The Persona series was born as a spin-off from Atlus' Megami Tensei franchise, but this is one of those cases where the spin-off became bigger than the main series it spawned from thanks to how well it was received by the gaming community, especially after Persona 3 and Persona 4. It comes as no surprise that Persona 5 was one of the most anticipated titles of this year for many players, and while it was a long wait, especially after several delays and the game releasing last year in Japan, I can say it was definitely worth the wait as Persona 5 is easily one of the best JRPGs in recent years.
Persona 5 starts off with you controlling the main character during a casino heist, which ultimately ends with you being captured by the police and taken for interrogation. The game then goes back six months as you get to see the events that took you up until that point. It all started when the main character prevented a sexual assault, but was found guilty of assaulting the person he tried to stop. Due to this, he had to leave his hometown and go to Tokyo, however, this wasn’t the only occasion where he was falsely accused, as more trouble was waiting for him at his new school.
Just like in past Persona games, it’s when the main character is able to manifest his inner-self as a Persona that things change. With this new found power, the main character and his friends, known as the Phantom Thieves, can enter the minds of corrupt people. These whole new worlds, referred in the game “castles”, are considered a physical manifestation of someone’s twisted desires, which allows the heroes to make the antagonist have a change of heart by “stealing their heart”. However, it’s not as simple as just going in and force a change of heart, as these castles are always well guarded by enemies.
While most JRPGs series these days are trying to innovate and change their gameplay in general, Persona 5 remains faithful to the old formula and sticks with the classic turn-based battle system. You control a party up to four members, and each individual gets a turn in which they can attack the enemy using weapons, magic or guns.
Exploiting the enemies’ weaknesses is the key to an easy and fast victory. A character can stun an enemy by dealing a critical attack or using an elemental magic attack to which the enemy is weak, which then allows that character to attack again or allow another party member to attack instead. However, the same applies to your enemy, which means that in a similar situation your enemy will attack you twice. If you manage to stun all enemies you have the choice to either perform an All-Out attack or negotiate with the enemy. The later allows you to demand money or items, or persuade them to lend you their power as Persona.
Speaking of Personas, aside from the main character (codenamed Joker during missions in castles), every other character has its own Persona and thus its own weakness and strengths. Taking in consideration how the enemy can easily exploit your party’s overall weaknesses, having a balanced party is crucial to survive. As for Joker, he can use different Personas, which gives you the choice to decide which Persona he will have in battles and adapt Joker to different battle situations. You can also fuse together multiple Personas you have in your possession to create a new Persona. This allows you to create Personas of a higher level than the component Personas.
In addition, there’s also an element of stealth involved, as players can hide in order to sneak up on enemies. Successfully sneaking up on enemies allows players to make the first move, giving them the opportunity to attack the enemies’ weaknesses and win the battle without the enemy having a chance to attack. Once again, the same can happen to you if you get ambushed by the enemy.
While there’s isn’t much in terms of innovation, there’s definitely a lot of strategy involved with the weaknesses and the magics of each Personas, making this an interesting battle system. My only complaint about it is the fact that it’s game over if Joker falls in battle, even if the rest of the party is perfectly fine. This can be really frustrating at times, as Joker can be easily knocked out if you are caught off-guard.
What makes Persona 5 unique, similar to other Persona titles, it’s the fact that it’s not only a turn-based JRPG, but it’s also partly a life simulator. When you are not infiltrating castles and changing the hearts of bad people, you are living the life of an ordinary student. You get up in the morning, go to classes, and then in the afternoon you decide if you want to study, hang out with your friends, work on a part-time job, infiltrate a castle, among other activities.
What you decide to do on each day is for the most part entirely up to you, however, when it comes to changing the heart of an antagonist you always have a time limit do so, which means that until you manage to change his/her heart, infiltrating the castle should be your priority. Whatever activity you decide to do after school will keep you occupied the rest of the day, which means that if you have multiple activities available you should consider carefully which one will be more rewarding for you in the end. All the decisions you make on your daily life will have an impact on your character, its relationships and bonds, as well as abilities.
For example, hanging out with friends will strengthen your bond with them, which in turn will build up your ‘Confidant’ ranking with them and unlock new abilities, such as the chance to perform a follow-up attack after Joker attacks, increased exp earned from battle, second chances at negotiations, among other abilities. You can even start dating one or more of the female characters in the game.
Activities you do alone, such as studying or working on a part-time job, will increase your five core stats: Charm, Knowledge, Guts, Kindness and Proficiency. Increasing these stats is crucial to your success in your daily life, such as passing your exams, more easily relate to people and empathize with their issues, among other situations. In addition, most of the Confidants in the game will require you to reach certain levels of these stats before you’re able to even start them, let alone advance, so there’s definitely some rewards for dedicating some time to yourself.
In situations when there’s no castles available, and you would rather skip all these daily activities and return to battles against monsters, the game gives the option to travel to Mementos, which is the Palace for everyone's hearts. As your popularity as Phantom Thieves increases, you will receive lots of requests to change the hearts of other people, something which can be done in Mementos. While these free missions are unrelated to the story, it’s always a good opportunity to level up your characters and collected rewards.
With so much to offer, Persona 5 will definitely keep players occupied for dozens of hours. The story mode alone can easily take over 60 hours to complete. If you add all the free missions, the option to spend some time with the others characters, work your way to increase the rank of the confidantes, and increasing your social stats, you are looking at a game that will take you over 100 hours to complete, and JRPG and Persona fans will definitely enjoy every second of it.
As far as presentation goes, although not quite up to par with other recent PS4 games, Persona 5 doesn’t disappoint with its unique art visual style. Everything from the flashy menus to the character portraits is beautifully drawn and full of personality. The same can also be said for the palaces, as they are rich in detail and very different from each other, which really fits the theme that each person has a different cognition. The soundtrack is also outstanding, offering a mix of Jazz, Lounge, Rock and Pop tracks that fit the vibe of the game perfectly.
Persona 5 is certainly an outstanding JRPGs and one of the best of its genre in recent years. With a long and intriguing narrative and a great cast of characters, combined with an engaging gameplay and a beautiful art style, the game is a spectacular JRPG experience that incentives players to sink in dozens of hours. While it’s true that it doesn’t bring much in terms of innovation, the game largely builds upon what made previous Persona titles great and adds a few changes for the better. Persona 5 is without a doubt a game that fans of the Persona series or JRPGs in general shouldn’t miss.Persona 5 was reviewed using a digital copy provided by ATLUS. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Intriguing plot with clever twists and turns, and a great cast of characters.|
|Great battle system that combines the best elements of previous Persona games.|
|Strengthening your bond with the other characters is rewarding.|
|Beautiful art style and spectacular soundtrack.|
|It’s game over if Joker falls in battle.|