Published on June 28th, 2017 | by Peter Freeman0
Persona 5 Review
Summary: Depsite a sagging middle act and a final twist that doesn't entirely land, Persona 5's characters and side stories make the sixty hour ride more than worth it.
Persona 5 is a whirlwind of a game. I’ll start off by saying that this is the first Persona game I’ve ever played. All I’d really heard beforehand was some stuff about Persona 4 and how it’s more or less the golden child of the series (no pun intended). I had no idea what to expect when playing Persona 5 though, but by the end of my seventy hour playthrough, I can say that I fully enjoyed what Persona has to offer.
The basis of this game is – as far as I’m aware – similar to those of other Persona games. You play as a high school student who for one reason or another has been forced to move out of your home and stay somewhere unknown. Throughout the game you’ll make friends, have a romance (or two), and you know, enter people’s palaces where their deepest and darkest desires lie. Normal high school stuff, right?
To get too deep into the plot would be spoiling stuff. But in the game, you’ll find yourself going into different dungeons, constrained by the clock, and cleaning people of their darkest desires. That’s the big linchpin of Persona 5. You star as a founding member of the Phantom Thieves, a group of people who can force people to have a change of heart.
The story starts small enough and eventually balloons in scale. By the end of the story it’s hard to believe that everything started with you transferring schools. It’s an epic and fun story that doesn’t exactly stick the landing. The final two dungeons seem so removed from the game’s original premise you might wonder if Persona 5 was originally meant to be a different kind of game. That said, the very ending, the True ending, as it were, is very satisfying.
Persona 5 is a Japanese game through and through and that can come with a certain kind of baggage. The game portrays some awful stereotypes when it comes to gay people. There’s also a nasty obsession with sexualizing one particular character. Both issues drop off about half way through the game, but in a seventy-hour experience, that can be quite a bit to put up with.
Over the course of the game you’ll meet and become friends with an eclectic cast of characters. And they range pretty drastically in terms of quality, I think. For example, I believe pretty firmly that Ryuji, the high school mess up and general asshole, is the worst character in the bunch. Which is unfortunate because you meet him first, which means you put up with his crap the longest.
Other character though, like the shy Makoto and tiny Futaba, are really fun and interesting. Each of your friends also has a side story unique to them, where you can find out more about who they are and the problems that they’re dealing with. As the main character, you’re everyone’s best friend, which means they’re more than happy to lean on you when they have a problem. The only character who kind of gets shafted is Haru, who is introduced so late into the plot that she doesn’t have much room to grow.
While helping your friends might be reward enough, you also get bonuses each time you level up your social link with that character. For your party members, they’ll learn new skills that can be very useful in combat. For the confidants outside of your party, they’ll teach you things that can work both outside and inside of combat. Most of them have interesting stories as well, which make them all the more worth following.
The only issue with the social links is that your progress with them is gated by how high your social stats are. Unless you’re following a day by day guide to maximize your time, you’re never going to see all the content the first time through. That’s fine if you plan on doing a new game plus – which includes some other fun features – but it can be frustrated when you get locked out of your favorite character’s storyline.
The dungeon crawling is essential to Persona 5, called “palaces”, they house the entire combat and RPG aspect of the game. You’ll face off against enemy personas with your own while balancing elemental weaknesses and resistances to find the best way to win. The first few dungeons are fun and kind of inventive as far as dungeons go. But I found that as the game goes on, it becomes more and more laborious. The middle dungeons especially are exhausting, simply because they feel the need to dump enemies upon enemies on you, making reaching the end a struggle.
The fact that the game limits your time in dungeons by the amount of SP you have is frustrating. SP is basically mana, and it’s what you use to cast spells with your Persona. There are very few ways in the game – especially early on – to recover SP. That means no matter the state of your team, there’s nothing you can do but bow out and come back another day. Thankfully as the game goes you unlock the ability to buy equipment that can slightly alleviate that problem, but it isn’t a perfect solution. This is even more true towards the very end of the game when you’re put against bosses that have several forms. I’m talking an end game boss that has five different forms, three of which where he recovers all of his health each time. It creates a bit of a grind that there’s no solution to.
While it might be hard to remember, Persona 5 is also a PS3 game. That shows whenever you’re in a crowded city and all the people have the most generic looking faces. The textures are flat and ugly looking. Occasionally, you’ll run into a slight framerate hitch as well. Aside from those few issues though, the rest of Persona 5 is as stylish as one could expect. Each character has a distinct look to them that matches their personality. The villains too, are all unique in their own ways.
Persona 5 is a very system heavy game and it doesn’t do a good job explaining these systems to you. I spent most of the game with several tabs open on my other monitor with guides to these systems. How to raise your social stats, quizzes, fusions, etc. A ton of this stuff is just left for the player to figure out through trial and error. So I would highly recommend using some guides to get you off on the right foot so you don’t spend the first month of the game wasting all your time on stuff that doesn’t matter.
The soundtrack is amazing. The collection of orchestral pieces fused with a punk rock aesthetic is so much fun. Many of the pieces also have a jazz feel to them that helps add an extra layer to some of the more lyrical songs. They create a real sense of urgency and excitement to what you’re doing in the palaces. Some of the late game tracks are some of the best in the whole game, making the endgame bosses especially epic.
At the end of it all, Persona 5 was worth the time I put into it. The plot might fluctuate in terms of quality, but the characters you’re given make getting through those rough spots easier. The combat is fun, even if it isn’t perfect, and the style of the game makes it a pleasure to look and listen to. As someone who had never played a Persona game before 5, I would highly recommend this to players new and old.