Format: PS4 (version tested), PS3
Publisher: Deep Sliver
Release date: 4th April 2017
A few hours into Persona 5 and it becomes clear that not a lot has changed since Persona 4, which also had a very similar template to Persona 3, but then there’s not a lot of freedom to change a formula in a game that takes place throughout an academic year. Even thematically there isn’t a lot of dissimilarities; a new kid in school trying to find a place in an unfamiliar environment and making acquaintances with people with similar problems, will all bring a surge of nostalgia to those familiar with the series. However, the few tweaks that have been made certainly improve the already solid structure and brings individuality Persona 5.
The most notable improvement is in the dungeons (labelled Palaces). Gone are the drab and featureless corridors of Persona 4, the Palaces are more detailed and more elaborate in this iteration and they even contain some simple puzzles to solve which are never overly taxing, and solving them usually requires that you just explore every area on offer, but it’s certainly a welcome change from the monotony of simply finding the next set of stairs which it was previously. Combat has been redefined considerably, and while recent JRPGs have been trying to reinvent the wheel, Persona 5 improves the already proven turn based method and has created one of the most diverse and satisfying combat systems of recent memory.Exploiting an enemy’s elemental weakness allows a second attack from that character, and downing all enemies allows an all-out attack where all the characters in the party charge forth and deal a considerable amount of damage, resulting in battles with standard enemies ending quickly without them even getting an attack back. After downing all the enemies, there is also an option to enter a negotiation with them instead of going in for the kill. To succeed a negotiation, you need to answer correctly to the questions the foes ask, which will either net you money, items or to have them fight on your side as a persona which comes with a price respectively; experience and money earned is significantly less than if you defeated them. Fail to negotiate, and the tide of battle turn in their favour and, particularly on the harder difficulty settings, will see most of your party obliterated before you can even recuperate. It’s a fantastic addition to the combat system and portrays perfectly the eccentric and humorous nature of the game. Guns are also introduced in Persona 5 which can be fired multiple times per turn and the type of gun is exclusive to the character, ammo is limited however, and your supply is only restored after you’ve withdrew from the Palace so cautious use is recommended.
Persona 5 casts the protagonist as a leader of a group called The Phantom Thieves, which is comprised of a group of high school students with some aspects in common; they all are mourning a loss of a parent and are trying to find their place in society; a Japanese girl whose parents are constantly travelling, an ex track runner who had been cast out of the team for standing up against their abusive coach, a school president that’s closer to her superiors than her fellow classmates and yourself as the protagonist who has been wrongly accused of an assault charge and is now spending a year on probation under the care of a coffee and curry café owner, to name but a few. The purpose of The Phantom Thieves is to steal the hearts of the ones with distorted desires by traversing into the meta-verse; an alternate reality that portrays the wrongdoer’s Palace in a dark and twisted theme. Infiltrating and stealing a treasure that is representative of the culprits most prised desire makes them have a change of heart in the real world and confess publicly their sins. Where Persona 4’s theme was about battling inner demons, Persona 5 takes a more rebellious nature. The further you progress through a palace, the more you start to see the perverse and dark thoughts of the person in question, and it’s in these Palaces where Persona 5’s absolutely artistic and stylistic design gleams. A new cover system is introduced in this game, and it’s also a vital element for a successful infiltration. It’s very forgiving, where enemies are oblivious despite being adjacent to you, but it’s a critical feature that lets you ambush enemies and get the first attacks which is crucial to dispatching your enemies before they get to retaliate. Snapping between cover is seamless as your traverse across the area and observe the enemies patrol routes. The general move mechanic is generally quite awkward though, with the only options being either a fast-paced walk or a sprint. It resembles the same clunky controls that was experienced in Catherine. Graphically this game is nothing particularly special, partly since it was designed to run on a console of the last generation, but the games’ style and soundtrack does more than enough to compensate for that fact. Persona 5 absolutely radiates style and everything from the menu systems to the world in which the protagonist inhabits is so intricately designed and unique. Shoji Meguro is back at the helm for the soundtrack (who had previously worked on the other Personas, Catherine and numerous other Atlus developed games) with subjectively one of his best montages yet. There’s not a single ineffective track on it, and never has a soundtrack enhanced the concept on-screen as much as this.
As much as the dungeon crawling has been vastly improved, it’s the time spent away from the meta-verse, during the quieter moments of the game that it really shows the games’ strength. As ever, time management is important, and making sure you make the most of your time to get the most potential possible out of your character is key. Choosing to take the time to spend with friends increases their confidant ranks which has multiple positive outcomes such as being more effective in battle and in growing character development. Choosing to do activities such as reading and getting employed increases your skills which broadens your options on other activities to undertake and earn you money. The Palaces, once concluded, are inaccessible meaning you can’t go back and earn experience points. However, there is a different type of meta-verse that’s available to roam at your leisure called Mementos. Mementos is a cognitive alternate reality of the public and is procedural generated so no two visits are the same, and the difficulty changes depending on the mood of the public which is effected by the weather and seasons. For example, if it’s raining or you’re in flu season the enemies will be slightly tougher but there will be more opportunities to discover rare personas and the number of treasure chests is increased. Entering Palaces or Mementos takes up all the time of that day so its recommended that you proceed and explore as much as possible before returning to the real world. Narratively Persona 5 is well constructed. During the 120 hour play-through the game never failed to bring forth some great and unexpected twists. The ending however seemed to be overly drawn out and the game felt the need to over iterate key moments which became increasingly more frustrating.
At first glance, the only significant changes from its previous iterations would seem to be a change in colour palette and a mild graphical improvement. However, after a few hours of game-play and after the initial tutorial stages have been completed it becomes apparent that this game has a lot of distinctiveness from its previous instalments. Persona 5 is unique and is a grand new entry for the Persona series, as stylistic as it is experimental it raises the bar for JRPGs by using an old style turn based mechanic and tweaking it and making it relevant in today’s standards. Persona 5’s graphical capabilities and character controls may have been compromised to cater for last gens’ PS3 but the soundtrack and artistic brilliance does more than enough to make up for it. This game emanates style in every frame and remains fresh throughout most of the Persona 5’s long yet gripping narrative.
Final Verdict – 9.3