Persona 5 is here and it’s fun as hell.
After years in development and the delays, Persona 5 finally came out last week. Despite the problematic PR issues regarding streaming and sharing the game via YouTube and Twitch, Persona 5 is a fantastic addition to the series, keeping the traditional elements of the previous Persona series while providing a modern spin to the game.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the Persona series often follows a group of teenagers who spend a year together and unlock the powers of their Persona, a manifestation of their alternate psyche/identity, and use these Personas to defeat dark entities called Shadows that exist in depths of corrupted human souls. The series tends to blend societal issues with deeply rooted philosophical questions in its narrative. What makes the series unique as well is the blending of traditional, turn-based combat with a dating sim style gameplay complimenting the RPG elements. Outside of dungeon crawling, the player lives everyday life, going to school, studying, hanging out with friends, and doing various activities such as clubs, part-time jobs, and other interesting everyday things. Persona 5 continues this mechanic, following the protagonist, as he lives under probation after being wrongfully committed a crime and lives out his year with other social outcasts. Their Persona’s reflect their rebellious spirit and use them to change the hearts of evil individuals, calling themselves “The Phantom Thieves”.
The gameplay for Persona 5 is surprisingly enjoyable, despite it following traditional turn based combat, which has lately been seen as a dated mechanic for more contemporary RPG enthusiasts, as many developers have been adopting a more action RPG oriented combat system (i.e. Final Fantasy XV, The Witcher 3). Atlus ditched the fully drawn anime backgrounds and adopted cell shaded models for the “Real World” elements of the game, rendering all the landscapes instead of relying drawn backgrounds. Character models are now used extensively both inside the Metaverse, which is this game’s Shadow infested world, and the regular over world. The game’s map is not huge, but the very typical quick travel features still exist, allowing players to quickly travel between zones to get their daily activities out of the way in the over world, while allowing them to travel between save zones inside the Metaverse. Despite it’s small map size, Persona 5’s rendition of Shibuya and the neighboring towns is quite immersive, giving players the sense that they are also experiencing every day life with the main character, while the Palaces encountered in the Metaverse tell the story of the evil heart that inhabits the particular palace. The game does a particularly fantastic job at telling its story not just with the main cast, but also through the environment that the cast exists in. Random NPCs will gossip about the current plot points while the dungeons give insight into the twisted or demented mind of the individual that the Phantom Thieves must stop. As narrative is an integral piece for the Persona series, it is good to see that Atlus kept its storytelling formula while making the necessary changes to keep the game fresh and relevant to today’s gaming standards. Quick saving is not an option, of course, so the game can prove to be quite the challenge, especially considering that dungeon crawling could mean death if players aren’t careful with their party and persona line up. This added challenge definitely brings back the nostalgic feeling of difficulty found on more traditional RPG titles.
The great story telling experienced is at times interrupted by its confusing American voice acting. Although the voice actors themselves do an often solid performance to present the story, often times we’re met with translation mix up and inconsistencies with pronunciation that result in a confusing audio narrative story telling experience. Furthermore, controls seem to be somewhat lackluster in Persona 5, mainly in the area involving this game’s implementation of stealth. Similar to Final Fantasy XV’s jumping/interact problem, Persona 5 players will experience instances where instead of attacking an enemy while stealthed, they will inadvertently either move to another hiding spot, or leave stealth making them completely vulnerable to their target. Of course these mechanical issues with the title are marred by the increasingly problematic issues that Atlus has imposed onto the community at large, with its seemingly unreasonable restrictions to its content creation. Although Atlus has been responsive to certain issues mechanically to their new addition to the Persona series, they have been quiet about the fan criticisms regarding restricting YouTubers and Twitch streamers from sharing their game.
Despite the issues, Persona 5 maintains the solid experience of blending a traditional RPG experience with an entertaining and, at times, thought provoking story telling experience. The darker themes used in this series provides meaningful philosophical questions about identity and purpose while also providing an interesting social commentary on many perceived issues that plague contemporary Japanese society. The gameplay is reminiscent, yet refreshing, and the music is fantastic as usual. Regardless of Atlus’ controversial decisions, Persona 5 is an excellent RPG experience and a fantastic leap into contemporary RPG gaming.