Rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Violence
Available for: Playstation 3, Playstation 4
This post doesn’t have any spoilers for once!
It is way too cliche at this point to say that Atlus’ Persona 5 stole my heart, but I’m going to say it anyway. I had high, high expectations for this game, particularly after years of waiting and with each trailer being more thrilling than the last. I’m happy to report that with all the elements put together, this might end up being my favorite Persona game yet.
When the Persona 5 protagonist, Akira Kurusu is falsely accused of physical assault, arrested, sued, convicted, expelled, and put on probation, he is sent to live with a guardian in Tokyo for the year. It is during his first day of classes at his new school that he discovers the Metaverse, a cognitive plane of reality that causes the distorted desires of people to manifest in the forms of Palaces. Together with his friends and a talking cat named Morgana, Akira forms the Phantom Thieves, a group with the goal of “stealing the hearts” of people with distorted desires in order to force them into a change of heart in reality. As the group grows in size and popularity, the Phantom Thieves soon find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy bent on causing their downfall.
There is a lot to dissect in this game and a number of serious topics are made very prevalent throughout the game, particularly the discussion of different forms of abuse. I won’t be discussing these themes in my post, but instead, I wanted to focus on reviewing the game as a whole and a lot of the elements that worked well in the narrative. What I found to be most interesting about Persona 5 is that it combines many of the features of previous games in the series while changing up the formula in way that creates a more fluid narrative progression than before.
For people who have played Persona games before, you know that you start your year in the spring and play (mostly) day-to-day until the end of December, before the story ends a year after it started. Persona 5 immediately changes this format by starting the story six months after Akira has started his transfer year. You find that he has been arrested again and is being interrogated by Prosecutor Sae Niijima, who asks for the full story of how he got to this point. In various parts throughout the game, it will flash back and forth to the interrogation, giving small hints for things to come. It makes the story all the more intriguing by using this set-up (especially for the turning point), foregoing some of the day-to-day monotony the previous games tended to have when waiting for a new boss/dungeon.
That being said, time efficiency became more important than ever. Most days were filled with narrative and set-up for the coming dungeon missions, giving what felt like less time to actually work on the dungeon and make connections with people through Social Links than in games past. In this way, the story moved much faster with a sort of streamlined focus, but this change also ended up having both pros and cons. On the one hand, I never felt like I had nothing to do (because there was plenty to work on), but on the other hand, I definitely felt the time constraints. More characters needed maxed out Social Stats before I could interact with them, meaning I had to choose very specifically whose Social Link I wanted to work through for this first playthrough. Comparatively, in my first Persona 4 playthrough, I was able to max out a number of the companions and several main characters. (It could also be that I was terrible at managing my time this go around.)
The Persona games like to put a lot of emphasis on making connections with various characters, particularly those in your own party. Persona 3 had limited Social Links among your companions (P3P aside), but Persona 4 allowed you to Social Link with all of your teammates, creating character story arcs that continued past their initial Persona awakening. Persona 5 takes up Persona 4’s example. I found myself loving the main cast, finding each of the characters dynamic, interesting, and a lot of fun to interact with. They felt less “trope-y,” with nuances that helped to make each of the characters more than a single character trait. Yes, they do play up some of their more obvious character traits, but there were elements that showed other sides to their character (Ann can’t act to save her life, Yusuke is terrible with money, etc). Akira also had a more prevalent personality, which did get shown more during the cutscenes and was referenced later on in the game as well. It was obvious throughout the game that the entire group really liked each other too (with some bickering in between), and this was particularly evident during their group get-togethers that didn’t involve fighting Shadows. (The group’s interactions through texts were particularly fun to watch.)
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Persona game without a whole lotta dungeon crawling. The usual format got turned on its head here too, and it was very welcomed. Puzzles, interacting with the world, and of course, setting up a specific day for you to fight the dungeon’s boss, it certainly made the experience more than just level grinding with Shadows. The new boss-fighting days do take two days from your schedule, but the excellent music and the intensity upgrade for the dungeon made the experience all the more exciting. The dungeons also stayed true to the entire “thieving” motif, making Palaces in the form of popular settings to steal from (i.e. museums, casinos, etc.) and having you sneak around to get to the desired Treasure.
I don’t want this to go on too long so I’ll finish with a few more thoughts:
1. The Metaverse Navigation App was a nice touch in acknowledgment to modern day use of technology, not to mention all the other references to how the world uses social media to view the world.
2. The art style of this game was so cool and well suited to the feel of the game, and as always, the music was excellent (it will be on repeat for me for the next month, I can assure you).
3. I didn’t address it earlier, but I thought there were a few characters that could have been treated better by the game itself and several “jokes” that Atlus needs to do away with.
Overall, Persona 5 really exceeded my expectations and I had a really great time playing it. There was an intensity and heaviness to the story that felt very reminiscent of Persona 3, but it still had a lot of lighthearted and really hilarious moments. In fact, there were a lot of homages to the previous Persona games, in a way that brought in the best elements while still introducing new features to the series that really enhanced the whole game. The narrative felt more focused too, less time spent on shenanigans that didn’t really contribute to the story and more time actually developing a dynamic between all the characters. You don’t need to have played a previous Persona game to enjoy Persona 5, so if you have a chance to, I would definitely recommend checking it out!