Persona 5 Review — Try Taking My Heart

That was what I dared this game to do the entire time I played through it. Did it succeed? Let’s find out.

  • Trying to go into Persona 5 with a fresh view was fucking hard the closer it got to release date. I couldn’t keep myself away from the trailers and soundtrack, and when I did, Youtube sought fit to recommend me videos that flat-out spoiled who the bosses were, what events to look forward to, and all that stuff that makes me lean on Atlus’s side in regards to their horrible decision to ban live-streaming of the game past a certain point.
  • Previous Persona games I either went in totally blind and the curiosity carried me through the slow bits, or I knew everything going in beforehand and was trying to pay attention to the clues you notice on a second playthrough. But that goddamn middle-ground where people kept hinting at what was to come without actually spoiling the story is just fucking misery. And having to keep up with a lot of other stuff at the same time didn’t help my concentration, so you’ll excuse me if I say it took a while to actually get into the game itself after finally escaping the long delay cycle.
  • Incidentally, the turning point when I became fully absorbed into the game was when I got my sixth party member. Because that was around the time the game’s scope went huge and I entered territory that was never hinted at in the spoilers people tried to shove down my throat. Seriously, fuck you Youtube.

God this game is so cool

  • I know this is a weird way to start a Persona 5 review, but trust me when I say this is far from the only thing I’m writing about the game. Think of this review as my broad opinion of the experience while my later posts will talk about some points I found interesting in a less opinionated tone. And think of the first few opening statements as a quick indicator that while Persona 5 is definitely my favorite game of the last few years and I’m already doing a second playthrough at the time of this review, I’m not exactly keen on giving it the title of “masterpiece”.
  • And not because it has two stereotypical gay guys harassing people as a joke, which honestly I’m not even going to bother touching after this sentence, especially since they only show up twice and there’s a transvestite in the game who’s given a lot more respect and screen time.
  • My biggest issue is how it takes around six hours for Persona 5 to actually let you play it. While the game drops you off in medias res against a random bad guy and you start discovering the mechanics of it all about an hour in, the game is pretty much scripted until you’re ready to enter the first dungeon for the fourth fucking time. And a good chunk of the game mechanics are still locked away until you actually complete said dungeon. You could expedite the time by using the fast-forward button, but given how story-heavy Persona games usually are, that could be more damaging down the line.

So cool

  • The translation is also a bit too literal and the game doesn’t seem to be able to make up its mind regarding when to have voice-acting or not. I’m not as big a stickler on the former as I know some professional translators are since “I” say some of the lines they complain about and the voice-acting for the important characters (not so much the background ones) is so high-quality to the point that they can make stilted exposition sound natural, but there’s a definite lack of memetic funny lines in this compared to Persona 4.
  • The latter is just unnatural at times though, especially during semi-important scenes. I never played the Japanese version, but given the way the characters move their mouths, I assume a bunch of those voiceless scenes were not so voiceless in the original and Atlus just decided to compromise in order to avoid suffering another delay outcry.
  • Persona 5 is also a bit unbalanced when it comes to the actual design of its game play elements. You’re restricted from going out to do social activities during incredibly long story sections to the point that if you’ve got rented DVDs that you need to return, you have to pay late fees for something that was completely not your fault. And not all of the social activities are equal to begin with. Part-time jobs aren’t very important this go-around due to enemies dropping money like candy when they’re not actually giving you candy to begin with (the convenience store one in particular is a waste of space since you can’t raise stats with it) and I don’t understand why it takes up an entire evening to do laundry for armor that’s generally not worth it.

So cool

  • The social link system has also gotten a bit of an overhaul in that it’s now a Confidant system where the mechanics are the same “hang out with people to power up Personas of a certain arcana”, but there are additional rewards attached to it. Remember how in P4, leveling up your rankings with your party members gives them special moves? Well that’s still in P5, but now all your non-party friends have benefits of their own, and they’re a bit uneven to boot.
  • You need certain stat levels to get certain confidants to max, but it seems like the ones that need the best stats give petty rewards while the ones who need moderate can almost break the game. One confidant gives you the ability to customize your guns, but you need to have max Guts in order to get all the benefits. Why the hell would I need that? Guns are practically useless apart from hitting enemy weaknesses. I mean look at that confidant that requires only a level 3 in Guts to max out. You know what that gives? The ability to hang out at night even after exploring a dungeon so I can hang out with the person who gives me better guns, which is ironic when you say it out loud.
  • However, at the end of the day, I just call that the expected collateral damage that comes with progress. Because good god does Persona 5 progress the series in big ways beyond the stylistic presentation that created those shitty menu memes. In an era where turn-based JRPGs are trying to innovate themselves by adding in mismatched real-time elements to the point that you don’t get an all-guard option until hours after it would have started being helpful, leave it to the Shin Megami Tensei team to stay within the confines of turn-based strategy whilst streamlining it in unexpected ways.

So fucking cool

  • Like everything from this franchise, you need to attack enemy’s weaknesses in order to have a chance of surviving, because bad guys will do the same, and unless you’re battling something at least the level of a mini-boss, having the leader killed is an automatic game over that will warp you back to the last time you saved. It’s trial-and-error in order to find weaknesses, but all the Shadows in this game are basically your Personas, and if you can fuse them into existence before confronting them whilst carrying around a wide variety of attacks, you’ll mostly be fine until you run out of SP (which is incredibly hard to recover) and have to leave for the day.
  • Finding out weaknesses pretty much guarantees a win because it gives you an all-out attack that will usually one-hit kill everyone, and if it doesn’t, you could always talk your way out of battle by demanding money or recruiting the enemy to your cause. Although like I said, the enemy has the same conditions, so it’s best to always go in for the first strike whenever you can, less you want four Hamas being sent at you from all directions and a “run away” command that takes too long to actually work.
  • You could lower the difficulty if things start getting too annoying. However, please note that if you go to the lowest difficulty, you get locked on it, and all challenge evaporates quicker than your libido after your parents walk in on you masturbating to child pornography.

Did I mention this game is cool?

  • The demon negotiation system is back, and you have to pick responses based on their personality in order to get new Personas to fight with. However, either due to the translation or Shin Megami Tensei prose in general being a bit obscure, it can be very clear which answer is the nice one and which is the joking one. Personally, I find it easier to just fuse the Persona you want in the Velvet Room whilst buying the ingredients you need from Igor, because it gives them more power and you can automatically recruit any demon you’ve previously acquired by refusing to haggle with them. Also, keep in mind that you can’t recruit demons in mandatory fights, so don’t even bother trying.
  • There’s also a lot of other improvements to the combat mechanics that make things more manageable. You only need to press one button to go to a certain action rather than scrolling through menus. You can now auto-recover health by pressing the square button in the field. Pressing R1 automatically locks on to an enemy’s weakness if you know it. And I thought Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ gameplay was fucking great, even if the action animations wore out their welcome at points.
  • Also, actual dungeons with real puzzles. Yay!

How many more times can I say this game is cool in one review?

  • So what about the core that ties all this gameplay together, Mr. Flawfinder? The elephant in the room that separates Assassin’s Creed II from every Assassin’s Creed after that? Because at the end of the day, we play Persona games for their rich stories and complex yet relatable characters, and we’re also unpleasable fucks who can’t stop comparing everything to Persona 4.
  • Well I personally think it’s awesome. A lot of fans have complained at how Persona 5’s story and characters don’t quite match the heights of Personas 3 and 4, but I’d say it’s less of a step down and more different. Yes the morality is a bit simplistic. Yes it borrows a lot of the same plot points from previous games. Yes the pacing can be noticeably off at points. And yes it’s so easy to predict a lot of the plot twists to the point that the characters themselves remark at how badly disguised they were.
  • But it’s all in the direction you take things at the end of the day, and while it made me worry at times in the same vein as when I watched Sound Euphonium 2, also like that show, Persona 5 managed to tie up all its dangling plot threads into an ending with a powerful message that really stuck with me. I’m assuming said message is more relevant to Japan considering how being an adult really sucks in that country, but as a guy who’s had his fair share of personal trouble that somewhat relates to what the Phantom Thieves are opposed against, I can definitely say that the catharsis at the end was just what I needed at this point in my life. Plus, given certain events that have happened in the US, the game feels way more topical than it intended, even though the creators couldn’t possibly have seen it coming given how long the game has been in development.

Well, I guess I can also say this game is badass

  • I admit to finding the more subtle characterization of Persona 5’s main cast a bit iffy at times once their story arcs are complete. Because after that, the only characterization they receive is through their optional Confidant stories, which make starting members like Ann or “introduced a bit too late” members like Haru feel tacked on as the overarching plot continues beyond their individual dungeons. That was a problem with Persona 4 as well (although the anime spread the social links over the course of the main plot to good effect) but that was easier to swallow due to how Teddie’s antics were making us laugh so hard. Not to mention that while they all reacted to certain events on certain dates in their games P4’s characters leaned more in a proactive direction regarding their goals whilst P5’s mostly react to the latest bad guy that reaches their eyes.
  • Most of this is probably due to how P5 favors the DC style of storytelling to P4’s Marvel-esque style. This time around, it’s the villains who get their own Shadows and an insight into why they commit atrocities upon other people, and while they’re obviously no justification for how cartoonishly evil they’ve become, it really makes the catharsis when they end up becoming good people all the more satisfying. I’ve seen fans argue that the non-party member Confidants are richer in characterization than the main cast, but I’m pretty sure a big part of that is due to how you don’t see them again after you’re done with ’em.
  • While it’s easy to pick apart all the faults this game contains, there’s no denying the fact that I found Persona 5 to be the most absorbing video game I’ve played this year to the point that at the time of this writing, I’ve just started the third dungeon all over again. Even good games like Breath of the Wild and Nier Automata I’ve mostly put on the shelves after my playthrough of them was finished, but Persona 5 is making me sit through the same long hours and story beats so I can finish all the Confidants I missed out on the first time, along with getting all the Personas and trophies that I missed out on because I was too busy raising my proficiency to max just so Haru could learn the Baton Pass skill.

Last image on the review and it’s a cool one

  • I hope those of you who were interested in it love the game just as much (or moreso) than I do, and look forward to me writing more about Persona 5 in the future.

Minor Quips

  • For the record, I ended up hooking up with Makoto Nijima in my first playthrough for the same reason everyone hooks up with her.
  • Also, the stealth mechanic is just flat-out broken on the Normal difficulty.
  • I find it funny how the Japanese seem to think that the translation is spot-on, which just adds fuel to the already volatile fire.

5 responses to “Persona 5 Review — Try Taking My Heart

  1. To be fair, if you want to avoid spoilers, you should probably avoid Youtube.

    Also, I disagree with Atlus’ streaming restrictions-it would be so much free publicity for them. I think most people, if they don’t know about a game, or if they aren’t interested, will at least want to check it out if they see someone else playing. For me, if I see someone playing a game, it makes me want to play it (for the most part).

      • It’s just how the site works. People put the names of important events/bosses in video titles to get clicks, and those videos inevitably end up being the ones that get recommended.
        Though I can see why people would be mad at this, it’s probably too hard to police every video. And there would probably be a huge backlash if they just banned all videos on a game before release date

        But some people who are crazy about avoiding spoilers go on a complete media blackout, so I guess it depends on how dedicated you are

  2. [Sorry if this is a double post – I can’t see the first one I made so I figure there was an error of some kind.]

    I agree with a lot of the points you made, but I feel a bit more critical of the gameplay and the overall plot. I feel like this is kind of the epitome of Persona and SMT as a whole in a lot of ways – the polish and style are of course off the charts. Which means that, to me at least, it’s time for another “Shin Tensei” for Shin Megami Tensei and especially Persona – in other words, it’s time for the series to have a new rebirth. They’ve basically mastered their current formula, so it’s time to write a new one. The trick, of course, is to make a refreshingly new Persona/SMT while preserving its original heart.

    But this is all just my opinion – as I’m the sort of person that prefers flawed but innovative work over the polished but formulaic kind – so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if the rebirth I long for doesn’t happen.

    As a side note, I’ve been lurking on this blog for a long time and I’m a huge fan of your work. I haven’t always agreed with your opinions, but they are always exceptionally well written and obviously have a lot of thought put in to them. Thank you for being uncompromisingly critical even of things the general public blindly adores.
    Maybe it’s cause I just recently finished P5, but I truly do believe that our perception of the world changes it; and the power of a critic is the power to change that perception. At the very least, you’ve changed mine.

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