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The next-level JRPG

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    DarkSymbiote
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    Persona 5

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    The next-level JRPG

    The Persona series has been going strong for a while. One of the better known and more liked JRPG franchises, the games have been mixing Pokemon with Jungian psychology, combined with day to day social life aspects resulting in unprecedented success. With peak popularity, Atlus aims for Persona 5 to be their biggest game to date. But does that mean the game takes the JRPG genre one step forward, or do the developers require a change of heart?

    Story

    So the protagonist is always a chosen one of sorts with a very unique power to host a huge number of personas. The (male only) main character is another victim of unjust Japanese corruption. Punished for his virtues, he has been sent away on probation all the way to Tokyo to spend an entire school year. Of course he awakens to his power, makes a ton of friends and tries his bit to reform society. While this does seem standard Persona fare, there are deeper themes; some mature, others beyond childish. There also seems to be a serious case of adult guilt pervading throughout the script.

    You are your gang, The Phantom Thieves, are essentially superheroes who purify nasty people’s hearts. The most famous and corrupt are the main plot targets but there are lesser ones who add to character arcs. For better and for worse, the main cast is diverse. From have the dumb but supportive best friend to the pet character. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen these archetypes many times before. Ryuji is essentially another Junpei (P3) or Yosuke (P4). Besides that, some friendships are outright bizarre. There is nothing in the certain character interactions that would remotely indicate a deeper connection, but you’ll still see your confidant rank go up for whatever reason. The main character is a bizarre one. You are supposed to accept that he is his own person but at the same time he is an extension of you. While dialogue options do exist, they generally make little difference in the overall story. Despite being the team leader you’ll be railroaded by the others into complying with plot heavy decisions. Often, the choices vary between "Yes, "Yeah", and "Sure". Bizarreness aside, that does not mean the game is completely void of choices. While your responses won’t have a significant impact on another life you can choose your love interest, give compliments, rebuke, and joke, among other things.

    The writing is all over the place. It’s quite disappointing that Japanese developers still don’t understand the concept of pacing. The first act is the best written; you’re introduced to the Tokyo hubs, the story concepts seem very unique, the characters are under life threatening circumstances, all combined with heavy drama. The plot, very slowly, descends after that point. After scores of hours when you are in one of the best dungeons in the game, when you fight the best boss battle there is (both storywise as well as gameplay) the game is ripe for a finale. But that isn’t what happens. Instead, in typical JRPG fashion, the game drags on for another dozen or so hours. The final boss isn’t the true final boss and the true final boss is, while part of a fairly well done plot twist, makes a story that should been more personal irritatingly drawn out and world threatening. The game should have ended hours ago but it slows down to a crawl. as you make more final pushes with the heroes bombing the villain with cliched pompously trite morals.

    With all that said, the plot is not unsalvagable. Of course, you will have to deal with the anime-isms like always but it has been noticeably reduced. The villains are presented in an evil enough manner with most of them coming off as properly nigh irredeemable without noted heart change. Persona’s story cannot be separated from its optional character arcs. You have to play through them or you’ll find yourself wondering why there are such long gaps between each dungeon. The majority of said arcs are entertaining enough. And yes, you will find questionable writing throughout the entire game. You must accept the fact that this is a JRPG. However, you can rest with the knowledge that it is overall more mature than most other JRPGs on the market.

    The majority of Persona 5’s plot is a joy. You’ll press your palm against your face a few times and you will most likely be drained of motivation by the final act, but you will also look back on the game’s strong intro and other high points. The lesser aspects are (mostly) filtered by the good elements. The story ends on a satisfying note.

    Design and Gameplay

    With a year to spend in Tokyo you’ll be splitting and strategizing your time between dungeon delving and hanging around the city. Since time is limited you must choose what to do and when to do it improving your social stats as well as relationships. These also affect your overall gameplay while fighting so they aren’t just there for decorations. Tokyo has that big city feel so that will draw in most players quite easily. Locations are a pleasant to be in compared to prior games’ ones. Aside from the Velvet Room though. It’s not a quaint elevator or a cozy limousine, but an unpleasing jail. And you’re constantly hectored by two brats. Moving around is very easy and nifty & swift load screens add to the pleasantness. The biggest aspect of time that plagued the last two game also plagues this one: The lack of time. You are presented with far less time than you would anticipate. It is highly unlikely for someone to do everything the game has to offer on their first playthrough. Add to that, the game’s cumbersome nature wastes time. The party frequently stops to explain each and every little aspect (somethings the average child could easily figure out on their own). Besides that you will find the story, for no proper explanation, yanking away control for the sake of plot progression throughout days, across day and night. This wastes valuable time better spent on social links.

    Battles are some of the best you will find in any JRPG: Simple, yet fulfilling. The key to victory like before is to ascertain the enemy’s weakness. The highlights of fighting though are the palace bosses. It is true that some can become frustrating but despite that, Persona 5 is one of the few turn based games with good bosses. All of these have unique elements to them and genuine strategy does come into play. Also, often you will be able to send out a party member to improve the situation so the boss fight can actually be done with. One of the coolest new additions is the ability to negotiate with enemies once all of them are down but not out. You can either ask them for money, items, or recruit them. You see, this time, you’re fighting the personas directly. It’s an interesting touch and you no longer gain new personas via a luck based card game. The personas themselves are generally well designed but can go down into the tasteless territory. Who wants to fight a giant phallus?

    The dungeons are the best that there has been. Each and every one them offers at least a new gimmick to play around with. Your method of progression vary depending on the target’s personality. This keeps experiences fresh. No two major dungeons are the same. Sans one major palace and the common one, all of them are exciting to go through. Stealth is a more focused aspect than ever. Previously, stealth was the ideal choice, here, sneaking is mandatory as too many alerts will have you booted from the current palace. Surprising a foe is simple, if a tad cumbersome. The character movement and cover system is very stiff, although nothing that you won’t be used to by the end of the prologue. More fine tuning would have been welcome. There is also a detective mode and honestly, this cannot be defended. It is highly disappointing that a JRPG with simple dungeon mechanics needed such a feature.

    Overall, aside from the degradation of pacing in the latter parts of the game, managing social life with crime fighting can be quite relaxing. The game is brimming with content, too much perhaps, but enough to make you have respect that so much was actually put into a modern game. All aspects of palaces are hand made while you don’t spend too much time in the randomly generated one, holding back fatigue… at least for a while.

    Visulas

    So Persona 5 looks more like anime than before. But before you decide to snub it, do realize that the art is very much subdued compared to modern day weeb stuff. The main character looks appropriately blank slate while everyone else comes off as soothing enough. Nothing in the game is offensive to look at (well, other that some persona designs). The color pattern is just vibrant enough without being corrosive to the eyes. The game looks like low anime that might even appeal to those with a disdain for Japanese animation.

    One more important aspect to mention: The color theme. It is bright red on black. This contrast creates a shock and you come to an understanding soon enough that this isn’t your typical game. On the other hand… it’s far too bright. Some darker pallettes for the menus and the protagonist-led all-out-attack would have made for a tad more soothing experience.

    Audio

    You’re probably noticing a pattern of Persona 5 being mentioned as having some of the best aspects of gameplay in any JRPG. The same could be said for the soundtrack. Now, it isn’t quite up there with the classic Final Fantasys. But it is excellent. Mostly. What you’ll find here is primarily upbeat pop and simpler, calming tunes. The OST is almost perfect with the game having the proper sound for every moment whether goofy, serious, or something in-between. When you enter a battle you’ll find the beat captures the mood immediately. All palaces have their unique tracks well. Another interesting aspect is the low use of bass. Interesting because it seems every other modern composer under the sun ups the bass to eleven for some artificial energy in their music. Shoji Meguro has outdone himself and this soundtrack belongs in your playlist. It’s almost perfect. Almost because the songs suffer from Engrish. It’s quite unfortunate because the scores accompanying the lyrics are quite good.

    As for the voice acting, nothing besides the fact that every one sounds just right for their character can be stated. Angry expressions sound like they should as do joyous ones. Please do not let that deter you though. One thing to keep in mind is that the basic writing is not particularly avant-garde. So while we may not get to hear some impressive exposition of a villain’s master plan, the voice actors do a good job and turn out a good performance with what they’re given.

    Pros:

    - Quick yet complex battle system
    - Boss fights
    - Superb soundtrack

    Cons:

    - Latter pacing is outright obscene
    - Story progresses into generic territory later on
    - Not enough given free time

    Final verdict

    Persona 5 is a game with huge flaws. So large in fact that one has to wonder what the developers were thinking. However, it is also a game with neat visuals, amazing music, great gameplay, unique mechanics, and fine variety. Without a doubt it is one of the best turn based RPGs to come out in a very long time. If you had ever wanted to return to the genre, this is the place to do so.

    Rating: 8.0

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