The last mainline Persona game was released on PlayStation 2 in 2008 (2009 in Australia). Let that fact slosh around in your brain for a moment. This means almost ten years and two console generations have come and gone between Persona 4 and 5. Not only is that an obscenely long time to keep die hard fans waiting, it’s also more than enough time for remasters and word-of-mouth to work their magic, increasing awareness and bringing many more people into the fold. The seemingly endless delays are finally at an end, and Persona 5 has at last been unleashed on the world, but is it a sequel worthy of its pedigree, or does it arrive a generation too late?
Persona 5 is set in a fictionalised Tokyo, with the silent protagonist (hereunto referred to as Percy because typing out ‘silent protagonist’ every time is going to be a nightmare) having been transferred to Shujin Academy by his parents after he is wrongly accused of assault. Treated as an outsider and a criminal by his carer, teachers and fellow students, you have to prove to everyone that Percy is not a psychopath, all while keeping your grades up, making friends and fighting demonic forces in an alternate dimension.
This game has an unparalleled visual flair. The menus, the combat UI, the comic-book style cuts in conversations, everything is overflowing with style. Screenshots don’t quite do it justice either, the way Persona 5 transitions from combat back to running around a dungeon is fantastic, and probably the best post-battle ‘screen’ I’ve ever seen. The music is similarly pleasing with plenty of tracks that wiggle their way into your head and refuse to leave. The soundtracks of Persona games are always held in high regard, and 5 is no exception. It’s so important in games like these, where you’ll be fighting/talking/shopping a lot, to make it as interesting and engaging as possible for as long as possible. Persona 5 pulls this off, both visually and aurally, without breaking a sweat.
At its roots Persona 5 is a JRPG, you go up levels, increase stats, engage in turn-based combat and upgrade your weapons and armour. Then there are the far less common elements, like how the game follows a calendar, with each day being made up of smaller blocks of time e.g. (early morning, morning, lunch, after school, evening etc). Completing an activity like making food or hanging out with a friend will cause time to pass. Before you know it, exam week will creep up, and if you haven’t spent enough time studying, your grades will suffer. Certain shops and food outlets will have special deals or competitions running on specific dates, and of course you’ll have more time to upgrade your gear or improve your relationships on the weekend. It makes you consider the most efficient way to spend your time each day, which may sound a little too similar to reality, but it’s incredibly satisfying; at least in the world of Persona 5 you actually have a good chance of getting things done.
Percy has special stats like knowledge, charm and guts that are increased by engaging in self-improvement activities. Want to be more appealing to the opposite sex? Read a saucy book! Want to increase your guts? Have the gall to spend hours studying in the diner and only order a coffee! You’ll also need to invest in your confidants, who are specific people Percy can befriend that offer various benefits to you and your party. The better you get to know them the better these bonuses become.
The traditional JRPG dungeon-crawling takes place in the Metaverse, a dark reflection of the real world. If someone in our world is acting on dark desires, their shadow will form a ‘palace’ in the Metaverse, a building shaped by their suppressed perception of themselves. A teacher abusing his students, for example, will be a king in a castle full of tortured slaves. When Percy first travels to the Metaverse he meets his Persona, his true self that is awakened from within. Persona are magical beings that exist only in this alternate world, and are your main means of fighting shadows. As more friends from the real world join your gang, they too will unlock their inner selves, adding to your strength.
It cannot be overstated how much better the dungeons are over previous Persona games. Gone are the generic hallways and purple blob monsters. Each Palace in Persona 5 is a fully-realised, thematically pertinent reflection of the antagonist Percy and gang have targeted. Actually playing through them is far more interesting too, more often than not reaching a new floor will mean a complete reassessment of how to proceed. There are contextual obstacles like security lasers to overcome, other times you’ll have to steal a key off a specific enemy. Some simple platforming has been included, and while it rarely goes beyond ‘press x to climb here’ it does help keep things engaging.
For those who are familiar with the Persona formula, there are plenty of quality of life changes to look forward to. In dungeons, pressing square allows you to ‘auto-recover’ which basically gets everyone back to full health (at the cost of SP) without having to trawl through the menus. Travelling between levels of dungeons you’ve already visited is super simple, and the same goes for the different districts of Tokyo. Thankfully all of the loading screens are essentially invisible, meaning jumping from Shujin Academy to Shibuya for some shopping, then back home again won’t mean you’ll be twiddling your thumbs for minutes at a time. When it comes to organising your social life, the advent of smartphones makes things far easier. Your friends will text you asking to hang out, but if you have some errands to run first you can put the invitation on hold, returning to it later in the day. Conversely, if you start the day with the goal of increasing your relationship rank with Ryuji, and he slips you a text saying “Yo, let’s go train!” then you accept the invite and you’ll automatically be on your way. Gone are the days of having to seek out these individuals in the world, you can pretty much travel right to where they are.
The English dub is decent for the most part, the issues seem to arise from the localisation more than anything. The game is big so perhaps some mistakes are to be expected, but there are a startling number of instances of odd translations. These range from outright spelling errors, to more subtle problems with sentence structure. It’s not enough to ruin the story but when you hear one of the characters say out loud something like “Kamoshida is a scum”, it tends to stand out. I also noticed a certain tinniness to the voice recordings, most noticeable whenever a character speaks a word with an “s” sound. Again, it’s only a mild irritation, and after a while I stopped noticing it as much.
Persona 5 is a melting pot of genres, managing to mix in the vibes of superhero origin stories, teenage detective mysteries, Christopher Nolan’s Inception, High School soaps, and of course a huge dollop of Anime. There’s nothing else quite like it, a fact Persona 5 takes pride in. It bursts at the seams with style but brings the substance too. Living the double life of a teenager with secret powers, defeating evil, distorted adults in the Metaverse then dealing with all the highs and lows of High School is immensely enjoyable. It’s another life to jump into, the cosiness of its characters and world envelopes you almost without notice. That is until you look up and it’s 2 am (in reality) and you’ve spent several hours learning how to make coffee, investigating a maid delivery service, working at a beef bowl store or, you know, taking down the alternate self of a sexual predator.