Review: Persona 5

We talked back in episode 145 about the amount of quality exclusive titles that Sony seem to be pumping out this year which is in stark contrast to a quiet period for Microsoft. No surprise then that the majority of these titles are Japanese with Sony having the lion’s share of the market over there. Hot on the tails of Nioh and Nier Automata comes the hugely anticipated JRPG Persona 5.

It’s been a long time coming. Persona 4 landed on PS2 back in 2008 and despite an upgraded Vita port of the game landing a few years later, fans of the series have waited an entire console generation for the next title in the series. It makes sense then for Persona 5 to be released on both PlayStation 3 and 4 and whilst this is great for PS3 owners, it does mean that the PS4 version has had to be kept in check a little.

That's not to say it doesn't look good because it does. The art style mixed with the anime cut scenes interchange with each other in an almost seamless way and the overall effect is very satisfying. PS4 users will enjoy sharper, brighter graphics and quicker load times but the PS3 version is still really solid.

Persona 5 tells the story of teenager who finds himself in a spot of bother through no fault of his own and smacked with a criminal record for trying to do the right thing. On probation for a year he finds himself transferred to a new school, being looked after by a less than enthusiastic foster parent and being totally removed from from his parents and past life.

You quickly realise you have the ability to travel to an alternate reality called the Metaverse. A place where the warped desires of humanity can manifest themselves into very real dangers. Certain individuals are so affected that the only way to change their behaviour in the real world is steal their treasure in the Metaverse and trigger a change of heart. You and a group of like-minded friends set off to change the world and this is where the Phantom Thieves are born.

The game takes place in two main phases; the real world and the Metaverse. Spending time in both is important to game progression and the story effortlessly flips between the two. Certain actions need to be completed in the real world to move you forward in the Metaverse.

So a new life, new school and new friends, this helps to build the premise of a game where there is a huge focus on developing yourself and building relationships. The scope of how to do this is ridiculous and choosing how you spend your spare time in the game will result in specific skills being raised. Paying attention in school is very important as not only do you have have actual lessons but you will also take exams so make sure you remember the answers to the quiz questions in class!

These skills are completely separate from your general experience which is earned from fighting in the Metaverse. These social skills can to be levelled up by doing various activities. For example, going to the diner to study after school will increase your knowledge. Order a nice steak (like grandma used to make) while in the diner and raise your kindness at the same time. If you do this on a rainy day when the place is quiet you’ll also earn an additional boost to knowledge since you can concentrate more. The game is full of little tricks like this. Doing something at the right time under the right conditions will give you more benefit. In addition some relationships will yield time saving bonuses and other perks which will benefit you in the real world.

Spending time with a character will also deepen your bond with them which can give you a variety of different perks to use in battle. You have to use your time wisely though because you can only be in one place at any one time. At times you may have to leave someone hanging to get closer to another confidant.

Then there are the battles. Yes this is a JRPG and turned based battle systems can often put the casual gamer off with clunky menus and inventory management. Persona 5 breaks the mould here as every single menu is presented with slick animation making navigating items, equipment and the like a complete joy. The art style is bright and colourful oozing style and polish.

The battle system itself is accessible with its simple button commands for a variety of different actions that you can take. I never felt lost or confused. It is simple to get to grips with and once you get used to it you will soon be racing through your turns with ninja-like precision. You start off with a team of four but add members as you play through the story and encounter them in the real world. In the Metaverse you level up in the traditional sense with experience earned from enemy encounters. As you level up so do your Hitpoints and Spellpoints.

As the name of the game suggests you will encounter various Personas in the Metaverse that you can bend to your will. These Personas have a range of abilities. Whilst your confidants only have one each, you have the capability to use multiple Personas. Without spoiling things you will also gain the ability to create new Personas from your old ones. The quality of these can further be boosted by the depth of your relationships with the corresponding confidants. Each confidant is linked to a particular type of Arcana (think of a tarot card). For example building your relationship with Ann will enable you to create more powerful Personas of the “Lovers” Arcana. This is crucial for making a strong team of varied Personas as you move through the game.

Persona 5 has one hell of a soundtrack. A heady mix of J-pop and acid jazz melodically performed by Japanese soul singer Lyn Inaizumi has left me wanting more each time I boot the game up. As with every title you get a traditional introduction song and there was not one time I have skipped it. It is that catchy. At only a minute and a half “Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There” is just so incredibly fun.

Your day to day movements around town and at school are accompanied by the haunting song “Beneath the Mask” with its popping bass but just enough silence in the track it is a fitting accompaniment as you wander around the city. It’s a wonderful chill and relaxing song (even if the words shape shifter are a little shoehorned in there). This is then nicely contrasted with the pumping “Last Surprise” which plays during battle sequences

Shoji Meguro composed the score and he deserves so much credit for his work in the series. The way that both game and music complement each other is truly magnificent. It’s a foot tapping delight from beginning to end. A triple CD and limited vinyl pressing of the soundtrack is available but is rather pricey.

Given all of the above, it’s no surprise that Persona 5 is an absolute monster. It will take you anywhere between 80-100 hours to play through the story. That’s not counting the new game plus with multiple playthroughs so you can try and pick up the things you may have missed first time round.

Not everyone likes this genre of game and there will certainly be frustrations for some gamers. Trying to do things you really want to do when the game tells you to go to sleep or points you in another direction can be a bit of a pain. The wealth of options and tasks can be overwhelming and even sinking 10-20 hours into the game barely gets you past what feels like a tutorial.

Persona 5 is an investment of time and a game to work on for months until the next new/shiny comes out. I personally can’t recommend it enough. It’s game of the year material and already one of my favourite games of all time.