Not counting Persona 4: Golden, it has been eight years since a numbered title in Atlus' Persona series was released and since then we've had a bevy of spinoffs to sate our hunger for Persona 5. But with a number of delays some, myself included, were starting to lose hope and sight. Persona 5 has finally been released in Japan and while the Western release is still a few months away, I unabashedly could not contain my excitement for the game any longer and imported a copy. It was worth it.
In Persona 5, players control an unnamed protagonist as he spends the year in Tokyo after an event in his hometown manages to get him expelled from high school. Over the course of the year players will conduct various day-to-day activities while juggling school life, part-time jobs, friendships, and of course dungeon crawling. All of this ties into the overarching narrative and themes of breaking free from the chains of society.
Soon after arriving to Tokyo, the protagonist gains access to another dimension where eventual egos of certain characters have manifested into dungeons called Palaces. At first the protagonist is uncertain what to make of this newfound power but comes to the understanding that he can use this power to reform the heart of the target and thus the Phantom Thieves of Hearts is formed. But in order to reform the target's heart, the Phantom Thieves must make their way through the dungeon and steal the treasure hidden inside. Once the treasure has been stolen, the target eventually sees the error of their ways.
The way the game and narrative progress is similar to Persona 4. Each month a new dungeon opens up for you to conquer, gaining a new party member along the way as well as whatever personal problem they carry with them but unlike Persona 4 where the party member joins once the dungeon is completed, they join soon after the dungeon opens in Persona 5. I like the way the game progressed with better pacing and a bevy of twists and turns but I felt that the ending was rushed and could have been lengthened by a small margin.
The characters in Persona 5 I would have to say are the best of the bunch. Every character, both playable and non, have their own quirks and mannerisms to their personalities that made them feel unique down to the core. The personal problems that each party member faces is an incredible weakness to themselves and seeing how each one overcomes it, both in the dungeons and their respective cooperation (more on this later), is something that happened for only three characters in Persona 4 and only one of those held any weight to the remainder of the story. The member of the Phantom Thieves as a whole are vastly different than the casts of Persona 3 and 4. In Persona 3, it felt like members were uncomfortable around each other for majority of the game, rather wanting to be isolated and left to their own devices whereas in Persona 4 everyone became best friends rather immediately. In Persona 5, the cast would best be described as good friends, they respect one another and surely do not mind working together. I grew to love characters such as Yusuke, Makoto, and even Morgana who is nothing like Teddie in the best way possible.
There are two parts of gameplay in Persona 5, everyday life and the dungeon crawling. First off, everyday life.
I have no idea what it truly feels like to run around parts of Tokyo, but Persona 5 is probably the closest I will ever get. Being able to walk from the house the protagonist resides to the fictional Shujin High School, the shops at Akihabara, Shibuya and more is a treat coming from the "world map" that was in the previous games. As the game progresses, more places unlock and slowly fill up the map for you and your many friends to visit and hangout. The areas themselves feel lively with NPCs constantly walking around and talking among themselves. It is up to the player on how to spend their day. Often starting with either a walk or train ride to school (where one can read a book if readily available), once the school day is over its up to the player to decide what to do next. Do I hang out with Makoto or do I go study at the family restaurant to increase my intelligence? Or do I go straight into the Palace? Time management is crucial in these games as partaking in one event skips to night where another activity can possibly be done.
Cooperation is just another word for Social Links in Persona 5, they are the same at a face value but now every cooperation comes with benefits that help the player out in some way, shape, or form. With each cooperation you essentially converse with the character and they confide in you with something that has been troubling them and you do your best to cheer them up and help resolve the issue. Individual cooperations are divided into 10 ranks, completing one gets you one step further to their resolution as well as giving you some sort of reward such as a discount on weapons and medicine, the ability to change party members in battle, more money when negotiating with enemies, and many more. The stories presented in the cooperations are not the greatest things by any means but are a huge improvement and fit the main theme more than before.
The game allows a wider range of activities to participate in with your friends when it isn't time to rank up a cooperation. Sometimes they will ask to go out in the city and watch a movie, or you can invite them over and read books or watch play a game with them. Some characters have preferences on what they like meaning choose wisely in your activities. Ryuji loves ramen and isn't particularly fond of reading so taking him to a book store would not be in your best interests if you want to reach his max cooperation rank. All of this just shows the great chemistry the cast has with one another
Now for the dungeons and combat.
The dungeons are by far, the biggest change in the series. The main dungeons are no longer filled with randomly generated layouts. Now the dungeons are all uniquely made and stuffed with puzzles and mechanics that never felt like a chore to go through. Each dungeon has a different feel and visual style to them ranging from an art museum, to a bank heist, and even a space station.
A new sneaking mechanic allows the player to hide behind corners as enemies walk by allowing you to earn a surprise hit or run past them. To oppose the stealth mechanic there is now a detection meter that appears at top right of the screen. Being spotted by enemies slowly raises that bar to a maximum of 100% and in the case of that, game over. The same time limit that appeared in Persona 4 returns, meaning you only have about three weeks to complete the dungeon before you receive a game over and the timer resets to the first day the dungeon opens.
While the main dungeons are uniquely made, the optional dungeon called "Mementos" bring back the randomly generated layout. The Mementos are where the egos of every person in Tokyo is housed and where the majority of your side quests reside. At certain parts of the game, requests will be made to trek into the dungeon and reform the heart of say an abusive brother or a bully. The dungeon is a nice diversion from the main story dungeons as well as a nice place to grind if one is underleveled but my time with it gave me the same feeling I have whenever I take the plunge into Tartarus: a terrible dungeon but a good plot device. The areas don't change visually and the music is the same track looping over and over, making me want to leave after a few floors had been cleared.
The fights in the game are wonderful, the turned based combat system in the series is without a doubt my favorite and Persona 5 raises the bar significantly. Everything is seamless, from initiating combat to returning back to the dungeon, the game masks short load times with stylish intros into battle and a stylish results screen.
The battle UI is improved and less time is spent rummaging through menus. Every battle option is designated to a face or shoulder button and this makes summoning personas a breeze. Fights are a thrill even after I hit the 100 hour mark and the sense of strategy that comes with them never diminished. Boss fights now include optional opportunities to send a party member to possibly exploit a weakness they possess, but doing so leaves you down a character, making the choice in who to send a precious one. Sending out your healer might be unwise if the boss hits with tremendous damage.
New abilities in combat include the Baton Pass, Demon Negotiation, and the gun. In the chance you exploit the enemy's weakness and receive another turn, you can opt to pass the turn to another party member giving them greater offensive power for the time being.
Demon negotiations were last seen in Persona 2 and thankfully replace Shuffle Time. Negotiating with demons allows the player to receive money, items, or the demon itself as a persona for use later. Demons of a higher level will almost always refuse to join you but will at least give you an item for trying.
The gun is another method of attacking enemies and is a new combat element, primarily effective on winged demons. The guns only have a set number of bullets and the only way to regain them is to leave the dungeon.
Fusing personas make yet, another return with the same systems intact from previous games. There are over a hundred personas to receive through fusion and the ability to pick and choose which skills you pass on to the new one can make a break a tough fight for someone. Persona fusion is admittedly one of my favorite parts of the game due to the layer of strategy it adds. By the end of the game I had fused and gathered over 50% of the ones available, including Mara, who carried me to the end of the game.
Persona 5 is oozing with style, from the combat to the menus everything is just flashy and clean. While it may not be the most technically impressive game around, the art direction more than makes up for it. The load screens when traveling through the city, the transition to the Velvet Room, and the transition in and out of combat are all amazing to look at and never bothered me that the game was loading. Cutscenes, both animated and in-engine, are beautiful and show off the bright vibrant colors.
Shoji Meguro returns once again as the composer and he employ an acid jazz feel for the soundtrack as opposed to the hip-hop jazz presented in Persona 3 and catchy Japenese pop in Persona 4. The music is full of soul thanks to singer Lyn Inaizumi and it rarely, if ever, falters.
The jump from Persona 4 to 5 is huge and it shows. The engine used was previously used in Catherine and served as groundwork for the game. New additions to the combat show that turn-based gameplay is not growing old and still has ways to be improved. The Mementos itself is the size of every dungeon in Persona 4 put together which is impressive. Atlus has a knack for writing characters and events that mimic real world problems and they aren't afraid to dip into some personal issues as well.
My clear time was sitting at 123 hours which is the longest it has taken me to beat a Persona game. Granted, a good 30 of those hours were roughly spent translating dialogue, I never once felt the game was short on content. There are a wide range of activities to indulge oneself in to the point I got stressed out because I didn't know how to spend my time.
Whether a fan of JRPGs or Persona itself, everyone should give the game a try. I rarely find games nowadays that can hold my attention as long as Persona 5 did. I am already itching to do a second playthrough to finish all cooperations as well as fill out my persona compendium.