December 5, 2019 at 11:54 AM #790
Rating: 5.0 – Flawless
Let’s add a bit of style to our RPGs!
Well, Persona 5 sure took its time to come out! As a series, Persona is rather well known for blending rather standard JRPG mechanics with its high-school sim game play (ever since Persona 3 re-invited this spin-off series anyways), which found a faithful audience. Still though, Persona 4 came out for the PS2 in 2008. Granted, it had a re-release on the Vita in 2012, but that’s still five-plus years between releases!
For the most part, Persona 5 delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Persona game, and if you’re already a fan of the series picking up this game is definitely a no-brainer (what, do you want to wait another 5-10 years for Persona 6?). If you haven’t played this series though, and want to know exactly what Persona 5 is all about, you are in the right place! After nearly 200 hours with the game, I’m ready to go in-depth on what you can expect! Let’s do this!
We’re going to steal your heart…
Like many RPG’s you take on the role of an un-named (and mute) protagonist, who is sent to live with a family friend in Tokyo after trying to stop a drunk (but prominent) businessman from forcing himself on a woman late at night. As we all know, life can be unfair, and despite your character trying to do the right thing you are instead charged with assault and are expelled from your old school. Lovely.
Thankfully, you are given a second chance to attend high school in Tokyo ("Shujin Academy"), and are now the "new kid" in school but known as a troublemaker (you are on probation, after all). Even your new guardian isn’t exactly happy with the situation, forcing you to live in an attic above his coffee shop. Being a Persona game though, soon after moving to a new city and school, our protagonist gets drawn into the "Velvet Room" and discovers he has the ability to enter corrupt individual’s "Mind Palaces" and force them to change by stealing their heart. Quite a weird power, granted, but when confronted with a corrupt gym teacher at his new school who is clearly abusing his power and appears to be sexually harassing various female students… well… it’s time to put this new power to use…
As you can probably tell, this game’s story is a wild ride. Being able to forcefully change people’s wills is in itself a touchy subject, and definitely a fantastical power. Along the way you’ll meet a wide variety of allies who join you. Given that the story takes place over nearly a year (with you playing though almost every single day), your bond with your comrades plays into the story quite a bit (and is one of the biggest selling points story-wise to me personally, as you just spend so much time with your friends). I also really enjoyed the targets that your team decides to use their powers on in this title, as the themes of corruption really hit home in today’s world (sexual harassment, people in authority abusing their power, etc…).
While the game’s main story is undoubtedly a wild ride, I feel that one of the big reasons Persona 5’s story as a whole stands out is all of the "off time" you get between the bigger plot progression moments. For example, you will basically progress the main plot every month or so that passes (sometimes longer than that…), but in the meantime you are literally just an ordinary high-school student. So most days you’ll go to class and will then have to choose what to do with your time afterwards.
This is where the story shines. Perhaps you’ll spend your time hanging out with your school friends, and learn more about their past (developing a deeper bond with them). Or maybe you’ll volunteer to help a local politician out and learn from his life lessons. Or perhaps you’ll hang out with a shady back-street doctor and help her with her experiments while learning how she was ostracized from the field of medicine. Your time is yours to delve into so many relationships with people and discover so many smaller side-stories. You could also just not do any of that and spend your time studying, or going to the gym, or just watching movies. You are essentially forging your own experience between the game’s major plot progression, and more often than not it is a memorable one!
One more time!
Like I mentioned earlier, the Persona series is a bit of a mixed-bag when it comes to game play, being half-JRPG and half "life sim". The life sim part has tons of story-choices, but Persona 5 is able to even incorporate the life-sim part of the game into the game play in a really easy way: virtually everything you do (day to day) has an impact game-play wise. Did you hang out with a party-member after school? Hang out with them enough and they may learn a new skill. Or perhaps you hung out with that shady doctor? Hang out with her a lot and she may up her stock of medicines or give you a discount. You can do activities for stat-increases, hang-out with people for skills and benefits… heck, you can even ditch being social entirely and just go to the gym day after day (which will up your hit points). Nearly everything you do (besides going to bed early) will help you in some form or fashion (and as you can see, it is tied into the game’s story very tidily, which is quite nice).
But then we have the actual game play. As you explore dungeons in the game there will be enemies walking around. These are just avatars, usually dressed up in whatever the dungeon’s theme is, but you can still usually choose to fight or avoid them. When you get into a fight, you’ll then see what monsters you are fighting. From there we have fairly standard turn-based battle with what has to be, hands down, the greatest-looking battle menu of all time. Seriously, Persona 5’s battle menu has become a meme at this point (its that good). From there, you can attack, defend, use items or change up your strategy, but the big feature in most battles is the "Persona" menu.
Persona’s are not only the enemies you face throughout the game, but also your stock of magical allies. All of your party members only have one persona that will level up over time, giving them their abilities. Your main character, however, can recruit any persona in the game (due to their "Wild Card" ability). This gives you a TON of options to choose from, as each persona in the game has a different set of attacks and abilities, as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. This can lead to some sense of strategy throughout the game as well. For example, a certain boss may be fond of using ice attacks. If you have an ice-based persona, you can avoid (or perhaps even absorb) those ice attacks. That fire persona you have may be weak to ice however, which is critical as whenever you (or any enemy) hit someone who is weak to a certain type of attack, the attacker gets an extra turn to pour on damage. Another interesting note about "Personas" I should add is that you can collect and fuse them together to make new Personas… as long as your character’s level matches or is higher than the new Persona’s level (otherwise, you’d be way overpowered way too quickly!).
Other than the (engaging) "Life Sim" part of the game and the Persona system, Persona 5 is pretty much your average RPG. You’ll fight monsters, level up, gain money, and shop for newer (and better) weapons and armor for your team. In short, long-time RPG players will quickly get used to Persona 5’s quirks and how much you like the game play here is highly dependent on how much you like the whole "Life Sim" part of the game as a whole, as that is really what sets Persona apart from other RPG’s out there.
We’re going to make this look GOOD!
Despite the unique "life sim" game play and the quirky story, the single biggest impression that Persona 5 left with me is just how darn STYLISH the game is. Persona 5 knows it looks good and isn’t afraid to show it off. This is mainly conveyed in the game’s animations and menus, with bits of flair here and unique, stylish animations there (for example, your character’s silhouette changes poses as you go through your standard menu, all while asking what you’re staring at…). It helps that the game overall goes for the more animated-look instead of hyper-realistic (your 3D character models are human-proportioned, but drawn in an animated cartoon-ish style), but there’s no denying that this is one of the most stylish RPG’s I’ve ever seen.
One of the biggest improvements to the series as a whole is the game’s dungeon designs. In previous games, the dungeons were… rather bland. One unique style or wallpaper maybe and just random hallways with random rooms attached (giving the games some very bland randomness). Persona 5 on the other hand has dungeons that look like someone actually put some effort into them! Each "story dungeon" has a particular theme that it will usually stick with and includes puzzles, unique set-pieces and (of course) boss fights. Stealth is a big part of the game play (you are called the "Phantom Thieves" after all…) and each dungeon also has several (often varying) stealthy paths as well.
As you play through the game, you’ll also get several anime-style cut-scenes that will play at key moments (made by Production I.G.) that are extremely well-made. All in all though, the extra touches and flair throughout the entire game are what make this game so good-looking and downright stylish. The only real downside is that every other game you play after Persona 5 just isn’t going to be stylish enough for your taste…
Adding some Jazz into the mix!
One thing the Persona series was always lauded for was its music. I mean, we literally have a game based on Persona 4’s music (Persona 4: Dancing All Night) and games coming out based on Persona 3 and Persona 5’s music. Something must be going right here!
I’ve always enjoyed the series music, as composer Shoji Meguro has a talent for blending pop into the series, often composing a handful of catchy songs for each game while making numerous short pieces that just get stuck in your head. Persona 5 is really no different, with a soundtrack featuring a ton of short musical pieces that only every play at certain locations that may sound odd at first, but will absolutely get stuck in your head (examples of this are "Butterfly Kiss" or "Layer Cake", two shop themes that can just get stuck in your head) or tracks that are much longer and surprisingly just as catchy. These longer tracks often come in "Instrumental" and "Vocal" variations, both of which play throughout the game (there’s a surprising amount of vocal soundtracks here, but vocalist Lyn Inaizumi knocks it out of the park… even if you can’t quite make out what she’s saying sometimes…).
I have to admit, this soundtrack is, hands down, one of my favorite game soundtracks in recent years. The reason is that a lot of it is just funky, with the tracks often being a mix of jazz, punk and pop combined to create something catchy. The game’s been out for almost a year and to this day I still put on a Persona 5 playlist while I’m working on other things to just listen to. If you want a good idea of what to expect out of this soundtrack (as well as some great tracks), check out "Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There", "Rivers in the Desert" and "Beneath the Mask".
Outside of the soundtrack, the voice acting throughout the game is solid and enjoyable. I should note that if you don’t care for the English voice actors/acting, there is a free Japanese voice acting DLC pack you can download from the PSN store (there’s actually all sorts of stuff you can download, but an optional free voice acting patch is still pretty cool).
One heck of a journey…
As you can probably tell from this review so far, I personally think pretty highly of Persona 5. With a game like this though, re-playability may be its one weakness. Don’t get me wrong: Persona 5 is a heck of a journey, but playing it a second time is just… I mean, it’s the same story after all (although I feel that the fact that this is a 100+ hour RPG if you want it to be still gives it great play-length overall).
There’s really only two reasons to replay this game. The first is trophies. In order to Platinum the game you will have to play the game in "New Game Plus" mode (a welcome addition in and of itself). New Game Plus lets you carry over your stat levels, weapons and items and of course your money. You are really set up in this mode, but it also unlocks new Persona to make, which you’ll need to do to get every trophy.
The second reason to replay the game is to, of course, see everything there is to see. Now, with good time management you can definitely max out every stat and see every single confidant rank and event in the game, but that takes some serious time managements skills (and likely a guide to follow). Doing another game with all of those carry-over stats makes seeing everything WAY easier though, so I can easily see why some people may want to do another playthrough like that.
I should also mention that the game has a whole bunch of difficulties to choose from (from super-easy to very hard) and none of the affect the trophies whatsoever. You can also change the difficulty at any time, which is quite nice as you basically get maximum control over how hard the game is at any given time. All in all though, you are definitely getting your money’s worth out of this JRPG, that is for sure.
In the end, Persona 5 really is an evolution of the series, retaining the fantastic story while adding to the game play and graphics in very meaningful ways. Add on to that a fantastic soundtrack (by far my favorite game soundtrack in years) and a beefy journey to go through and you have yourself one heck of an RPG.
Persona 5’s quirks may not be for everyone, but if you enjoy a weird story and REALLY getting to know your party (and really being immersed in the world), then I’d encourage you to give Persona 5 a try. If you’re looking for your next RPG to get addicted to, you may very well end up loving this title as much as I did. Have fun and keep playing!
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