Before Persona 5, I have never played a game in the long lived Atlus series before. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the games, especially Persona 4, but it was just something that I never really tried playing for one reason or another. However, after playing Persona 5 for a good long while now, I realized that I’ve been missing out. That’s because Persona 5 may just be one of the best RPGs I’ve played in forever.
Persona 5 takes place in Japan where the main protagonist (that your character) is falsely charged with assault while defending a woman from a drunken man. Now with a record, the protagonist is expelled from his old school and is sent away to live with a family friend while on probation for the assault charge. He is then dragged into the Metaverse, a dream-like world where people’s desires are given shape. He then discovers that he has the ability to summon Personas, the living embodiment of a person’s spirit. He, along with his friends, create the Phantom Thieves and they use their ability to enter the Metaverse to change the hearts of corrupt people by stealing their “Treasure” from their hearts.
Well, that’s the best summary I can put together for Persona 5 because, well, it’s a stunningly weird game! But weird in a good way! The strangeness of the entire story and circumstances is something that is strongly influenced by Japanese anime, where realism is thrown out the window and copious amounts of creativity is poured in to replace it. The overall flow of the story is incredibly linear as you have to follow a calendar year of your character as he balances school work, social life, taking odd jobs and dating while still maintaining his cover as a Phantom Thief.
One of the reasons why I really enjoyed Persona 5 is because of how refreshing everything feels. For one, it’s rare for a RPG in today’s fast-action world to use a turn-based battle system and it’s great that you actually have time to breathe while deciding what to do. That extra time to think really helps as it lets you figure out what strategy to use for certain enemies. Each enemy you fight has certain strengths and weaknesses that you can use to your advantage. Casting the right elemental attack to knock down your opponent is absolutely vital in battle as the enemies can be really tough. But this is a good thing as you can actually recruit them are your own Personas as well, making their strengths into yours. The battle menu can look a little cluttered initially but you can’t deny that it looks slick as heck! Thankfully, the layout really works once you get used to it. In hindsight, Atlus did a great job of giving you all of this information in a swanky looking menu!
Besides entering the Metaverse and battle, there’s a whole mess of things to do in Persona 5. It’s not exactly an open world where you can do anything at any time but there is a lot of places to explore and creative opportunities to boost your stats and bolster your allies. You can go to the Airsoft Shop to buy new equipment and sell loot. You can go to the various shops and vending machines to purchase supplies before heading into battle. Those are standard things you do in every RPG out there. But Persona 5 allows you to get various part time jobs to get more money. There are also different odd tasks all around the game that will boost your Social Stats. Your Social Stats allow you do build stronger bonds with your allies and help you get stronger Personas.
All of these activities are quirky and fun. Some of them are mundane, like studying to improve your Knowledge stat. Others are rather absurd, like attempting to eat a ginormous burger to increase your Guts. The great thing about this system is sometimes timing is the key to get the most out of them. For example, you get more knowledge if you try studying while it’s raining or you can get more Charm if you go to the public bath when they use medicinal waters. Only something as Japanese as Persona 5 would think of things like this!
Boosting your Social Stats will help you with deepening your bonds with your friends. This is great as your allies are also have an affinity with the Personas you will gather throughout the game as well as unlocking additional abilities they may have. Of course, you can also increase your bond with them just by socializing with them and this opens up another layer of gameplay as some of your conversation choices will impact how they feel for you. This means there’s a ton of things to do and finding the right way to balance your limited time throughout the day can be overwhelming as more and more activities and allies open up but it’s also incredibly fun as well.
Your allies and friends do all fall into the typical anime tropes. The rash idiot with a good heart. The pretty airhead. The pompous artist. The serious student council president. The shut-in hacker. The dutiful and polite daughter. The cat that thinks he’s human. Okay, that last one is a little unique but everyone does seem rather cookie cutter for the most prat. Even if they are all familiar, Atlus injected them with their own quirks and defined personality that makes them great characters. The character designs are really good for everyone… except for the main character. Sadly, the character you control is one of the blandest characters in the history of video games. I guess this was intentional since he’s supposed to mirror the player, but, man, is he boring!
The presentation of Persona 5 is also excellent. Atlus has done a great job of making the world of Persona 5 so full of color and style. It really looks like your playing an anime, with all those cutaways focusing on the eyes of the characters at the right times to emphasize something. I will say that some of the background graphics look rather plain, especially when you juxtapose them the brilliant and colorful characters, though. The voice acting is good most of the time as everyone gives an expressive performance that’s filled with a lot of heart. There are some inconsistencies when they have to speak a Japanese name and there are some moments where they do step into the realm of overacting but those are few and far between.
I do have a few problems with Persona 5. While the battle menu is great, the items menu can feel bloated. If you’re like me and you love to overstock on healing items and whatnot when playing an RPG, scrolling through a long list of items will take you a while before you find the item you want. It certainly doesn’t help that there are numerous items that do the same action. Sometimes I have to decide if I want to use Fried Jam Bread, Devil Fruit, Adhesive Bandage, Foreign Nikuman or Dr. Salt NEO to get back those 20 HP. I know they all do the same thing so why don’t they just bunch them up into one menu or meld them into one item when in the Metaverse? Also, while there are dialogue options sprinkled throughout the game, most of them equate to the same result, giving you the impression of freedom of choice while totally taking it away from you because they don’t matter one bit.
The biggest problem of Persona 5 is how it tackles handling its storytelling. The first hour or so is incredibly boring since nothing happens! They even try to trick you by plunging you into the middle of a heist but then we get a flashback of the events leading up to it, which is the majority of the first portion of the game. It’s just cutscene after cutscene after cutscene. It’s your character going to your new home, cleaning up your room and going to school for the first day. That’s it. It takes a long time before you finally get to the entire Metaverse world, meet up with your first two teammates. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the entire experience wasn’t on rails the entire time and you had, at least, the option to go exploring a little bit. Once you do get over that huge hump of boredom, Persona 5 actually has a great story and a mystery but it sure does leave a poor first impression.
This happens very often as a way to push the story forward and emphasize the upcoming mission. It gets really tedious as the game would give you an incredible amount of freedom to do all this fun stuff then take it away from you. It would have been more acceptable if they still have you the opportunity to go out or limit the activities during these points in the game at the very least.
I guess one issue some players may have with Persona 5 is its anime styling. Like in most animes, the heroes are a little too goody-two-shoes for their own good. They get too idealistic at times but, in this world, it makes sense because of how the story unfolds. While I do love the anime aesthetic, there are going to be that portion of gamers that want their game to be much more realistic. If you hate anime, there’s no way Persona 5 will change your mind. With that said, I really loved Persona 5 and I’m glad I took a chance on it. In fact, if there was a way for me to play the earlier installments, I’d gladly do so.
Now, when’s Atlus gonna release the Persona 4: Golden Remaster?
Have you played Persona 5? What’s your favorite game in the series? Let me know in the comments section below!