A small detail that immediately took me by surprise was the game’s loading screen. A rotating head of the protagonist smirking with the words written below it saying ‘take your time’ is something you’ll soon be familiar with. I find it to be a friendly reminder of what the game is really about as you may end up quite intimidated by the game’s known to have 100 or more hours of game play. Which I finally finished recently, hallelujah! However, instead of trying to rush through the game and clear it in as little time as possible, you should be quite literally taking your time, immersing yourself in the world it offers and appreciate the little details that it offers, because there’s going to be a lot. Blink, and you’ll miss it. We’ll slowly piece these things together with our review of Persona 5 on the PlayStation 4.
Persona 5 starts quite differently compared to how the previous two titles did. Letting you jump into the action as soon as you can, compared to going through maybe an hour or more of exposition from the get go. While the actual action to be had is quite little, it gives you a lot to chew on as to what you’ll be getting out of the game. Shortly after, you are brought to the fare Persona setup and exposition dump. Only instead of being this mysterious likeable person that everyone is curious about, you’re a transferee with a criminal record and everyone knows it, making everyone avoid you like the plague whilst rumors spread about. After a while of dealing with what feels like a bunch of rigged circumstances you meet your first will-be friend in the game, Ryuji, who you’ll probably want to kick for about half the game. Then both of you stumble into a dungeon while trying to get to school, get trapped and escape thanks to you awakening to your powerful ability to wield a Persona, and a talking cat in denial. It picks up from there as you are eventually tasked to become the Phantom Thief that helps those in need while trying to keep a secret identity to maintain a normal life of a high school boy. While it may be boring sounding as a trope, it’s actually quite fun.
I once thought that the only company that really solved the problem about anime aesthetics not translating well on 3D graphics was ArcSystem Works. But Atlus has shown me that it’s no longer the case. While their detailing could use a bit of work and the engine they use may look dated if you look close enough, the aesthetics and general sense of style of the whole thing does enough to make the whole thing look good with plenty to spare.
Another notable thing about the production is how detailed the design of several areas have become. Particularly, how the game makes the various areas in and around Tokyo to be cramped in one way or the other to make it really feel like it’s the bustling urban area we all know it is. It also comes with the general gloomy indifference that anyone staying in the city will eventually harbor and learn to live with. It helps you really settle in and feel like you’re really blending in with the city scene. Whether you’re riding trains, eating fast-food, attending school, or visiting a gun store. That last detail may come as a little strange for a normal, honest life of a high school student, but it’s completely necessary for the other half of the game, the dungeon runs.
Dungeons, or palaces, in Persona 5 are in stark contrast compared to the city. They run on a theme within the crimes and psyche of the person hosting that palace. This results in you visiting a bank, a museum, a pyramid and an actual castle among other things. All with their own quirky themed minions, puzzles, or mazes which basically obstruct your path to the next area.
The audio experience is in no doubt a pleasure in itself. English voice actors continue to improve as this time around I’ve grown to prefer the English voices (despite the occasional awkward pronunciation of Japanese names) by the time JP voices became available. Especially with how it’s a bit jarring to experience having their voices changed mid-playthrough. The music is also the stuff of dreams, having a wide range of genres while all sounding like they all belong to the same bundle. It really helps in changing the atmosphere of the game between a relaxed day adventure to marauding as a hero of justice the next moment. You can listen to this stuff on loop without much issue, heck I do of my own free will.
Persona 5 does many things in updating itself in modern sensibilities of game design while maintaining what it is at its core, a blend between a turn-based dungeon crawler and a lifestyle simulator. Two tired-sounding genres that receives great revitalization thanks to new elements weaved to help intertwine the two in more meaningful ways.
The most obvious addition to the battle aspect would be the appearance of Psionic and Nuclear elements, some statuses have also been tweaked and added to have a more technical aspect to them, where they are generally categorized as physical and mental ailments, and trust me, you really don’t want to deal with mental ailments as they can deal a lot more harm than not having your character act for a turn or two. Negotiating with monsters at certain situations is back and can be frustrating but for the most part, a welcome return. Various physical attack types that was once in Persona 3 now comes in the form of guns present as an alternate form of attack compared to your standard melee attack.
Social Links and stats now play a much bigger part in the game aside from giving you extra exp and maybe some discounts at certain shops. They now unlock confidant abilities which was previously only limited to the main cast, and even help you in grinding social stats. For example, helping out a washed up politician will enhance your negotiation ability and get some points for your charm; While hanging out with a Shogi celebrity increases your intelligence and at certain points, expand your strategical options in actual battle; Heck, there’s even a teacher that can help you do more actions during the night, that is huge and unprecedented in the schedule-crazed game play of Persona 5.
To explain, the game generally arranges its events in terms of how you organize it. Where you can at most, do two things in one day, and there’s even days you get nothing done because it’s all dedicated to preset in-story events. With all of that going on you’re given a deadline to clear a dungeon while managing your school and social life. So you better not fall behind either as a super hero or as a normal kid in the city as that would hinder your capability to maximize what you can do in the game.
The game, basically being a visual novel kind of game at its root, has a lot to chew on in terms of content, particularly in story. A natural play through would net about 100 or so hours of play, which includes a lot of watching. But hey, the characters are far from boring. The characters are written in such a way that the way the speak, act, and motivations can be pretty convincing, or at the very least, entertaining. It’s also a huge plus that these characters have stories of their own that may intersect with others that’s not the main protagonist. While there’s of course, still the miraculous circumstance that you’re all brought together, it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s just because the protagonist was their friend. And they don’t have to depend on him to showcase who they are, or the multiple facets they hold within themselves.
How exactly you pace the game is entirely up to you, as when it’s finally time to turn the enemy of the month in, you have about 14 days to finish the job. While you have your friends constantly reminding you about the problem, when you actually get it done is entirely up to you. I confident that most of you will be playing this as quickly as possible if only to continue the game’s story. I can’t really go into detail about it, but I completely understand Atlus’ stance on avoiding spoilers about the game, particularly regarding the big twists of the plot. All brilliantly revealed without really cheating the players from the setup. For this reason I won’t really speak of the story.
For a single player game, it integrates online play in a rather clever manner. At the press of a button, you can find out what other players did during a certain day or how they responded to a Q&A situation. Which can be seriously handy if you’re being asked questions heavily within Japanese context.
Persona 5 also features a cloud saving system, in case there might be an unfortunate incident of somebody accidentally writing over your save in this day and age.
Finally, there’s that NG+ for all you completionists out there which carries over a lot of things like money, equipment and Persona compendium which makes everything so much easier and helps you focus on things you missed the first time around.
Persona 5 is in general, a slowly paced game, but it never really feels like that. Hours keep slipping away because you simply want to know what happens next. Be it about the story or the story of one of the characters around you. How the title intertwines its various mechanics to reward you in several ways if you do well in one, giving you all the more reason to continue exploring what you can get out of a certain social link or dungeon.
The characters, despite a likely hate for Ryuji, all become people you care for as you learn more and more about their backgrounds. Adding to that their positive general attitude to stop being a victim of their circumstances, a central theme in the game, makes it difficult to not cheer on for these virtual individuals who may or may not reflect the you and me, and in a low-key manner how society has recently become with the evolution of media around us. I applaud its writers for making a story and script showing a good understanding of the generation they decided to feature, and give a generally positive message for those who may be finding themselves in a similar situation.
The game achieves all this while still hitting the usual targets that we know Persona games aim for, the hectic scheduling, the very slight hints hidden in plain view for the big reveals later on, giving the necessary development for even minor characters to grow on you, and so on. You simply can’t play this game with a one-track mind or too heavily focused on a single goal, not only will you fall short in terms of experiencing a Persona game but you’re shooting yourself in the foot by not getting the in-game advantages gained by developing yourself in a well-rounded way. So don’t ignore the small details, as I said at the start: ‘blink, and you’ll miss it.’
Do not be robbed of this experience, Persona 5 has set a benchmark for jRPG quality, and it’s definitely going to be difficult to top.
Persona 5 on the Playstation 4 definitely stole our hearts as we give it a 4.7 out of 5