona game, in terms of mechanics. The plot progression and overall story are poor, and this is the only bad thing that I have to say. Previous Persona games haven’t been incredible in this regard, but this is definitely the worst instance, and given how strong it is in every other regard, I can’t bring myself to give it a perfect score.
I wholly recommend that you play the game, though. The PS3 and PS4 versions are both equally worth playing; the PS3 version clearly had the most effort invested, and it works incredibly well on the dated console. The PS4 version receives a resolution bump and shortened load times, but is otherwise the same experience and costs £15 more in GBP.
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