Review: Persona 5
Title: Persona 5
Platform: PS3 and PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Atlus, P Studio
Publisher: Atlus, Atlus USA, Deep Silver
Release date: April 4, 2017
tl;dr: 106 hours of pure delight
Price: PS3: £40/$50 PS4: £55/$60
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I did a One Hour Tour of this game way, waaay back earlier this year, when I’d only played a handful of hours. And now, in August, I can finally say I’ve finished it, four months after this behemoth came out, because my final time clocking in at 106 hours definitely makes this one hell of a journey.
Now, I can safely say that, through all the delays, pushed back release dates, and mysterious trailers, that the 106 hour slog was worth it, and has given us, quite genuinely, one of the finest games of this console generation to date.
This isn’t just a JRPG. This isn’t just the dungeon crawler/dating sim mash up that we’ve been so used to since Persona 3 hit our screens back in 2006; this is Persona kicked into high gear. Persona 5 is almost everything I ever wanted out of a JRPG, and even if it fails to be totally satisfying, that’s still not enough to ruin my experience. In truth, I had lost a lot of faith in games, after more and more on my “Most Anticipated,” list fell flat, but Atlus has managed to convince me that hope is not lost.
I think my favourite thing about Persona 5 is that it hasn’t just given us a whole new game, but rather, it’s built from its foundations and gone all out. Everything down to the menu screens are intricately detailed, with Akira strutting about like he owns the place, decked out in black and red. Shibuya and the surrounding areas are replicated brick for brick, and you can interact with almost everything; I found out far too late that every single vending machine sells different drinks. And the dungeons. Oh god, the dungeons. The bane of Persona 3 and 4, which took far too long, where every floor looked the same, and god forbid an enemy one shotted you in the middle of it, because that’s an hour’s progress down the drain.
Gone are the bland, copy pasted floor of Tartarus – now every dungeon, or Palace, is exquisitely customised to its ruler’s twisted desires; seriously, I usually hate the dungeon running for these games, but they managed to keep it fresh and interesting to look at, even if some of them went on for far too long. Though I will be the first to admit that the OST fell a little flat to me – Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There was a great opening theme, but The Last Surprise really grates when Mass Destruction was my favourite for years, and I really don’t get the adoration for Rivers in the Desert, but it’s not terrible. Not outstanding, but not terrible; for me, it’s not one of the most memorable ones.
The visuals, on the other hand; they’re bold and eye catching, but the slightly dead eyed in game character models really let the aesthetics down. The sprites, environments, and anime cutscenes are polished to perfection and look wonderful, but to have really important scenes (that somehow aren’t important enough for the animation to be used) hampered by no lip sync, over the top gestures, and low quality facial expressions feel incredibly dated for the tech we have now. I know sprites generally tend to be more important for Persona scenes, but we’re not in 2008 anymore. Maybe it’s time to upgrade?
The characters, and by extension, voice acting, is absolutely phenomenal. Whilst I may dislike Morgana due to my annoyance with obvious mascot characters, there’s no voice I can point to and say I detested, or any one character I couldn’t stand, barring maybe Mishima, because not even Akira likes Mishima. My gripes with Akechi aside (which I’ll get into later), everyone is done extremely well, even though Haru could have been introduced much earlier, but all I can say to that is you clearly aren’t dedicated enough to best girl if you’re not frantically abusing the Fortune Confidant to get to that sweet, sweet romance, and Futaba is a great example of mental illnesses addressed pretty tactfully, helping her to overcome her problems with a support system.
There’s a great array of Confidants, replacing Social Links in the old games, and have several associated abilities the more you level them up, and as always, a handful of romance options. My only complaint about the romances, apart from there not being enough unique date opportunities aside from Christmas Eve and Valentines (and the same can go for the Phantom Thieves, too), is that we really could have used some LGBT options, because goddamit, it’s 2017 and I want to romance Ryuji. I know it’s a cultural difference, but it would be really nice to have it as an option, when every woman from the scarily young looking Futaba, to the late 20s Kawakami is dateable. And you can’t tell me dates with Yusuke wouldn’t be hilarious.
There’s so much to do in Persona 5, you legitimately can’t do it all in one playthrough, but the big concern is plot, and my god, is there a lot of it. Persona 5 was touted as a dark game from the start, with Akira being arrested by hordes of armed police in the opening cutscene, and being sent to live with Sojiro due to assaulting someone. It certainly touches on a lot of difficult subjects, up to and including sexual assault, blackmail, suicide, mental illness, and police corruption. It’s definitely not shying away from them, but it sometimes feels like Persona 5 can’t decide what story it wants to tell.
It leads in with the idea of someone causing mental shutdowns, and Phantom Thieves using the same powers to catch the adults who are corrupting society, with the ultimate goal of finding out who exactly is causing these psychotic breaks, and that’s a good plot. The trouble is, it tends to forget about Shido, and the ultimate bigger plot, until much, much later in the story. It almost feels like two separate stories, so the whole Shido plus traitor plot… doesn’t feel all that coherent. I personally think the game falls apart after the sixth palace, with the plot becoming far more complicated than it needs to be; I still can’t follow what exactly happened in that interrogation scene. Moreover, while I like Shido as a relatively non cartoonish villain, delving into politics rather than over the top delusions of grandeur, Akechi felt really poorly handled. He just shows up, acts suspicious, and we get his backstory crammed into an inner monologue; who is this guy, and why should I not take every dialogue option to taunt him because I really don’t trust him.
Oh, and the traitor’s identity? Laughably obvious. Like, Until Dawn laughably obvious. I shouldn’t be able to guess who the bad guy is in their introductory scene.
And yet despite playing with dark themes, Persona 5 seems reluctant to give its cast any consequences, or give their actions stakes. It starts off well, with Akira being arrested for stopping a woman being assaulted, and the problems with Kamoshida, and remember it again once Okumura’s Palace ends, but apart from that, the main cast are never in any physical danger, aside from the police coming for them. The series isn’t one that’s ever shied away from killing off characters – Persona 3 was a veritable bloodbath – and 5 presented us with proper narrative opportunities to do so.
Without spoiling it, there are three opportunities in the end game that could have given characters very strong, effective deaths that would have made the players cry. And then they bring them back literally three seconds after the dramatic “death,” scene, and the tone moves so fast it gives us whiplash. It completely ruins the moment, and it removes the very real danger the characters are in, because the power of plot and convenience will bring them back! I mean, I liked the characters, but c’mon. It was too good to waste!
Despite all this, however, Persona 5 is a solid game that’s a ton of fun – I recommend it for all. A rerelease (the current fan name being Persona 5: Crimson) could quite easily fix all these problems, much like the majority of complaints about Persona 3 and 4 were remedied with FES and The Golden. Because despite the game stumbling in its finale, none of this is a deal breaker, even with the slightly wobbly plot. Persona 5 is polished to perfection and well worth the wait, and will go down as one of the best in the series.
- Long play time that encourages New Game +
- Stellar characters and voice acting
- Attention to detail is phenomenal
- The story becomes incoherent in the final 20 hours or so
- Morgana is the most irritating mascot I’ve ever seen
- I can’t date Ryuji
Persona 5 is rated PEGI 16/ESRB Rating M for Mature; it deals with heavy themes, has a lot of violence, and a ton of swearing. Not for kids.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game purchased for for the purposes of this review.