● Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
● Platforms: PlayStation 4
● Developer | Publisher: P-Studio | Atlus, Deep Silver
● Age Rating: PEGI 16 | ESRB M (Mature)
● Price: UK £49.99 | US $19.99
● Release Date: 15th September 2016
No review code was provided, and all opinions contained below are my own.
With Persona 5 Strikers hitting the western world, I decided to revisit the original Persona 5. Having played Persona games before, I went into Persona 5 expecting a slow-burn, long haul adventure. While the game is a lenghty one as RPGs tend to be, I was surprised by how quickly Persona 5 throws you into the action with you hitting the first Palace just a couple of hours in. This game has had huge commercial success and is arguably the game that made Persona truly popular. It has even generated a meme or two (delicious pancakes, anyone?).
For the uninitiated, in Persona you play as a high school student. By day you attend class, answer questions and take exams. By night you can spend time however you wish; ranking up attributes such as knowledge and charm, spending time with friends to level up social links and working part-time jobs. Oh, and you can also summon Personas to fight Shadows and save the world. Y’know, normal stuff.
The story starts with a Persona staple: you’re a transfer student who stumbles into trouble, collecting a ragtag group of friends with similar talents to help you save the world. The first to join the diverse group are Morgana and Ryuji- an anthropomorphic cat and a misunderstood thug. As the story progresses you gather more *ahem* colourful characters; a model, an eccentric artist, and a backstabbing traitor to name a few.
The main premise is pretty zany, but in a good and interesting way. It does a good job of immersing you while not taking itself too seriously. It’s all shaped around cognition; if enough people collectively believe something to be reality it becomes real. This can also be used to explain the reasoning behind Palaces, a physical manifestation of the ruler of the Palace’s distorted desires. Are you still with me? Good.
As the story unfolds, you learn that all your friends are being abused or taken advantage of in some way. One by one, they awaken to their Persona and stand up to their abusers. Once liberated, they join the Phantom Thieves of Hearts and help to liberate others by entering the Palace of their abuser, grinding through, beating the boss and stealing their treasure.
All of your teammates are well-developed and fleshed out with distinct strengths, weaknesses and personalities. All of them are likeable, and it’s a joy to build up social links and get to know them. Alongside your teammates, you also have confidants with whom you can also form social links. There are dozens of them and you likely won’t even meet them all on your first run. They’re all full of personality, and I found myself caring about their stories and personal quests as much as I did the main story. While this makes every run feel different and new, it is disappointing that Persona 5 did not take that extra step and implement same sex dating, especially since there are so many male confidants.
A Palace exists in the abuser’s cognition and represents their distorted desires. For example, an ex-Olympic egotistic volleyball coach may view the school as his castle of which he is the King. To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into what the ‘King’ does to abuse his power but suffice to say it’s bad. By grinding through the Palace and stealing their treasure you remove their distorted desire, but they retain the memories of what they’ve done and confess under the pressure of their guilt.
As the story reaches its climax, you realise that this is truly an unjust game and the odds of winning are almost none. As in previous Persona games, your social links are very important and truly matter. However, ranking up attributes are important to begin or rank up some social links, so spend your time wisely! Persona 5 has New Game+, where you keep your social stats and Personas so I tend to focus on maxing out social stats on the first run and spend the next run solely on social links.
Like many popular JRPGs, the combat is turn-based. You fight Shadows by exploiting their elemental weakness. The main protagonist can swap between multiple Personas, and you can choose to command other party members or let them act freely which keeps combat from getting too repetitive. A few new features have been added to Persona 5 which sets it apart from it’s predecessors. The first is that you can use guns to shoot shadows. Some Shadows are weak to gunfire, and this skill can be enhanced and upgraded with a couple of social links. You can also visit an airsoft store to buy and upgrade your guns and melee weapons.
Another addition to Persona 5 is the ability to hold Shadows at gunpoint in true Phantom Thief style. You can demand money or items, or converse with them to try and convince them to become one of your Personas. This did cause some confusion for me when Shadows didn’t respond in a way I expected them to, or took something I said the wrong way. However, this gripe is fixed in Persona 5 Royal with Shadows being given personality types and Morgana giving advice. This is just a nit-pick, however. The hold up is comedically dramatic and the game is better for it.
The best new mechanic added to Persona 5 is the Baton Pass. By exploiting an enemy’s weakness you get a ‘1 more’. This is self-explanatory; you get to perform another action, be it attacking again or using an item. However, you can only change Persona once per turn, so unless your Persona has multiple elemental attacks you can’t down all your enemies if they all have different weaknesses.
This is where the Baton Pass comes in. If your social link is high enough with your team mates, you can ‘pass the baton’ during your 1 more with a crisp high five. This allows you to pass your turn to another party member. If they then manage to exploit an enemy’s weakness they too can Baton Pass, with attacks increasing every time. This does have some limitations, however. The Baton must be passed to someone new every time it is used so it can’t be passed back and forth. Also, if you have a new party member with you who you haven’t had time to rank up you can’t pass the Baton to them and it really ruins the momentum. As the game progresses and the enemies get tougher, Baton Passing becomes imperative so this can literally be a game-saver.
Once all enemies are down you enter the aforementioned Hold Up. You can demand something, interrogate them, or initiate an All-Out Attack, in which all of the party attack the Shadows accompanied by an aesthetically pleasing black and red theme. If this doesn’t defeat the Shadow, it knocks them down and takes a massive chunk off their health. Not only is this advantageous combat-wise, it’s also stylish and oddly satisfying, especially if the fight has been a pain in the butt. Persona 5 also introduces stealth. You can peek around corners, hide behind tables and the such. While this is a great addition, it can be very irritating when you don’t have the enemies in your field of view as you can’t rotate the camera while in stealth.
As with any RPG, grinding is necessary. You can grind in Palaces as long as they are active, but they all have time limits and become available 1-2 months apart in-game. That’s where Mementos comes in. Mementos is a gargantuan, procedurally generated dungeon set in the Shibuya underground. How do you explore a cognitive underground I hear you ask? In your cat car of course!
Since you can’t return to a Palace once you’ve taken it’s treasure, Mementos is a great place to get new Personas. Personas you have encountered in the past will appear in new areas of Mementos, so you don’t need to worry too much if your negotiation failed or weren’t a high enough level to wield the Persona. Combine that with the return of the Velvet Room, Igor, and Persona fusions, and you’ll be spoiled for choice. As Mementos is tied very heavily with the climax of the game, you’ll want to make sure you stay on top of it.
Graphics, Sound, and Performance
Persona 5 is a beautiful game. There is the odd texture pop but I only ran across one in my last run, and none in the run before that, both of which were on the original PlayStation 4. As with previous Persona games there are anime-style cutscenes which are fluid and appealing. Colours are vivid, lighting is great, and the graphics hold up well.
Aside from the anime cutscenes, you also have in-game cutscenes. These take up the main portion of the story-telling as the anime scenes are pretty scarce. They hold up well, despite being a little flat and not as detailed, but they do the job. The game has a very strong and striking black and red aesthetic which suits it well and is utilised everywhere, from the opening sequence to the after-fight summary. It’s sleek and fits the tone of the game fantastically.
The character design is fine. It works on the anime trope where all main characters have brightly coloured clothing/hair so you know they’re definitely important. Oddly, the exception to this is the protagonist, who has black hair and wears darker-coloured clothes. Since the whole premise of Persona is a perfectly normal student wandering into his destiny it works well. Where is I really praise the character design is the sprites. They pop up during dialogue, complete with facial expressions, moving mouths and blinking, all in that bright anime style.
I’ll keep the sound analysis pretty short, as I could gush about this for hours. The voice acting is fantastic. There’s the occasional odd sound coming out of a characters mouth but that happens when something is dubbed. Each element has a sound effect and all of these are satisfying, especially the lightning and fire. Now onto the best part: the music! Do yourself a favour and go listen to the Persona 5 soundtrack. Trust me, you’ll thank me. It’s soulful and funky, and you just can’t be in a bad mood when you listen to it. The vocals are fantastic and gave me goosebumps the first time I heard the opening theme.
The game has four difficulty options as standard (safe, easy, normal and hard) with a fifth you can download for free (nightmare). All can be changed anytime except safe, which is locked in once you choose it. Most of the time I’ve played on the normal mode to get the standard experience. As the game progresses, the margin for error narrows. As discussed above, later in the game is when the Baton Pass comes in handy. If you find yourself down on your luck, and don’t have the right team mates with you to exploit the enemy’s weakness, you can use your turn to swap out a team mate which is handy deeper into the game/on harder difficulties.
The game is never difficult in a frustrating way, although I have made some stupid mistakes which have left me frustrated. It just takes more careful planning during battles and boss fights than on the lower difficulties, which don’t really punish you for a mistake. On the easier modes you can be revived and continue the battle. On the harder difficulties however…well, I hope you save frequently.
Persona 5 is a stylish, trendy, and delightful game. The story is compelling, the characters are deep and full of personality, and the game looks and sounds great. The topics of ‘pscience’ and ‘cognition’ can leave you scratching your head, especially at the beginning of the game, and there are some hiccups that cause momentary frustration.
A fantastic, story-driven, and stylish experience which has a few issues but will ultimately steal your heart.