That’s right, it happened – for some odd reason, I decided I would take on this Goliath of a game. I can already tell, it’s going to be the type of game that absolutely ruins other games for me.
I’ve spoken of completion armor in the past, but Persona 5 was and is something different. It combines two genres and/or styles that I’m historically not a fan of: heavy-text games with a lot of reading, and turn-based RPGs. Here’s the thing though – I love Japanese-style things, and the comic book aesthetic the whole game goes for is simply so addicting to see unfold before you. I did what anyone else would do; I figured, I’ll give it a half an hour. If I don’t like it, I’ll uninstall it. It was and still is included with PS+ (not the Royal edition, just the original one, mind you), so if at any point this game sounds interesting to you, stop reading and go install it. Seriously – the best case I can make for this game is to tell you to go play it for a half hour.
The first thing I have to mention, is that Persona 5 is one of the most stylistically unforgettable games I’ve played in my life. And it’s not just the comic-book-on-crack aesthetic that makes your eyes feel like they are being assaulted yet expertly massaged at the same time, but the music, composed by the talented Shoji Meguro, drives the game forward, pulls you in, and keeps you focused on every moment. The timing of the music – that is, when the music fades in and out, changes over, and goes completely silent – matches with the vibes and the tone of the game beautifully. Be it a normal day sitting in class, wandering around during a rainy day in downtown Tokyo, fighting a huge boss battle, or having a confronting conversation, the soundtrack is simply as good as it gets. It puts you into exactly the mood you should be feeling.
Inevitably, the music will get stuck in your head, and you’ll be unable to get it out until you play again. And then the cycle continues! Here’s one of the most chill songs in the soundtrack, and my personal favorite. Why not play it in the background for the rest of the article?
The premise of Persona 5 is that you assume the role of a highschool student and protagonist, who has been framed for assault and put on probation. You are expelled from school, and as a part of your “rehabilitation” you are sent to live with a family friend Sojiro, while attending a new academy as a part of your yearlong probation. Soon after your arrival, an app mysteriously appears on your cell phone that sends you to a creepy supernatural place called “The Metaverse,” where you have the power to change peoples’ hearts. In other words, you are granted power to enter an alternate realm and turn bad people into good people by “stealing their heart.”
The idea behind this really hit me. What happens when there is a disconnect between how people show themselves to the world, versus how they perceive things in their own mind? Well, in the world of Persona 5, these distorted perceptions create “shadow” versions of the person, and they reside within a palace inside the Metaverse. These palaces are the dungeons you crawl, with the goal of stealing a “treasure,” which are symbols of these evil desires.
The root of the gameplay is two-fold: you have the “slice of life” elements, where you are given freedom to move around locations in modern-day Tokyo. In these segments, you can visit stores, build relationships by spending time with people, go to the movies, take burger-eating challenges, and increase your stats by studying, reading, visiting bathhouses, etc. The list of things to do is huge, and the key here is that you need to spend your time wisely. Seriously – the game lives and dies by the calendar. Everything you can do costs time, and as the story begins to unfold, you quickly realize that you need to be very careful about how you spend this time to best progress your character, your relationships, and your ability in combat.
For instance, do you attempt to improve your relationship with one of your friends, possibly increasing your Kindness? Or perhaps try studying, or solving a crossword puzzle to increase your Knowledge? Maybe try partaking in a contest to boost your Guts level so that you can finally confront someone?
The other side to the gameplay coin is a dungeon-crawling turn-based JRPG. It’s tied tightly to the story in most cases, and you’ll be jumping in and out of the dungeon when you’re required to do something in the real world. In fact, one of the coolest features is how your actions real-life and the Metaverse will affect the opposite world. Increasing friendship levels (known as “Confidants” in-game) grants you combat bonuses in the Metaverse, and of course, changing things in the Metaverse affects what happens in the real world. It’s a really interesting exchange between the two, because it’s less commonly tangible changes (such as unlocking a physical door in the real world to unlock a door in the Metaverse), and more commonly, abstract ones.
An interesting mechanic is when dealing with combat – if you beat down an enemy into submission, in many cases, they will be willing to talk with you. If you say the right things to them, they may lend you their power as a persona, who then will fight alongside you. In fact, you’re more rewarded by doing this, because if it doesn’t pan out, you can also demand items or money from your weakened enemies, before they retreat into darkness. If you’ve ever played UNDERTALE, you’re no-doubt familiar with the concept of taking the non-violent route out of combat, and the rewards it can yield.
Each enemy has their own unique personality, and they will ask you a series of changing questions – if you don’t answer in a way that they like, they simply won’t join you! Once you’ve fought this type of enemy a few times, you start to learn how they think, and ideally you’ll be able to charm them enough to get them to join you. But how wild is that? Every enemy having a specific personality that you need to cater your answers toward. It’s a seriously interesting mechanic and I find myself thinking deeply “what should I do here?” when it comes to combat, as opposed to just trying to destroy everything in my path.
The combat itself is fun, mostly standard JRPG fare (minus the persona angle), and that’s coming from someone who really doesn’t care for turn-based RPGs. Initially, the controls seem a bit convoluted to me, but I learned quickly how to fight properly, how to switch out my personas, and how to target weak points, and then it all moved a lot quicker. Navigating around dungeons is also a real treat, as sneaking up on bad guys and dodging around to get the upper hand in battle (much like Earthbound), and of course the music is super addicting. In fact, you get so used to hearing the combat music, that if a battle lasts past a certain part in the song, you start to get frantic, knowing, “uh oh, I never get this far in the battle theme – I might be in trouble!” It’s almost nerve-wracking how intertwined the music can become with your state of mind.
Some light spoilers and thoughts are below
At the time of this writing, I’ve spent 24 hours playing Persona 5, and the story has been gripping and captivating. One has to imagine, that if you are going to be changing the hearts and minds of powerful people, others are going to notice. Specifically, those in positions of power with something to hide, who have the time and the resources to go after *whatever* is responsible. If you’re in a position ruling over others, and you see people at your level going down, wouldn’t you be nervous too? There are flashbacks littered throughout the game that has you, the main character, in an interrogation room, being hammered with questions by a mysterious woman. When does this happen? Is it in the past or present?
It becomes quite obvious, particularly after the second palace, that there are many people in power who have taken an interest in finding out who is responsible for sudden “change of hearts”, and you realize that this isn’t just some “friends making bad people go away” story. Each step along the way brings the Phantom Thieves edging towards even more egregious abuses of power, and as those who abuse their power become aware of this, well, let’s just say I can tell that these highschool kids are going to get in over their heads. As of 24 hours in this game, about a quarter of the way through, you can tell that things are going to get bad for our heroes. And fast.
I’ll tell ya, as always, I can’t wait to see what happens next, in Persona 5! I simply can’t put it down, and when I’m forced to put it down for things like “sleeping” and “working”, the soundtrack bounces around my head. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my excitement over Persona 5, I plan to post occasional updates, but as not wanting to spoil anything, we’ll see how that pans out. Thanks for reading!