Having never played a Persona game before, the only word that described my early experience in Persona 5 was “overwhelming”. I knew going in that time management was a key in maximizing your experience and a recurring element in the Persona series, but I was no way near prepared for activities in both real life and the Metaverse that you can spend your day. Once I got my bearings straight and after all the hand-holding in the beginning, Persona 5 sunk its hooks in me like no other game has before. Although it did feel at times nearing the endgame that it dragged on for just a bit, the overall story and pacing of the game was exceptional.
What held my attention throughout the 127 hours of my play through was the soundtrack and art style. Every song in each situation captured the moment perfectly; from running around the bustling city of Shibuya to fighting Shadows in the Metaverse, the music in the background helped establish the tone of the game and engage the gamer on another level. The game itself just looks cool. Persona 5 looks like it was painted on canvas, but brought to life with an anime style coating. The vibrant colors and sharp texts coupled with the soundtrack almost hypnotized you while playing the game. There were many instances where I thought I hadn’t played for very long, to only realize that I had been playing for nearly six hours.
Going into the game, I expected the typically “ragtag group of kids band together to take down a super-powered boss to save the world”; essentially the same reused model for most games. To a certain extent, that’s Persona 5 in a nutshell. However, once you start peeling back the exterior, you’ll find that Persona 5 has deep, deep layers to it.
Persona 5 begins just how you might expect it: in the future. Without any real context of what was happening, the main protagonist, the strong but silent type, gets caught and arrested after trying to escape from a casino. In the interrogation room, it’s slowly revealed that you’re being accused of partaking in metal breakdowns, which have caused hundreds of deaths across Japan. After the tough detectives finish beating you senseless, Sae Niijima, a public prosecutor of the Tokyo District Special Investigation Department, takes her crack at getting your side of the story. The protagonist (in this review, the main character will be referred to as “the protagonist”, because you can name him whatever you’d like) recalls the past events that led up to this moment and that’s where the game officially begins.
As a high school student in Japan, there are many things that can be done when you aren’t saving the world: studying, working at various jobs, taking on the Big Bang Burger challenge and even doing laundry. Persona 5 is essentially half a Japanese role-playing game and half a social simulator. While playing this game, you’ll need to learn how to differentiate between which activities require immediate attention and which can be held off for another day. Each activity, however, has its own benefits of completing that you want to maximize. The protagonist has five social skills: Charm, Guts, Knowledge, Kindness and Proficiency. Completing certain things throughout the city will apply skill points toward a specific social area, but the downside is that the game doesn’t tell you how many skill points are required to increase the social stat to the next level. By doing one of the countless activities makes time progress, so for example, if you decide to hit some balls at the batting cages after school then it’ll progress to the evening which other new options may become available with the new time of day.
Other than completing normal everyday errands, yes as a high school student you will absolutely need to do some studying, you will also spend time in the Metaverse. The Metaverse is where you engage with Personas and complete Palaces. Each of the bosses you encounter possess their own Palace, a distorted area of cognition that their true desires display. Once a Palace begins open to complete, the HUD will display a counter with how many days remain to finish the Palace. If a Palace is not completed by in the given timeframe, then it’s game over. It’s suggested to create multiple saves to explore a Palace and gauge what each enemy is weak to, and then reload an earlier save to take advantage of that knowledge. Besides each individual Palace, there is also Mementos. Mementos is the general public’s Metaverse, depicted as a subway station underneath Shibuya. For people who enjoy grinding, this is the place to be. Here, you’ll find many enemies to battle and treasures to claim. While you might be eager to jump in and start increasing your level, keep in mind that spending time with Confidants and raising your social skills are as important, if not more so, than your battle level. Accessing the Thieves Guild when you boot up the game allows you to compare yourself with other players. I finished the game at a substantially lower level than the average player according to the guild, so it’s not necessarily a pressing matter to make sure you’re at the average level.
As you progress through the game, aside from choosing among the various options of everyday activities there will also be friends for you to spend time with. Labeled as “Confidants” in Persona 5, spending time with them should be a high priority. Spending time with Confidants will raise your rank with them and they’ll teach you techniques, some which are extremely valuable. As with many JRPGs, you can romance a female Confidant. With how realistic Persona 5 felt, it was a bit disheartening that you couldn’t choose to have a homosexual relationship. There were countless times where it felt like Ryuji Sakamoto and Yuske Kitagawa were perfect romance options for your character, but it wouldn’t come to fruition. Each Confidant has a specific type to them, for example Ryuji is Chariot so if you possess any Persona with the Chariot type, that’ll help you raise his Confidant rank faster.
The third area of where you can spend time, but doesn’t progress time like other activities, is by visiting the Velvet Room. The mysterious Igor, the same Igor who makes a recurring appearance in each Persona game, and his twin wardens Caroline and Justine are in charge of the Velvet Room. Aside from Igor appearing in each game in the series, the overall story is completely different, a la Final Fantasy. Throughout the game, Igor will continue to remind you that you’re on a path of rehabilitation toward vanquishing ruin. This is the place where you can fuse Personas, combining them to create stronger Personas. While your combat level may not be as important to other JRPGs when it comes to defeating enemies, it does possess an important trait when it comes to controlling Personas. You are unable to control a Persona whose level is higher than your own, understandably, but you can control a higher-level Persona if it levels up past your level. So, just like how you can increase Confidant ranks faster with certain Persona types, the higher a Confidant’s level is the more experience points a fused Persona will get. If you fuse a Persona that’s the same level as you, but the Confidant’s rank is maxed out at 10 and it receives a huge bonus in experience points, then odds are that Persona will jump a few levels. You can still use said Persona, because it was originally the same level as you.
Speaking of Personas, they are the source of your power. Everyone holds only one Persona, but you have the special ability of controlling multiple Personas. The first one you possess is Arsene, but as you make your way through Palaces, or commonly known as dungeons, you’ll encounter other Persona monsters. Here, you can negotiate with the monsters for either money, items or the ability to join your team and fight for you. Every time you come across a Persona that you haven’t collected yet, do so. Think of it as Pokémon and you’re trying to “catch ’em all”.
When it comes to fighting in Persona 5, it’s a blast from the past. With nearly all JRPGs starting to adopt the complete open-world frenzy with open combat, Persona 5 keeps the traditional turn-based style combat alive. The turn-based style feels perfect, especially with the many different facets of combat that you should worry about. In previous JRPGs, I would never worry myself with certain abilities that would buff my team or debuff my enemies. Persona 5 makes you think of those attacks. It is absolutely essential to possess those abilities if you aren’t trying to grind for hours on end. In addition to the importance of those support moves, certain attacks will weaken enemies, causing them to fall to the ground dazed. This is when you can choose to negotiate with the monsters, or ensue an “all-out attack”. An all-out attack will cause catastrophic damage, most likely instant killing all the enemies.
The character development was a major eye-opener. In most games, the lives and ultimate fates of secondary characters never held a high amount of importance but Persona 5 defies that notion. As you get to know your Confidants, the background behind each character is truly fleshed out and makes you feel compelled to help each person through their own situations. Each situation, whether it’s a Palace or side Confidant, feels extremely life-like and very realistic. The only negative with some of the situations that each Palace presents are how the protagonist and the gang get thrown into them. Some instances when a new target presents itself and you have to dive into their Palace is a bit of a stretch considering what had to transpire to get there.
In a year that’s given us a new console from Nintendo, a new Zelda game and a new IP from Guerilla Games in Horizon Zero Dawn, it might be easy to overlook something like Persona 5; don’t. Atlus’ fifth installment of the Persona series is one of the best JRPGs, and overall games, that I’ve ever played. Granted, it is impossible to try and achieve everything the game has to offer in a single play through, but Persona 5 does a great job in setting you up well for a New Game+. While the game doesn’t offer homosexual relationships, a large dark spot on a title that does everything else right for a modern video game, and the feeling of slightly overstaying its welcome as you approach the endgame, the story is exceptional, the characters are properly fleshed out and the soundtrack and art style alone will keep you transfixed throughout. Persona 5 blows the door right off the hinges when it comes to quality JRPGS and currently holds the crown as the king of the genre.
Final score: 9.5/10