I am a real sucker for JRPGs, I loved Final Fantasy XV, I adore the Kingdom Hearts series, and let us not forget those little jewels like Nioh, Tales series, and my second favorite JRPG now, Ni No Kuni. Saying that, I have never played a Persona game before, so I was jumping into a series I had not clue how and why it worked the way it did. I only heard good things about it so I was not worried about it not living up to its hype, I was more concerned about how well I will find my way around the game given I had not played any entry prior to Persona 5.
Persona 5 is one of the greatest RPGs I have ever played, and I was completely astonished about just how addictive, and how simply perfect it was in every way. The amount of polish there is in the game is uncomprehending, and the sheer amount of detail the team at Atlus has put into the game cannot be put into words. It puts so much to shame, and everyone needs to play this game.
Persona 5 demands hours of your attention, and there is no pick up and play aspect to the game here. You either give up a couple of hours every time you play it, or you will get nowhere. Even the introduction to the game and tutorial phase felt like it never ended as the deeper you dive into the game's mechanics, the more there is to learn. Persona 5 starts off with a rather stylish chase through a Tokyo casino, as Joker, the game's main antagonist, is fleeing from security after stealing something which seemed to be quite heavily protected. Upon being caught, he now recalls the events leading up to his so-called "biggest heist to date", and hence the game begins as we explore the past of Joker and his squad of infamous thieves.
School is actually cool
Persona 5 follows the story of a group high school teenagers as they discover a way to enter a person's desires and steal their hearts. You see if someone's desires are very strong, then build a physiological palace around them, twisted to their will, and teeming with shadows that represent their dark and twisted dreams. These teenagers form a group called the Phantom Thieves, and will do everything in their power to stop these people from hurting innocent lives, and totally walk away with the fame of doing so. Every palace in the game follows a specific look and art style, and every new "target" the teenagers meet has some twisted reason why they have a palace in the first place.
From an art teacher who uses his students to create art and take credit for it, to a gym teacher who was sexually abusing his female students. Every new target and chapter in the game expand the scope of Persona 5, and I could not wait to hurry up and steal the heart I was on, just to see who my next target was. This, however, takes a long time. The first target and introduction to the game took well over 10 hours to get through before I wrapped it up and was able to discover the second one. I am not complaining at all, as the game makes sure there is never a tedious moment. While I was not exploring the palace, I was doing daily activities in the city like working at a job I applied for, shopping for new weapons, or even just building up my relationships with my companions, which then further enhanced my abilities across various gameplay mechanics.
The game has an interesting "real world" mechanic to it that sees you completing different things to level up aspects of your character. Eating an entire burger at a fast food place levels up your guts, while studying at the library after school boosts your knowledge. All these stats compliment certain aspects of the game to a degree. You cannot be rude to an NPC in a conversation without the right level of guts, and you cannot apply for a certain job without the set stat in knowledge. Saying that however, there are only a handful of hours in the day, and while you are not infiltrating a palace, you have to make use of them very wisely and decide exactly the route you want to go for the day. Every new heist has a deadline, which means you cannot sit and eat burgers for three weeks, rather you have to time everything you do to make sure you get the heist done.
All these activities complement your character stat and just how well you will do in the palace. If you need lockpicks to unlock specific chests in the area, then you best make sure you have an afternoon in the real world to sit and make them. If you decide to make them the day before your deadline, then you will fail that heist and be forced to rewind the game's time a week prior to now. In one specific moment, I messed around a little too much and went to build on my relationships without realizing that I had to complete my infiltration by the next day. Spending time with a specific party member also exhausts the time for that day. This then forced me to load a save from a few days before, and retrace my steps. It is a genius system, one which makes the game feel so manageable, and at the same time realistic. I suppose that every playthrough of the game would be different too, as you would change your focus every time to see how relationships develop.
The game puts you in control of both scenarios. You have to manage school and all the high school drama that comes with it, while at the same time heading into the palace to sort out a man's twisted desires, all while keeping your social life intact and improving the popularity of your Phantom Thieves name. There were many times when I felt that the game was scripted to a point where I wanted a little more freedom. Days went by in-game that left me wanting to do so much more, but the story took over and automatically passed the time. Later on in the game, however, this changes and it opens up so much more, giving you more freedom to manage your time.
An RPG would be nothing without a decent battle system, and Persona 5 system has all the personality and style packed into it too. Personas are creatures that you fight throughout the game, and you can also catch them and train them like Pokemon. The only difference here is that instead of them battling for you, you harness their power to help you attack. Each Persona has a set amount of skills and abilities, and they all have certain weaknesses and strengths. The further I got in the game, the more interesting these Personas got, and the more abilities they had after I "caught" them. When I say you catch them, you actually sweet talk them into handing their mask to over to you, which in theory is like a Poke Ball. In battle, if you knock them down, you can chat them up, and respond to them in various ways which will "grant you their power". Joker is the only character that can wield more than one Persona, and switch them on the fly in battle, changing his attacks and abilities. The other characters just have their one, but it works well as you can build Joker's army of Personas around those you already have to fight with.
Personas are then merged together using a special splice feature, to create stronger versions. Each Persona has a specific class they are filed into, and these classes compliment a companion. The higher your companion, which is your relationship with a person, the stronger a Persona will come out after you create them. It is a great system that saw me spend countless hours mixing up Personas to see how epic the ones I could create would be. It also changed the way I approached the battle if I came into contact with a Persona I did not have.
Apart from catching Personas, the turn-based combat system works great with the game's style. A battle can either be over very quickly or take its time if you are not willing to sacrifice the SP to use your magic and skills. It is a gamble as SP is rare, and items to refill your SP are even rarer. Going into a battle and using fire attacks against enemies weak to fire would knock them down, leaving them all open for a stylish finisher move, but this comes at the risk of using all your SP and having to probably leave the palace to go brew more in the coffee shop. It further proved to me that nothing in Persona came without a cost or sacrifice.
Through my entire 100-hour adventure with Persona 5, I was drawn into the beautiful world and lives of those I lived. It immediately pulled me into the dark and twisted worlds, and I never wanted to leave it. The cutscenes are all voiced, with gorgeous anime clips that play every now and then, which opened up moments to just put my controller down and enjoy the story. Being a student was so much fun, but being an infamous thief and living a double life was even better. I could not fault Persona 5 on anything. It is one of the most polished and superb RPGs ever created, and I kicked myself for only playing my first game now.
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