Review: Persona 5 (PS4/PS3)

Developed by: Atlus
Published by: Atlus USA

Ever since my introduction into video games, role-playing games have always been my favorite genre of gaming. I played a great many of games ranging from the famous JRPG series of Final Fantasy to cult classics such as Baldur’s Gate. Needless to say, I thought I was well informed and well versed in the RPG genre. But definitely not. Even to this day, there are still hundreds of RPGs I’ve never even touched and the Persona series was one of them. Yes, I have never played the Persona series. The closest game I’ve played in the series was Shin Megami Tensei IV, which I enjoyed greatly. I’m pointing this out because I want to emphasize that I went into Persona 5 with a blank slate. I didn’t know what to anticipate when playing the game, only knowing that I would have a great time, from what I’ve been told. And I can safely say that I have no regrets blindly buying the game. But let’s move on into the meat of things, shall we?

The story begins with the protagonist (whom I will just refer to as “Joker”) leading a group of vigilantes dubbed “The Phantom Thieves.”  In their latest heist, Joker infiltrates a casino where he gains unwanted attention. He is later captured and taken in by the police. Joker is then taken to an interrogation room and is visited by prosecutor Sae Nijima, who wishes to know what lead to the events prior to Joker’s capture. Cornered without any alternative, Joker reveals everything he knows about his group and thus the game officially starts.

Back in his hometown, while Joker is walking home at night, he hears a woman screaming and quickly goes to her aid. At the scene, he encounters a drunken man presumably attempting to rape a woman. As Joker steps in, the drunken man reveals that he has connections to the police and if Joker doesn’t mind his business, he would call the cops on him. Without given much time to react, the drunkard does just this and shortly the police show up and wrongly take Joker into custody where he is charged for assault and put on probation.

Now with a criminal record and expelled from his school, Joker is sent to Tokyo to stay with family friend, Sojiro Sakura, who reluctantly welcomes him into his home. There, Joker is sent to register for Shujin Academy, which is the only school willing to take him in. Shortly after his registration, he is sent to the Velvet Room, an otherworldly realm that fittingly takes the form of a prison. He is greeted by Igor, the “warden” who wishes to “rehabilitate” Joker in order to avoid an approaching ruin. Igor grants Joker the ability to enter the “Metaverse” via a strange phone app to aid him on the path of rehabilitation. Confused by all of this, Joker shrugs it off, believing it all to be just a dream.

On his way to his new school, Joker meets some of the denizens of Shujin Academy. Among these people are the volleyball coach, Kamoshida, as well as troublemaker Ryuji Sakamoto. Evidently, Ryuji and Kamoshida have bad blood between each other. Suddenly, both Ryuji and Joker are transported into the Metaverse via Joker’s phone app. Here, they discover that Shujin Academy has become a giant castle. Once inside, they find Kamoshida who has an a kingly attire. Kamoshida orders his shadow knights to arrest both Joker and Ryuji and they are both placed into a dungeon. Later, Kamoshido confronts the two again, this time with the intent to kill. As Kamoshido attempts to murder Ryuji, desperate to save his new found friend, Joker forms a contract with the Persona, Arsene. With this new supernatural partner by his side, Joker defeats Kamoshido and his minions and he and Ryuji escape.

Later on, the two run into a talking cat named Morgana, who decides to help them traverse Kamoshida’s “Palace” (which is explained to be a person’s distorted desires that becomes a reality in the Metaverse). Once they leave the Palace, Joker becomes aware of the situation; Kamoshida abuses his students, some through physical violence and some through sexual harassment. Gaining new allies in the form of Ryuji (whose Persona had awakened for him), as well as Ann Takamaki (another student who despises Kamoshida), the four of them go through Kamoshida’s Palace and defeat his Shadow. Doing so allows the real Kamoshida to reveal his crimes to the public. Satisfied with their results, Joker and the gang decide to do the same to other criminals, in the hopes of making Tokyo a safer place. And with that, The Phantom Thieves are born.

While I don’t think the story is the greatest or the most original, I believe its characters are what truly make the story so great. There are a lot of characters in this story that you can quickly form an opinion on, but shortly after discover something about them that you never would have guessed before. For instance, there’s a character named Makoto, who is the little sister of the prosecutor who interrogates Joker at the beginning of the game. My thoughts on Makoto right from the start was that she was a stuck up and know-it-all who thought she was better than everyone else. But later on, as she becomes more of the focus, you learn real quick that that simply isn’t the case. She’s a bit of a tragic character; trying so hard to impress her peers like her sister or the principal, only to be met with harsh criticism and even comments that insinuate that Makoto is worthless. I couldn’t believe that I could actually relate to this character after discovering something like that about her. And you pretty much feel that way about almost every main character in the game the moment they get introduced to the plot.

Ultimately, the characters are what make the plot of the game. Though if we dive into the plot a little further, the main objective is to go around and “steal” a criminal’s “heart,” thus allowing them to reveal their crimes and let God sort ’em out. The plot is kind of episodic. While there is a clear “Point A to Point B” feeling, it never feels that way since each Palace offers it’s own unique plot that doesn’t necessarily have to really tie into the main overall overarching story. Which is something I definitely appreciate about the game and it gave me a, strangely enough, Dragon Quest vibe when playing through the game.

Getting to the actual gameplay, Persona 5 actually has two types of gameplay throughout the game. Part of the game is a classic JRPG, while the other half is a bit of a life simulation-type game. When in dungeons, the player controls four characters and will either explore the various Palaces in the campaign of the game or an entirely different dungeon known as Mementos, which grows in length the more you progress you make through the game. Once in a dungeon, your characters can battle various monsters known as shadows. Defeating them, of course, earns money, experience, and items. The combat in the game is turn based and similar to classic JRPGs such as Dragon Quest. The player gets a variety of commands to use such as Attack, Use Item, Guard, etc. Characters can use the Persona command to summon their personal Personas into battle and use special abilities such as Bufu, which is an Ice elemental spell, or Lunge, a physical attack. Interestingly, in the Persona series, many of the physical attacks require a certain amount of HP to consume while doing the attack which can make battles more tactical. Certain shadows are actually weak to a certain type of attack. Exploiting their weaknesses puts them in a “down” state, which allows you to either finish off the enemy with an “All Out Attack,” or you are given the option to negotiate with the shadow and recruit it to your team, similar to past Shin Megami Tensei games.

When recruiting other Personas, you can actually do a lot with them in the previously mentioned Velvet Room. Once you progress more in the story, Igor can give you a lot of upgrades and options to make your Personas more powerful, such as fusing them together to make new and stronger Personas, or he can outright kill them and turn them into rare items. Doing confidant quests can also increase the power of your newly constructed Personas, giving them a level boost upon creation. Using the compendium also allows you to save Personas with the unique abilities they currently have as some fused Personas can have abilities that they normally wouldn’t have when found in dungeons. This is a good way to give weaker Personas more of a use on your team.

When you’re not exploring dungeons or hunting for Personas, though, you can pretty much just chill out and live your regular life. This can mean almost virtually anything. You could go to the movies, study for your exams, read a book, work at a part time job, hang out with your friends, etc. Doing these various activities can increase one of five stats. Those being Guts, Knowledge, Charm, Proficiency, and Kindness. Raising these stats will allow you to hang out with certain characters and tighten your bond with friends. Of course, you’re probably wondering what the point in this is, but by hanging out and developing bonds with your friends will strengthen your Personas as well as being able to learn new abilities in the dungeon crawling part of the game. Even if it didn’t benefit you outside of battle, though, the interactions and short skits with your friends and party members are worth viewing.

Everything about Persona 5 just emits a unique style and gameplay that I have never really seen in a JRPG before and needless to say, I have become addicted to it. From the fantastic story and characters to the deep strategical battles, Persona 5 definitely offers a wide variety of gameplay that will keep you busy for hours on end. While the year isn’t even halfway done, I think I can safely say that Persona 5 isn’t just the best RPG of the year, it’s easily one of the best RPGs of the decade. It is definitely an example of what you can make when you put enough time and dedication into a game and it’s something that I’ve come to respect from Atlus. I plead you all to buy and support the game whenever you can, because this is a must have title.

Final Verdict: Buy it. Persona 5 is one of the best JRPGs in years. It has a cast of memorable characters and a deep battle system that can become addicting. Persona 5 was played for a total of 70 hours on PlayStation 4 for this review. Persona 5 is available now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3.

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