The long-running Shin Megami Tensei series is back again, this time with Persona 5, which is the largest and most popular spin-off from the Shin Megami Tensei series. Persona 5 continues the long-running trend of revolving around an odd group of unlikely misfits who just happen to be very gifted high school students in more ways than meets the eye. Under normal circumstances, these students wouldn’t usually be compatible with each together but, as if by fate, they are brought together after awakening their ‘true selves’, and as they go about their daily routines of being high school students, they must fend off evil organizations and fight the inner demons deep inside themselves known as ‘Shadows’ so they can withdraw and awaken the power of the ‘Persona’.
This is by far the biggest and most ambitious Persona game to date, taking the good elements from all the previous games and combining them very cleverly, as well as adding new and fresh ideas to the table. Veterans of the Persona series will feel right at home straightaway. The game follows the same tried and tested formula of the most recent and beloved titles, Persona 3 and Persona 4. You take on the role of the silent protagonist nicknamed “Joker”, a Japanese high school student who’s been forced to transfer to Shujin Academy due to being placed on an unfair police probation for a terrible crime he was accused of but didn’t actually commit.
When it comes to story, it has always been the main focal point of the Persona series, and the storytelling in Persona 5 has now been taken to a whole new level. You are introduced to the game with a visually stunning cutscene that shows ‘Joker’ on what seems to be a casino heist, with help from his team of thieves giving him directions and support through radio contact. Everything seems to be going according to plan with the heist being pulled off smoothly until, suddenly, Joker is caught in a police ambush, seemingly set up by an unrevealed member of the team. He is detained, beaten and drugged by the police, who aim to get a full confession out of him for the crimes he has committed. While being held in custody, this is when ‘Joker’ gets to tell his side of the events leading up to his arrest, including how he became the leader of the infamous group of thieves known to the world for stealing the hearts of criminals and evil organizations. This is when you flashback to the very beginning of it all to tell the story of how you formed ‘The Phantom Thieves’ that claim to be fighting for freedom and justice, all for the purpose of giving the human race the courage to fight for themselves and stand up against evil.
Persona 5 focuses on a lot of real-life issues, such as sexual harassment, bullying and abuse, and it is very self-aware in the way it discusses the hardships of a 21st century modern day society. Whereas Persona 3’s focus was on death and Persona 4 focused on finding out your own identity and seeking the truth, Persona 5’s theme is all about freedom and breaking free from the chains of society, as well as finding the strength to overcome our doubts and feelings of uncertainty within ourselves. The game’s story teaches us the importance of standing up against our self-imposed restraints that hold us back so we can fight for what’s right and what we truly believe in. That’s the important lesson to be learned from playing Persona 5.
Persona 5 is a mixed bag of genres and gameplay elements. Primarily, it’s a role-playing game with a huge social-life simulation element, and this is all mixed with its huge focus on telling a unique story with deep, complex characters and addictive dungeon exploration combat. It’s a lot to take in all at once, but the combination works very well for the most part. However, the game will leave you frustrated at certain times due to the constant hand-holding and annoying restrictions whenever the game needs you to do certain things. Balancing your time and schedule evenly is the most important aspect in Persona 5; you will be playing the game over the course of a calendar year, which is how time passes by in the game. You will go to school Monday through Saturday and attend lessons throughout the school period, making sure to pay extra attention when midterm exams are taking place. It will be wise to study to increase your knowledge and achieve a high grade.
Outside of school life, you will have a huge variety of fun-filled activities to take part in, such as hanging out with your fellow students and the various interesting people you come across in Tokyo. Several activities include visiting new landmark locations and keeping yourself busy and entertained by going to movie theatres and arcades, dining out, working part time jobs and much more, all for the purpose of improving your social skills of Knowledge, Charm, Guts, Kindness and Proficiency. It can be quite daunting having to juggle your daily ordinary life with your secret second identity as a Phantom Thief who is tasked with training Personas in combat and stealing people’s hearts.
Persona 5 takes place in the heart of Tokyo, and while there are a few fictional places added into the game, you will actually be able to spend a lot of quality time at famous Japanese landmarks, such as Inokashira Park, Odaiba Seaside Park, and of course, Shibuya, which is most famous for its pedestrian crossing, and all these areas can be easily located through the brilliant Japanese subway train system. This all helps bring the game to life and made me feel like I was in Tokyo myself. This was a game world I really cared about, since I knew my actions would have consequences on this living, breathing world and its people.
Persona 5 is a game breathing with full confidence, and it shows through the stylish presentation of the game’s menus, user interface and gorgeous art style. Everything is very deliberate, and there is a purpose to it all. Due to the game’s theme that focuses on a group of supernatural Phantom Thieves, it does a good job with adding to certain details like colour scheme and subtle character animations. The sound and voice acting are all strong points, although the huge change to Master ‘Igor’ in the Velvet Room is very off-putting at first, but you soon get used to it, and all the other major characters have been cast very well. It’s the music that helps bring that extra tension and life to the game with a much stronger focus on bass, which helps give Persona 5 a more mature atmosphere compared to previous Persona games.
What is a Persona? Well, Personas and Shadows are supernatural manifestations of a person’s psyche. They all come in different shapes and sizes depending on that person’s mental state, and certain characters have the power to have their Personas fight alongside them. The more concrete the player character’s relationships are with his Confidants, the more powerful his created Personas will be. You, unlike other Persona users, have the rare ability to use and control multiple Personas at the same time. Gaining new Personas gives you that Pokemon feeling of wanting to catch them all. There are 2 main ways that you will encounter new Personas. When dealing with Shadows in combat, you will need to deal enough damage in order to get a chance at negotiating with them to strike a deal to work together. Later on in the game, you’ll be able to fuse multiple Personas together to create devastatingly rare and otherwise unobtainable abominations.
One of my favourite gameplay elements in the Persona series is the huge social aspect feature of the adventures. Persona 5 introduces an upgraded version of Social Links from Persona 3 and 4 now called Confidants. The Confidants feature involves you building deep and powerful relationships over time with friends and helpers around the city for various benefits that help you gain the upper hand inside dungeons, as well as other non-combat related bonuses. The other reason for spending a lot of time improving your ranking with your Confidants is that they tell very personal side stories that are just as interesting as the main story. There are 21 Confidants in total to discover, which is 21 extra side stories you get to uncover. All the Confidants are unique to each other and have their own personalities, so it’s very important to invest your time building relationships.
Exploring dungeons (or ‘Palaces’ in the case of Persona 5) is a major part of the game and has been vastly improved from what was on offer in Persona 4, which was heavily criticized for having randomly generated dungeons that were bland and repetitive. Each Palace has been designed cleverly to avoid these annoyances, and the game features special-themed Palaces with various elements of platforming, stealth, puzzles and traps that have never been seen before in a Persona game. Palaces are story-based and will help move the plot along, and each one will have to be completed within a certain deadline, otherwise it’s game over. Therefore, it’s important to use your time wisely. You also have a completely different side story-based dungeon called ‘Mementos’. This is a great place for your team to get stronger, as well as collect Personas that you may have missed out on earlier. There’s also the Phantom Aficionado Website that will give you special targets so you can track them down and steal the hearts of lesser evil people in Tokyo.
The traditional turn-based combat makes a return, and you will participate in very strategic battles, so it’s important to use everything to your advantage. You can use your melee weapons and guns to cause light damage, but the general aim is to find an enemy’s weakness using your various Persona abilities, like adding elemental damage to melee strikes and gunshots, to exploit a Shadow as soon as possible, which will result in you knocking them down and rendering them defenseless, giving you an extra turn. If you manage to knock down all remaining enemies, you will engage the targets in what’s called a ‘Hold Up,’ giving you the opportunity to unleash hell with a special and powerful all-out attack where all team members attack at the same time, dealing massive damage to the targeted enemies, and most of the time it’s enough to bring an end to the battle. The other option when in Hold Up mode is to negotiate with the Shadow, which lets you interact with your foe in order to gain them as a Persona or acquire an item or money. However, make sure not to take it too easy on the enemies, as they have the same powers and can easily wipe your team out in one concentrated swoop. Make extra certain to protect ‘Joker’ at all times, because if he falls in battle, it’s an instant game over.
Persona 5 doesn’t do many things wrong, but unfortunately, there are some very frustrating moments, and although they make sense to a veteran of the series, they’re still huge annoyances at times. The pacing and hand-holding early on can be painful at times, and admittedly, there is a lot of stuff to learn, especially for newcomers, but it shouldn’t take more than 10 hours for you to finally feel like you have total control over the game’s features. When you do get total control and the game’s plot starts progressing, you will occasionally come across moments when your options again become restricted to certain actions and you’re forced to do certain things against your will. For a game that’s heavily focused on the theme of freedom, it’s a shame the game doesn’t always offer it to the player at times.
Publisher: Altus, Deep Silver
Platforms: PS3, PS4
Release Date: 4th April 2017