Persona 5 is the latest edition to the hit JRPG series, and its been a long time coming too. Initially announced way back in 2013 with just a very short teaser trailer. From the moment that first trailer hit though people went nuts. Unfortunately despite first stating it would be released in the winter of 2014 the game would go on to experience several delays and didn’t launch in Japan until late 2016. The rest of the world had to wait even longer, being promised a February 14 launch date to make a pun about stealing hearts, but it was delayed even further. Finally the game released for the rest of the world on April 4th. After all the delays and waiting you might be wondering just how good Persona 5 is, but relax, I assure you that this is the best Persona title to date.
Persona 5’s gameplay can essentially be split into 2 halves, the first being a turn based RPG and the other half being a high-school/social life simulator, but it’s a whole lot more than that. For the 20th anniversary of the Persona series the team went back and brought back a few things from the older titles. By day you take your character through his daily life, attending school, making friends and maybe even finding love, but during the evenings you can enter palaces which are the physical manifestations of twisted people’s hearts or Mementos, a dungeon that is formed by the minds of the general public. Mementos you can enter freely any time, but Palaces are timed areas and must be completed by a certain date to avoid getting a game over.
You start off with very little exploration options, but as the game opens up you gain access to several beautiful and amazing areas across Japan, such as Shibuya and Akihabara. Some areas are fully explorable and some are just date hot spots, but all are so beautiful and lovingly crafted, its hard to not feel like you’re actually walking around Japan. This is the most effort Atlus have ever put into the explorable areas in a Persona game and I love them for it.
Battles are turned based with you either selecting to use a weapon, a gun or a persona on each person’s turn. Combat here is meaty and can be approached in many ways so it never gets boring. Enemies do have different strengths and weaknesses and its on you to discover them all. But even if you find your current team members are lacking in the strengths and attributes to tackle a certain dungeon, you can for the first time in the series swap out your characters on the fly and later even unlock the ability to do so in combat. This is a quality of life change and makes exploring dungeons far less tedious than previous entries.
A big part of Persona is gathering more Personas for the main character, unlike the rest of the cast he has the ability to hold many Persona in his heart. Personas are obtained either by negotiating with foes in combat or by fusing them. Its in your best interest to fuse as often as possible too, as fusion gives Persona access to abilities they otherwise may never have received.
During the days you should try and make as many friends as possible, in past games your friends were called Social Links, but in Persona 5 they are referred to as Confidants, as a nod to the whole theme of thievery and crime. Confidants are a necessity in Persona 5 because not only do they allow you to make stronger fusions, they also grant you special bonuses, such as earning more experience from battles, taking more ammo for your guns and perhaps my favourite, getting a maid to do things for you. Some Confidants are easy to level up but others will require you to raise your personal stats a bit more first. Personal stats are fit into five categories and each can be levelled up 5 times by performing actions like studying or playing baseball.
Story-wise this is probably the most mature and is definitely the most gripping and emotional. The MC (You) starts off being arrested and dumped into a interrogation cell, where he is soon asked to recount his experiences leading up to his arrest. At this point it goes back to when the MC is first accused of assault and sent to live at a caretakers place in the city. Quickly after moving into the city the MC encounters his first palace. A palace is basically a visual, physical manifestation of the heart of someone who has become tainted with desires. The MC then also awakens to his Persona and shortly after meets Morgana, a strange bipedal talking cat whom also can summon a Persona. Events unfold and basically the MC agrees to team up with Morgana to explore these palaces with the hopes of taking the treasure at the core, doing so will destroy the palace and cause the person to feel regret about their deeds and confess. Along the way they meet others who share their ideals and they team up to change as many twisted hearts as they can. From start to finish the story rarely takes it’s foot off the pedal, except at a later point in the game where it slows down to nearly a crawl for a little bit, but soon it picks up its pace again.
The Persona games stories have always been good and made me think about the subjects they bring up (which is the sign of good story telling in my opinion, that it makes you WANT to think about it’s themes) but Persona 5 out does all the previous titles by a country mile. It’s themes of isolation, not belonging and the disgusting secrets that can be hidden in anyone’s heart is so wonderfully explored. The main cast are all misfits in one way or another, giving them a depth that is just hard to fully explain. This is also the first time I’ve ever played a game where I was gasping at reveals, crying at sad events or just generally feeling emotional. The story had me hooked hard and drained me emotionally.
Graphics wise Persona 5 just oozes with character, whether it be walking down the streets of Tokyo, the amazing battle effects or even just simply scrolling through the menus. Everything has character here and sometimes I just found myself losing time just taking everything in, it’s that good. I have to applaud the art team here, they went above and beyond and gave the game the vibrancy it deserves. I could gush about Persona 5’s visuals all day if given the chance really, this is visual eye candy at it’s best.
Every Persona game has had a different kind of soundtrack to best help accompany the game. Persona 3 had a lot of rap and rock, Persona 4 had a more pop soundtrack to better reflect the game’s more laid back approach. Persona 5 has gone for a more jazzy feel, and it really works out. The tracks here are all pleasing to the ears and it’s easy to just lay back and listen to them and chill out. I’ve heard some people complain about the soundtrack, and I guess that’s fine, to each his own i mean, but I personally think most of the tracks here are the best we’ve heard yet. Hell even the lesser tracks are still better than a lot of the older games.
I had a lot of worries going into Persona 5. Since i first played Persona 4 back in 2009 nothing had been able to take it’s position of being my favourite game. This made me worry because if Persona 5 didn’t match it or at least come close I was going to be sorely disappointed. But Persona 5 blew all those worries away. It has outdone Persona 4 in every way imaginable, from the music to the combat, from the characters to the waifus, Persona 5 has it all.
It’s going to be hard playing other JRPGs after this, Persona 5 has raised the bar so high that I’m going to expect a lot more from the genre now. Persona 5 is hands down the best game I have ever had the privilege of playing. If you enjoy the genre, I cannot recommend enough that you get this game. This is everything and more that a JRPG, or hell any genre, should aspire to. My only problem with Persona 5 is that I cant wipe the experience from my mind and get to experience it all over again.
Note: This review was based on a PS4 digital copy provided by the publisher.