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Originally slated for release in 2014, Persona 5 has been a long time coming. While delays are nothing new to gamers, it can sometimes feel like the finished product didn’t benefit from the extra development time. In the case of Persona 5 however, Atlus have clearly used their time wisely and brought us one of the best JRPGs of this generation.
As with the previous two Persona games, Persona 5 starts with the protagonist travelling to their new residence for the year. Unlike Persona 4’s more welcoming tone however, the circumstances surrounding the main character’s move to Tokyo in P5 are much more unpleasant. Having been falsely accused of assault by a powerful politician, he is forced to stay with a relative who is less than happy with having to house a convicted criminal. This oppressive tone continues on into his school life, being branded an outcast by his peers with little sympathy from his school’s staff.
It’s safe to say that Persona 5 isn’t one to hold it’s punches, with the lengthy story covering many serious subjects from abuse to blackmail. That’s not to say earlier entries in the Persona series were particularity cheerful, but P5 feels more relatable in many ways in regard to the problems your party faces in their daily lives. Even when they eventually form a group called the Phantom Thieves to attempt to correct society’s wrongdoings, their motivations for doing so are well written and tie in well with the theme of the game.
While the writing is generally fantastic, there are a few moments (mostly near the start of the game) where the localisation stumbles a little. From grammatical error to voiced lines that don’t sound quite right. Again, most of these problems are non-existent further on in Persona 5, but it could give more attentive players a somewhat negative first impression. Thankfully, the voiceover choices for the cast are spot on, with only one or two minor characters having less than stellar voice acting.
Introduced early on in the story is the Metaverse, an alternate dimension similar to the TV world in Persona 4. Here you will be spending your time traversing different ‘Palaces’, areas created from the distorted desires of their hosts. P5 does away with the random dungeon layouts of Persona 3 and 4, opting instead to have more focussed areas with their own gimmicks and shortcuts. This does a lot to help with the repetition that could be felt when going though some of the longer, more repetitive dungeons in previous titles.
Being as you’re controlling a group of phantom thieves, the way you explore each palace has been built around this premise. Joker, the main character’s codename in the Metaverse, is much more agile than your typical RPG protagonist. He can climb around and jump large gaps, and dodge between cover to avoid the gaze of enemies. While the cover system can be finicky at times, darting from hiding spots to then catch an enemy from surprise feels exciting.
Combat in Persona 5 should be very familiar to fans of the series. Exploiting enemy weaknesses to get extra turns is as import as it ever was here, with a few new elements being thrown in for good measure. Borrowing from the main Shin Megami Tensei games, each character can now use a melee weapon and a gun. Guns have limited ammo per palace infiltration, but have much more varied properties compared to melee. While guns do seem a little underpowered until later in the game, they still add another layer of strategy to encounters.
Also making a return from the earliest Persona games and mainline Shin Megami Tensei is the negotiation mechanic. If you exploit the weaknesses of enemies, or deal enough damage to them, you have the change to negotiate instead of finishing them off. This can lead to gaining money or items, to even unlocking a new persona to choose from. The system is a little bare bones, with enemies only being sorted into four different categories to make dialogue choices easy, but it adds a little more personality to battles.
Overall, the Metaverse is a more interesting place to explore than Persona 3’s Tartarus or the TV World in Persona 4, thanks mostly to the structured palace layouts with their own set-pieces and visually varied themes. The only problem is that the difficulty drops off a little after the first dungeon as you find better equipment and accessories. This will likely cause you to clear through later palaces at a much quicker rate. This can be mitigated somewhat by increasing the difficulty level as you progress through the game, but fans of the series should blow through the game with little effort on normal difficulty.
Outside of the Metaverse you have quite a bit of variety when it comes to activities that you can do. From studying in the library to hanging out with your friends, you’ll rarely be left with nothing to do on any given day. As more ways to spend time become available as you progress through the game, you can sometimes get overwhelmed by the number of options. Thankfully it rarely feels that you’ve wasted time, no matter what activity you do, and overall P5 feels more generous with the time you’re given compared to P4.
The social link system has been reworked and renamed for Persona 5. Now your friends and acquaintances are referred to as confidants. As you spend time with people you meet, the rank that represents your bond with them increases. This can lead to unlocking new abilities in the real world and the metaverse. The confidants themselves are a varied bunch, from a shady doctor to the owner of a model gun store. Each one has their own interesting stories and benefits to gameplay, ensuring that it doesn’t feel like a chore trying to max out all your confidants.
As is likely easily noticeable from the screenshots in this review, Persona 5 is a stylish looking game. Following on from Catherine’s amazing art style, the 3D models look amazing in motion. The graphical polish is especially noticeable coming from Persona 4 Golden, which looks incredibly dated in comparison. The visual polish extends to the menus, which are far more visually interesting than anything usually seen in a JRPG, or videogame menus in general. The soundtrack is also stellar, with some of the best vocal tracks of the series.
Persona 5 refines what made previous entries in the series so great, while simultaneously reworking the weaker parts. This is the perfect entry point for those that are new to the Persona series or JRPGs in general, and another great game for fans of Atlus. Unlike the disappointing release of Final Fantasy XV, I can definitely say that Persona 5 was more than worth the wait.
Game Title: Persona 5
Release Date: 04.04.2017
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