I have a love/hate relationship with JRPGs. They usually have the most interesting, character driven stories out there, but the gameplay is either grindy, or the game just runs for too long. Too often do I get stuck, because I’m enthralled by the story enough to avoid combat, only to be underleveled and get destroyed by the boss.
But Persona 5 never gave me that trouble. Sure, it had some tedious moments, but overall, there was always something different to do. That’s actually where the game really lies- time management between all the different activities open to you.
And the thing about writing a big review for a gigantic game like this, is the experience I can realistically relate to you is going to just be the average feeling across the whole thing. There were moments that were absolutely stunning, as well as moments that were way more tedious than they should have been.
So, let’s dive into each category I appreciate games for, and use vague phrasing and hope it reads well!
Momentum is probably the best word to describe the combat in Persona, with each move having the potential to cascade into a string of attacks, usually before the enemy even gets to have a go at you. Knock down an enemy with a weakness? You get another go! Knock down all the enemies? You and your party go all out and kick everybody while they’re down, literally!
These abilities and combos are slowly given out to you as the game progresses, so you’re never really overwhelmed with options. Even then, most of them automatically trigger during battle, and you develop really solid habits for a variety of encounters.
But battling is only half the… battle! Persona games are also identified by social links, or confidants. Basically, the closer your character gets to you friends, the more perks you unlock for battle, including more combos, and more powerful summons.
Which is the namesake of the game- summons are called Personas, meaning to represent the spirit of rebellion of each character. The protagonist is the Pokemon Master of Personas, being able to swap out and collect them, and even combine and strengthen them. If you’ve played Yo-Kai Watch or a Shin Megami Tensei game before, you’ll have a head start!
On top of all this, you’re a high school student. You have to juggle your battling life, social links, and Persona collecting along with homework and even personal hygiene. By the end of it, I became more organised in Persona 5 than I have ever been in real life…
It’s always great to see the core gameplay of a game work in tandem with a story, instead of alongside it! Persona 5 is very meticulous in how all the details in the story and setting line up with your actions in game. Time to get vague to avoid spoilers…
Persona 5 is all about heists. Your group in the game are a bunch of high-schoolers, tired of their immediate points of authority being abusive with power, or just plain abusive. They also have access to a parallel world of sorts, made up of the collective unconscious. Those particularly awful people have such warped desires and beliefs, that they form ‘palaces’ in this cognitive world.
Your goal in the game is to break into these palaces to ‘steal their heart’, to make them atone for their awful behavior, and to free the people under their dominion. But each palace has a rich background and story, usually with a strong tie to one of your party members, leading them to their own realisations and unlocking their own Persona to use in battle.
Each palace in the game is themed both on one of the deadly sins (greed, lust, etc.), as well as a typical place you’d see being broken into in a heist movie, like a bank, or casino. My only gripe, is that the story doesn’t trust the player to connect any dots at all, outright explaining every little detail to you, in a “do you get it?” vibe that gets old quickly.
Each of these palaces serve as a chapter of sorts, with the stakes getting higher and higher, and your group (dubbed the Phantom Thieves) getting more and more famous. There’s a bunch of layers to everything that happens, with an absolutely huge payoff at the end. You think you’ve encountered the ‘twist’ only to have 5-6 more happen after that.
Of course, having a character driven game means the characters have to be likeable, and they are! Each have their own personal struggles and qualities, but each with a sense of rebellion and strong principles, finding a form of comradery with fellow outcasts. Spending time with these characters is absolutely fascinating, each with their own personal progress alongside the main plot.
It’s amazing how well the presentation of the game works with the overall themes. Everything has a stark, high contrast look to it, which is obviously fitting in a game about standing apart. But red is used to well to accompany the flat black and white interface, all of which add up to the theiving, noir-esque style.
Everything feels thrown together, with UI looking like ransom notes made of cut up magazines, and jagged lines that are never at right angles. Along with the use of colour, it’s all perfectly fitting for the genre, and the sense of rebellion. Don’t colour between the lines, throw stuff at a wall and if you can read it, use it.
But that’s just the overall presentation- the character designs are also amazing. Each character is themed off different historical and fictional troublemakers, like Robin Hood, or Zorro. This is reflected in the Persona choice for each character, and their partnered Persona summon.
It’s hard to get anymore into detail, because it’s just a bunch of small details that add up to an absolutely stylish presentation, top to bottom.
And the music really just drives it all home. It just works so well, with up-beat, swing style music for battles, to relaxing lounge music for your down time between days. Beneath the Mask is my favourite track, with different layers coming in or out depending on the weather.
It’s just a phenomenal soundtrack that suits the game so perfectly. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wrote the music first, and made a game around it!
I spent over 100 hours in Persona 5, including many late nights to get to certain points in the story. It’s one of my favourite JRPGs, and I can’t recommend it enough! As long as you have the time, that is…