Developer: Atlus, P Studio
Release Date: September 15, 2016, Worldwide 2017
Platforms available: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
After years of teasers, release setbacks, and even adding a next gen console, we finally received Persona 5 on April 4 of this year. A wait second only to Kingdom Hearts 3 that was made even more difficult after the Japanese release back in September 2016, which only added months of avoiding spoilers all over the internet. But the wait was well worth it, especially if you are a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei spinoff series, or JRPGs in general.
If you have not checked it out yet, or are new to the series, you play as the protagonist (named by you) who was just sent to Tokyo to stay with a friend of his parents after being arrested, expelled from high school, and put under probation. That is right. This time the transfer student has a criminal record. Saving you spoilers, he goes on to find himself with a Persona, a manifestation of one’s inner self that is used in battle, which is the basis of the series. For Persona 5, you are not trying to stop a serial killer, the end of the world, or anything like we have seen before. Instead you are taking people’s hearts. I know. This sounds crazy, but trust me when I say I do not want to spoil this game for you. I came in with no knowledge except having played the rest of the series, and knowing the names of the main characters and that the protag is a criminal. Pretty much nothing that was not in the trailers, and it was absolutely worth it. Oh, and for those who are familiar with what the Velvet Room is, this time it is a prison and it’s pretty darn cool. You are in for a surprise when you perform your first Persona fusion.
Persona 5 takes what was so loved from the previous titles, such as the darker tones of Persona 3 and close knit friendship aspect of Persona 4, and combines them in an entirely new tale, full of its own surprises and unique gameplay. Rather than a small fictional town, Atlus instead used Tokyo itself as its stage. Beautifully crafted, sometimes confusing to navigate, and full of places to visit, it does a good job at capturing more of the city life that is not present in the previous installments. Tokyo provides the protagonist with plenty to do, from part-time jobs and people to hang out with, to arcades and a batting cage, leaving you with little downtime with nothing going on.
Persona 5 keeps the “social link” aspect that was introduced in Persona 3, though this time it is called “confidants.” They are worth doing because you get some more to the story, make your band of thieves more powerful and useful in the dungeons, known as “Palaces,” and meet some interesting characters. And, because no modern JRPG would be complete without it, you can date your female cohorts. Even the adult ones. Have fun choosing though, because they are all fun characters. Myself, I went with Makoto Niijima, student president and total Palace badass. Her Persona is a motorcycle, so yeah she is pretty cool.
Aside from the open 3D world and changes to the social link system, Persona 5’s biggest upgrade is the battle system. Keeping its turn-based tradition, no longer is there a menu on the lefthand side for you to scroll through to make your selection between physical attacks, Persona skills, items, etc. Now there is a really neat looking menu surrounding the character currently in selection and you make your choice by pressing the assigned button. I was skeptical at first, but it makes the fighting system smooth, fast, and insanely cool. One aspect I loved about the new system is the ability to switch out your team members in the heat of battle. You no longer have to panic when the one weakness a Shadow has is the one thing not in your current team! The new gun attack is also really neat, as each character has a different type of gun and some Shadows are weak to them. Overall, the aesthetics and battle gameplay are breathtaking. You will do everything you can to hit enemies’ weak spots so you can pull an all-out attack and see the fun animations that cross your screen at the end of the fight, but even when you take them down without a fancy finishing move the characters posing and walking across the screen while your newly gained experience points and items pop up is oddly satisfying.
Aside from the eye-catching aesthetics of the game, it has an incredible soundtrack. You spend most of your time in game nodding along with the beat playing in the background, and naturally the music changes with each scenario. It is calming and smooth in the evening or when it is raining, funky during the day or events with your teammates, and fast and heavy during battles. As a matter of fact, my favorite song in the entire game was played only during two late game bosses. By the time I was done with Persona 5, I had to splurge the $30 for the soundtrack. And I am so glad I did because “acid jazz” is a lot more interesting than I expected it to be.
Keeping theme with the previous titles, Persona 5 is ripe with animated cut scenes. It allows you a chance to sit back and enjoy part of the story without having to pick your controller back up and pick dialogue responses like with CGI cut scenes. There is word of a Persona 5 anime series coming, like with Persona 4 the Animation and Persona 4 Golden the Animation, and the four movie series for Persona 3, but for now there is no news. I do however recommend watching Persona 5: The Daybreakers if you have a few minutes to spare and have access to any website that streams it. I used Crunchyroll, but you could possibly find it just as easily through a medium such as YouTube. It is only one episode and is more of a teaser to lead you into the game than anything, but as a big Persona fan I enjoyed it.
One of the biggest grabbers for me when playing a game, especially an RPG, is the characters. And boy, Persona 5 has a cast. Admittedly I have a major soft spot for the Investigation Team from Persona 4/4 Golden, but the Phantom Thieves were just as loveable for me. Many fans found Persona 4’s mascot character, Teddie, who existed solely to navigate until the primary navigation character was unlocked and to help guide the team and player through the Shadow World, to be a bit annoying. Persona 5’s Morgana- an adorable black cat…. thing- captures the cute mascot style of Teddie and Persona 3’s Koromaru while creating a character with a better personality. He, yes he, is actually helpful and quickly became my favorite. (Though I will say I am a big Teddie fan as well.) As you unlock the main cast, they each add their own spice to the game. New skills, funny dialogue, and cool costumes make you eager to finish the next Palace and meet the next teenager that will join your group of Thieves.
I have mentioned that they are thieves many times, yet have not elaborated. The Phantom Thieves of Hearts enter Palaces, the dark place in a person’s psyche, and steal their “heart.” Keeping this spoiler free, it is actually a unique and interesting concept that works really well. It captures the dark ideas behind the previous titles, while introducing a new style of gameplay. It is also just as hilarious at times as Persona 4 was, an aspect that I really enjoyed about both games. Humor in JRPGs is something that I have always enjoyed because it can ease tension when the game gets difficult or stressful, and add to the story in a way that, to me, is more realistic. Seriously, most of us make jokes even in bad situations to lighten it up. And I cannot resist a game that can make me laugh while capturing other emotions as well, like concern and sadness.
Between the fun cast of characters, the interesting storyline, the vast amount of things to do including maxing out your skills and confidants, both of which are important to the story and becoming powerful enough to take out the end game boss, the soundtrack, voice acting, gameplay, and graphics style, Persona 5 is definitely the best game I have played this year aside from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This title alone made owning a PlayStation 4 worth it. It is also available on PlayStation 3, but for the smooth graphics and free DLC such as the original Japanese voiceovers, it is definitely worth getting on PlayStation 4 if you do not have one yet, or have not really been introduced to the beauty that is Japanese RPG games.
I certainly rank Persona 5 as “bonafide Mona-fied!”
Check out the gameplay trailer!