I’m pinch-reviewing for Matt this week because, as you can see, this guy cranks out reviews almost on a weekly basis. That’s tough when it comes to a JRPG, especially the ones where you’re dropping 80 hours minimum into the game. I was at about 110 hours by the end of my time with Persona 5. That being said, if you want to play one of the best JRPGs around, you owe it to yourself to find a copy of Persona 5.
- TL;DR: One of the best JRPGs you’re going to find.
- Platforms: PS3, PS4 (reviewed)
- Developer: ATLUS
- Time Played: ~110 hours
- What I Played: Completed the story on hard difficulty; maxed out nine confidants.
First things first, if you’ve played a prior entry into the Persona series, you generally know the beats that this game is going to hit. You transfer to a new high school in your second year. You discover that you possess a supernatural power to summon a Persona and, conveniently, many of your new friends at school posses similar powers. You may end up saving the world. Persona 5 takes place at Shujin Academy in Tokyo, Japan, after you are put on probation after being convicted of assault in your old hometown. But the fact that you know the general beats of the story before going in isn’t a criticism in my book because Atlus does one hell of a job creating characters that you care about. Atlus refines and distills the game to a purer and purer essence with each numbered Persona installment and the fifth is no different.
As is the case with previous Persona games, the first couple of hours can be considered tutorial-esque. You aren’t given too many choices of what to do as you acclimate to the basic principles of the game. A major principle being that you have a finite amount of time to do things; each day you are going to have to make choices about how you spend that time. Do you take on one of the main dungeons, known as palaces, to progress the story? Do you take a break from dungeon crawling to hang with one of your friends and strengthen your bond with them? Do you do some batting practice or read a book to increase your social stats? No matter what you chose, any action takes up the block of time that you have after school. Despite my tendency to focus on getting as close to my teammates and NPCs as possibly, you have a deadline to complete any of the main dungeons or it’s game over. The most crucial thing to getting through any of the dungeons is getting more personas.
How do you get a new persona? Well, there are two ways. The first is to get them from a battle. In the middle of any non-boss battle, you have the possibility of negotiating with your enemies. To get to that point, you have to knockdown all of your enemies by hitting them with one of their weaknesses. After all of your enemies are either dead or knocked down, you hold them up at gunpoint and are presented a choice to either initiate a powerful all-out attack to potentially end the battle right there or you can negotiate. When you negotiate, one of the choices you have is to try and convince an enemy to join you by telling them what they want to hear (spoiler alert, you’re going to mess that up about a billion times. Definitely look at the in-game tutorial about matching your answers to the shadow’s personality but the questions and answers are not as obvious and intuitive as you would think). If you already have the persona in question or simply don’t want it, you also have the option to extort them for either money or an item. The second way to get a persona is through fusion, which works just as sounds — you combine two persona that you own and come out with a new one.
Atlus has changed the combat system in Persona 5 for the better. No, this game is never going to be as active or dynamic as Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy XV but the touches that Atlus has made to the control scheme quicken the pace of this turn-based RPG. Rather than click through a bunch of menus, each action is mapped to a button: X to melee attack, triangle to use your persona skill, and so on. The increased pace is both a blessing and a curse. I can’t tell you how often I got into a rhythm facing weaker enemies and used a melee attack instead of a persona skill and ended up getting wiped, losing an hour or so of dungeon crawling in the process. Be sure to save often and don’t be afraid to retreat from a battle; if you don’t Persona will punish your hubris and you’ll be replaying the same area more times than you’ll like.
Combat in this game starts fairly simple. Figure out what any particular shadow is weak to, hit it with that element to knock it down, rinse, and repeat. But with each each added mechanic gained from either from conquering a palace or getting closer to your confidants, my personal favorite being baton passes to chain attacks together, the strategy of battle changes. Enemies will begin to absorb, reflect, or become immune to certain damage types. They’ll start to use instant-kill spells or prey on the elemental weaknesses of your personas and slow down the battle with irritating debuffs. Pro tip — quickly heal any character that is despairing, else you risk their immediate death after three turns. It’s safe to say that your 100 hours of demon hunting will not be boring.
I without a doubt prefer the vastly improved dungeon exploration and puzzles in P5 compared to P3 and P4. The main difference is that the palaces in P5 aren’t procedurally generated, which makes sense in terms of the story. It would be a bit difficult to plan an infiltration route to steal treasure if the paths available to that route kept changing. Pre-planned dungeons also allow Atlus to include set pieces and instill a real personality in each one. The design of each palace allows you to get a better feel for its ruler. Along those same lines, boss battles are much better than the usual damage sponges that you get in JRPGs. Mid-battle dialogue and boss-specific mechanics force you to think about each attack compared to the relative ease of bosses in P3 and P4.
Persona 5 is one of the best games I’ve played this year. I have been pretty light in describing the story of this game, but it’s because it’s better to experience that story for yourself and craft your own bonds with these characters. Add in the stylish design and solid soundtrack and you’ve got the makings of an all-time RPG. Persona 5 isn’t a game to be missed.