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Persona 5 Review


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On 05/29/2017 at 09:00 AM by Casey Curran

Now It's Persona!
RECOMMENDATION:

If you have enough free time, this is an absolute must play. Just keep in mind this will take roughly 90-100 hours to finish and chances are you will need to replay it to experience everything.

“Style over substance.” A term often applied to a work with strong aesthetics, yet an overall hollow experience. Yet Persona 5 could have offered a story written by George Orwell alongside gameplay deeper than Dark Souls and it still would have been a case of style over substance. The only possible way it could have added any more style points would be if Michael Jackson moonwalked his way to lend a hand in a fight. 

What really sells the style, is just how proud the game is of its weirdness. How weird is it? The main characters dress like they’re heading to an orgy complete with Mardi Gras masks, weird. Ripping off these masks causes their eyes to bleed in order to summon a supernatural ally coined a Persona, weird. One character is a talking cat who summons Zorro in fights and turns into a car, weird. The game goes all out with its bizarre nature so it can sell the surreal nature of the Metaverse, a dimension the game’s crew of misfit teenagers (known as The Phantom Thieves) travel to where they fight demons with their Personas and conduct heists to steal the hearts of corrupt authority figures.

Each palace is a visual delight, consisting of heist staples such as a casino, yet have their own unique look and feel. The use of colors, enemy and environmental designs, music, and fluid motion all come together to create dungeons that are an absolute delight to take in. Nothing I can write can really do the visuals justice, they must be seen in motion to be believed.

Yet Persona 5 is smart to contrast its weird concepts and visuals with grounded, relatable themes. The story centers around its characters seeing the ugliness of the world through their relationships to the game’s villains, the masters of each palace. Palaces are created by a person being so evil or misguided that he or she creates strong distortion in the Metaverse, which represents their subconscious beliefs of the real world.

A coach who abuses his students, for instance, sees the school as his castle and the students as his slaves in his palace. And each character has his or her moment where they hit their lowest point, snap, and go through excruciating pain to awaken their Persona, granting them the power to fight back. These are some of the best cutscenes I have seen in any game period, with near perfect pacing and just the right balance of disturbing and exciting moments.

More importantly, this makes the characters very relatable. Each is oppressed in a unique way and has little way to fight back in the real world. Once they get a way in the Metaverse, however, they decide to use this power not for revenge, but to inspire others. The goal is to let those who are hurt by the system to know there is hope and a way to fight back, which the game smartly expands to bring up interesting ideas such as whether the law serves the people or the other way around.

While each character’s introduction is strong, however, their arcs do not always follow through on this promise. For instance, an early addition to the Phantom Thieves was sexually harassed by a coach and had a friend suffer through the same, but her Confidant revolves around an unrelated modeling job. It causes her to feel like two different characters, ignoring her more interesting aspects. Compare that to a character who the same coach physically abused then turned into a social pariah whose arc after deals with the fallout from the coach’s actions. Some arcs just do not feel complete like his, which ends up being an issue the more you see them.

The Phantom Thieves also lack group chemistry. Any time the group gets together to celebrate or have fun, it’s usually dull or exists only because earlier Persona games did this. Moments where the characters actually feel like friends are too few and far between, resulting in their relationship with the main character Joker to be the only one to feel genuine. I honestly feel Atlus should have written these characters to not be friends and only be together by necessity.

In addition to the Phantom Thieves, there are over a dozen other characters to form bonds with known as Confidants. Confidants have a diverse array of personal struggles to deal with, all of which create for some surprisingly deep characters. Their arcs also help fit into the theme of standing up for oneself, approaching the concept from all kinds of angles. One fears the consequences of taking action, for instance, while another shows the ugly side and begins to bully others himself. 

On the other side of the Metaverse, Persona 5’s palaces end up being the most fun and engaging RPG dungeons I have ever played. For starters most eliminate the random dungeons of past Persona titles. Each palace now has smart area design full of fun puzzles, complex maze-like areas, and a new stealth mechanic. Stealth allows for sneak attacks, to ensure the party has an advantage over the enemy in combat. Let an enemy hit the characters and they’ll have the upper hand. This made roaming dungeons themselves far more engaging than simply running through. While the stealth is basic, it is still a welcome addition.

What really makes the palaces special, however, is the combat. I was not a fan of the combat in past Persona games (or really any Atlus RPGs), but here it is addictively delightful. Battles are based around eight elements, with both the party and enemies weak against certain ones and strong against others. Using a fire spell, for instance, will knock an enemy weak to fire down. Knock every enemy down and it opens up a very powerful all-out attack, often finishing the fight.

Persona 5 strongly incentivizes the player to pass through a dungeon in a single day so there’s more time for Confidants. However, there are few ways to replenish your spell points, which is for using magic against enemies and healing. Sometimes liberal magic is needed to get a quick all-out attack, and avoid taking damage other times it is best to take a few hits then cast a healing spell later. This balance of magic’s value and scarcity makes every encounter an engaging strategy of conserving as much magic as possible, making it impossible to just go through the motions in any battle. There were even opportunities for bizarre and unorthodox strategies such as allowing enemies to put the party to sleep, as the condition restores spell points and health in exchange for making a character more vulnerable and skipping his or her turn.

Persona 5 also has the best interface I have encountered in a turn based RPG. Rather than offer a menu for commands, each action is assigned to a button. Rather than pick attack from a menu, press X. Want to use an item? Square will pull up a sub menu. The commands are always there, but are faster and easier to access than ever, creating a fluid experience without sacrificing depth.

Combat does have issues, however, as it proves too strategic to employ RPG staples such as critical hits, misses, and one hit kill spells. Normally, these elements force players to improvise if things don’t go according to plans, yet enemies do far too much damage for misses to feel balanced. A miss often means a party member fainting, and Joker fainting means a game over regardless of the rest of the party’s condition or if there’s any items to revive him. Which also goes as well with critical hits and one hit kill spells as you can imagine it would. These instances are rare, but when they pop up it is very frustrating.

Really my biggest problem with Persona 5 is that it's too long. At roughly 100 hours, the commitment needed to complete it will deter many gamers and I cannot blame them. There is no quality dip or annoying filler, it is simply a case of too much of a good thing. Couple that with how it's far too easy to miss a lot of content without a guide and there's a good chance that time will need to get doubled to see everything. Though too much of a good thing is not the worst way to spend your time and money, which I why I highly recommend Persona 5.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

mothman

05/30/2017 at 04:25 PM

Good review Casey. I've only invested 40 hours in the game so far but I really enjoy playing it when I do. Most of my play time is on weekends in 3 hour sessions. I agree that the relationships aren't well developed and not a patch on Persona 4 but that game set the bar pretty high in that respect.

Needless to say I love pretty much everything about the game but I can't put in much more than those 3 hour sessions because I become exhausted trying to decide what to do next.

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