Persona 5 Review- One of the Best RPGs Ever
Persona 5, developed by ATLUS, is not only the best JRPG in recent years but one of the best RPGs ever. While there is a huge demand for JRPGs to be localized and released in the western market, many times the quality or content matter of the game does not appeal to western audiences, making them not worthwhile to do a western release. In this article, I would like to explain why Persona 5 is a modern day classic, that lives up to games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 6.
The Persona series started off a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. The first game Revelations: Persona came out for the PlayStation in 1996. There was an 8-year gap between the release of the highly acclaimed Persona 4 and the most recent Persona 5. There was a lot of hype and expectations for Persona 5, which it was able to meet, with reviews on par or better than Persona 4. If you haven't played a Persona game, or JRPGs in general, is Persona 5 still worth playing?
Without a doubt, I would say yes, and I'll outline the mechanics that make this game stand out from the rest.
1. Monster (Persona) collecting mechanic. Similar to games like Pokemon there are many games that incorporate capturing, training, or combining monsters/familiars to fight alongside your team. In Persona 5, your party can contain up to 4 party members, one of which has to be the main character. Each character has a unique Persona that gives them access to different attacks and spells. The main character you control, Joker, has the special ability to harness and switch between multiple Personas. Each persona has its own strengths and weaknesses, which you have to consider when in battle. You can level up Personas the traditional way, by equipping and using that Persona in battle, or you can choose to create new personas that begin at higher levels. This mechanic is extremely deep and when I finished the game I only completed about 50% of the Persona library. When creating Personas, the new ones have the ability to inherit skills from the original two so a lot of thought can go into which skills you plan to inherit. At first, I thought that the 8 skill slots were too restricting, as you have to erase other skills if you have more than the eight you can hold. However, you do have an option to relearn forgotten skills and I feel these choices ultimately help cater to your play style. For example, you can plan to utilize a Persona mainly for support spells while forgoing attack, or the other way around.
2. Character development - The game also excels in creating a large cast of characters who get their own story arcs and optional story development. As you spend time with characters or as a result of progress in the story, your bond with these characters, called "confidants", will grow to unlock special ability used in or out of battle. I loved the period between deadlines as you get to know each character, which would often reward you as much as, if not more, than spending the time grinding experience or money. There were times where you can't progress increasing your bond with a character until you attain higher levels of certain social stats. The five social stats, which can be increased by a variety of different methods, ranging from a part-time job to studying library, include Knowledge, Guts, Charm, Proficiency, and Kindness. Not only does increasing the bonds with confidants give you special abilities in battle, but you will also help them through a personal conflict and also get access to an ultimate persona once you reach the max level bond. This gives you the feeling that everything you do in the game makes you stronger in combat.
3. Dialogue - There are 3 types of scenes in the game. The majority of the game will use text boxes with the characters face next to it so you know who is clearly talking. This is similar to many JRPGs that feel like visual novels, with a portrait popping up to show who is talking. The game recycles many of the facial animations and I can see some scenes dragging on if the story wasn't as engaging as it was. The more important story focused scenes incorporate full voice acting, which is one of the game's strongest features. Each character's voice is perfectly cast and keeps the tone of the game serious. During the game's dialogue and exposition, the game gives you choices on how to respond to your teammates, similar to a game like Mass Effect. While you only get 2 or 3 choices, and these choices rarely affect the course of the game, but just reading the options had me laughing out loud, and characters would respond differently to your choice. Some of these choices do impact the game, as responding in certain ways will impact the growth of your bond between characters, and a couple choices can lead to alternate endings. Once in a while, about once per palace, you will be treated to a cutscene that is fully voiced and have extra effects. While these are rare, I would have loved it to have seen more.
4. Romance - There is a large sub-genre of games in Japan that revolve around romance visual novels or romance games. In Persona 5, this had to be the feature I liked the least but it doesn't get in the way of the story. While I liked most of the female characters, it feels a bit sleazy when the protagonist is hitting on all the girls knowing that the world is in danger. You can romance every female character, despite their drastically different personalities, and even one who is a girl just out of middle school. While its possible to romance all the girls at the same time, it's actually pretty difficult in this game as you need to max out the bond with that character before the end of the game. In my playthrough, I only got the option of romancing two (out of 8) characters, since I took the approach of leveling up my bonds equally. The game gives you the option of giving gifts to your friends, or girlfriend, but doesn't go as far as having a romantic or sexual scene common in other games. The gift-giving system increases your bond with specific characters if you can give them the gift that matches their personality. Once you realize that time is a precious commodity in the game, you start looking for ways to be more efficient growing your bonds with your confidants and increasing your social stats. Other than one minor scene, having a girlfriend or building bonds with your characters do not affect how the main story plays out.
5. Gameplay, length and difficulty - After being disappointed with the Final Fantasy series after FF12, I was thinking that turn-based RPGs would become something of the past. Persona keeps the traditional turn-based formula while adding so many new mechanics that make it feel new. Not only using Personas with different strengths and weaknesses but also incorporating the new "hold up" and "one more" mechanic. Battles are not random and a preemptive attack can be engaged by sneaking up on an enemy or using cover. When encountering a new persona all their affinities are unknown and you have to use each weapon and spell type to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. This is crucial because enemies can absorb, reflect or reduce the damage of elements they are strong against. At the same time, most enemies have at least one element they are weak to, and attacking them with it will cause more damage and stun them causing them to be knocked down. Causing critical hits will also knock enemies down, and after you put them in this downed state your character will get to attack 1 extra time.
You can then learn a skill early on for each character to perform a "baton pass" which allows you to transfer this extra turn to another member of your party. This will be utilized often to switch between different magic spells to focus fire on one enemy or put all the other enemies also in this same downed state. Knocked down enemies will recover and attack immediately when it is their turn, but if you successfully knock down all the enemies, you will have the opportunity to perform a "hold-up". During this, you have the option to either perform a heavy attack with all your character or talk to the Persona in an attempt to recruit or gain money/items from them.
The combat is fun and I enjoyed playing the game on hard difficulty where I had to farm for the best gear and utilize support spells to survive. Enemies can also use your weaknesses to knock you down to attack again themselves. In hard difficulty being ambushed by an enemy and not getting the preemptive attack can lead to a quick game over. I played the game on Hard difficulty for the entire game, except for the last battle. There were many times where I thought I was facing the final boss, so I used up my strongest recovery items. There is also a point in the game where you can no longer go back to town and buy gear or recovery items. Luckily the game does not penalize you for changing difficulty and can be done anytime in the game. Instead of grinding another 10+ hours hoping it would get my base stats higher, I decided to turn down the difficulty to normal which made it a lot easier at my level. I spent more than 130 hours on the game, not counting the times I had to re-start. This is the longest single player game I remember playing for a single playthrough. The game still has much more replay value on a second playthrough, maxing out social stats, maxing out the bonds with your confidants, and collecting the personas. Do to the length of the game, some may find the second act of the game, to be a little slow, but with so much to do and always feeling pressured for time, I felt the game was well paced.
6. Art Style & Music - The visual style of the game is unique and feels like you are reading a manga or comic book with words or portraits popping out of the screen. The game also incorporates anime cutscenes that are beautifully drawn and look more like a traditional anime than the manga inspiration of the rest of the game. With the mature rating, the tone of the game feels more dark, with grotesque monsters representing the twisted, evil, corrupted minds of the people you are battling.
It may not be as dark as other games in the franchise, and some cliche anime gags and the dialogue tend to keep the tone more lighthearted. The soundtrack is also another highlight of the game. The music emphasizes the mysterious or somber segments in the game one minute, while the next minute getting you pumped up for the a dynamic boss fight. The soundtrack fits with the brightly colored, manga style of the game perfectly, and is one of the most memorable soundtracks in recent games.
While many review sites have called Persona 5 one of the best JRPGs in recent years, I feel that it deserves even better. I think Persona 5 is one of the best games ever and is a modern day masterpiece. It's a mix of traditional and new gameplay mechanics that are presented in a stylish way, that is accessible to old and new players.
I hope you all enjoyed this review. Please leave a comment to let me know what you thought of the game, or another great RPG I can sink my teeth into next.