Finally the wait for the JRPG Persona 5 is over. I finally played the game to completion, taking only roughly 100 hours. It’s a long game. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been hyped for this game for a super long time. Last year there was a big reveal for Persona 5 in Japan the day after my birthday and I was more excited for that than the birthday.
Now that I have beaten the game I can assure you that, despite all the frustrating delays, the game is worth the wait. Not only is it a game that fans of the series will love, it is also a great game for people who are new to the series (unlike Final Fantasy XV, despite Square Enix’s protests, but I’ll save that rant for another day). The games aren’t really linked chronologically despite taking place in the same universe, so anyone can jump in without any knowledge of the series and will be fine. I don’t intend to spoil anything about the game aside from the set-up, which all takes place within fifteen minutes. Don’t worry about this review spoiling the game if you’re still playing through it.
While Persona 4 had a 2-3 hour intro segment of nothing happening, Persona 5 starts you in the middle of the game. You are in control of the main character, attempting to escape a casino in the middle of a heist. After jumping from platform to platforms and fighting your way through a few enemies you are ultimately caught by the police and detained. A prosecutor enters the scene and begins to interrogate you. The game flashes back to the very beginning of the story for you to play and learn how things got to this point.
In Persona 5 you take on the role of Phantom Thieves and enter the distorted world inside people’s hearts. Your goal as thieves is to take down powerful people who are doing truly horrific things and getting away with it. Invading their heart and stealing the thing they treasure in this cognitive world makes the person have a change of heart and confess to all of their crimes. You and the rest of the thieves decide to continue to do this in an effort to stop terrible people and give courage to those who are being oppressed by the people in power.
As I mentioned before, Persona 5 is a JRPG, but the Persona series is a very unique JRPG. When you enter people’s heart, you have plenty of turn-based battles in which you defeat monster dudes and level up. But that is only half of the game. In Persona you are not the typical JRPG hero leaving your old life behind to save the world. You also play as a high school student and you cannot ignore that fact. You must go to school, you must pay attention in your classes, and you need to perform well on your exams.
In addition to keeping up with your student duties, you also need to maintain a social life. You can choose to spend time changing your current target’s heart, hanging out with a friend or doing several other activities. Changing a target’s heart will make the story progress. Spending time with a friend will improve your bond with that person, leading to experience boosts and unlocking several active and/or passive abilities. The other activities can improve your five social stats: Guts, Kindness, Knowledge, Charm, and Proficiency. But use your time wisely, because you must finish changing your target’s heart before a certain date.
The social stats are necessary for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it influences what choices you can make when given dialogue options. If you try to talk back to a scary looking man you might find that the game will not let you because your Guts are too low. The game will force you to pick another option in that scenario. Secondly, certain people may not want to hang out with you if you have low Charm or Kindness. So you will not have the opportunity to gain their abilities until you raise your social stats. You also have the opportunity to romance most of the female characters. Social stats are important if you want to marry all your anime waifus. You raise stats by reading books, watching movies, answering questions in school, attempting eating challenges, and many, many other ways.
Time to make comparisons to other entries in the series! This has been the first Persona game on home consoles since 2008. That’s nearly ten years! And since then Atlus has changed a lot of things. The amount of changes is perfect. I still feel like I’m playing a Persona game despite the changes. Additionally every single part of the gameplay has benefitted from it.
Combat is still turn-based, but Atlus changed the combat to be built for speed. Every single attack or action corresponds to an individual button (X=attack, O=guard, Up=gun, etc.). There is very little scrolling through menus to choose an action and as a result, enemies are dispatched quickly. In addition to quicker, the animations for attack, specials, and all-out attacks are different and so much cooler! I never tire of watching the team pull off an all-out attack and each character has a specific victory pose if they are the one who initiated the attack. Immediately after battle, the game quickly transitions you back into the dungeon. It’s a wonder why other games haven’t implemented this kind of fast paced turn based combat. Even if you don’t like turn-based games, I strongly recommend you try a few battles and see if this can’t change your mind.
There has been an overhaul on dungeons too. It is a very welcome change. In previous titles, dungeons consisted of randomly generated floors and you needed to fight your way through and make it to the next floor. However this time all the dungeons are carefully crafted and wildly different from each other. There are now several puzzles to figure out if you want to progress and the option to use stealth to either elude enemies or ambush them. Both the aesthetics and types of puzzles vary immensely based on the target’s heart. Dungeons are longer, but I rarely felt bogged down by monotony when playing, and it was exciting seeing what kind of challenges each room held.
In previous games spending time with people would increase your social link with them. They call it confidants or something like that in this game, but the concept is nearly identical. Prior to Persona 5 spending time with your party members would increase the abilities they could perform in battle whereas non-party members would only give you an exp boost when creating new personas. In this game, non-party members can give you bonuses inside battle and outside it too.
For example, increasing your link with a shogi player lets you gain more tactics to choose from in battle, which I found very helpful in critical moments. Spend time with your teacher and she will give you additional free time during class to goof off or read books to boost stats. Every single character you can spend time with gives you a unique kind of bonus. It is difficult to max out every link in your first playthrough so consider what you find the most important route for you to succeed and spend as much time with these people as you can.
The music is different. I mean… it should be. I’d be pretty disappointed if Atlus recycled music from old games. But Persona has changed up the genre of music between each entry. Persona 3 was mostly rap. Persona 4 was mostly pop. Persona 5 mostly uses acid jazz. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. I struggle to explain music anyway. It’s not bad. Some tracks are forgettable, such as the victory theme. Yet some tracks pump me up like no other, like the music that plays on the day you change a target’s heart. I would say Persona 4 still has the best soundtrack, I mean, come on. Atlus made a rhythm game with all those catchy songs.
That being said, Persona 5 has amazing sound effects. I don’t usually pay any attention to sound effects. Considering I’m going out of my way to talk about it should already say something. Things as simple as opening the menu or the day changing are accompanied by crisp, powerful sound effects. Literally nothing is boring with those sound effects. They are the best sound effects I’ve heard out of any video game. They probably deserve even further praise than I’m giving them.
The stories in the Persona series are also a huge selling point. Yeah, all those in-game hours go into one self-contained complete storyline. Each game has their own thematic elements, with Persona 5 being freedom and rebellion. The main characters and story are powerful and I was invested in the plot from beginning to end. Forcibly changing people’s hearts. Transitioning between a high school student trying to keeping his head down and a mysterious phantom thief. I certainly haven’t experienced this combination of concepts before before.
As you and the other phantom thieves change more hearts, your team gains more popularity from the public. But it also paints a bigger target on your backs, gaining attention from powerful and cunning enemies. With this story there are plenty of unique twists and turns. Some you’ll see coming from a mile away, however others will shock you to the core. One twist caught me so off-guard that I completely skipped dinner because I could not pull myself away from the TV.
The main character is usually a blank slate for you to embody. You are not supposed to be playing as the protagonist. You are playing as you. Everything you choose to do in the game is up to you. But the main character has much more personality than any of the other past protagonists just with his expressions. Forget blank slates. You will be more than happy to be this character as you play. It gives you a chance to be cooler than you actually are, but still feel like you are playing as yourself. The party members are also better. I felt a deeper connection with the characters from Persona 4 considering its motif of friendship, but these characters are cooler and none of them got on my nerves a single time throughout this roller coaster of a story.
The issues I have with the game are relatively minor, but no game is safe from criticism. Especially not my criticism. First are the events. In Persona there are plenty of events that take place outside of regular school life whether it is a school trip, a vacation, a date with your waifu, going to a festival or eating out with all your party members. Unfortunately in this game they are a little lackluster. Actually that’s unfair. The events are fine, but it is disappointing in the sense that they aren’t as good as Persona 4 Golden. They still offer a decent level of enjoyment, but they are not quite as fun or character defining.
There is also a dungeon I don’t particularly care for called Mementos. This is a dungeon that is reminiscent of the giant tower from Persona 3. Floors are randomly generated again. You must traverse it and fight shadows with no option of stealth. It gets old really fast, and that’s probably because all the other dungeons are so fresh and interesting. Originally I thought this dungeon was entirely optional, because it primarily contains sidequests… but I learned no. No, it’s something you have to do eventually. So spend a decent amount of time going further, because it has over 50 floors. Conquering it all at once would take forever, if you didn’t die of boredom first.
Those are my only issues with the game and they are pretty insignificant. Everything else is super fun. Persona 5 is more than a good game, it is an amazing game. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is the best JRPG of all time, but it is the best JRPG in a long time. I would also say that it is my game of the year so far and a ton of great games came out in the past few months, including Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn. Despite being salty and/or bitter about the many delays, it was worth the wait and didn’t go down the wrong path any point in development. It even lived up to the hype the company generated. We reached the true ending, boys and girls.
Now should you play Persona 5? If you love JRPGs, yes. It is an absolute must for anyone who likes RPGs. If you are interested in the Persona games, but haven’t played one, then also yes. Try it out even if RPGs aren’t usually your thing. It is objectively the best game of the series to date, and I would not recommend any other game in the series to start with over this. There is very little fluff and the 100 hours I spent were all a blast. You get your money’s worth.
A lot of promotional stuff makes this look like “Anime the Game,” but it is more than that. It deals with plenty of societal issues and has a lot of social commentary ranging from corporate and governmental corruption to the fickle nature of social media. This game is a Playstation exclusive, available for PS4/PS3, so you can play it even if you’re behind a generation. Just at the expense of slightly longer loading times. If you choose to skip on this one you will be missing out on a wonderful and fun experience.