Mithical Entertainment would like to thank Altus for providing us with a review code for Persona 5 in exchange for our honest review.
I would like to begin this review by providing some background. Persona 4 Golden is either my favorite or second favorite game of all time, only potentially matched by Final Fantasy VI. It is one of the three games I have ever gotten a platinum trophy on, and the only one that was for a reason other than “I’m close to it already and the rest looks easy.” Most of the rest of the Mithical crew that have played P4 have me to blame for it. So, suffice to say that I have been looking forward to Persona 5 a lot, both with hope and a small dash of fear. P4G is so close to perfect that how can a follow-up be anything but disappointing? Well, I’m still working my way through the game, but it looks like Atlus and the Persona team might have done the impossible. If the game continues on its current trajectory, it looks like it will potentially be right up there in competition for my favorite game alongside the prior two entries.
ROH ROH FIGHT THE POWER!
The game starts very differently from either Persona 3 or 4. Everything begins in medias res, as the main character and crew are in the middle of a heist. Things go sideways and the main character (who you get to name) ends up reflecting on what led him to that point, which is where the bulk of the game takes place. Within the flashback, the game starts with the main character moving to a new town after he was expelled from his last school and his parents essentially shipped him out to live with an acquaintance of an acquaintance. The reason for this is that the main character just got convicted of assault for defending someone else, which leads to most others treating him like a criminal and looking down on him. Pretty much everyone in the new town, including your new caretaker, are all hostile to you right off the bat. Everyone expects the worst from you at all times, and a single screw-up will result in your expulsion and homelessness. The only ones who seem to gravitate towards the main character are other outcasts and social pariahs at the school. After a mysterious new app appears on the main character’s phone, he gains the power to enter an alternate world where twisted and depraved enough individuals’ Shadows have created Palaces for their own warped desires. Once inside, the main character develops the ability to summon his Persona to rebel against the authority represented by the ruler of the Palace. The player then has to attempt to explore and eventually bring down the palace and the twisted mindset it represents.
The general setup is a great new twist on the dungeons from Persona 4. Rather than having each area tied to one of your teammates, each one is tied to the primary antagonist that you are dealing with in that portion of the story. These aren’t high school kids who are trying to come to terms with their own inner turbulence and dysfunction. These are adults who are typically reveling in their power and authority with their victims powerless to resist them. This thematic difference helps to distinguish the setup from Persona 4 as well as allow for some really creative (and really kinda twisted) designs for the much more corrupt versions of the otherworld. It also fits very well with the tone of the story as a whole. Persona 3 was a very melancholic game even from the outset, with Apathy Syndrome being the looming threat. Persona 4 was a remarkably upbeat murder mystery and the search for truth in spite of obstacles. As Persona 5 will repeatedly tell you, it is a game about rebellion. Those with power are abusing that power and taking what they want for themselves, damn the consequences to others. As Phantom Thieves, you have the power to rebel against that order and bring their grand delusions about their place in the world crashing down on their heads. We can see an interesting reflection of this in the initial Personas given to your party. Arsene (as in Arsene Lupin, one of the original gentleman thieves from French literature), Zorro, Captain Kidd, and Carmen (unfortunately not Sandiego) are all examples of the revolution and crime themed personas you and your party members get. It’s a small thing that really helps to reinforce the central theme. I absolutely love the setup for building off of what was previously established and taking it in a new direction.
YOU GOT YOUR NOCTURE IN MY PERSONA!
The gameplay itself is both like previous Persona games and unlike them as well. Similar to previous Persona games, you set out to explore the Palace of your particular target, which has various Shadows roaming as guards. If the Shadow sees you, it will charge you and attack. You can sneak up on those shadows instead to get the first hit in combat. Combat is turn-based with each enemy having particular strengths and weaknesses to the now-10 different elements or attack types. If you hit the enemy’s strength, it will do reduced damage, no damage, or reflect the damage back at you. If you hit their weakness or land a critical hit, it will knock them down and give that particular character another round. Once all enemies are down, you get to hold them up, which will allow, amongst other options, the usual all-out attack, which deals heavy damage against all enemies. SP (your spellcasting juice) is limited in the dungeon without an early reliable way to restore it. If the main character goes down, it’s game over. You also have to decide how to allocate your time between dungeon diving and socializing with those around you.
That’s what’s similar to previous Persona games. One of the major differences is in your role as Phantom Thieves. Sneaking into a Palace is supposed to be stealthy, so enemies seeing you is worse than simply not having the advantage or getting ambushed. If you are spotted too many times, the Palace goes on higher alert. If it gets too high, you have to retreat for the day and can’t explore anymore. As such, you have to hide and take somewhat sneaky approaches to the shadows before ambushing them. A successful ambush helps to reduce the alertness level of the Palace and gives you more freedom to explore. The Main Character, similar to his predecessors, has the power of the Wild Card and is able to change between a variety of personas with their own strengths and weaknesses. However, gone is the Shuffle Time of the previous persona games as a way to get Personas. Instead, we’re going back to the days of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and allowing the main character to negotiate with the Shadows and Demons themselves to try and recruit them. Once all enemies are down, you have the option to talk to them and try to get either money, items or to recruit them into your team, if you are high enough level. To recruit them, have to answer a few random questions and try to figure out the appropriate answer for each particular demon and situation. If successful, you gain a new persona, which functions much the same as previous games, including allowing you to fuse them together to create new, more powerful Personas and registering them in the compendium to resummon them at a later time. This system is a very enjoyable throwback to older Shin Megami Tensei games and I am glad to see it return here. Even without the history, though, it is a great new addition which forces you to balance what reward you want from a particular battle.
SOCIAL LINK GO?
Also returning this game are the Social Links of previous game. Here, they have been renamed to the thematically consistent “Confidants.” Functionally, they serve much the same purpose. These are your important side-characters who you will get to know and interact with in the non-dungeon diving portions of the game. Continuing the trend from Persona 4, they tend to be your party members and other important characters to the plot rather than just being extraneous characters around town. Even the ones not directly connected to the dealings of the Phantom Thieves tend to have involvement in their doings, such as your caretaker or the local shady doctor who provides you with under-the-table medicine for your dungeon diving. Also continuing the trend from Persona 4, leveling up the confidants has several specific bonuses. Every confidant and every Persona is tied to one of the 22 major arcana of a tarot deck. Level up the confidant and when you create a new persona of that arcana, it automatically gains a large amount of experience. Furthermore, leveling up confidants also has special bonuses that you will have access to. While Persona 4 had this for your party members and their in-combat abilities, Persona 5 extends this to all confidants. This includes things like expanding shop inventories to brewing coffee for the evening which can be used to later restore your SP. I loved that they gave an even stronger reason to level up all of the confidants instead of just focusing on the party, which could be a trend in Persona 4.
I will definitely say that, since your character is a social outcast from the word go, the confidants feel even more essential here than in previous Persona games. Since I have not yet completed the game, I can’t yet speak to the strength of each confidant’s storyline. That was one of the key strengths of Persona 4, with each Social Link being a well thought-out and interesting subplot for each character. From where I am, it appears that Persona 5 will continue this trend, but I haven’t yet delved deeply enough into it to be certain. Time will tell, and I’m definitely hopeful with how each one has started.
Your character also still has his out-of-combat skills which dictate some actions he can take outside of the Palaces. You again have five, though some have been renamed. Knowledge, Kindness, Guts, Proficiency, and Charm. Certain levels are required for certain actions or to progress different confidant storylines, so it’s important to focus on all of them. As before, taking certain actions or spending your days doing particular things will help to raise each one. In general, it feels like there are more ways to raise each one than before. I still wish that they’d implement a counter showing how many points are in each category instead of just the overall level of each one. If you want to keep track of every increase, it can get a bit frustrating. If you’re not, it’s always a mystery how close each is to increasing.
5 POINTS AVAILABLE FOR THE PRESENTATION OF YOUR [GAME]
Persona 5 oozes style out of every pixel. From the menus to the animations, everything comes together perfectly in service of the overall theme and presentation of the game. I am having trouble putting into words exactly how everything about the style just feels so right about this game. The whole interface just really works with the more rebellious tone of the game compared to its predecessors. There’s more variety in the facial expressions we get from the characters in their portraits, which really helps to give each one their own distinct mannerisms. We are also treated to more animated cutscenes where appropriate, including the really pivotal moments of a teammate first releasing their Persona on the world, which are wonderfully done. I love the design of the city as well, and how much it is both its own creation and definitely reflective of the actual part of Japan it’s supposed to be. While a large area, I rarely find myself feeling lost.
The voice acting is, as a whole, quite good and very appropriate for the characters. I didn’t really see anyone who felt like they were not correctly cast (except for Igor’s new voice, and even that I can’t tell if it’s me not liking the new voice or always expecting the old one.) The one quibble I have is how inconsistently the Japanese names are pronounced. Some are correct, while others definitely place the wrong accent on the wrong portion of the name. It sticks out whenever I hear one, and just kinda takes me out of it. Similarly, the music is good, but I don’t know if I’ve heard anything yet that will stick in my head the same way most of the P4 soundtrack has. That could definitely just be a matter of time, though, since I will be getting this soundtrack for myself later ass well.
SCREW THIS, I’M GOING BACK TO PLAYING!
I’ve already hit over 2000 words on this, so I’m going to try and wrap up my thoughts here. Persona 5 is a magnificent game that manages to stand out in spite of coming out around the same time as several other high watermark games like Horizon or Breath of the Wild (from what I’ve heard). There’s a ton of good games out now that I’m still in the process of playing through, but I know that if things keep going the way they currently are, I’ll be hard-pressed to not pick Persona 5 back up for an immediate New Game+ playthrough (assuming it has New Game+ like the previous ones did). Atlus was kind enough to provide a review copy, but due to pre-existing conflicts this weekend, I was only able to put in about 14 hours. I will most likely update this review when the game is completed as well as when my already-ordered Take Your Heart edition comes in with all the bells and whistles.
So, now that this review is done, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play some more.