Review: Persona 5 (PS4)

Valedictorian of JRPG’s of This Generation.

Persona 5 exists in a world where the Japanese RPG genre has withered away to almost nothing. Most of the big named role playing games of this generation revolve more around action, or a more “Americanized” RPG, where turn based battles have been replaced with real time action. Where Square Enix has turned the Final Fantasy franchise on its ear, Atlus has remained true to form with its Persona series. With Persona 5, Atlus managed to craft an experience that encompasses the very best that the genre has to offer, and delivers a package that can easily lay claim to being one of the best games of this console generation.

My experience with the franchise has been very light; I put in ten hours into Persona 3 FES and fifty hours into Persona 4 before other games pulled me away from them. That was never the case with Persona 5 (P5). From the flashy, stylish opening, to over 130 hours later when my adventure was completed, P5 hooked me in with literally everything it offered.

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As the player named protagonist, you’re immediately thrust into an escape from a vibrant setting. After thinking he escaped those after him, he stumbles upon those chasing him head on – the police. From there the direction of the story follows a unique path, as the protagonist is then brought into an interrogation room and question by lead investigator Sae Niijima. The story unfolds through her questioning, from the very beginning to the shocking turns in the third act.

We learn more about the protagonist as the game passes. At the very beginning of the interrogation, it is revealed that he was apprehended for assaulting a man that was attacking a woman about a year prior. He is then sent to live to Sojiro Sakura and is on a short leash, always being reminded that one slip up or mistake at school and he will be expelled, with the possibility of being sent to prison. From there, the protagonists life goes through one mind-blowing event after another, as he makes new friends, all the while realizing there is a secret world he and they can enter.

The storytelling in P5 is top notch, with every major storyline feeling almost like its own fully fleshed out game. As the protagonists and his friends understand their new powers and the mysterious world they can enter, they realize exactly what can be done within it to change reality. I will not go too far into any of the storylines, however I will say that each and every heart changing encounter will leave the player completely invested and engaged with what happens next. Sometimes success will be bittersweet, but the Thieves Guild, as they call themselves, will not only steal the treasures within the wrongdoers hearts, but they’ll straight up steal your heart as well.

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As with previous Persona titles, players will live out each day of the main protagonist, from school, to afternoon and evening activities. Juggling studying, spending time with friends, miscellaneous activities and son on, might seem more like a hassle and less like a worthwhile activity in a video game, But Atlus handles the protagonists life in and out of school with grace. Hanging out with friends improves your social links with them, enabling new perks to be opened up as time passes. Moreover, you get to better understand your friends, who they are and where they come from. Ryuji might be a hothead, but the player will understand his background as they spend more time with them, helping them realize why he is the way he is.

There are numerous activities that can improve the protagonists skills as well. Studying helps his Knowledge rating, while feeding his plant nutrients helps boost his kindness. Through higher skills comes opportunities to open new dialog with teammates who required a certain skill at a certain level. It can be a delicate balance, however at no point does P5 feel like a chore. If anything, I was begging for more free time so I could get to know my friends better and build stronger bonds with other people I met along the way.

As spoiler-lite as I can be (absolutely nothing major or minor will be revealed), the crux of the story is “reforming” a number of vile individuals within a predetermined time limit. The player and his friends need to “steal their treasure”, which is located within some mysterious world that is entered through some mystery app that appeared on their phones. This distorted world acts as the antagonists playground of sorts. These worlds serve as each major dungeon in P5, with the atmosphere and action never regressing from one persons cognition to the next.

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Dispatching the minions in each world works very much the same as previous Persona titles; uncover the route to the end boss of the area, discover save points along the way, as well as new Personas to capture and call your own. Each Persona is a creature with certain abilities that can be manipulated by the protagonist in offensive and defensive manners. The main protagonist can wield and switch between a set number of Personas, with each of his friends being able to wield their very own specific Persona, usually with elemental attributes associated with them (Ryuji has a lightning based Persona, while others will have ice, fire and even some other non-elemental powers).

Combat in P5 is as solid as P4, if not even more refined. The real gimmick to combat revolves around recognizing elemental weaknesses to enemy Personas, and using that to either take them out, or hold them up. Holding up an enemy Persona gives players the chance to force an item from them, some yen to spend outside of these cognition palaces, or even invite them to your own collection for future use. As time passes, the protagonist will gain the ability to create newer, stronger Personas through existing ones, strengthen ones in his possession, or even turn them into specific items. There’s a plethora of experimentation can can go on with Personas in your party.

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Each cognition palace is a spectacle to behold. In fact, P5 as a whole is a visual beauty like no JRPG before it. Beyond each Persona having a distinct look, each palace, every location and character, all have a level of visual quality that sets it far apart from most any other game within the genre as a whole. Whether it’s a neon glitz or the glamor of a themed palace, no area in P5 lacks a unique feel and vibe.

Each area is also accompanied by some stellar musical pieces. I’d say it’s a hair less mesmerizing than P4‘s absolutely blissful music, but in its own right, P5‘s music, and audio as a whole, fits every area, every situation and every moment, to a T. The American voice acting cast, aside from Morgana’s borderline feminine voice, fit each character, helping establish them more and more as important pieces to the experience.

It’s a struggle to really find any kind of faults to P5. Nitpicking would make mountains out of molehills, such as Morgana’s voice. If there were any real knocks on this magnificent title, it would have to be both its difficulty on Normal, as well as being restricted from performing activities during a number of segments of free time. In the 130+ hours I’ve spent with the Thieves Guild, there were only four times that I had died, and only once was it deep into an area before hitting a save point. If the protagonist goes down in battle, much like Final Fantasy XIII, the game is over. Three of the four times it was the protagonist losing all his health with everyone else at at least half health. It’s a frustration, but understandable, as he is the leader of the Thieves Guild, and they all depend on his leadership and guidance to get them through. It’s a system I just never really felt partial towards whatsoever.

Then there’s the issue with “being too tired” some nights where you might want to read a book, or craft some lockpicks for your next palace infiltration. The player could be just coming home from school some nights and Morgana would annoyingly chime in about how you shouldn’t do this tonight. It stilts a bit of the supposed free time you get, rushing the payer through that day to get on to the next one. As it stands, it never feels like there’s enough time to congregate with the crew and get to know other friends you meet along the way that do not outright join the Thieves Guild, but in a way P5 perfectly mimics real life; you have to schedule things just right and set aside the proper amount of time to be able to fulfill each of your desires.

And this is one of the many reasons Persona 5 is so magical – it’s a story of friendship, creating new bonds, all while juggling time to save lives and clear the names of those wrongfully implicated. With characters you will legitimately care for, with a combat system that’s just right, with a myriad of activities to do solo or with a friend, and a game world so vibrant and memorable, Atlus once again shows off that the JPRG sub-genre is still alive and well. If you fancy yourself an RPG fanatic, if you enjoy long and engrossing games, you owe it to yourself to play Persona 5. Bar none one of the greatest RPG’s of all-time.

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Rating: 9.5

  • Developed: Atlus
  • Published: Atlus USA
  • Release Date: April 4, 2017
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3
  • Genre: Role Playing Game
  • Players: 1

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