Balancing your time between studying for midterms, having a social life, and feeding your personal plant has never been this fun.
The high school/monster-fighting life-simulator that is Persona is finally back, and it’s as wonderfully stylish and charming as you’d expect it to be–along with the usual robust turn-based RPG elements. In Persona 5 a new cast of kids band together as a team of thieves who stage heists in the shadow monster-ridden alternate dimension referred to as the Metaverse. The refreshing batch of brand new faces, gripping story, and excellent (and for the most part, familiar) Persona gameplay hooks, makes this a stylish must play title for all PS4 owners.
Persona 5 doesn’t take very long to throw you into the midst of a mystery. The story picks up with the main character conducting a heist at what appears to be a casino. Without any knowledge of what’s actually going on, a number of prompts appear on screen to explain the basics (like how to hide in the shadows and jump from platforms) all while an unknown voice, which refers to you as Joker, relays instructions to help you make your grand escape. Soon, you find yourself ambushed and in an interrogation room, rattled and beaten. What’s going on? Who knows! All you’re told is that one of your friends sold you out. And thus, the mystery begins.
From here on out, most of this game is told through a series of flashbacks starting at the point where our protagonist (the guy being interrogated) arrives at his new home in Yongen-Jaya. Over the course of the first couple of hours, his backstory is revealed. In short, he was displaced from his previous home after being sued for attacking a man who was in the middle of assaulting a young woman. His punishment? Probation and having to attend the volleyball-dominated Shujin Academy in the heart of the city.
Like previous titles in the series, the game breaks down into two different sections: a dungeon crawler in which you’ll be exploring massive dungeons, level grinding, and fighting bosses; and a teenage life simulator. Of course, that’s putting it in simple terms. The cool thing about Persona 5 is that those two seemingly different aspects of the game are brilliantly intertwined and bursting at the seams with content and interesting things to do.
When you’re living out your normal teenage life, you’ll be answering quiz questions in class, choosing which friends to hang out with, and even eating burgers. While that may sound mundane, making good use of your time is important because it allows you to increase social statistics like guts, kindness, and knowledge, which in turn have important implications throughout your journey. Choosing which friends to increase your bonds with, for instance, will become important during battles and persona execution/fusions, since certain bonds will give new personas additional experience points.
Running around town and accomplishing these small tasks always feels rewarding and makes for a great change of pace after level-grinding in dungeons. Between starting a part-time job in the game and preparing for upcoming midterms, I found myself busy at all times without a shred of boredom. I don’t think I’ve spent as much time at the library in real life as I have in this game. Prioritizing how you spend these days is key, especially because there is always a deadline looming around the corner.
Thankfully, the friends and allies you share the journey with leave a lasting impression, and add a bold and believable splash of color to each day. For the core group, you’ve got Morgana, the brains of the operation and a cute little kitty who doesn’t like to be reminded it’s a cat. Then there’s Ryuji and Ann, the other two founding members of your thieves group, who bear striking resemblances to Persona 4 favorites like Kanji and Yosuke (whom Ryuji is a combo between), and Rise and Yukiko (ditto for Ann).
Of course, comparing them to the old cast is unfair, because there’s more than meets the eye to these fictional folk. As your bonds develop with these confidants, so too does your knowledge of their lives, personalties, and personal baggage. The nice thing is that over time, they evolve from familiar anime archetypes to realistic friends you care for and won’t want to leave once the 100+ hour saga is over.
The other half of this game is more of your standard RPG: go into the shadow world to explore massive dungeons, beat down on monsters, and battle giant bosses. But there’s a nice little twist in the latest and greatest. Remember I mentioned a team of thieves? Well, you and your friends are trying to change the heart of those with shady intentions through the alternate dimension. The desires of those who are extra awful materialize as a palace (a.k.a. dungeons) in the shadow world. You must infiltrate and find their desires within the maze.
Along the way you’ll find safe rooms, maps, and chests that make it feel like an actual heist operation. Unlike the procedurally generated dungeons of the series’ past, Persona 5 opts for a variety of intricate, fully fleshed out dungeons packed with enemies, puzzles and light platforming. Each of these “palaces” boasts a unique theme different from the next. I don’t want to dive into any spoilers here, just know that the new format makes the dungeons fun to explore and some of the best in the franchise’s history.
But the combat fun isn’t restricted to the palaces. P5 also serves up a series of side-quests in the subway station called Mementos. Instead of focusing on the desires of one person, the area is a culmination of public injustices in the city. Once the missions open up, you’ll be able to explore the area, and take on new quests from people in the game. It’s a great place to grind if you’re in a bind.
As for the bread and butter of the game, the combat is basically as good as it has ever been, if not better. It’s the standard turn-based mechanics where each member of the crew takes turns to throw their dukes up. On your turn you can either shoot your gun, use a standard melee attack, consume an item, analyze you’re opponent, use your persona, or run. Of course there’s the rock-paper-scissors mechanic where each element is strong against a particular enemy and vice versa. For those new to the series, a persona in the Metaverse is supposed to be the shadow representation of each character. Our main protagonist, however, can wield several of them at a time, allowing him to adapt to whatever the situation calls for. This translates into different attacks and elemental strengths and weaknesses in battle. As you can only switch once in battle, choosing your personas adds yet another strategic element.
Hitting an enemy will sometimes give you an extra turn, so you can start to juggle attacks if you strike their weakness. It gets even more insane with the new baton pass move–when you get the plus one attack, you can switch to another character who may be more adept at facing the other enemies. It’s a refreshing addition that keeps the cooperative synergy going.
When you have weakened the opponent, you can gang up on them with the hold-up mechanic. This is when things get interesting. While in hold-up, you can either perform an all out attack to do a massive amount of damage with your squad, or negotiate with the creature to add it to your arsenal, win some cash, or get an item from them. While grinding for XP, the all-out mode was often the quickest route to pushing forward. But if it was a new persona, it was rewarding to engage in the quirky conversation to unmask their true identity. The combination of the juggling and persona elements make this a fresh turn-based approach, and a nice substitute for the Shuffle Mode of the series’ past.
This game would be more than good enough with all of the gameplay hooks and engaging RPG elements, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how absurdly stylish this game is. Most Persona games are pretty flashy, but this is the Odd Future of video games. There’s an emphasis on making it look like a hip anime, and keeping things like the transitions entering and leaving battle fluid at all times. It’s unabashedly unique in everything it does. This also seeps into the design of dungeons you’re exploring, whether it’s a massive castle or a lavish museum. This is a visually pleasing title. Same goes for the catchy tunes that you’ll gladly be humming all day.
I do want to mention that there are some really dark themes explored in the game including abuse, sexual assault, and suicide, to name a few, so be prepared for some heavy tones in the midst of a generally upbeat experience. Previous games in the series have been rated M before, but this one takes it to a whole new level.
There’s really only one gripe I have with Persona 5: it takes about 10 hours before the game really opens up. The first chunk of the game is all about teaching you the basics, from roaming around the real world to exploring the dungeons in the shadow world. It’s quite off-putting, really. For RPG aficionado, this is quite standard, but not everyone wants to have their hand held for such a large chunk of time. But I implore you to charge past the first dungeon, because what’s waiting for you after that is well worth the investment.
Persona 5 is life-consuming. Ones it has its hook in you, there’s no escaping. Not only is this one of the best RPGs of the past few years, there’s an argument to be made that it belongs amongst the greatest of all time. There’s so much content and quality here, and honestly, it’s just a total blast. I can’t wait for Persona 5 Dancing All Night (not an actual game that has been announced, but I would love it).
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
A real Mass Effect omni-tool would be a true lightsaber