Stealing with style.
It’s been a long time coming, but Persona 5 is finally here. What started as a niche franchise that really only a few hardcore JRPG fans played turned into a cult, and now mainstream phenomenon with the release of Persona 4. After almost 10 years, we finally get the much anticipated sequel, and I have to say, this is game was well worth the wait.
Players take on the role of a young high school student in Japan. After being sued and convicted of assault, he is forced to live with a coffee shop owner in the city as a sort of “halfway house” for rehabilitation. He will have to go to school and stay on the up and up in order to make sure his last chance doesn’t go to waste. If he screws up even once, it’s off to juvenile hall for him. And right on his first day, he and a fellow student accidentally warp into another dimension through a phone app where the world is distorted and full of malicious shadows. Along with that, the high school they go to in this world has turned into a warped castle, where a very horrible PE teacher runs the show as king. Oh, and this is just the first two hours of the game. After meeting up with a friendly talking cat, the two decide to become master thieves in order to sneak into a corrupt person’s mental palace and steal their innermost desires. Much like the previous games, Persona 5 is just as strange, but in a very good way.
Platfroms: PS4, PS3
Price I’d pay: $59.99
In the simplest terms, Persona 5 is a turn-based RPG mixed with a time management mechanic. Much like in Persona 3 and 4, players will have to balance school and everyday life with the exploration and fighting that occurs in dungeons. Since everything in the game takes up time, it’s up to the players what they want to do on a given day. So, let’s talk about what players will be doing during this fine balance of activities.
The first is the everyday school life of the main character. Players can choose to study to increase their knowledge, go to a bathhouse to increase their charm, and a multitude of other activities that can raise certain stats. Doing so will offer up more dialog options during the story. Players may come across a dialog option that they can’t say due to their knowledge or guts not being high enough. Along with those kinds of activities, players can also spend time with their friends and acquaintances. Much like the social links of the previous games, Persona 5’s confidants can range from friends at school and party members to random people on the street, like a down on his luck politician or a shady airsoft shop owner. Hanging out with them and doing certain tasks will result in the main character becoming closer to the person, strengthening their bond. This will then raise their bond level, which will aid in fusing personas as well as gain new abilities that can help out in combat, or even out in the field. I’ll dive deep into that in a minute.
Now, the second part of the game is the combat and the dungeon exploration. Players will be traversing areas in this alternate dimension that come in the form of dungeons. These places represent how the boss of the dungeon sees the world. So a corrupt PE teacher sees himself as the king of the high school, turning the high school into a castle. The exploration is much different and varied this time around than from the previous games. Instead of going through floor after floor of the same looking areas like in P3 or P4, here the dungeons all have specific rooms and hallways. There’s no randomness to it, which really breaks up the monotony I had in P3 and P4. Stealth and sneak attacks are way more prevalent here. Due to the team being thieves, they are able to hide and quickly attack enemies on the field in order to get the first strike on them in battle.
Battles play out in classic turn-based form. Players can pick and choose what they want to do, which can range from standard attacking, using their persona to do powerful elemental attacks or boost their party members’ stats, defend, and fire their guns. Much like the previous games, the combat is all about breaking the rules of the standard turn-based game. If a character hits an enemy’s weakness, it will knock them down and give that character another turn. Hitting all the enemies weaknesses and knocking them down will result in a hold up and allow for an all-out attack that does massive damage and can easily end the fight right then and there, although there is another reason to knock all the enemies down in combat. During a hold up, players can choose to do an all-out attack or talk to the shadows. This is going back to the old days of Persona 1 and 2, along with other Shin Megami Tensei games. Talking to them will grant the player a few options. They can ask for the shadows to give them money, an item, or have them join the party. Players must choose some correct dialog options based on what kind of shadow they’re talking to and respond accordingly. If they don’t it may agitate the shadow to where the fighting resumes or the enemy may run away. If done correctly, the main character can convince the shadow to join up with them and allow the main protagonist to equip that captured persona in battle.
After battles, players are rewarded with experience points, money, and items. While the game is most certainly not easy, I didn’t have to actually grind for levels as long as I took out all the enemies as I was going through the level. Getting stronger isn’t just from leveling up, though. In fact, the best way to get stronger is to fuse personas together to create new ones. Much like the past games, players can visit Igor in the Velvet Room and use his services to combine personas to make some really powerful ones with higher stats and better abilities. Once again, this is a game in and of itself. Finding the right combination mixed with the upgraded confidants can result in some very powerful allies in battle. You see, the higher the protagonist’s bond is with certain confidants, the more experience points the certain persona will gain when being created. So let’s give an example. Let’s say, I’m fusing two personas together that will result in a persona that falls under the Magician category. Rankng up the bond with Morgana will increase the rank of the Magician. If I create this persona that falls under this category, it will gain experience based on how strong my bond with Morgana is, which could result in an even stronger persona than I could normally fuse.
One thing that anyone will see when they look at this game is that the art style is very unique. Persona 3 and 4 had some really great looks to them, but Persona 5 has kicked it into high gear here. Everything is flashy and pops when in motion, and the presentation is superb. Not to mention that the story, while strange in its own right, is still a great story of justice, friendship, and adventure. Mix that all with a voice cast that really nails their performances and you have yourself a great game wrapped up in a great story.
Now, it’s not all sugar and rainbows. There are a few hitches here and there that really grated on my nerves after a while. The first one being, while the exploration is greatly improved, the movement and sneaking feels stiff. There were times I would get spotted only because the controls felt stiff or I was sticking to the wrong side of a wall where I was trying to hide. And when getting spotted and ambushed can result in a party death, it can be rather punishing when something like this comes up.
The next issue I had was the small fact that I couldn’t save anywhere. While I know some will disagree with me here, I feel like nowadays, every game should allow for saving anywhere. I get it, they want to make it feel like a risk reward for pressing on in a dungeon, but when I’ve been playing for hours and just want to pick it up at a later date, but am forced to go through more of the game just to make it to a save point, it really gets to me. Of course, that’s just my opinion and not everyone shares it.
But the biggest and most frustrating issue I have with Persona 5 is the fact that if the main character dies in a fight, it’s game over. Now, previous games in the series have had this issue, but it really needs to stop. Let’s paint a picture. Let’s say I’m in a fight with a full party with full health. Since the enemies attack at random, they hit my main character multiple times and kill him with a critical hit. That is instantly game over and reload from the last save, even though I have three other party members with abilities that can revive my character as well as items that can bring him back to life. It’s just not right and makes no sense, not to mention infuriating when it does happen. What it results in is during a boss fight I will waste a full round of turns buffing the main character’s defense and health just to make sure one single person survives the fight. It takes away a lot of the strategy to the combat because of this.
Now, with all the issues I had with the game, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Persona 5 is one of the best games in the series, as well as one of the best JRPGs to come out in years. The story is well told and exciting while still being emotional, the combat is fun and really engrossing and allows for some great combinations, and the presentation is both stylish and really fun. There is so much to do in this game that it would take another three pages to go over it all, and in the end, if I haven’t convinced you to pick this game up by now, I have nothing else to give you. If you’re an RPG fan by any means, you need to get this game. It’s a great time with both deep mechanics and a deep story. Not to mention, it oozes style the entire time.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.