I preface this review with chance confession – this is my first Persona game, and I’ve never particularly been a fan of the style of games (heck, even anime) that Persona seems to borrow so liberally from. Despite this, I sit here after spending so much time with Persona 5, the latest game in the series. Blown away. Surprised. Amazed I managed to see through the melodrama and enjoy it for what it was. But I did. That’s because Persona 5 is a game you absolutely should try.
Persona sees you playing as the nameless (well, you can name him) protagonist who is transferred to Shujin Academy in Japan following an altercation with the law. There, he meets up with a group of students who eventually become aware that the world they’re living in is more corrupt than they would seem. After a mysterious app appears on their phone, the students can enter the subconscious of the corrupt people in their society and unravel their thoughts to not only protect themselves but the world as well.Best described as a very quirky, very Japanese take on Inception, Persona’s story has a lot more to it than you might think. The characters each have their own very well fleshed out story arcs, the overarching story is intriguing (from beginning to end) and each of the vignetted stories surrounding each of the game’s dungeons are compelling. Make no mistakes, there is stereotypical melodrama and protracted exchanges of dialogue, but still, Persona 5 is an arresting experience from beginning to end, with some lulls here and there.
Persona 5 is different to other role playing games. In it, you divide your time between managing the priorities and day-to-day tasks of a high school student; and exploring abstract worlds in pursuit of your treasure and goals. A good Persona player will balance real world activities like building bonds with friends, various hobbies and studying for exams with relentless dungeon crawling, battling and equipment developing. An even better player will realise, on their first run especially, that you can’t do everything you’ll want to do. Art imitates life, it seems.Though while these activities all sound mundane, they all feed into Persona 5’s core gameplay mechanics. When in the real world, you’ll attend school and then be given options on how to use your time after school. Initially, it’ll seem overwhelming. Should you hang out with a friend, study for your upcoming exams or just go and hang out at a diner or restaurant. As mentioned previously, there’s heaps to do in Persona 5 and you’ll be overwhelmed initially – but prioritising each of these is tantamount to your success.
Improving relationships with your friends, known as Confidantes, has a huge effect on your playthrough. A loyal friend will be more useful in battle, and may even grant special abilities elsewhere. One confidante can remain in the real world, even when you choose to go dungeon crawling, and carry out busy work for you, freeing up your time to do something else. Others can open customisation options for your persona and your weapons. Some can provide access to unique but helpful equipment. There’s about 19 or so Confidantes to woo in the game, some romantically, but all offer great ways to improve your experience.The other aspect you’ll work on outside of the dungeons is your social skills, which are divided into five categories – Kindness, Proficiency, Guts, Charm and Knowledge. Some characters will be more attracted to someone with more Knowledge than Charm, others the opposite. Every activity you do in Persona 5 will help develop these skills in one way or another.
As an example, working in the Flower Shop improves Kindness while chilling at the Bath House improves Charm. Social Skills affect a lot in Persona 5 – whether certain people will talk to you, what dialogue options you’ll be able to choose and how well you do in certain situations. They’re just as important as the dungeon crawling and battling you’ll do in the metaverse.Today many would turn their noses up at the sheer audacity that a game would demand your attention with a turn based battle system. Contemporaries like Final Fantasy have since left the past to do so. Persona 5, almost defiantly, still uses turn based battle systems but streamlines the entire experience to see that you’re not shuffling through menus needlessly. It’ll never be as fast as a real-time battle system, but it’s easily one of the fastest turn-based ones.
In previous Persona games, the crux of the experience was dungeons that were procedurally generated. You would dive into a dungeon, do as much as you could to advance, before pulling out to recoup and recover. Persona 5 eschews these, instead offering up specifically designed dungeons that revolve around a theme.The result is a much more focused experience, absolutely dripping with character and charisma. Multi floor dungeons with nothing in them are no more, instead each dungeon has its own unique gimmicks, puzzles and of course story to play through which just flows better than previous games.
In the world of Persona 5, every one of the playable characters has a Persona, a force of some kind that battles for them in the metaverse. Your character is unique in that they can wield more than one Persona in battle. As such, Persona 5’s system is extensive. Like a monstrous version of Pokemon, you’ll be able to capture and tame over 200 different types of Persona to fight alongside you.It doesn’t end there either; you’ll be able to merge certain persona into each other to create new ones, turn them into items, or sacrifice one to boost another. It’s an incredibly comprehensive system that lets you do so much, lets you customise so much of your character that it’s so easy to get lost for hours just customising your Persona to be perfect. Creating it from scratch, carefully selecting it’s “parents” to ensure it inherits the correct skills.
Persona 5 is an extraordinarily generous package that brings everything together to offer a storyline that can easily span between eighty to one hundred hours. I mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again here – the experience is largely consistent. The stories are interesting, the battle system never really gets old and the characters are great if not slightly stereotypical. The game does suffer from some major pacing issues (namely through long interludes between the story vignettes) but a game with such a breadth of content holding my interest for so long is to be commended.Topping off an already strong package is Persona 5’s effortlessly stylish presentation. Whether it’s something as simple as a text box, a menu or something as complicated as a dungeon modelled after the pyramids; Persona 5 is a stylish looking game. Bursting and flowing with colour, it’s one of the most visually compelling games I’ve played this generation – and this game came out on the Playstation 3 in Japan too! Some textures are slightly muddy when inspected up close, but the slick presentation helps bring life to Persona 5’s world and characters.
Persona 5 is one of the best role playing games that I’ve played in years. It’s both a colourful and psychological journey through student life and the darker side of humanity. Combine this story of intrigue with multiple comprehensive systems that are all a joy to get lost in and you’ve got something truly special. While some minor pacing issues and some rigidity with how time is managed bring the experience down somewhat, Persona 5 is a game that everybody should play.
The PlayStation 4 version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. You can read our review policy HERE.