[Note: Due to a major oversight by the overseer (Chris – Resident Fool) this review has been sat waiting to go live for over a month. Better late than never, eh?]
After the PS Vita masterpiece that was Persona 4 Golden, Persona 5 is a game I had been anticipating since its announcement. Even after the delays, I was white knuckle gripping my controller with an even goofier grin on my face than normal, as I saw the title screen offering me what I hoped would be scores of hours of absolute bliss. Keep reading to see if it met my stratospheric expectations.
For the uninitiated, Persona 5 is a turn-based JRPG that is mechanically related to the Shin Megami Tensei series. Throughout the game, you will be exploring dungeons called Palaces, and you will be fighting monsters called Persona, but that is only half of the experience. You will need to live as a teenager and build relationships with those around you to fully experience what makes Persona such a beloved and endearing series.
Starting with fisticuffs, the combat works on a strengths and weaknesses system. Every character and almost every Persona has an element, such as fire, nuclear, or curse attack, that can cause them extra damage. If they are strong to that attack type, it causes less damage. By exploiting that weakness, you can have an extra attack in your turn, and the same goes for your opponents when they hit your weaknesses. Hitting a group of monster’s weaknesses allows you to knock them down, and, when all them are down, you can perform an all-out attack with everyone from your team to eliminate them or inflict some hefty damage.
As you level up, you will continue to encounter new Personas, and the strategy is in trying different attack types to find their weakness (if they have one) and bashing them into oblivion with it. That is not to say that you cannot simply hack away at their health with physical attacks, and it may be the best solution at times.
The social part of the game is just as important as showing your enemy you know kung fu. The Protagonist will meet many people in the course of the game, some who will fight with you, and some who just occupy the world. As you spend time with them, they will share more of their personal story, and you will level up your relationship. Leveling up will sometimes grant you extra benefits in and out of combat. One ability may let you easily escape from a fight, and another may make it cheaper for you to purchase healing supplies.
Even after beating the game, there are some people I did not even try to get to know. The game takes place over a year with a calendar screen prominently showing you when the day changes. I still did not have time. What can I say? I had to go to school, find a girlfriend, and save the world. Being an angsty teenage boy kept me busy.
You will never lack for something to do, because there is more than you can possibly accomplish in one playthrough. The world is huge, but it opens slowly over the 100+ hours I played. As you discover more locations, the new area is added to the subway style world map, and you can return there anytime. Some locations have multiple places to visit within them, and the map allows you to fast travel to anywhere.
The characters and story vary from simple to completely unbelievable, and that is perfect for a Persona game. You have been sent away from your home due to a run-in with the law, and this has branded you as an undesirable thug. You are disliked and mistrusted by teachers, students, and your cantankerous caretaker who takes every opportunity to remind you how much you suck and how great he is for letting you sleep in his dingy attic.
As you progress through the game, you start to make friends and discover the Metaverse, a world where everyone’s true self exists. You and your group of confidants also release their true selves in the form of Persona and use these to fight inside the Metaverse to make changes in the real world. I do not want to spoil the plot, but they are fighting for justice and social reform in the society, but they also are fighting for their own lives or to just learn more about themselves and what they want for their own future. It is very melodramatic at times, but I was able to roll my eyes and enjoy it.
There is plenty to enjoy visually. It is a stylish feast for your hungry eyes, and every part of the game has been lovingly and thoroughly injected with that style. This is a game that was much cooler than I will ever be.
Although the game runs on the less powerful PS3 too, everything looks amazing. It is clear that so much time and effort has been placed in the design. The Palaces in the Metaverse have specific location themes that separate them from everything else. Everything from the shops, Mementos, and even the loading screens have been carefully made to be engaging, even after seeing them a hundred times. There are even beautifully animated cutscenes that pop up throughout the game at key moments.
Every Persona that you fight or recruit has its own unique design, pulling from religions and mythologies from around the world. They can range from cute to intimidating to the “oh why did you do that?”. If you want an example of the last category, look up Mara. It is a pissed off penis with tentacles riding in a golden chariot.
Persona themselves are a little like Pokemon. You can capture them by negotiating with them after knocking them down, and the main character can use multiple Persona in a fight, instead of the usual one that every other character has. This lets you change your strengths and weaknesses, change your abilities, and turn the tide of a battle. You can also combine them to make new Persona, power up an existing persona, or to create rare items.
The music is another place where Persona games have typically shone, and Persona 5 is no different. Spanning categories of jazz, electronic, rock, and classical, there are your typical battle themes, softer pieces for sad parts of the game, and background music for just about everything. The game does a great job with its unique audio cues to let you know when an event occurs. These songs will get stuck in your head long after you turn it off, and I never felt like I heard anything too often.
Even with my evident enjoyment, there are still some things the game could have done better. First, the game takes a while to really get started. I know the total experience will last for hours, and I know they are setting up a world, but it should not take hours before the training wheels are removed. It was not Final Fantasy XIII, but I would have been happy to get to the fighting a little faster.
Second, when you come out of a fight, it looks awesome. You and the team appear to be running while the experience, money, and level gains are shown. However, this game requires you sneak through the Palaces and ambush monsters in the dungeon for an advantage. If they ambush you, it can wipe out your entire team.
If you are running one way in the results screen, it can be very disorienting as to which direction you are facing when you take control again, and I was ambushed more than a few times. I could not see my next opponent, and it felt like a cheap shot. When you are low on health and SP, this can kill you and make you have to redo the last hour or so.
The last problem I have is with the story. There is a character in the game that disappears, and we never learn what truly happened. It is disappointing, especially in a game that was not worried about running ten times longer than a typical game. Since every Persona game is new and there is no DLC, that will remain unresolved.
Even with these complaints, I found myself drawn to keep playing Persona 5, curious about the next plot point, and ready to eliminate the next Palace in the Metaverse to make the world a better place. This is everything I wanted from a new Persona game, with the same mechanics I loved in a more refined and expanded experience.
The characters were interesting (although if Ryuji said “For real?!?!” one more time, I was going to execute him), and there is so much to do and see in the densely packed world that it was like trying to drink a river as I tried to fit it all into my playthrough.
For anyone who enjoyed previous Persona games, this is the refined sequel you have been waiting to play with some improvements to the previous formula. Everything has been polished to a blinding shine, and the music and visuals combine with the gameplay to make an addicting hour burner every time I sat down to play. If you are tired of western RPGs, or you are not sure which JRPG to buy, I cannot recommend Persona 5 enough.
Persona 5 PS4 Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8.9/10
If you want a traditional, turn-based JRPG with a deeply satisfying combat system, a good story, and more style than most games ever attempt, Persona 5 will not disappoint you. It has excellent pacing through an enormous amount of content, and it stays fun throughout the lengthy runtime. If that appeals to you, I whole-heartedly recommend Persona 5.
User Review( votes)
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game that was bought at the cost of the reviewer. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
*reviewed on a standard PS4
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Jason became terminally addicted to videogames after receiving the NES at an early age. This addiction grew to include PC gaming and was cemented with the launch of the PS2. From then on, he was afflicted with epic RPGs, tense shooters, and deep strategy games, never becoming skillful, but never able to quit. He continues to play games (poorly) and share his passion for them to anyone willing to listen.