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Persona 5 follows a new transfer student to Tokyo. Unfortunately for him, this isn't a sunny trip to Inaba. A tragic event in his past left him with a criminal record and a bad reputation, and he was sent to live with a friend-of-a-friend in Tokyo to get a second chance. Soon after he arrives, a mysterious app on his phone gives him the ability to enter the hearts of those around him, especially those who are distorted or broken and corrupt the world. Taking on the codename Joker, the protagonist gathers a band of Phantom Thieves, and their goal is to break into the palaces of those corrupt individuals and force them to admit their crimes by stealing their most precious treasures. Behind the scenes, a greater danger awaits the Thieves .…
Persona 5's plot takes on some pretty nasty subject matter and handles it surprisingly well. The first target is such a genuinely loathsome and awful individual that it takes the game a while to catch up. The cast is strong and has some of the more likeable characters in the franchise. The worst I can say about it is that the plot is sometimes too predictable in spots, especially if you've played the previous Persona games. It relies on some of the same tricks to obfuscate twists, and if you've seen them once, you probably know what's coming. At the end of the day, it does a great job of creating an engaging and interesting world to explore.
The translation isn't up to the level of the last game. It's not bad, but some lines are clearly translated too literally. Oddly enough, this seems most prevalent in the early part of the game, which has some lines that use inappropriate grammar. Things smooth out as the game progresses, but it's pretty distracting and gives a weird first impression. Fortunately, the bulk of the lines is solidly translated, but it's surprising since so many bad moments were frontloaded.
Persona 5 follows the same basic structure as the last two Persona titles. You follow a calendar that is about a year long, and each day has activities to complete. The activities can range from exploring the dungeons to hanging out with people to build friendships or increase social stats. As with the older games, Persona 5 is about balancing your time. While you have to complete the dungeons to finish the game, you'll want to spend time in the real world, too. You need to level up your social stats to gain access to abilities and weapons that increase your combat skills.
A big part of this are your Confidants, who are basically the same as Social Links. Each one represents someone who assists the Phantom Thieves on their missions. Some of them are playable party members, but others are doctors, reporters, weapon merchants, or the kid who runs your local fan website. As in the previous games, level up your Confidants by spending time with them, and this gives you increased experience points when fusing new Persona. New to Persona 5 is that each Confidant also has their own exclusive bonus, which adds some interesting decisions to your social game. Do you want to spend time with the Sun link, who makes it easier to get rare items from negotiating with enemies, or the Death link, who sells better items as you spend more time with her? Some of these Confidant abilities are important, such as letting you swap party members in dungeons while others are minor but significant boosts.
It's a solid improvement over the Social Links from Persona 4. By adding more interesting mechanics to each character, you have more reason to decide who you want to hang out with besides whoever you like the best. It adds an extra layer of time management, which is pretty fun and encourages a lot of careful thought on how to spend your time. The only frustrating thing is that a lot of these links are heavily gated by social stats or plot, which means you can get frustrated when you hit hard barriers. This might sound like a balancing act, but if so, it's poorly designed. Some incredibly powerful links can be gained easily while some low-level ones take entirely too long. Time management should be an important element, but leveling up my gun shouldn't be five times harder than getting an accessory that gives me massive SP regen.
Perhaps the biggest change from Persona 4 in Persona 5 is the inclusion of designed dungeons. Every single Palace is a fully designed area, not a randomly generated dungeon, and I must stress how big of an improvement this is. Rather than the dungeons feeling the same, each area has a distinct feel. There are puzzles and gimmicks, and all areas are more carefully designed. You're actually going through a dungeon rather than endless floors, and it makes them feel exciting. Whether you're solving mysteries in an Egyptian pyramid or decoding puzzles in a corrupt banker's private vault, each stage has a solid thieving theme that stands out much better than in the two previous games.
A big part of what makes dungeons fun is the stealth mechanics. Stealth mechanics and JRPGs are not something you'd inherently think go hand-in-hand, but it turns out they feel perfectly natural together. The mechanics aren't too complex. All monsters in the Persona 5 dungeons are guards. If they see you, they'll run at you and attack, but this alsoraises the alert level of the dungeon, which has various and mostly negative effects. If the alert level is too high, you're kicked out of the dungeon, so you're encouraged to sneak up on enemies. Not only does this prevent the alert level from increasing, but it also lowers it when the enemy is defeated.
Persona 5's combat system is very similar to those in the previous games. It functions on the same "once more" combat system found in Persona 4. Attacking enemies with an element they are weak to knocks them down, and once all enemies are knocked down, they can be hit by a special All-Out Attack that does massive damage. However, the same applies in reverse, and your own characters are also vulnerable to elemental attacks. Be careless, and powerful enemies can gain multiple attacks in a row and wipe out your entire party. Each character has a distinct set of strengths and weaknesses, except for the protagonist, who can swap out his Persona at will.
There are some new combat twists. Hearkening back to older Persona titles, every character has a gun, which has limited ammunition and can only be used a certain number of times per dungeon — but multiple times in a single turn. Your protagonist's pistol can shoot and hit multiple enemies, while Ann's Uzi can be fired in a spray that hits multiple enemies. This makes them valuable for hitting enemies who are vulnerable to gun damage, so you have to carefully consider when and where to use it. You can also customize and upgrade guns to have special effects or attributes.
Guns also play into the new Hold Up mechanic. When you knock down all enemies, you don't have to instantly jump into an All-Out Attack. You can negotiate with the demons for items or money, or you can get them to join you as new Persona for the protagonist. This is basically a streamlined version of the Demon Negotiation mechanic from the main Shin Megami Tensei games. Demons have four personality traits, and making them happy is a matter of identifying their traits and making the right choices. Should you mess up, you can get extra chances with a party member's help. You could even choose to start your All-Out Attack mid-conversation, if you think it's going too poorly. It can feel annoyingly random at times, but it's by far the best implementation of the Demon Negotiation system to date.
There are other minor twists, such as the ability to unlock party-switching through a Confidant, but it's very familiar. The biggest changes smooth out the nagging flaws of the combat system and speed it up. For example, you now have a one-button weakness seeker that you can press to check if an enemy has a discovered weakness. If so, it instantly selects the correct attack to exploit that weakness, including swapping Joker to an appropriate Persona. It's a simple tweak that make the combat feel much smoother and fast-paced without actually changing much. The interface is also designed so everything is accessible in a single button press, which makes it nice and speedy.
Persona 5 isn't a particularly difficult game. Like most recent Shin Megami Tensei titles, though, it punishes you for mistakes. If you're consistently ambushing enemies and making use of your skills, then you'll often dominate them before they can act. Get lazy, select the wrong moves, or underestimate a foe, and you can die in one or two moves. Persona 5 keeps the game-over-on-protagonist-death mechanic from the previous games, which feels outdated since Shin Megami Tensei IV dumped it. It can be frustrating to lose a lot of progress to a lucky crit, but it's a familiar frustration to Persona fans. The hardest part of the game isn't finishing dungeons but doing them as quickly as possible, so you'll have more time to build up your social relationships.
In addition to the main dungeons, Persona 5 has a randomly generated dungeon similar to those seen in the previous games. Mementos is almost identical to Persona 3's Tartarus. It's a lengthy set of random dungeons, and your goal is to reach the lowest possible floor, with more floors opening as you advance. You explore Mementos inside of your friendly cat ally Morgana, who transforms into a bus that lets you drive along the subway tracks that comprise the dungeon. Otherwise, it's like a regular dungeon, except with more generic design and no stealth mechanics or gimmicks. The result is something that is both the low point of the game and not that bad. It's actually a solid improvement over the dungeons in Persona 3 and Persona 4, if only for being quick and snappy. Compared to the actual dungeons, though, it feels like a grind, emphasizing how good the dungeons are over the randomized ones in preceding titles.
Everything in Persona 5 looks amazing. It'sa master class in how strong art design can be much more distinctive than hyper-realistic graphics. The character models are stylish and well animated, the environments are colorful and distinctive, and the user interface is intuitive. Few games drip style as much as Persona 5 does. The animated cut scenes don't look as good as the stylish 3-D cut scenes, but they're by no means bad. If I had one complaint, some of the animations are a tad long and could be snappier, particularly the default battle-end animation. The soundtrack is top-notch, and while it has a few duds, most of the songs are incredible. A first for the franchise, Persona 5 also offers both English and Japanese voice acting. The English dub is quite good and only suffers from a few awkward lines and weird over-pronunciations of the Japanese names. The Japanese voice acting is excellent and a huge step up from Persona 4, so no matter which language you pick, you'll have a good experience.
It's been a long time coming, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Persona 5 is an improvement over the last two games in almost every way. There may be some arguments over which game has the best cast, but the mechanics, visuals and general style can't be denied. It fixes a lot of nagging flaws and adds a bunch of features that are so useful it's difficult to imagine ever playing without them. Some minor issues, including a sometimes-stiff translation and a low difficulty level, hurt the experience slightly but should only be considered minor flaws. If you're a fan of RPGs, you have to get Persona 5, which is easily one of the best games available on the PS4.
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