Release Date: 4/12/17
ESRB/PEGI: M/PEGI 16
MSRP: $59.99 USD
The Wings of Rebellion.
Written by Rick Warren / Gfn2112
Within the first few minutes of the game, Persona 5 had me hooked. I had been given no information about whom I was playing as or what exactly I was doing, and the characters who were speaking were kept nameless and had their faces hidden. Yet it says so much about this game that I could fall in love so quickly, even without what would ultimately be Persona 5's greatest strength: it's cast of characters. The short, action-heavy prologue does a wonderful job of giving the player a taste of what this 100-hour journey is going to offer. Persona 5 is a game that is filled with style, and it shows some of that here. The amazing art mixes well with the fast and fun turn-based combat, enough to where even post-battle screens are nice to look at. In the background, a track from the game's excellent soundtrack plays (you'll be hearing a few songs multiple times in this lengthy JRPG, so it's relieving that the music is as great as it is). The heavy red and black color scheme fits extremely well, with the UI being one of the sleekest I've seen in a game yet. After a few quick battles, the prologue ends the way it began: with a short but sweet anime-style cutscene. These charming scenes are sprinkled throughout the game and keep heavy story moments from feeling too bland or repetitive. Yet, despite these great mechanics, Persona 5 has much more to offer. So much so that despite having played games my entire life, it stands out as one of the most unique games I have ever played.
A charismatic cast of characters...
Once you get through the prologue, you realize that everything you just played is happening in the present day and that most of the story will be told through flashbacks. By the time you return to the events from the prologue in the main story, those hidden character names and faces will be made clear to you... and you'll truly care about them after the many hours they spend at your side. On the surface, they're all stereotypes. A hotheaded former athlete, an attractive model, an eccentric artist, the stiff student council president, a socially awkward hacker, and a rich teenager make up your group. Oh, and an adorable talking cat that thinks it's human. That one is, uh, a little different. Still, the rest of the characters all have stories you've seen before... but Atlus goes the extra mile to make them special despite that. Through some truly great writing and phenomenal voice acting, nearly all of them managed to stand out and become lovable (by the end of the game I had become attached to all but one, and even the character I disliked was someone I wanted as a part of my group).
The fact that your friends are so great raises a minor issue I had with the game, though: the protagonist. I wanted to like him as much as the supporting cast, and he had some legitimately cool moments… but other than the code name "Joker" he has no official name and you’re forced to name him yourself. It’s such a weird situation, considering he’s officially been given the name Akira outside of the main game. Why did they not stick with it here? You can't change the physical appearance of Joker and his face is used in all the promotional material. This made it feel so wrong seeing my name come up in the dialogue boxes, and having to hear characters refer to the protagonist as “this guy” or “him” all the time didn’t help matters. The other part of this problem is that Joker has a voice, but he rarely speaks. This is a bit distracting as the rest of the cast is so well-acted, and Joker remains silent in far too many important scenes. Simply hearing him say the dialogue choices would have made me much more invested in his role than I ended up being. He felt like this odd mix of a player created character and a character of his own, and it never quite felt right. Despite that, though, the other members of the Phantom Thieves are charismatic enough to keep you invested in the wonderful story.
Persona, I choose you!
The gameplay of Persona 5 contains the classic strategy you'd expect from a JRPG; enemies are resistant and weak to certain types of damage, items can be used for a leg up in battle and every party member has their own strength/role in a fight. Persona 5 does all of this well and, of course, with tons of style. An "all-out attack", will lead to a gorgeous post-battle screen for the character that weakened the final enemy. The addition of a unique gun for every party member opens a whole new type of damage and even more fun moves to pull off. Interrogations add an enjoyable mini-game to acquire extra items and money. Realistically, it's not surprising that Persona's greatness extends to its gameplay. However, what is surprising is just how much that gameplay expands and evolves the more you play.
The combat of the game is spread throughout seven main dungeons (named palaces in Persona 5) and a huge location known as Mementos, where you can farm enemies or tackle side quests. Every palace is completely different in appearance from the previous one and is filled with its own types of enemies. Each of these locations also has at least one unique puzzle or challenge to overcome. The palaces all end with a final boss fight, and every one of them is memorable. The amount of variation in each palace keeps the gameplay fresh, and it never manages to feel stale. Yet, there's still another thing that makes palaces great: Persona Awakenings. With all but the final palace, you'll be meeting a new party member. Their story will have been set up prior to entering, and they often have a strong connection to the location's boss. Within the enemy palace, they'll awaken to their true power. For the lack of a better term... these awakenings are simply badass. Everything from the music, to the voice acting, to the Persona design itself is done so well. Best of all, though, is that Joker can hold multiple Personas at the same time. Any of the 200+ non-boss enemies that you encounter can either be captured during combat or created using the Velvet Room (an area that I'll avoid talking about because spoilers and stuff). Being able to change what Persona you're using for whatever fight you're in makes the game so much more fun. You’re constantly given the chance to experiment with something new.
The Importance of Time.
Persona 5 isn't all about the action, though. In fact, for about half of the game you're not fighting at all. When you're not out changing someone's distorted heart, you're living your life as a regular high school student. This lack of action could easily have felt boring and become something I wanted to rush through... but instead, I learned that it was yet another of Persona's strengths. This might be because everything that you do matters... and I mean everything. If you're asked a question during class and you answer correctly, you'll gain points in Knowledge category. You can also raise that stat by reading certain books, seeing a movie, playing certain games, or studying for your exams. There are four other categories to improve in as well (Guts, Charm, Proficiency, and Kindness). Doing so will allow you to unlock new confidants or progress the relationships with the ones you already have, and ranking these confidants up will unlock powerful new skills for use in the palaces and Mementos.
It's not as easy as it sounds, though. Persona 5 handles its events like a calendar. Each day only consists of 3 blocks of time as well, two of which are usually taken up (one by school and the other because your damn cat forces you to go to sleep). You'll also be given deadlines for palaces, so you must finish the palace in question before a certain day comes up. As a player, you're extremely limited on time, which makes this part of the game much more interesting. You're hanging out with one friend and improving your relationship with them, but what about your other friend who wanted to see a movie? Maybe you should use your time to watch a DVD in your room that improves your Guts stat, but you also have an exam that you should be studying for. You need money for that weapon you want, but you're completely broke and working somewhere will waste a day. These are some of the choices you’ll have to make, because in Persona 5 you don't have nearly enough time to accomplish everything that there is to do. Whatever you commit to doing will cost you another option that is equally beneficial. You’ll need to learn to manage your time and to do only the things that you truly want to do (the game allows you to advance time if you feel like it, but I never once thought about doing so). Constantly being faced with tough choices makes it that much more rewarding when you finally gain that next skill level or max out that bond with your friend. At the end of the day, that's what this game is truly about: balancing your regular life while trying to fight evil at the same time. I never expected it, but Persona 5 is one of the only games to truly nail the feeling of being a superhero… and it couldn’t feel better.
FINAL SCORE: 9.5