There’s a lot to be said about a game which values its players time. The magical ratio of risk and reward is not always obvious, sure, but when you’re playing a game which respects you about as much as Trump respects women, it’s clear as day. Some games will have you grind through hours of monotonous and repetitive gameplay in order to conquer their most challenging of stages, or have you trawling around the same environments over and over in search of meaningless collectables. Others, meanwhile, will offer up their entire smorgasbord of secrets to any player smart enough to pick up a controller. Ultimately, it all comes down to balance and that’s one thing Persona 5 has in droves, balance.
Of course, this isn’t just any game though. This is the fifth instalment of the hugely successful Persona franchise and the follow up to what is widely regarded as one of the best JRPGs of all time. Persona 4 Golden was a very special game. It managed to recreate the feeling of being at school and forming friendships which would last a life time. I can say with confidence that Persona 5 improves on its predecessors in almost every way, borrowing the best parts from the series, giving them an unbelievable level of polish and style, then perfecting them.
Fans of the series will recognise Persona 5‘s gameplay loop. You play as a young schoolboy fresh into the City and must attend high school, make friends and battle monsters in a series of themed dungeons. What Persona 5 does so well is that from the outset it establishes itself as a deeper affair. The themes presented throughout are more nuanced and complex than previous games. Relationships seem more meaningful and the story is a tightly presented masterpiece.
Persona 5 is probably the best example of a game rewarding its players’ actions that I’ve ever played. During each day players can choose from a wide range of activities to play through. These range from meeting up with friends, watching movies, batting practice, working a part time job, working out and much much more. Every activity offers stat increases which feed into the way your player handles himself in the battle segments of the game. For example, choosing to study will grant you more knowledge which can be used to do well on tests which in turn can strengthen your standings with other students which then gives you stat bonuses when levelling up a Persona. This complicated yet elegant dance of stat boosts, relationships and fun all culminates in a feeling that every single action you make is worthwhile in some way. Each day there is only time to complete two activities. It can be daunting at first but literally any way you choose to go will have a meaningful impact on your character and the relationships around them. It’s all wonderfully balanced and makes Persona 5 an absolute joy to play.
The game plays out in this loop for a while until it becomes time to enter a dungeon. In Persona 5, you and a group of friends gain the ability to access a sort of metaverse via a phone app. This allows you to enter areas where a person’s darkest desires manifest themselves in a dungeon filled with shadows to battle and puzzles to solve. This is when the game’s other half reveals itself. In these sections you must infiltrate an area, floor by floor in order to steal your targets treasure which will in turn trigger a change of heart and make them a better person. These sections are where Persona 5’s battle systems come into play. It’s turn based, sure, but extremely sleek and quick nonetheless. Battles quickly evolve into muscle memory and are an absolute joy to play. This is the best the series’ combat has ever felt, with new systems coming into play as well as old ones such as interrogation making a return.
All of this plays out in what is quite possibly the most stylish design aesthetic I’ve ever seen in a game. In-game menus pop with colour and a near dizzying level of detail is present throughout. Simple actions like transitioning between battles is given momentum by smart animations and engaging bonus screens. Persona 5‘s world too, is just as well thought out. The game’s depiction of Tokyo is a spectacle to behold and features a level of detail previously unseen in the series up the this point. Shibuya’s streets bustle with energy and train stations are lovingly recreated to be as close to the real thing as possible. There’s clearly been real care put into the way Tokyo is portrayed here and the game certainly stands out as a result. Certain cutscenes play out in a fully fledged anime style. The production value of these sections is seriously impressive and while they are few and far between, each one is a treat to behold.
Not everything gets the same level of polish though. The side quest heavy mini dungeons called mementos are procedurally generated and lack the same level of polish as the rest of the game. The combat is still the same though and you do get to ride around in your friend who has transformed himself into a minivan so it definitely has its moments. The localisation also feels a little rushed. Some of the exam questions are clearly not geared towards a Western audience and certain character exchanges feel wooden as a result.
This game certainly won’t be for everyone. There’s over 100 hours of story which doesn’t really get going until around 30 hours in. Persona 5 is definitely a commitment, with a lot of moving parts that demand the player’s complete attention. This game is probably the best place for newcomers to jump in though as it features the most accessible beginning of any Persona game. There’s a lot to take in but the way the game feeds the player new information piece by piece is masterful and before they know it they’ll be completely hooked.
Persona has never shied away from adult themes but never quite to this extent. The opening scene features a rape attempt and things stay heavy from then on. The game explores sexual assault, suicide and other complex themes in a way other game’s simply don’t. And while it’s all presented in a way which keeps it from putting a downer on proceedings, none of the meaning is lost. This is the most thought out story yet with the tale being told through flashbacks which all build to a thrilling and ultimately satisfying conclusion.
While this may be blasphemy to some, I truly believe that Persona 5 features the strongest cast of characters of the series so far. There’s the usual stereotypes yes, the pretty blonde, the geek girl, the stubborn young man but each character slowly opens up over time revealing a fully fleshed out and multi-dimensional character. I found myself spending time with a certain character over and over again because I wanted to know more about her. The game perfectly simulates true friendship and the feeling that the relationships are worth having.
Persona 5 is the new yard stick by which all new JRPGs should be compared. Each system feeds into another, which truly gives the feeling that every task you complete is building to something bigger. It features some of the most stylish visuals in gaming and a lovable cast of characters which will eat up your free time. Simply put, Persona 5 is a masterpiece and takes the series to new heights. It gave me a bustling city to explore, an interesting story full of twists and turns and most importantly, a brand new set of friends.AtlusDeep Silver