I’ve been a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise for over a decade. Especially, ever since picking up SMT: Nocturne about 12 years ago. Then, eagerly plowing through it in a matter of days. Since then, two numbered Persona games have come out. Numerous spin-offs released. Not to mention, other numbered SMT games as well. However, it’s been over nine years since a numbered Persona game has made its way to home consoles. Even though it’s been a long wait for Persona 5, it certainly paid off in spades.
Persona 5 Review
Title: Persona 5
Platform: PS4 [Reviewed], PS3
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Persona 5 puts you in the shoes of a transfer student newly arrived in Tokyo. He got into legal trouble in his old town, and is on strict probation. The main character goes to a new school and lives in an attic above a cafe. Soon enough, he becomes embroiled in the plots of the Metaverse. Where he’s introduced to stealing people’s hearts, in order to help them change their personality. All while enjoying some turn-based combat and fusing as many demons (personas) as possible.
One of the major parts of Persona games, is the cast of characters you meet. For example, there is Ann, a student model who is concerned about a friend, who’s going through tough times.Yusuke is a painter going through artist’s block, and so on. For me, one of the best characters is Morgana, a talking cat who introduces you to the Metaverse. I’d say Morgana may be my favorite in terms of personality and story arc. On the other end of the spectrum, is Ryuji, your initial friend at the start of the game, but comes across as an angry, popularity-obsessed brat for much of the story.
The main conceit of this game is that you are going into other people’s mindscapes (mental palaces). There, you figure out how to get to their treasure, which is poisoning their way of thinking. Your job is to steal it, and then dealing with the shadow version of the person. It may sound complicated, but it becomes easy to understand fairly quickly.
The actual game-play of Persona 5 is some tried and true turn-based JRPG combat. There are melee attacks and ranged attacks (with guns). You can use items, defend, and all that jazz. As well as using your Persona to cast magic spells or damaging physical attacks. Each party member has their own unique persona, which has different strengths and weaknesses. One might have wind spells and be a good healer. Although, this same Persona could be weak to lightning attacks. While another Persona might have psychic attacks, but be weak to nuclear attacks. However, this doesn’t apply to the main character though, as he can have several personas in reserve and can change them once per turn, to better attack enemies.
Discovering your enemies weaknesses is the crux of the battle system, as it will gain you bonuses once you do. Say an enemy is weak to fire, and you use a fire attack on them, that enemy gets knocked down, and the character who used the attack gets an extra turn. They can then attack again or pass their turn to another party member, assuming you have that relationship built up with them.
Knocking down all the opponents in a battle has another effect though. Besides giving you a free turn, there’s also a “hold up” that occurs. Here, you have the option to do an “all out” special group attack, or simply talk to them. The “All Out” attack does kill most common enemies, so it’s certainly worth doing. However, talking to enemies is more interesting, because you can request money from them. Perhaps, an item, or even ask them to join your group as another persona. Getting the Persona to come out requires some negotiation. Typically, answering questions based on the enemy’s mood, gets this to happen. But you may have to do some digging to understand the minutia of this, as you play further.
Once you have a full stable of personas on hand, you may want to look into fusing them. Fusing lets you combine two personas into a different one. Generally, getting a better monster than the two you had. One of the best things, is that the fused persona, can inherit skills from the sacrificed monsters. So, if you like a particular spell, your new monster can have it. Thankfully, there is a lot of control with this system. However, not every skill is obtainable this way, but at least, about 90% of them are. The player can freely choose what they want their new persona to have. This is a welcome change from Persona 4, which was a randomized system. This meant that it might take you a long time to get a specific skill combination.
Not to mention, there are also other things you can do with your personas later in the game as well. You can sacrifice more of them in a special fusion, which gains access to more powerful ones. There’s also turning them into items. Plus, you can sacrifice one persona, in exchange for another one gaining experience points.
A fused persona can also gain experience based on relationships with people in the game. There are about 20 different relationships one can have in Persona 5. Some of them level up as you progress through the story. While others require you to hang out with people. This results in an open dialog system, where the other characters ask questions or talk about what’s bothering them. It’s up to you, to pick the right answers, which nets more score affection with them. There are also rewards given for gaining a reputation with confidants. The rewards vary. A reward can give you more store inventories, or even grant better gun customization, which lets you switch party members mid-battle. If you level up your party member relationships, it unlocks their persona’s evolved form. Giving them new abilities.
I should caution that you won’t be able to become friends with everyone at the start of the game. A lot of the relationships require you to have points in your own personality sections. These are: knowledge, guts, kindness, charm, and proficiency. These level differently from one another, and you’ll have to undertake different social tasks during the day (or night) to raise them up. You can read a book about guts to raise that skill. Visiting a batting cage could help with a proficiency point.
Perhaps, you’d like to see a movie that has kindness. This gets a point in that section. Each social stat has five levels, which take a long time to build up. However, there are completely worth it. Some confidant relationships require you to have Level 3 guts, or level 5 knowledge, and you won’t be able to progress in the relationship, until your personality increases.
Persona 5 operates on a calendar system. After going through a one week tutorial period, you’ll go to school and then get two free periods once classes end. Later, you’ll also get the ability to travel around your neighborhood area at night as well. From there, you can raise your social stats, or hang out with confidants. Perhaps rent a DVD, play a video game, study at a diner, go fishing, do a part time job, etc. There are dozens of activities for you to do in these two periods. Chief among them is visiting Palaces. There are also Mementos, which are longer-form, randomized dungeons. If you do go to the Metaverse, your second period is also used up. So, you won’t be able to do anything then except sleep.
Aside from the persona catching/fusing mechanic, this is the second most notable thing about the Persona games. There is a constant push and pull requirement of time management, “Do I go to the dungeon today, or do I instead hang out with Ryuji and icnrease that relationship?” “Exams are coming up soon, so I need to study to gain knowledge, but this person won’t tlak to me without my kindness stat needing to be higher.” When you undertake palace infiltrations, you are given a time limit like, “You’ll need to complete this palace in 17 days” (as an example), which increases the pressure on the player, so you’ll have to prioritize what you want to focus on.
Honestly, don’t worry about trying to do everything, because it’s absolutely impossible to increase all of your social aspects in one playthrough. Try to focus on the characters that matter to you and get those relationships up. Once you beat the game, your social stats carry through to a New Game + So, using that, you can see a lot more of the social interactions without having to constantly worry about your own stats.
Palaces And Other Things
Initially, Palaces eat up the bulk of your time. But you’ll be able to get a grasp on them fairly quickly. Each palace is a designed area, usually in the form of something imaginative. For example, a massive bank full of walking ATMs, or an art gallery where you can go inside paintings. Generally, each palace has one or two special hooks in them. Such as, puzzles to sort through.
The looks and sounds of Persona 5 are top notch, from start to finish. While it may not be the most technically impressive game on the market. Persona 5 oozes personality. From how the palaces look, to the designs of the main characters. Even how the menus are designed, just makes the game feel special. Alongside that, the voice work is solid, and the soundtrack has some of the jazziest songs in a video game.
Some Small Issues
I did have a few small issues that made Persona 5 slightly frustrating. However, they are in no way a huge detriment to the game. The biggest one I ran into, was the battle system and how it deals with player death. If one of your party members dies in battle, you can restore them with items or spells to resurrect them. Although, if the main character gets knocked out in battle, it is an instant game over. Regardless, if other party members are alive and kicking. There is no storyline or gameplay justification for this, it’s just there. And it can suck, when it happens.
Another minor problem is, when you have to figure out who the next target is, or what happens after they confess their crimes. The game basically takes away control of your free periods after school. Only to do investigations or to have meaningless conversations between characters. I’m not talking one or two days, I’m talking upwards of 10 in a row at times.
The reason this is an issue, is because it has a noticable drag on game momentum. Characters just go on routines that can get grating after a while. Thankfully, there is a fast forward button for dialog sequences, because having to sit through all that would be trying. There can also be some quirky translation occurences in the game as well. But I don’t view this as a fixable issue. I’m sure the translation department did the best they could. Honestly, some of the sequences in Persona 5 are virtually not-translatable, without doing massive and expensive work.
- Turn-based JRPG combat with clever twists that keep it fresh
- Great characters.
- Relationships you have with Characters are vital to the game
- Superb audio and visuals
- Dialog can get overbearing at times
- Some quirky battle systems can hamper your progression
- The stealth system is weird in spots, especially with the camera
Overall Thoughts: 10 out of 10 Even with the occasional gameplay hiccup, Persona 5 is the benchmark for all other JRPG’s coming out in 2017 and beyond. It combines speedy and intuitive gameplay, with characters that you grow to care about, as it progresses. This is also true for past Persona games, but this one just feels a bit different. Probably because Persona 5 has a level of artistic polish that most games don’t dare attempt. If you’re a fan of RPGs. Story-driven games, or even just good games period. Persona 5 is an absolute must play.
For the sake of transparency, the Publisher (Atlus) provided a digital code for review purposes.