Looking back at my gaming posts on social media, today marks three years since I beat Persona 5. Such an occasion prompted me to share here my review of this game that has aged well since its inception.
In an era where turn-based RPGs are considered a thing of the past, the Persona series, confident enough to still going with it aims high with its latest installment, Persona 5. After the revival of the series back in 2006 and its successful premise since 2008, these 8 years were filled with hope and with an incredible desire to play a brand new Persona game once again. Persona 5 was ultimately announced for both last-gen for the PS3, and current-gen for the PS4 making happy those like me who waited for a PS3 release. Trailers, news, everything was pointing to a yet very different game from the hands of Atlus, one which despite various delays justified in order to publish every detail, ended up being very different, in more than one aspect, of what the genre and gaming have seen in years. I keep saying the word 'different', and while that adjective serves the game right such alteration to the formula makes it unique, and that's even better. Different is good.
For a game that came out in 2016, even more for both PS3 and PS4 a lot of graphical power wasn't truly expected due to its ties with last-gen, yet the art direction and attention to detail proved otherwise. Granted, the game has these anime cel-shaded looks but also has three different ways to show its potential: anime cutscenes, in-game engine scenes with artwork for its characters, and full-motion 3D scenes, the latter being where the game truly shines. Menus, prompts, close-ups, summoning your persona, even reading texts in your phone feels overflowing with style and vibrant colors, it all happens way too fast at times but that's just a reminder that the game wants to impress in every way possible within its limitations, and it sure does just that. There may be few minor glitches here and there, yet all of the previously mentioned makes up for that in a blink of an eye. Watching Personas in full 3D when going through their stats and even better, each character's wallpaper after an All-Out Attack is always really cool to see.
A new game means some changes must be made, and it's not only about the graphics this time around but the game's soundtrack. Just like it happened with Persona 4, the singer this time around changes and so the whole tone and vibe of the game. Acid jazz, the prominent sound of the game seemed a little odd to me at first, but at the game progressed the soundtrack grew on me. The female singer surprises with her strong yet soft voice, that and the new soundtrack composed by Shoji Meguro quickly merges with the game's momentum. I wished more tracks have been voiced, as those which have her singing do stand out. I said that this acid jazz direction seemed a little odd to me right? Well, I do like it and never saw it coming. Soundtrack aside, but still in the sound department, there's the voice acting. Finally, we have a protagonist who speaks outside combat and whatnot, with the obvious limitations of course. Aside from that meaningful yet limited improvement the rest of the cast voice acting is done well, being Sojiro's and Yusuke's voices the ones which resonate with me the most through the game due to their backstories, just like happens with Igor, but more on that later. Shoji Meguro sure knows how to make each Persona game soundtrack memorable and fitting to each game's vibe. For a game full of personality, Persona 5 took quite the risks here and there but to a great outcome.
Having covered graphics and soundtrack as well as voice acting, the next aspect: story, is to be spoken of. Now, what could be in store for Persona 5 if its antecessors touched quite heavy world issues such as the wish to be someone else, rumors, the desire to die, and the need to meet people? Well, enter dependence, Persona 5's main plot. The game puts you in the shoes of a high school teenager who, after defending a woman from being raped and ending up being unfairly sued, moves to Tokyo under the order of the police and his parents, after all his education depended on that, right? Once again with the power of Personas, a mysterious app, Igor, and a cat which is not a cat but acts like one, our hero and his teammates will work together as Phantom Thieves. These phantom thieves are given the chance to go inside people's distorted desires called palaces and prevent them from doing something terrible, which for society isn't as bad as they somehow depend on it, like their first target who would lead a school to fame but in reality, assure his place as a famous teacher who abuses students in the shadows. Once the party enters each target palaces, they come across a treasure which once stolen, would put the target's distorted desires to an end making them realize what they were doing and confess, and as nobody actually sees them entering people's palaces, the name Phantom Thieves is created. The second target within the narrative act as the one previously mentioned: society depends on them in one way or another, but not without some terrible doings happening behind the curtain, as the second target has a party member relying on him to have a place to live. Dependence, the term I decided to give Persona 5's main theme after some thought has proven quite complex as the game tackles some serious issues such as sexual abuse, plagiarism, mafia among others but being their last ones the strongest: politics and religion.
Mild spoilers ahead: Igor's take on the story this time around has his voice changed due to a major reveal near the game's true ending. What comes after that, is the last dungeon and therefore the last boss of the game which, to be completely honest, its presence as the game's last boss could have been worked in a better way, not just putting it in out of the sudden. It has momentum, but other than that it falls flat on backstory and personality. It didn't even receive a portrait at least as the rest of the main characters to contemplate it even more, and that is just not fair for a final boss in this day and age. Even the battle theme is sort of rushed.
Persona 5's story as a whole is the strongest of the series as it goes in deep with some real-world issues, tackling many delicate themes and subjects leaving you thinking about them even after the credits roll.
Finally, there's the Gameplay department. Persona 5 continues with the mix of RPG and social simulation, the latter to a greater yet complex extent this time around. One is granted one day to do as many activities as one sees fit, which includes working part-time, reading, studying, hanging out with confidants (a.k.a social links), go pray in a shrine, eating out, and going grinding into the Palaces (the game's main temporary dungeons) or Mementos, a massive dungeon in expansion similar to Persona 3's Tartarus. Additions to the social simulation part of Persona 5 include playing retro video games at home on a Famicom, renting/watching movies, doing exercise at home or at the gym, going to the sauna, doing laundry of specific clothes, making coffee, crafting goods for combat and going to the clinic. Like in Persona 3 and Persona 4, doing each one of these activities will take a fraction of time for a day, hence the important decision of whether to grind or to strengthen your confidant introduced in Persona 4 is back again. What I really like about Persona 5 activities is they all increase our character stats sometimes a little, sometimes a lot depending on if certain conditions are met like doing them on specific days, times of the day or under certain weather, but an in all, each activity finds its way to not look like a chore as they come up with cool twists when you less expect them. My favorite activity is playing retro video games, hands down. Not only does this activity have you playing various video games inside of a video game, but they all are retro and filled with references to classics. Being a Famicom, expect few buttons commands, but that's how gaming all started, right? This was a nice addition to the game, and a tribute to gaming, indeed.
Going to school is fixed, just as texting and hanging out with friends during summer vacation. These situations are only fixed in the terms of when they actually happen, yet is up to the player to experience with them the most they can. Attending classes for example, actually teaches real-life things, and sometimes a bad answer can end up with a teacher throwing an eraser to you but, if a certain stat is leveled up, you can change that. Texting, oh my texting, is as nearly similar as is it in real life from an introvert point of view, of course. Sometimes you receive a lot of texts depending on your friendships, and what you answer is going to decide whether you see someone or not. However, texting is not only used for confidants but in the main story as well. From serious and complex texts to funny and hilarious ones your reply in the many conversations our heroes have via texting can end up in getting a variety of answers from your peers, and that just feels lively, just as it happens in this day and age. Persona 5 doesn't offer many interactions with the whole group per se, which is kind of a letdown until its true motive behind such a drastic change is seen. The team sure hangs out to places outside the one they frequently visit, yet during summer vacation that is when the game offers many days off and nothing is planned as a group but individually. For example: during this part of the game your friends will text you late at night asking if they can spend a whole day at your place. That is exactly what Persona 5 aims and ultimately accomplishes: forming a personal bond with everyone one by one so that when they finally reunite our heroes interact as a team and don't necessarily be forced to share their backgrounds (as is 50% up to the game to show us and 50% up to us to discover that) but to live in the moment and enjoy the most they can together. Ryuji's and Yusuke's actions during major plot events are better appreciated if the player decides to hang out with them the more, which can be a little troublesome to some but in the end, is very rewarding.
Persona 5's improvements over its gameplay weren't to be stopped or primarily focused on its social simulation, as the changes and additions to the combat and exploration are filled with welcomed tweaks and some surprises. Each palace has its own share of puzzles and ways to get across it, plus an alert system that can kick you out of a palace if its meter reaches 100%. This condition attached to palaces is because once its boss is defeated and its treasure stolen the palace will be gone for good. Though it may seem a little limited at first, each palace size is enough to entertain for a good amount of time, and believe me, they all are different and offer quite the tweaks to keep things fresh and make you wonder what will the next palace implement. Solving puzzles through art and math, becoming a rat, spying, and traveling through space come to mind as the many things each palace has to offer. Also, one can now hide from shadows and attack them beforehand gaining the first turn in battles, which completely goes with the phantom thieves theme of the game. During combat every action is mapped to a specific button, making battles feel more fast-paced. Personas are now acquired by actually negotiating with them, ala Shin Megami Tensei staple and just like the very first Persona game, Revelations: Persona did. Paying tribute to its beginnings once again, the option to buy guns and use them in battle returns this time combined with all of the style and fashion Persona 5 has, even to the point of playing an important role in the game's final battle. Mixing a gameplay option which was a thing of the past to one of modern times often ends up in a bad execution, yet Persona 5 clearly remembered from where the series came from and where the series was heading, crafting an experience worthy of praise.
This game made me remember why I like the Persona series so much, and gaming as a whole. Even though Persona 4 remains my favorite, what Persona 5 accomplished cannot be denied: 100 + hours of RPG done right, lovable characters of which: Mishima, Futaba, Yusuke, Ryuji, Ann, and Sojiro ended up being my favorites, and a story filled with totally relatable and relevant subjects. Persona 5 may have a few months out on the market, yet it will be talked for the years to come.
Only select games can hook us in, and Persona 5 is one of them. With its graphics, it surprised me. With its soundtrack, it moved me. Its gameplay entertained me, but with its story, it stole my heart. 2017 sure has been a year filled with tremendous games, and I'm happy to have played one of them. Persona 5, the sole reason why I got a PS3 was totally worth the wait. I missed playing so dedicatedly, and Persona 5 truly deserves it. One of the best games I have played.
4.5 out of 5*
*Orginally posted as 4.5 out of 10 as in 2017 my rating were from 0 to 10.
Thanks for Reading.