- Developer: P-Studio
- Publisher: Atlus USA
- Platform: PlayStation 4
- Release Date: 4 April 2017 (U.S.)
- MSRP: $59.99
Persona is a sub-series of a sub-series. Megami Tensei is a series of JRPGs that spans many years and many spinoffs. One of these spinoff series was Shin Megami Tensei, which further splintered off into Persona and Devil Summoners. A majority of the Megami Tensei games focus on summoning and controlling demons. Think of it as a hellish version of Pokémon or Digimon. There are so many games that have the Megami Tensei moniker attached to it, it could even give Final Fantasy a run for its money. The early Persona games were more like other Shin Megami Tensei games. Persona 3 established the gameplay style of modern Persona games, mixing together a hardcore dungeon crawling RPG and life/dating simulation elements, creating a game experience like no other. A calling card of the Persona series is character relationships and the underlying psychological problems characters face. The Persona series has established a very passionate cult, which has gown significantly since the release of 4 and 5.
After years of Atlus milking Persona 4, many fans (including myself) were highly anticipating the release of Persona 5. Persona 5’s development can be traced back as far as 2008 but serious development did not occur until after the release of Catherine in 2011. The release of Persona 5 took five long years to complete, not without several delays. Atlus wanted to take the series to another level, which took considerable time and effort. Persona 5 saw release in Japan in September 2016, and the West in Spring 2017. The Western release was delayed due to Atlus wishing to make the localization as best as possible. The game itself was released to widespread critical acclaim, becoming Atlus’s bestselling game.
As an RPG player myself, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this game. I bought the limited edition because I have no self-control. I proudly display the box on my shelf to this day. My own experience with the Persona series at the time of release was Persona 4 Golden, which I absolutely adored and was the only reason I bought a Vita. Yes, I know, I’m a casual. This review is well over a year late, but I failed to complete it the first time. I got close to the end, but I stopped playing due to life getting in the way. Adulting, am I right? When I tried to pick it back I was getting my ass destroyed. My Personas were garbage-tier. Time to start from scratch. Oh yeah, this game takes literally a hundred hours to beat. This review was a long time coming and boy, is there a lot say. Strap in brothers and sisters and others, this is going to be a long one.
Persona 5 begins and throws you straight into the action with no context. Things begins at the end. The main character is in some casino and looks to be pulling off a heist. You are making a getaway while shadowy characters advise you. The storytelling goes in an unconventional style, telling everything through a flashback (until catching up to present day). Unfortunately, a SWAT team is waiting to ambush. The heist has ended in failure and now you’ve been brought to an interrogation room. Officers have no bones about torturing you and forcing your confession. That is until Sae Niijima, the beautiful prosecutor, takes over the interrogation. This is where the story truly begins.
Like Persona tradition, 5 sports a silent protagonist who serves as a self-insert for the player. You’ve been falsely accused of assault and expelled from school as a result. Your parents have sent you to live at Café Leblanc under the care of the surly Sojiro Sakura. He is initially very cold towards you. You start your new life at Shujin Academy under probation. One screw up and you’re done. Everyone seems to hate you from the get-go. Rumors have spread about your criminal history. You are made to feel like an unwanted outcast. At Shujin Academy, you will meet many other social outcasts. Being an outcast and rebelling against society are major themes in Persona 5. While attending Shujin, you have been introduced to the Metaverse, a place created by the collective unconscious. Cognition is affected by the happenings in the Metaverse. Those who have distorted desires have Palaces. These Palaces take the shape of whatever the source of the desire is. If the Palace’s Treasure (the source of the desire) is taken, that person will have a “change of heart.”
Others will join you on your journey through the Metaverse. The Phantom Thieves are formed to steal the Treasures from corrupt members of society and force a change of heart. You must gain the trust and support of the people around you, not just members of the Phantom Thieves. Of course, the Phantom Thieves aren’t the only ones who know of the Metaverse. Someone else is using it for personal gain. Who is behind all the mental shutdowns? The Phantom Thieves are here to put a stop to it. With the support of many people, the Phantom Thieves will reform society though the power of teenage rebellion and friendship.
The diverse cast of characters are always a big draw for Persona and this one is no exception. You must interact with many different characters on your journey. Social links have been in a staple of the series since Persona 3. They have been renamed Confidants in P5. Confidants explore a character’s background and personality as well as provide in-game bonuses (more on that later). While characters tend to be tropey, the Confidant system adds more depth to them. You learn about their aspirations, hopes, fears, and regrets. Like Yusuke’s drive to create the perfect painting or Makoto living in the shadow of her successful elder sister. A common theme among the characters is many have been rejected and labeled by society. They have become downtrodden but still hold out hope for the future. You help them find their place in a society they don’t belong in. Social outcasts will be drawn to this game. The alienation and rejection these characters go through really hit home for me. I could have used this game back in high school. No matter how alone you feel, there is someone out there who feels just as lonely and alienated as you do. P5 encourages you to take that feeling head on and find your own rebellion.
P5’s story is a long, involved endeavor. I don’t wish to get to far into spoiler territory as the game is best experienced firsthand. The story is on a much grander scale then previous entries in the series. I’ll just leave it at that.
P5 is a traditional turned-based JRPG, utilizing Shin Megami Tensei’s signature Press Turn Battle System. You exploit weaknesses to gain extra turns. The main mode of attack is the titular Personas. Personas are a representation of a person’s rebellion (it has different meaning in every game). Only the protagonist can wield multiple Personas as the Trickster. Every Persona has strengths and weaknesses. Some Personas can even reflect, absorb, or nullify attacks. All Personas are categorized in an Arcana based on Tarot cards. Personas can be fused with each other to create even stronger Personas. As you progress, more methods to create stronger Personas will be at your disposal.
Shadows can be negotiated with to join you as a new Persona, which has returned to series after being absent from P4. They will ask you questions and may join you if they like your response. Only Shadows at or below your level can join you. Later, an ability will be unlocked that allows to negotiate with Shadows of higher levels. Unfortunately, negotiations tend to be frustrating. Trying to figure out what response they like can incredibly frustrating. The only hint you have is the Shadow’s personality. If you give the wrong answer they will get angry and attack. What an asshole.
Exploiting weaknesses is an absolute must in P5. Mistakes can cost you heavily and gaining extra turns is vital. Hitting a Shadow’s weakness gives you opportunity to get the upper hand in battle. You can either Baton Pass to another character or switch characters in and out to put your team in an advantageous situation. If all enemies are downed, a Hold Up begins. Hold Ups give you four options; ask to join, demand money, demand item, and All Out Attack. All Out Attack are when the entire team dog piles downed enemies and ends with the initiator striking a cool pose, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure style. Stealth is also a valuable tool for combat. Sneaking up on Shadows will give you the upper hand in battle, allowing you and your teammates to attack first. Stealth is also important for keeping security levels low. When a Shadow spots you to security level increases. When the security level reaches 100% you will be expelled from the Palace. Luckily, there are items that can lower the security level.
There are several methods of attack outside of using a Persona. Each character has access to a firearm and a melee weapon. Characters can only have a specified type of weapon. For instance, the protagonist always uses a handgun and a combat knife and Ann uses a SMG and a whip (oh, so kinky). Stronger weapons can be purchased and upgraded. Be very strategic in using guns. Ammo is very limited and cannot be restocked until leaving the Palace. An ability can be unlocked that gives you more ammo without leaving the Palace. Persona 5’s combat gives you many options so battle never feels stale or tedious. The player is provided with different methods to engage in or avoid fighting. While the game can be very punishing, there are still ways out of a sticky situation, fenagling in and out of danger. You’ll be livin’ on the edge.
The main dungeons in this game are the Palaces. Palaces are locations in the Metaverse generated from those with extremely distorted desires. No longer are the dungeons randomly generated, but rather intricately designed around that specific character’s outlook and twisted desire. This makes them instantly more memorable then the dungeons in previous games. Kamoshida’s introductory Palace demonstrates perfectly what to expect. Each Palace is designed around a Deadly Sin. You must defeat the Palace Ruler in a specified time frame or consequences will be dire. Consequences like getting expelled from school or a fellow collaborator being sold into prostitution. You know, the typical JRPG stuff. All Palaces have a Treasure waiting at the end. Reach the end of the Palace and find the Treasure. Send the calling card and the heist can be completed. Once the Treasure is stolen, the target will have a change of heart and as a result, they confess to their crimes. You cannot save anywhere except in Safe Rooms. Save, save, and save again. If the protagonist dies its game over dude. There were several times I forgot a Shadow reflected a certain attack and was killed in one hit, followed by a very loud and long “fuck.”
Randomly generated dungeons still exist in the form of Mementos, a sprawling subway system of the collective unconscious of Shibuya. Requests of the Phantom Thieves can be handled here. Even if someone doesn’t have a Palace, they can still have a Shadow in Mementos. More of Mementos is unlocked after each Palace boss is defeated. Reaching the bottom, will reveal many plot-important elements, which I will not spoil. Mementos is easily the weakest aspect of P5. The concept and look are cool, but the randomly generated Mementos feels less interesting then the carefully crafted Palaces. It doesn’t hurt the game much since it’s only a small fraction of it.
Time management might the most important skill you have in playing Persona 5. Typical of the Persona series, you take everything day by day, living as a high school student by day and vigilante hero of justice by night. Key to the game is spending time with friends, getting a job, and participating in various activities throughout the city. Confidants are P5’s equivalent to Social Links, the bonds you share with characters of various ages and backstories. While characters in Persona games are often tropey, Social Links/Confidants provide them with depth. Connecting with characters in an RPG is uber important. The Persona series always exceeds in spades in that regard and Persona 5 doesn’t disappoint. Confidants provide many in-game benefits. Leveling up Confidants give many battle advantages such as surviving a fatal blow or making Shadow negotiation more fruitful.
To reach the end of many Confidants, you need to increase your social stats. Social stats can be increased by performing various activities. Max out all stats to gain the game’s full experience. Reading, watching movies, working, and many other activities increase stats. Knowledge, Guts, Proficiency, Kindness, and Charm will guide you in your rehabilitation. Confidants will have stat requirements to level them up. So, make the most of the time you’re given.
As with Persona 3 and 4, you can date several of the female cast members. You can even date your teacher and a sexy goth doctor. My favorite girl was Makoto, our queen. She was a deadly combination of cuteness and competence, but alas, I was unable to date her. I ended up in relationships before I could have a chance. The first time I played, I dated Ann. What can I say? I have a thing for girls with pigtails. That’s why I went after Persona 4’s best girl Rise-chan (controversial statement). My most recent playthrough I dated Takemi, the sexy goth doctor. She was just too irresistible to say no to. Spend time with the girl of your choice and get special scenes involving your intimate partner. Oh, and don’t date more than one girl at a time. Trust me it will not end well. Sure, you won’t feel the consequences right away, but wait until Valentine’s Day arrives. The beating of a lifetime awaits you.
There are several other ways to spend your free time. The city has many locations to visit. You can check out the batting cages, eat a gigantic burger, and sooth your soul at the bath house. Take friends on fun day trips; like going to the planetarium with Ann or eating ramen with Ryuji. How about visiting the maid café or spend the day fishing? Activities are a plenty in Tokyo. One minor annoyance with the game is restrictions on when you can do these activities. As always, no activities can be performed on days when you enter the Metaverse, be it a Palace or Mementos. Unfortunately, there are many days where you simply aren’t allowed out due to plot-related reasons. My goddamn cat keeps telling me to go sleep. Damn it cat, I’m a Phantom Thief, I go to bed when I feel like it!
With the amount of content Persona 5 has, clocking in around 100 hours, its near impossible to see everything in a single playthrough. New Game Plus is a must if you’re a completionist. The second playthrough will not require you to put focus on increasing stats, since they carry over. This will give you more time to see all the Confidants, complete the Persona Compendium (also carries over), and many of the other content P5 has to offer. The rich and deep battle system and abundance of fun characters will hook you in for hours on end.
If I could use one word to describe Persona 5’s visuals, it would be style. Everything about Persona 5 oozes style. P5 goes all out to be as stylish as possible and succeeds in spades. Red and black is used everywhere. Even the UI is done in a stylish red and black overlay. As mentioned earlier, each Palace is uniquely designed around each target. They all follow a specific motif. My favorites include; Madarame’s Museum, which displayed his disdainful view of art, Futaba’s Pyramid, which showed a person trapped by severe anxiety, and Sae’s Casino, a risk and reward theme fitting a prosecutor.
I love the attractive anime-esque cel-shaded graphics. The character designs fit in the Megami Tensei series, as they were designed by lead Persona character designer Shigenori Soejima, who also worked on Catherine. While they share similarities to the characters in Persona 4 and Catherine, Persona 5 ‘s designs stand on their own. The character models themselves have made incredible strides since Persona 4. The PS4’s hardware was taken full advantage of to render appealing and expressive character models.
The pre-rendered CGI cutscenes look fantastic, bringing everything to life. The production values blow away any other game in the Megami Tensei series, since it was released on the PS4 and PS3. Along with the CGI cutscenes are excellently animated sequences, done by the distinguished anime studio Production I.G. of Ghost in the Shell fame. I only wish we got to see more anime cutscenes. Especially considering the lackluster anime adaptation.
If you’ve played a Persona game then you know what to expect from the music. ITS SO GOOD! Shoji Meguro is back and ready get you up and moving around. The opening “Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There” will have you so hyped to play the game. Sae’s Palace theme “The Whims of Fate” will have you yelling out “GIVE INTO TEMTATION” while chair dancing. Shout outs to “Rivers in the Desert” and “Will Power” for also being hype. Arriving and fighting bosses is given the proper fanfare. All aboard the hype train. Not everything is about hype. There are plenty of atmospheric pieces too. Arriving home to Café Leblanc greets you with a soulful, chill ballad. There’s just too many good songs to list. Plenty of amazing J-Pop, smooth jazz, rock, and electronica to go around. No matter the atmosphere of the moment, the music always fits. I was lucky to pick up the Take Your Heart Premium Edition at launch, which contained a CD of select tracks form the game. You can be sure those songs are on my phone in heavy rotation. I need a boxset of the entire OST right now. I don’t care how much it costs.
The English localization was stellar for the most part. Sure, not everything will translate well in other languages, like Japanese wordplay and colloquiums. The voice actors turned in excellent performances all around. Well known voice actors like Matthew Mercer (Yusuke), Cherami Leigh (Makoto), and Jamieson Price (Sojiro) turned in brilliant performances. Relative newcomers Max Mittleman (Ryuji), Erica Harlacher (Ann), and Erica Lindbeck (Futaba) also turned out standout performances. There were many great performances to go around. Xander Mobus (aka the Smash Bros 4 announcer) didn’t get many opportunities to speak, only grunting and shouting out Persona names. The limited speaking time didn’t allow him to shine. Oh, how cruel fate is to those who voice the silent protagonist. Igor’s voice will be jarring to anyone whose played previous Persona titles. Michele Ruff as Kawakami the teacher/maid was somewhat underwhelming. I know Kawakami is supposed to seem mellow and tired, but Ruff’s performance made her seem bored all the time. Surprising, since she’s a good voice actor. Other than that, the voice acting was fantastic.
Persona 5 might be the pinnacle of the JRPG genre, at least of the JRPG revival of the current generation. The turn-based combat is so deep and complex, but not difficult to master. Combat is always spiced up due to the variety of strategies and techniques at the player’s disposal. The Palaces are a major step up from the dungeons of previous titles. There’s nothing I love more than a story about fighting the power and telling the system to go fuck itself. The plot takes insane twists and turns and boy, is it convoluted. But holy shit, is it a fun ride. The themes of being an outcast and wanting to change the world hit close to home for me. Persona 5’s eccentric and diverse cast will take your heart. Visual and sound design are all stellar. Persona 5 has a special flair to its aesthetics that will forever be iconic. The dungeon crawler/life simulator seems like something that could never work. You and your comrades are fighting literal penis demons spawned from Satan’s asshole, but not before you study for your exams. There’s still college to prepare for after all. Due to pain-staking planning and design, the mechanics work seamlessly. The long wait for Persona 5 was well worth it. The extra time in development shines through. Persona 5 will rank as one of the best RPGs ever made. There aren’t any glaring flaws that inhibit the experience. Wake up, get out, and buy Persona 5.