Note: Because Atlus prohibited screenshots and streaming of Persona 5, none of the following images are original.
Holy smokes, Persona 5 is out of this world. To be fully transparent, I’m 70 hours into this masterpiece and have yet to finish. Although I’m only about two-thirds of the way through (I’ve heard many have finished around the 110 hour mark), I can confidently recommend this game to anyone looking for a unique, deep, and unabashedly creative JRPG. Frankly, I haven’t been this obsessed with a game since Witcher 3, and I doubt any other game released this year will top it. Simply put, it’s divine.
Stunning Sounds and Visuals
If I was forced to choose one word to describe Persona 5, I’d pick stylish. The game is cooler than a cig-smoking penguin in a leather jacket and sunglasses. From its unbelievable soundtrack full of soulful and jazzy cuts to its bold, vibrant, and comic book-like art style, it relentlessly punches you in the face with coolness and style. I’d be hard pressed to say I’ve ever played a game more stylistic. Even the minutest details, like the distinctive font used in the UI and the colors that splash off your feet in the Metaverse, contribute to the overall artistic excellence of the game.
To add to that, the environmental and character designs are out of this world. I’ve never been a huge fan of anime art, but I can’t deny that I love the look of the protagonists and the various enemies they fight throughout the game. Joker, the hero your given control of, is clad in a black trench coat and disguised by a bird-shaped mask when in the Metaverse, and dressed in a black blazer, blue jeans, and brown boots in the physical world. Each character has their own sense of style – from punk to schoolgirl – but none feel out of place. It’s a group of misfits that look good and feel right together.
Additionally, enemies are just as well designed. Opponents you fight range from a giant demon on a toilet (hilariously named the Ambassador of Filth) to a revolting penis blob that deliberately attacks the only female character in your party at the time. It’s hard to think of another game that offers such a wide variety of foes to beat down. Designs vary from cute (Jack Frost), to terrifying (Pisaca), to downright bizarre (Hecatoncheir). One of the coolest features of Persona 5 is the ability to play as any of these beasts. Unlike other characters, Joker can hold multiple personas, so you can absorb the power of and essentially play as nearly any villain, as long as they are the same level as you or lower.
Although it’s not completely open world, I have a blast walking the streets of Tokyo provinces like Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Akihabara and interacting with the people and shops. Every last inch of the screen is used to perfection, filling all space without making it look too busy. The world is living and breathing, offering a multitude of activities to partake in and a bevy of buildings you can enter. You can even work in some establishments to earn money and build skills. My biggest complaint is most activities consist of watching a cutscene instead of actually performing a task. I would have also liked to see random quests or encounters in the real world to mix things up a bit.
Similarly, palace designs are awe-inspiring. Throughout the course of the game, you’re challenged to make your way through a gaudy museum, floating bank, multi-level spaceship, rigged casino, and more. Each is vastly different from the others and full of puzzles you must solve in order to reach the treasure. Unfortunately, these puzzles aren’t brain busters by any means, generally only requiring you to fight a few enemies to reach a switch, terminal, or button you need to interact with. I do like the level of exploration in comparison to previous installments in the series. Scouring every inch of palaces is recommended because there are hidden rooms that include treasure chests filled with valuable items.
An Imaginative Storyline
I’m not going to beat around the bush: The story is good, but not for everyone. It’s centered on a teenager who has been wrongfully arrested for assault and battery, and relocated to Yongen-Jaya to live with guardian Sojiro Sakura and attend Shujin Academy. He soon finds that all is not well at Shujin, as there is an egotistic, perverted volleyball coach who is terrorizing players and female students. Teaming up with other rebellious souls, he discovers that he can make the coach confess his crimes if he steals his corrupted heart from his palace in the Metaverse. As the narrative goes on, the targets get bigger and you discover there are other forces with similar powers that use them for evil.
Dialogue and voice acting is just as you would expect from a JRPG. Nothing spectacular, but it doesn’t take away from the experience in any way. Sure, there are some corny lines and plot points are repeated hundreds of times to the point where you’ll want to claw your eyes out, but the core narrative is good enough to make you disregard this. Without taking itself too seriously, it explores heavy subject matter material like underage drug mules, corporate and government corruption, child abuse, sexual assault, and suicide. Fortunately, there is a good balance of darkness, comedy, and whimsy to ensure the game isn’t too lighthearted or depressing.
It’s hard to deny that most characters in Persona 5 fall into tropes. You have the dumb, brawny guy, smart, goodie-two-shoes schoolgirl, weirdo art dude, stern father figure, etc. However, Atlus does a great job making them multidimensional. For example, while Ryuji appears to be a hard-headed, troublemaking tough guy for the most part, spending time with him unveils a softer, more altruistic side where he wants to help people who have suffered the same abuse as he. The same goes for the villains. Although many are portrayed as solely evil at first, inflicting a change of heart on them reveals the good within them and explains how their desires became distorted.
Aside from infiltrating palaces, you’re given the ability to explore Mementos, an area of the Metaverse that represents the streets of Tokyo. Here you tackle smaller targets that are in need of a change of heart and grind to earn more experience. Enemies in Mementos are generally weaker than those in palaces, so it makes for a good place to practice new skills and experiment with different party combinations. However, save points are much further apart, so it’s wise to proceed through the various levels with extreme caution. There is nothing more frustrating than making 30 minutes of progress in Mementos, only to have to go back to the last save point because you acted too rashly and made a fatal mistake.
From what I’ve read, many have been turned off by Persona 5’s daily structure. While I agree that it prohibits exploration at times, I like how it forces you to strategically plan your days. The only time it gets annoying is in between missions when you’re looking for a new heart to steal. There is so much filler in these parts of the game that it will nearly drive you insane. These are essentially wasted days because all you do is watch a few cutscenes that barely progress the story, and when the time comes for you to have control again, you’re forced to go to sleep and do it all over the next day. It wouldn’t be as annoying if these sequences didn’t take over an hour to get through, and if I wasn’t being told to go to sleep by a stupid cat.
Serve Up a Can of Whoop Ass
Where Persona 5 shines most is its combat system. I’ve always been impartial to turn-based fighting, but man, this game does it right. Even 50 hours into the story, you’ll still be presented with new abilities you can use in battle – from the power to swap party members mid fight to a super slick gun attack that can down an enemy in one hit. This keeps combat fresh, which is great because you do a lot of fighting throughout the campaign. The depth is uncanny, allowing you to apply different strategies based on the enemies you’re facing and their weaknesses.
For instance, if you’re fighting an enemy that is weak to lightening attacks and another that is weak to fire, you can change your persona to one that can dish out electric or fire damage and perform a Baton Pass to an ally that can do one or the other. Not only will this increase your teammate’s attack power, it will allow you to knock down the other enemy and perform a Negotiation or All Out Attack that will likely end the battle. Executing chains like this is the most satisfying part of combat, allowing you to effectively end a battle moments after it starts.
Confidants make a return in Persona 5 and work similarly as in past installments; spend some time with them, strengthen your bond, and earn new abilities. Items and gear are varied and incredibly important when in palaces or Mementos. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find a great weapon, potion, or protector in a palace, but if you’re not so lucky, you can sell your loot at the Airsoft Shop and earn enough money to purchase some quality stuff. This is crucial when prepping to fight a palace boss. I assure you that if you send a calling card before loading up on new gear and items, you’re going to have a bad time. Most likely, you’ll die several times before giving in and loading a prior save.
There are only two things that annoy me about combat in Persona 5: The clunky cover system and the annoying, repetitive remarks Morgana or Futaba make after knocking down or eliminating an enemy. God help me, if I hear “lookin’ cool Joker!” one more time, I will jump off a building like Shiho. Same goes for if I move to another cover instead of ambushing an enemy. Too many times this has happened, and I wish I could say it was entirely my fault. What I do like is how you dash from one end of cover to another instead of creeping along it. It only saves a few seconds, but any time saved by eliminating unnecessary movement is good when playing a game so long.
Become a Socialite
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Persona game without the social simulation. You’re given five skills to build up throughout your journey – kindness, knowledge, charm, guts, and proficiency – and each maxes out at five levels. That may seem like little, but believe me, it takes a lot of work for one skill increase. For instance, I am 70 hours into the game and have only maxed out knowledge and proficiency. This is mainly due to the fact that each skill-building activity takes up a whole time period, and if you decide to infiltrate a palace or enter Mementos, you can’t do anything else that day.
Skill-building activities include everything from working a job to reading a book or watching a movie. Because you’re given a finite amount of time, each decision you make carries a lot of weight. Say you need to improve your charm to woo someone over and progress the story. Well, then you better be hitting the bathhouse and reading pickup artist books at any chance you have. My personal favorite activity, and the reason I maxed out proficiency first, is the batting cages. It’s one of the only interactive skill-builders, and what can I say; I love baseball.
To no surprise, romance makes a comeback in Persona 5. In addition to stealing the hearts of villains, you can capture the hearts of a handful of female characters (in a good way). To be completely honest, I could care less about this aspect of the game. I can appreciate it when RPGs experiment with romance arcs and choosing a partner, but I usually don’t focus too much on it. Those who do will love Persona 5. There is so much you can do to turn a friendly relationship into an intimate one – from giving gifts to going on dates. It would be cooler if you could romance your male confidents, but I’m not as upset about it as other people are. However, I do find the two stereotypical homosexual characters that constantly try to molest you to be incredibly offensive and derogatory. Very tasteless move Atlus…
The Bottom Line
Out of the three Persona games I’ve played, I can confidently say that Persona 5 is my favorite. From its highly stylish art style and soundtrack to its deep and continuously evolving combat system, it effectively raises the bar for JRPGs. I bought it at a bargain for $45, but would gladly pay full price for it. It is just so jam packed with quality content that I can’t think of a reason to not recommend it. Even if you’re not that into JRPGs, like me, you’ll find plenty to appreciate. I, for one, can’t wait to finish posting this article so I can return to the Metaverse and change the hearts of the few targets I have left.
Have you played Persona 5? What do you think of it? Do you love it as much as I do, or are you disappointed with it? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!