Video Game Review: Persona 5
Persona 5 is the long awaited new JPRG from Atlus. The last Persona game debuted back on the PS2, and this title, in addition to launching on the PS4, may well be the last notable PS3 title. It’s been nearly a decade since the last mainline titles in the series. Has it kept up with the times, or is it a relic of a bygone age?
For the most part Persona 5 controls like other turn-based games. However, this particular entry has made a bunch of sensible decisions to streamline the process. Each command is assigned to a variety of buttons rather than making you scroll through menus, allowing for snappy decisions to be made. A quick save option is mercifully bound to the Options button as well.
There’s a ton of other UI improvements that will make players wonder what took developers so long to implement. Persona 5 also introduces stealth elements. While these often look cool, they can be frustrating to wield, since nearly every action is bound to the “X” button, and there’s often multiple interactions within a short distance. Be prepared for a few ambushes to go awry.
Persona 5 is an incredibly stylish game. Nearly every aspect has something interesting going on. Even things like local equipment vendors get their own flashy animated menus. Victory by an All-Out Attack gives a unique freeze frame celebration card based on who initiated the move. It’s frankly staggering the amount of detail that went into moments many other games often end up ignoring.
When the game isn’t doing some sort of crazy transition scene though, it can look a little dated, with many areas feeling small, likely a relic of being developed for the PS3.
The Persona series has always had a pretty stellar soundtrack, and this entry continues the tradition. Whether it’s the upbeat jazzy tune timed to your final assault on a dungeon or the tense strings during a police interrogation, it sets the mood and is insanely catchy.
While it comes with an English dub by default, a free DLC to add in the Japanese voice over is available. Overall the English voice actors are pretty great, with no real sore points. Nothing about the sound effects stands out in particular, but they do a serviceable job.
Persona 5 starts out similarly to Persona 4, with a young student being forced to move and attend high school in a very different setting from where they grew up. This time our lead relocates from the countryside to Tokyo due to being branded a minor criminal. Soon enough they gain the ability to use Personas and the code name “Joker,” and then it’s off to balance dungeon diving and having a social life.
In the world of Persona 5, people who inflict pain on others tend to rule the roost. They also apparently create something called a Palace in an alternate world known as the Metaverse. Inside these Palaces, the Shadow of the villain lurks, reveling in their dark desires.
There’s a way to get these people to change, however, says the odd cat creature named Morgana that serves as the player’s early party member and exposition dump. If the Shadow’s treasure is stolen, they’ll change in real life and give up their wicked ways.
Soon Joker and his friends have formed a group called the Phantom Thieves in order to strike back at an unfair world, starting with a teacher at their own school, but eventually landing targets that will lead to national infamy.
Persona 5 is set between two worlds: being a kid and being (essentially) a superhero. There are heavy time management systems in place, with most days giving players two “turns” to decide what to do. They can get to know party members, study for tests, or explore dungeons to progress the story. Each little thing can lead to improvements, such as party members randomly curing status debuffs or a shogi player teaching you how to swap party members out mid-combat.
Palaces serve as the game’s primary dungeons and offer one of the biggest improvements in the series. These are hand-crafted levels, not the random bland rooms pasted together like in Persona 3 and 4, and they are often gorgeous and filled with some simple puzzles in addition to the enemies to defeat.
These typically culminate with a run to steal the Shadow’s treasure and, of course, a climatic boss battle. There’s also a mostly optional dungeon called Mementos that is randomly generated and serves as a way to complete simple side quests and grind for things players might have missed along the way.
Joker can switch between many Persona freely, which offers a fun monster collecting aspect. Each time you want a new Persona you’ll typically need to recruit it via negotiation or create it by fusing other Personas together.
Most players will likely be constantly swapping them in and out, leading to less bonding to specific favorites — like what might happen in a Pokemon game — but it’s still an in-depth and addicting system.
Persona 5 does suffer from a few pacing problems that drag things down a bit. The Palaces in the middle of the game frequently feel like slogs, especially the fifth one. In addition, some of the later party members get very little setup.
One in particular goes to school with several of the main characters, so they would have benefited from scenes threaded into the earlier hours of the game rather than suddenly needing all of their character development shoved into a very short time. It’s the one thing Persona 4 got right that the sequel unfortunately bungles.
Persona 5 is one of the slickest and most enjoyable JRPGs on the market. If you have any interest in the genre, it’s possibly the first must-play of the generation.