Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG)
Original Release: September 15, 2016
Developers: Atlus, P Studio
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Played on: PlayStation 4
I’m going to keep this one as spoiler-free as possible for you guys. Like I’ve gone out of my way to make sure that I don’t give away plot points because I think it’s important that anyone interested in this game go in with as little story information as possible. Seriously, that’s part of the joy of this sort of game for me, so I don’t want to do anyone dirty by ruining that for them.
Anyway, Persona 5 is an amazing game. Until recently, I didn’t have access to my own PS2 (or any of the systems that previous installments have been on), so this is my first entry into the series. Fortunately, Persona goes the Final Fantasy route where there’s only a handful or recurring elements between games, so you don’t have to have played any of the others in order to understand what’s going on.
Let’s set the scene: It’s August of 2017, I’m in Ontario with my parents and sister, visiting relatives. That’s not going too smoothly, so my sister and I make a trip to a nearby mall and both of us make a beeline for the EB Games inside. I’m looking for a copy of NieR: Automata, but don’t find one. I see Dark Souls III in the PS4 section, but I’ve already got it. And then I see Persona 5. I had seen it sitting on the shelf at my local GameStop so many times prior and couldn’t quite bring myself to look away from a few of the characters (Ann in particular), but I never bought it. Then this trip came around and I saw it on the shelf. Did I buy it then?
I didn’t play it until late 2018. I had finally bought it, but I was terrified of diving into what I knew was going to be a time sink. I knew from what my friends had told me that I was going to get drawn in, and previous experience with Yakuza 0 told me that the moment I started, I wasn’t going to be able to put it down. And sure enough, I ended up staying awake until 5 AM some days just because I didn’t want to stop. And let me tell you, lying on a futon for hours on end does not do your back any favors.
So, now that I’ve set the scene that marked the beginning of my foray, let’s talk about the game proper.
Our story begins with our protagonist, whose name you get to choose (although canonically his name is either Ren Amamiya or Akira Kurusu depending on whether you take your information from the anime or manga respectively), falsely accused of assault, arrested, and expelled from his school. Needless to say, poor guy’s fallen on some super hard times, but that’s not the end for him. Instead, he’s given a second chance and taken in by family friend and owner of Cafe Leblanc, Sojiro Sakura (or Coffee Dad as my sister calls him) and enrolled in a nearby academy.
And that’s where you’ll spend a fair chunk of the game, but not all at once. See, the Persona series is a mixture of JRPG and high school simulator from what I understand. Part of the game revolves around your life as a school student and the rigors associated (studying, exams, building relationships with your peers, etc.) and the other part is JRPG dungeon crawling. As both a high school student and a Phantom Thief, you’ll spend your days juggling both your school life and your, shall we say, extracurricular activities. You’ll attend your classes, but you can infiltrate the palaces of wrongdoers afterward as you secure a route to steal their treasures and change their hearts.
Or you can just hang out and watch a DVD or play a game, the choice is yours. But you will have to steal said treasures eventually.
Being honest, I’m not used to having both a strict time limit for story beats and free reign to do whatever at the same time. The last game I played that I can think of that managed to balance the two so well would probably be Dead Rising 2. And that wasn’t even an RPG. It’s refreshing, really. And once you get into a rhythm that suits you, you’re all set.
And of course, I can’t talk about Persona 5 without also acknowledging just how stylish its interface is. Just take a look at this. This is the menu layout for the weapons shop:
Everything is clearly labeled and readable, but it’s still a treat for the eyes. Somehow, Atlus managed to blend style and utility into one, so I’m never really at a loss for what I’m looking at and I love it.
“But Jazzy, what about combat?” Glad you asked!
Combat in Persona 5 is turn-based like many other RPGs, but with a couple of twists. Once you and your fellow thieves have bonded enough, you’ll be able to perform what’s called a baton pass. Hit an enemy’s weakness or score a critical hit, you’ll get an extra turn that you can pass onto a teammate, boosting their attack power. Keep it going and eventually everyone will get a turn with boosted damage, and then finally it will move onto the next turn in the order. Let’s take the above picture for example: Joker hit’s the slime’s weakness, so he gets a bonus turn. Instead of going for it, he passes the baton to Skull, who gets a critical or also hits the weakness. He then passes it to Mona, who does the same and passes the baton to Panther. At each stage of this hand-off, damage is being further boosted and it’s not eating through any of the party’s respective turns since it’s all operating off of the bonus turn that each of the previous team members scored.
Combat in Persona 5. Is. Awesome.
And that’s what I’m trying to get at with this piece. Everything about this game has an insane amount of polish to it. The combat, the menus, the music. Everything. It scratched an itch for a solid RPG that I didn’t even remember having. It shows so much attention to detail that I can’t help but smile or try to time all of my actions in combat to Last Surprise. Seriously, just take a listen and tell me you don’t start grooving.
That goes for the whole soundtrack, too. I’m either bobbing my head while it goes or just chilling out listening to it for a while. If it doesn’t have vocals, I end up thinking about it all the time. If there’s lyrics, I start singing them to myself at work, and it just stays with you. I love the soundtrack so much that I bought it, and I hardly ever do that with game soundtracks.
Persona 5 is an awesome game, so obviously I’d recommend it, right? Absolutely! But this also comes with a bit of a caveat:
From what I understand, Atlus gives each game its time in the spotlight before releasing an updated version a few years later. And Persona 5 is no exception. I’m writing this on January 18, 2020 and come March 31, 2020, Atlus will be releasing Persona 5 Royal (or P5R for short) in North America.
If what I’ve read and seen is accurate, P5R will be bringing us a new character, more in-game months (a new semester’s worth if I saw correctly), and updating Palace layouts alongside some new music tracks. The question of “why would I buy this if I already have Persona 5” comes up a lot and I don’t honestly have what I can consider a good answer to that question. Am I still going to buy it? Definitely. I love Persona 5’s world so much that I am all over an expanded/updated version.
So if you’re interested, but not sure that you’ll have the time to play and finish Persona 5 before P5R comes out, that’s okay! Seriously, my first playthrough took me 92 hours and the speedrun world record is 16. It’s a long game, but sometimes you just need something to get that invested in. I do, anyway.
Seriously though, check out a little bit of Persona 5’s soundtrack by itself. Aria of the Soul, Beneath the Mask, Butterfly Kisses, it’s all so good.