The development of Persona 5 was fraught with obstacles that resulted in continuous delays. Originally slated for a 2014 release, the game was finally released worldwide in 2017. Persona 5 marks the first game in the mainline Persona series to be released on the seventh and eighth generations of console.
The Persona series began its life as a spin-off of Developers Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei. Since its inception, the series’ popularity has grown exponentially becoming just as popular as its parent series.
Persona 5, despite being the fifth instalment in the main series, has no direct narrative ties to any of the previous entries. While there are some minor cross-overs that will provide enjoyment for players of the other games, brand-new player to the series do not need to know anything about previous games to get the fullest amount of enjoyment from Persona 5.
Beginning in miscellaneous territory, but equally important for the game: the music, supplementary sound design and overall aesthetics of Persona 5 are near impeccable and oozes personality and charisma.
With the theme of Persona 5 being Rebellion, the design of everything – especially the Heads-Up Display (HUD) – fits in with this theme. The game defies the expectations of how it should look, right down to the standard text boxes and I love it.
Furthermore, the almost perfectly captures the atmosphere of its contextual use. From the excitement of standard combat with ‘Last Surprise’, to the over-confidence the player feels on the last day of a Palace with ‘Life Will Change’.
I feel that my only issue with any of the music in the game is just the lack of an alternative standard battle theme against Shadows. As ‘Last Surprise’ is the only one, when devoting a lot of time to progressing through areas, entering fight after fight can get very repetitive.
The story of Persona 5 has you playing as a new protagonist that you are free to name whatever you like, however, the game dubs him the moniker of ‘Joker’ – so this is how I will refer to him from here on out.
Joker is a new transfer student to Shujin Academy in Shibuya in Tokyo. After finding the ability to travel into the distorted hearts of corrupt adults, he and his growing entourage of friends form a group known as ‘The Phantom Thieves (of Heart)’. It becomes their duty to steal the corruption from people’s hearts in order to reform society for the betterment of mankind.
The overall narrative of Persona 5 is, in my opinion, expertly paced and executed. The stakes that threaten The Phantom Thieves slowly escalate showing a true sense of growth for the tension of the game’s story, but also allows for subtle character development to shine through.
I feel that the game manages to strike the correct balance between present a new villain, that brings with them an unrealistic level of threat, and tying the reactions and responses from each of the main cast fluently enough to ground the concept in a sense of realism.
However, the compulsory story that you are given is only half of the true narrative of Persona 5. Should you play through from main story-beat to main story-beat, you may find your overall experience with Persona 5 to be relatively shallow.
This is because Persona 5 is a character-driven story. The true bulk of the game’s story lies in its optional content.
The main scenario of the game could take as little as perhaps 40 hours or so to finish, however, my first playthrough of the game clocked me just over 100 hours.
These additional 60 hours were spent getting to know the variety of characters scattered about the game. I can’t commend the writers of the game enough for breathing life into each of the ‘Confidants’ in the game.
You have the ability to spend time with about a dozen people in the game and form bonds with them. The deeper your bond grows, the more you get to know these characters.
Personally, as I progressed deeper into the bonds, I found myself becoming less interested in the in-game rewards that these bonds could reap, and more invested in how I could next see the growth of these characters.
I felt a true bond with each of these characters, and as a result, I had a much greater appreciation for the character-led narrative of Persona 5. Furthermore, without giving too much away, when the game enters into its final fight, all of the characters that you had taken the time to get to know properly will provide their own input to the scenario.
It’s something relatively small in the grand scheme of a 100-hour RPG, but it was just the finishing touch for me, to fall in love with the story and the characters of Persona 5.
As for the gameplay of Persona 5, the bulk of it is split between typical JRPG turn-based combat and with the social aspects that the Persona series had become known for as of Persona 3.
I think that the combat of Persona 5 has become my favourite style of turn-based combat.
As I have said previously, Persona 5’s combat is similar to a typical turn-based RPG, with a few twists and turns thrown in there. Party members and enemies alike will act on a, nearly, set structure that is determined by each party’s agility stat. Each member of your party of Phantom Thieves can act once during a rotation.
The key difference between the Persona series and other RPGs is the titular Persona system.
Each member that joins the Phantom Thieves awaken their own personal Persona – Their own Will of rebellion that taken physical form.
These Persona have the ability to use special or elemental attacks to provide certain buffs or inflict damage. There is a good variety of different elements that Persona can use – ranging from Fire, or Nuclear damage to Light or Dark damage.
Most Persona can have resistances or weaknesses to certain types of attacks. This is where the main aspect of Persona 5’s combat comes into play. By utilising the right weakness against an enemy, you are able to knock down an enemy; this grants the party member that knocked the enemy down another turn to carry out another action. This could be another attack, if there is another enemy on the field with a weakness that the character you’re controlling doesn’t possess, you are perform a ‘Baton Pass’ to switch over to a character that does in order to knock them down too.
If you manage to knock down all enemies at once, you enter into a ‘Hold-Up’. From here you’re able to carry out a couple of different options – you can either execute an ‘All-Out Attack’ to deal huge amounts of damage and can end most random encounters there and then. Alternatively, you can talk to the shadow, as long as it is a random encounter and not a boss fight. Talking to a shadow presents a few different choices for you:
You can ask the shadow for money, or for an item – this will not only net you some of the big bucks, or a potentially rare item, but it also ends the battle immediately.
The second option is perhaps the more important and significant, you can talk to the shadow and try to convince to join your pack of Persona.
Joker, as the protagonist, is different than the others in his pack of Phantom Thieves as he has the ability to wield and use a number of Personas at once – The power of ‘The Wildcard’.
There are well over 100 Personas that you can obtain throughout Persona 5. Once you enter a negotiation with a Shadow, if you say the right things, that Persona will join you and all of their power becomes yours to use.
Alternatively, once you have progressed a little bit into the story, you gain access to ‘The Velvet Room’ – which players familiar with the franchise will recognise (only looking a little more depressing than usual). In the Velvet Room, you have to ability to ‘fuse’ multiple Persona that you have gathered together in order to form new ones.
This is the best way to beef out your arsenal, through fusing Persona the Persona you create gain access to new moves and abilities that they wouldn’t have access to normally.
Thus, through the right methods or fusing and negotiating, you can ally yourself with an entourage of Personas that can cover every weakness in the game. Through Persona capturing and fusing in order to get the best Personas in the game with the best abilities, it adds a great new layer of depth to an already extremely enjoyable RPG experience.
The last key aspect, and roughly 50% of the entire game is the social aspects of Persona 5.
Persona 5 isn’t simply dungeon crawling and taking down enemy after enemy until you reach the credits. From day to day, you’re given the choice of how you wish to spend it – and there are a lot of different option to choose from about how you want to use your time!
You can do many smaller miscellaneous tasks, such as read a cacophony of books, play games, go to the movies and more. These tasks can provide you with boosts to your Social Stats – these stats determine how well you excel in five different areas: Knowledge, Guts, Proficiency, Kindness and Charm.
Boosting these stats are more or less imperative to fully carrying out the main aspect of Persona 5’s social side: The Confidants.
Confidants are people that you meet along your adventure, some could be your fellow Phantom Thieves, while other could be people that you meet along the way – for fans of previous Persona games, these Confidants used to be referred to as Social Links.
Getting to know these Confidants can grant you a huge boon in your experience with Persona 5, through spending your time with the right people and having amassed points in the correct Social Stats, you can boost your Confidant level with specific characters. Some of these benefits can be as small as allowing you to buy additional items and equipment, whereas others can allow all members of the Phantom Thieves to gain experience points, even if they didn’t contribute in battle.
The Confidant system is the single most important aspect of Social gameplay in Persona 5. Spending time with the right people can make you progress through the game significantly easier, so manage your time well!
Furthermore, these Confidants play a huge role in developing the character-driven story of Persona 5. While not each Confidant is vital, or even overly interesting for that matter, others have excellent minor sub-plots that can help you relate greatly to the character.
Ultimately, these Confidants offer more than simply adding to the story of Persona 5. The higher you rank up each Confidant, the higher you rank up their Arcana sign: Tower, Hierophant, etc. These Arcana ranks grant you boosts in experience points when it comes to fusing different Personas – the higher the rank, the stronger the Persona you will receive.
What makes Persona 5 such an excellent game in my opinion is that everything that you can do, from Social Activities, to progressing further in Mementos, to reading a book has tangible and almost immediate benefit to your overall progression to the main story of the game. Nothing that you have the option to do is pointless in the grand scheme of the game.
Due to this, I constantly found myself struggling to put the game down! Each time I would finish one activity and reap its rewards, I would end up saying to myself: ‘well, I’ll just level-up this Confidant’, or ‘I’ll read this book tonight’. However, then I would open up something new that I could do.
It was a perpetual cycle and I couldn’t help but love every second of it.
Everything in Persona 5 is expertly crafted, and the game oozes with the love and care put into it by the developers. The story is compelling, the combat is a joy to play and the social aspects are as optional as you want them to be yet appealing in almost every way.
Persona 5 earns a 10/10.
Thank you for reading my review of Persona 5 and reading me gush about it for over 2000 words.
An updated version of Persona 5 is scheduled to release in the west in 2020, titled Persona 5: The Royal which is similar to previous updated versions, such as Persona 4: Golden. This version will most likely be vastly superior, however, until its release, I would still highly recommend picking up the base game!
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