Hoo boy! I’ve been looking forward to this one!
Let me make it clear exactly how much I love this game. It came out in the tail-end of my senior year in high school, around the same time as when my first PS4 broke down. I’d been curious about the series for a while, so I decided to pick it up. A few days after my copy arrived, I picked up a new PS4, set it up, and immediately went into it.
From there, I instantly became addicted to it. There wasn’t much time to play it, what with school and my first job. Luckily, I had long since gotten all I needed to graduate, so I was basically just wasting my time there. So I’d sleep through school, go straight to work, then I’d go home and play this game late until three in the morning. On one of my rare days off, my dad found me playing it; when I told him what it was about, he stared at me like I had lost my mind and said: “So you’re quitting high school to go to high school?”
Don’t worry, I still graduated. But that doesn’t change the fact that I put hundreds of hours into this game! I spent every minute at work and school wanting to play it! When I was playing it, I wanted to see every inch of it! I wouldn’t stop until I had the Platinum Trophy, gotten every item, seen every line of dialogue, and completely memorized every single monster’s strengths and weaknesses! I made it my mission to see everything this game had to offer!
And I still haven’t done it! After five playthroughs and hundreds of hours of play, there were still things that I missed! That right there is a big accomplishment!
Story: Stealing Hearts, Getting A’s, and Being Interrogated
Talking about this game’s story is a bit difficult. Not because it’s complicated, mind you. It’s a fairly easy story to comprehend. But there’s just so much of it! Between the main story and all the side stories, there is a ton in this game!
You play as *insert name here*, code name: Joker. After being sued for an assault that totally wasn’t your fault, you’re sent away to live with Sojiro Sakura, owner of the Le Blanc cafe, to attend a new school. When you arrive, however, you start seeing strange visions, have odd dreams in a velvet prison, and end up stuck with a strange smartphone app that you just can’t get rid of.
Got all that? Good! Because that was just the setup!
On your first day of school, after meeting a few fellow students, things take a turn for the bizarre. Rather than entering a school, you enter a castle in another dimension, one ruled by the perverted Volleyball coach! Here, you awaken the power of Persona, fight some demons, rescue/adopt a talking cat, and escape back into the real world!
This is all the tutorial. And I’m still going.
The talking cat, Morgana, reveals that the castle is a Palace, a small dimension in the Metaverse born from the teacher’s distorted desires. Within this Palace is a Treasure, the source of all the owner’s desire. Taking that destroys the Palace and deprives that person of their twisted desires, essentially reforming them.
When things at school go too far, you and your friends team up to stop the tyrannical coach. Thus, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts are born! Your objective? Steal the hearts of society’s most corrupt and make the world a better place!
I could go into more detail. But that would take way too much time. And it would go into some pretty heavy spoilers. Besides, that summary is long enough as it is.
As I alluded to earlier, this game is super story-heavy! The average playthrough is roughly eighty hours! And that’s being brisk! If you slow down and play meticulously, a single run can last well over one hundred hours! Which makes the story’s quality all the more impressive!
Despite its length, the story is super engaging! It hooks you in immediately with a strong opening taking place much later into the timeline! Then it rewinds back to the beginning for the story to properly begin. From there, we get the occasional flash-forward with a scene that hints at what’s to come. All the while, the day of the present draws ever closer! This is a perfect way to hook the audience and keep them engaged! It’s absolutely brilliant!
The pacing is also really impressive! The game runs on a strict timeline, going from day to day (which we’ll get into during the gameplay segment), so the story has a constant sense of progression! Better yet, it allows for the player to take frequent breaks from the main story without breaking pace; you can enjoy all the side stories and content without any remorse.
Only pressure, as they watch the date grow closer and closer to your capture.
On the subject of side stories, let’s talk about those. These are pretty formulaic, often going like this.
- Hang out with character and get to know them a bit
- Some asshole comes around and makes that character’s life harder
- Head into Mementos and change their hearts (this is often reserved for the side characters outside of your party)
- Character figures out that you’re a Phantom Thief (this is reserved entirely for non-party characters)
- Character is left better off and you guys become super close friends (or, if the character is a woman, a sexual relationship)
Rinse and repeat for every character in the game.
The quality of these stories varies wildly. Some of them are repetitive and uninteresting, save for a few scenes, typically the last few. Others are just really uncomfortable, though still entertaining (looking at you, Ms. Reporter). Others require a ton of work on the part of the player, which can be a bit tedious. I don’t hate any of them, but there aren’t many that I really love. They’re just okay, especially when compared to what we got in Persona 4 or even 3.
Although I do like the characters in this game more than I did in either of those games. That statement will probably make me some enemies, but whatever. They’re all likable, interesting, and they play off of each other super well! The group chemistry here is great and I love it!
I love this game’s story! It’s super fun and engaging, if a bit long and convoluted. I love the characters, I love the dialogue (even if a fair bit of it is kind of stupid; who says ‘For Real?’ anymore?), I love it all! It may be eighty fucking hours long, but it’s still a delight to go back to! Even seven playthroughs later!
I may have a problem.
Presentation: The Marriage of Western and Eastern Comics
Where do I even begin?! From the visuals to the music, everything here is perfect! What the fuck am I supposed to start with?! It’s all so good!
I guess we’ll start with the game’s style. On first glance, it looks like a typical anime game. And yes, that aspect is certainly there. All of the character models are meant to invoke anime and all the character portraits look taken directly out of one!
But there is more to it. The effects work and the menus take more of a western comic inspiration. Each menu is uniquely stylish while still being perfectly easy to navigate. All of the effects look taken straight out of an old Marvel comic! The two styles merge together into a unique, gorgeous experience!
Just look at it!
It helps that the game is super colorful! Each environment is distinct and memorable, from the simple city streets of Tokyo to the winding mazes of Mementos! Each Palace has its own unique setting, from castles to space ships, with its own color pallets and designs! They’re all a treat on the eyes!
Even better still are the character models! Each one is distinct, colorful, and highly detailed! They each have a unique design that sticks in your mind! Plus, they lend themselves well to simple animations both in and outside of battle. They look so good that Joker’s model in Smash Bros actually looks like a downgrade!
I’ll fight you on that.
The enemy designs are the easy highlight in that category! They’re all wildly unique and memorable, from simple imps to giant dicks in chariots! All of them, from basic enemies to boss fights, are one of a kind and super memorable!
But none of that compares to the music. Because holy FUCK this soundtrack is incredible!! It marries jazz with rock in a gorgeous union! The insert songs, from ‘Last Surprise’ (remember the ‘You’ll Never See It Coming’ meme?) to ‘Rivers in the Desert’, are all catchy as hell! I still listen to this music whenever I’m at work!
In terms of presentation, I have no complaints! The game looks and sounds amazing! It’s a fantastic example of how good a game with a style other than photo-realism can really look!
Dammit, now I have ‘Last Surprise’ stuck in my head again…
Gameplay: Edgy Pokemon! With Friends!
Yes, I know Shin Megami Tensei came out before Pokemon. Leave me alone.
Time for the meat and potatoes! Oh, you thought all of that was the main meal? Nah, dude! Those were just the appetizers!
Persona 5 is a simple turn-based JRPG. The game runs on a day-by-day system, with each day comprising of time in school, followed by two primary actions from the players. In the normal world, you can buy items and equipment, talk to your various friends, or participate in a mini-game. Or, if combat sounds better, you can spend your day in the Metaverse, either conquering the current Palace or exploring Mementos.
Let’s start with the combat, as that’s what you’ll spend most of the game doing. To put it simply, the combat is like a very basic version of Pokemon. There are several different types of attacks, which go as follows:
- Melee attacks: basic hits and super-powered hits that take HP
- Gun attacks: another basic attack, which requires ammo, or another super-powered attack that takes HP
- Fire magic, which is strong against ice
- Lightning magic, which is strong against wind
- Wind magic, which is strong against lightning
- Ice magic, which is strong against fire
- Atomic magic, which is strong against psychic
- Psychic magic, which is strong against atomic
- Holy magic, mostly one-hit kills, which are more accurate against curse
- Curse magic, mostly one-hit kills, which are more accurate against holy
- Healing magic, take a guess what that does
- Almighty magic, which isn’t strong against anything but it also isn’t weak to anything
- Stat changers: increases or decreases attack, defense, or agility, the three primary character stats
Which enemies are weak to each type of magic will vary. What will not vary, however, are your party’s weaknesses. Aside from the main character, each member of your team has a set Persona with set strengths and weaknesses. You’ll need to consider what kind of enemies you’re fighting in order to maximize your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses.
Hitting an enemy with their weakness will knock them down and give the character who hit it another turn. If you knock down all the enemies at once, you can hit then with an All-Out Attack. Not only are these flashy as fuck, but they also do a ton of damage. Plus, if you get the kill with it, you get one of these amazing victory screens!
That weren’t so amazing in the anime.
Luckily, there are extra mechanics to make combat more interesting then ‘hit it until you find the weakness’. As you progress, you’ll unlock extra options and attacks to assist you in combat. From swapping characters mid-turn for a power boost to an extra powerful gun attack, these extra options add an extra layer of strategy to every fight.
Better yet, the game encourages you to use every ability you have! In other RPGs, you can often blast through the game by only using powerful attacks and healing magic. But in Persona, stat-boosts and other minor abilities are essential for victory, especially at the higher difficulties!
Because make no mistake! If you aren’t prepared, this game can and will kick your ass! It isn’t as hard as Super Meatboy or Celeste, but it still fairly challenging at times.
Now, I compared this game to Pokemon. That’s because killing the enemies isn’t your only option in combat. See, your character is special in that he can own and use multiple Personas. So, if you knock all the enemies down, you can choose to negotiate rather than straight-up murder. If you want, you can squeeze them for money or an item. Or, if you feel confident in your negotiation skills, you can convince them to join your party. Be warned: negotiations can go wrong if you aren’t careful. Often, it’ll take multiple attempts to get it right.
Not in the mood to negotiate for new spirit slaves? Then head into the Velvet Room! Here, you have a variety of options to help make new Personas, or make the ones you have stronger! They are:
- Fusion: turn two or more Personas into one stronger Persona (warning: this can go wrong, should the Persona’s stats be too high for your level; more on that later)
- Teach them new moves w/ cards (not restricted to the Velvet Room)
- Reclaim old Personas from the Compendium
- Put them in solitary confinement to learn new abilities
- Turn them into items (this is how you get the strongest gear in the game)
And probably some more that I’m forgetting.
When sneaking through Palaces/Mementos, you have a few options available for dealing with enemies. You can charge them head on, sneak up on them to take the first turn in battle, or run past them entirely. Be warned though: enemies can sneak up on you too. If that happens, you’ll have to endure their free turn to attack. Worse, the Alertness level of the palace will rise. Should it reach one hundred percent, you’ll be in trouble.
Now, Palaces aren’t the only thing you’ll be exploring. There’s also Mementos, a winding dungeon that you unlock more of with each Palace destroyed. This is where the game can get a bit tedious; driving through the same flat hallways for hours and hours can be really boring. But if you want to do the sidequests (and the final Palace), you need to go through Mementos.
And I do mean all of Mementos. All over one hundred levels of it! Don’t worry, there’s fast travel.
Now, Palaces aren’t just monster homeless shelters. Each one will often contain a variety of puzzles! Some of these are pretty easy, others can be fairly challenging. But none of them are so hard that they’ll bring your progress to a grinding halt. They’re a fun little break from the usual gameplay.
Alright. Did you get all of that? Cool! Because we haven’t even touched the social aspect yet!
In the normal world, you have a variety of activities at your disposal. The most common one is the Social Links, AKA Confidants. You’ll build relationships with the various characters and unlock the extra story tidbits I mentioned earlier. These do take up one half of each day though, so be careful with your schedule.
Now, unlocking these isn’t as simple as talking to them. You need to have high enough social stats. Your character has five of these, each of which can be leveled up five times. If you want all the Social Links, you’ll need to max all of these out.
Social Links also have direct combat benefits. Each one will give you a new special ability to help you out, from new combat options to making negotiations easier. One of them even lets you socialize after spending a day in a Palace! Make sure to socialize!
Talking to people isn’t your thing? Don’t worry! There are a ton of minigames/activities you can do to pass the time! They are as follows!
- Get a job
- Play some baseball
- Go fishing
- Hit the gym
- Eat a big ass burger
- Watch a movie (these are parodies of real movies and they’re fucking hysterical)
- Go to an amusement park
- Read a book
- Play retro video games
- Decorate your room
- Build tools
- Take a test
- Get chalk thrown at you
- Answer questions in class
- Play gotcha games
- Go to the arcade
- Take a bath
- Go to church and pray for forgiveness for the countless sins you’ve committed
- Pray at the shrine
- Get your fortune read
- Tend to a garden
- Make coffee
- Buy/give gifts
- Go out on a date with your favorite harem member (or actually be loyal to one person, you sick pervert)
- Pay your teacher who is also your maid to clean your laundry/give you a massage
- Do your own laundry
- Buy everything in the vending machines
- Fix a computer
- Shop at an online black market
And probably a lot more that I can’t remember. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is a lot you can do.
But remember: you can only do so much in a day. And there are only so many days in the game! If you want to get as much out of it as you can, you’ll need to blast through Palaces quickly and plan out as many days as possible.
Or just play it again on New Game +. Like I did. Several times.
This game is super fucking addictive! The days just seem to fly by, leaving you muttering ‘just one more day’ like a lunatic! Combat is simple to learn, but it has so much depth that it becomes like a drug! If you aren’t careful, you can find yourself wasting dozens of real-world hours playing this game!
Trust me. I’m speaking from experience.
Do you ever have those moments where you realize something is special? Those moments where everything clicks? That feeling that you’ve found something truly remarkable?
That was how I felt when I first played Persona 5. It immediately pulled me in and refused to let go! It is my second favorite game of all time, one I’m eager to revisit through Royal!
If you still haven’t played Persona 5, you need to fix that! Play the original! Sink your teeth into Royal! This is an incredible game that I firmly believe everyone should try!
Just try to avoid getting addicted. Like I did. And likely will again.