Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series have long been known for their niche take on the JRPG genre with games such as Devil Survivor and Nocturne to name a few. Persona is their paragon IP, the name alone has become quite synonymous to being a “true old school JRPG” that continues to push turn based battle mechanics and dungeon crawling. After years of waiting, the latest entry of the Persona series has finally hit the PS4. It’s an outstanding piece of art that also happens to be a video game surrounded by poor pacing and editing.
Just like its predecessor, Persona 5 is half school simulation and half dungeon crawler. You take the role of a Japanese student who has been sent away to another part of Japan and forced to live with a guardian due to a criminal record. What is the crime he committed you ask? He saved a girl from getting raped on the street, but the asshole he accidentally shoved out of the way ended up suing him. The push didn’t even look intentional. But don’t let that fact distract you as everyone you meet within the first two hours of the game constantly bashes you because you have ‘a criminal record.’ It’s almost like saying I don’t know how to drive because I got a parking ticket once. It was infuriating but I went with it, I suppose the game wanted me dislike these characters on purpose. The first real partner you meet is another ‘delinquent’ who goes by the name of Ryuji, he’s the first character I got to connect with and feel a genuine attachment. Mainly because he doesn’t come off as a jerk.
Unlike previous Personas where you start off as a normal student, Persona 5 starts off six months later where you are caught stealing something. Sae, a prospector begins integrating you about the events that lead to that moment. She says “how did I manage to steal the heart? Or soul?” Either way it sounded a bit confusing at first.
When going back and forth you will occasionally stumble into another dimension where most of the Personas exist. In this dimension you basically inherit the ability to summon a character that represents the ‘inner-you’.
Anyone familiar with Pokémon may notice a similarity as these creatures ends up helping you in battle. These battles are your typical turn based JRPG formula with the ability to attack using a melee object, a projectile such as a gun, or a Persona’s ability. Abilities of course are elemental and knowing the weakness of the persona you’re fighting helps push the battles in your favor. You can also further improve your battles by sneaking up on your enemies. Before entering a battle you have the choice of sneaking up and getting the upper hand in a battle. If you do however get spotted you will need to be cautious as a meter builds up. Once the meter is full you will be kicked out the dungeon or Palace in the case of Persona 5.
Eventually you’ll be able to capture a Persona and use them in battle. This is sort of a great new addition that again, helps give the game a more familiar Pokémon feel to it that should make non-JRPG veterans blend in easier. Another welcome addition in Persona 5 are Palaces with variety. Previously you would have to keep gridning away the same dungeon floor after floor but here we’re give new locations and different layouts for each one. In short it doesn’t come off feeling random or repetitive.
From a visual point of view, Persona 5 is kind of a mixed bag. Yes, there’s no denying the amount of style and effort went into making the GUI is astounding, but when it comes to in-game animations they tend to come off feeling stiff. A lot of the idle animations tend to feel recycled and instead the game wants you to pay attention to the animated 2D sprites during conversations. There are also a lot of small areas separated by loading screens. I don’t particularly find these issues troubling but for a major JRPG game in 2017 it does come off feeling dated. It’s worth pointing out that there are some genuinely good cutscenes here some of which use motion capture with great facial animations but the majority of the game relies on the simple sprite dialogue system.
Choices and social activities mean a lot in the Persona series and with 5 it’s no different. It’s not just making the right choice but the choice that will ultimately benefit you in the long run. Throughout the game you will constantly meet characters and end up forming bonds and relationships with them. These bonds eventually grow and will help out in battles. Make no mistake, this game’s social aspect is as important if not more than the Palaces.
And this is sort of where the game tends to falter through my eyes. Persona 5 is a very very long game. I’m not even talking Skyrim long where you can just roam and fuck around, for the most part this is a very linear experience where you will spend most of the time reading dialogue. In many ways it’s basically a visual novel. I don’t typically have a problem with narratives especially if it’s as intriguing as Persona’s but the game does a poor job in setting up pacing. To give you an example, I didn’t get to battle until I was 4 hours into the game and after that it took me another 4 until I was done with tutorials. The game’s first Palace didn’t get completed until 14 hours later. And I wish I could tell you the reason was because I spent most of exploring or finding hidden secrets. No, it’s because the game’s dialogue and ramblings keep going and going to the point that it’s exhausting. How many times do I have to know that I have ‘criminal record?’ or that Kamoshida is an asshole?
There’s a reason why editing exists. It’s there to save time because time is precious and for someone who has a ton of responsibilities I would be lucky to get through so much without sitting through yet another pointless ramble. Worse still the game doesn’t even offer auto-save. So if I was stuck in a middle of an event (that sometimes teleports you around different locations) I’d have to sit and deal with it until it’s done. And even then in some cases when roaming around the save feature is blocked with no proper explanation as to why.
A lot of people who will buy Persona 5 will not finish it. All these stellar reviews paint a picture of a masterpiece which is sadly not for everyone. I recalled a similar situation with Persona 4 with only 2 of the 10 people I know who owned it ended up finishing it. They didn’t stop playing because it got harder but because their patience have run out and moved on to something else. Which is a shame because underneath that Persona 5 is a beautiful game that really likes to go deep into its characters. The game wants you to be a part of its world but sadly it takes a considerable amount of time to get there . Now if only Atlus released a Switch version…