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Persona 5 review

persona 5
Man, this sure was a game. 77 hours to get to the end, and that was on the low end of the spectrum from what I’m reading. I’ve wanted to give up many times and make this post a “Games I won’t review” post. But I pushed through, and last weekend I think I got like 23 hours in, for my final push to finish it. I think if I didn’t do that I never would’ve finished it.

Persona 5 is a game I’m a bit conflicted about, and also a game that has a lot to talk about. So I’ll try out my new reviewing “style” once again as I did with Zelda and Nier. I’ll start with my overall thoughts, then go more in-depth about certain things after. I like doing reviews this way, it’s different from the “presentation, gameplay, overall” formula and more fun to write (and hopefully read).

Let’s go and see if Persona 5 is worth the hype!

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Date of Release: April 4th 2017
Platform: PS4, PS3
Genre: RPG dating simulator

Rated M for Mature

Overall

This is a game with highs and lows. The highs are awesome, the lows are really long and fairly boring and absolutely ruin this game. It’s a game that likes to overstay its welcome at the worst of times. It feels even longer than it is. Not in a good sense.

When it comes to the RPG elements, this game is one of the best examples of the console-style RPG subgenre. It’s absolutely fantastic on that end. Battles are fun, leveling is fun and surprisingly quick, and there’s customization for you characters (a lot more for your main character, but there’s choices to make with the other characters as well). The social links are another element of customizing too, and as far as what their effects are towards the gameplay they’re great.

Social links though are one of the biggest problems with this game. They’re what take a large majority of your playtime, and it’s just reading fairly boring conversations and making dialogue choices (where the right choice is usually fairly obvious). I love that they give extra features in combat and leveling, but man they’re a chore. They don’t ever FEEL like gameplay. And they take up so much time that could be substituted for actual gameplay, or cut out entirely.

On the presentation side the game is really awesome, it’s super stylish and dynamic and such a blast for the first 15 or so hours. I feel that at some point the stylishness gets “old” and it just becomes “normal”. It still looks really awesome, but seeing the same stylish things over and over kinda normalizes it. The story is also really interesting, it’s all about perception of reality and how distorted views of the world can affect people and stuff. Cool stuff.

If you’re new to Persona this is as good a starting point as any. I think I’d put it above 3 and 4. I did have a PS1 so I’m not familiar with 1 and 2 sadly. Maybe I’ll do that at some point. I just wish they had fixed the issues from 3 and 4.

If you’ve ever played a Persona or even mainline SMT game this will have a lot of familiar elements. The combat is a lot like P4, the monsters/personas are SMT demons, Mementos is similar to Tartarus, social links are still here… But everything it does, it does very well… minus the parts I have to complain about which the series since 3 hasn’t done well.

Conclusion:
The Phantom Thieves didn’t steal my heart, but they were cool to hang out with.

Note: Some of my following criticisms may seem very negative, but that’s because they are. Doesn’t mean I hate the game, I want to stress that I did very much enjoy this. It just has problems for me personally. I could see some people not having a problem with some of these. Just noting that. I would never finish a game that I don’t like.

The story is quite entertaining

Well the game starts you out playing as *insert whatever name you chose here*, AKA Joker, boss of the Phantom Thieves. He immediately gets captured by the police after a heist and asked by a prosecutor to tell the whole story, which is where the game actually starts. Basically a large part of the game is actually a flashback. The conceit is kinda weird though, what with you still going through every day one by one and stuff (I doubt the prosecutor is getting info about every single day, after all).

You play as *insert whatever name you chose here*, who was sued by a rich dude under false pretenses. While on probation he goes to live in Tokyo (I don’t know), in the storage room of a small café. While going to his new school, along with Ryuji (another guy from school), he stumbles upon a castle rather than the actual school. They go in anyways but are captured by Kamoshida, the king of the castle and actually one of the teachers at the school that Ryuji hates. As they escape after being captured, they also save a cat monster, who explains that this is a Palace in the Metaverse. Basically a separate dimension that looks like peoples’ cognition of the world. They’re asked by the cat to become Phantom Thieves and steal the treasure in the Palace and change Kamoshida’s heart. Eventually they recruit the school’s popular hot girl (who has a ridiculously sexy outfit because Japan) and they find a lot of shit on Kamoshida, so they decide to go through with the plan. The game starts out really fucking dark though, really makes you hate this Kamoshida dude. Actually I don’t feel the rest of the game gets nearly as dark as this. Though it does go over some heavy themes.

So they steal Kamoshida’s treasure, change his heart making him confess his crimes, decide “let’s keep doing this as the Phantom Thieves” and the plot goes from there.

It goes way deeper, finding out what the metaverse is, what’s up with Morgana being a cat monster that transforms into a cat that transforms into a car, why people have Palaces, finding people that have these Palaces in the first place and maybe even the fate of the world! It has some cool takes on cognition, with the world being shaped by how people see it, and how palaces are a manifestation of that. Kamoshida sees the school as a castle because he’s quite literally the king there, for example. Plus there’s actually surprising plot twists (that I was not expecting) due to the main character having really bad memory, but they turn out pretty awesome.

I like pretty much all the characters here, even most of the side ones are pretty interesting. Since social links are so integral to the game, you get to see more of the characters that you like more too, and they do evolve as the game goes on.

Presentation is super stylish, but technically unimpressive

I love how this game looks. Lots of stuff popping up in your face, striking colors, lots of semi-random lines and stuff to show information instead of just a standard battle result screen, really interesting and varied locales. I really have to praise how stylish they went with this game’s look. Even the battle menu kinda floats around the characters, it’s really cool. It’s consistently a fun game to look at. Even if the stylishness becomes kinda normal eventually, I wouldn’t really take that as a strike against the game. You just get used to stuff, and extreme stylishness is one of those.

Technically it IS a PS3 game, and the PS4 version, as a result, looks like a PS3 game. I assume the framerate and resolution is better (I didn’t see any comparisons), but a lot of textures are low-quality and you can see it’s nowhere near using the power of the PS4. I see no reason why this wasn’t on Switch, really 😛

The voice acting is good, but not always

Most of the characters are really well voiced. I think my favorites were Ryuji and Morgana, but in general they all deliver pretty great performances. But there’s a few of the characters that didn’t do it for me. Goro Akechi is one of the really interesting characters here, but his voice actor delivers all of his lines with exactly the same tone and emotion (unless he’s screaming), it’s really jarring in many cases. There’s a few others that are a bit on the odd side but they’re mostly side characters with little importance.

Everything that’s RPG is pretty great

The fighting system is turn-based and largely what you’d expect. Each character in the battle get their turns probably in speed order. All your characters have a gun which is cool, plus a normal melee attack, guarding and Personas. If you manage to hit an enemy with his weakness you knock it down, which may lead to additional damage while it’s down (plus gives the character who knocked them down an extra turn), but more importantly if all the enemies are down and you have at least 2 active characters (which means no status effects), your party surrounds the enemy pointing their gun at them. Here you can do an all-out attack (similar to P4) for massive damage, or you can talk to the demons and negotiate with them (similar to standard SMT games). Negotiating lets you request money, items or for the monsters to become one of the main character’s Persona (like in previous Persona games the MC can switch between Personas, while the other characters only have one). I like that the negotiating aspect is here, you have to try and figure out what kind of responses the monster will be happy with (you CAN check their mood if you analyse them). Plus there’s all sorts of status effects and stuff.

Otherwise you level up as you get EXP. For the non-main characters, they level linearly, gain stats and learn skills over time. Normal stuff. The main character though levels himself up which only increases HP and MP. Since he has separate personas, he can level these separately and that’s partly how you get stat increases for him (they do learn new skills, though a much smaller pool than the other characters). In battle he can also switch between his personas once per turn (so if he gets an extra turn he’s stuck with whatever he chose before).

But this being an SMT game, you can fuse your personas together and keep making better ones in the Velvet Room. When you fuse personas, if the new resulting persona is of an arcana that you have a good relationship with the character related to that arcana they get extra EXP after the fusion. Also the resulting persona will be able to learn moves from his “parents”. There’s a bunch more options in the Velvet Room that you eventually unlock.

Another element of combat that I didn’t mention earlier is confidants (which I just call social links). As you hang out with different characters in your party and some NPCs, you become closer friends with them. Why this matters in any way is that different characters give you different skills in battle. The party members themselves get new things they can do in battle with you like Baton Pass or Endure. For characters that aren’t in your party they can give you benefits outside of dungeons/battle such as buying more medication items or upgrading your guns, while some of them might give you new things you can do in combat (like switching out characters with people that are in backup, or starting battles up allowed to shoot all the enemies with a bit of button mashing if you ambush them). Oh and party members get stronger personas if you max them out, yay.

Overall the RPG aspects are solid. Very enjoyable IMO.

I love that this has dungeons

Persona 4 was a pretty okay game. It wasn’t as strong as this one. Its dungeons though were absolute shit, just randomly-generated stuff that wasn’t terribly fun to go through. Each dungeon had its quirks, but in general just hallways and rooms and not much to talk about.

This game actually has dungeons though. Actually designed dungeons. With actually-interesting stuff going on.

This does have a rudimentary stealth system, where you can sneak up on enemies and, once you get close enough, you can jump on them and initiate combat which starts it with an ambush. If they see you the alert level of the dungeon goes up (get it to 100% and you get thrown out of the dungeon I think… maybe you lose a day, I dunno, I didn’t let that happen). If they see you and hit you you get surrounded and ambushed. If they see you you can still hit them and start a normal battle. You can hide behind cover and wall corners and ambush from there too.

As for the dungeons themselves, there’s puzzles and siderooms for treasure bests and actual thought-out placements for things. It’s many a step up from randomly-generated stuff, and with the stealth enemy placement actually matters.

Are all the dungeons good? Hell no. The space dungeon can go fuck itself. Not sure why I hated it so much. Other issues come with the stealth actually. Sometimes if you fuck up the stealth and get ambushed an enemy will respawn right in your face after the battle and ambush you again. No idea how this happens. I had several moments where it happened several times with the same enemy.

If you want randomly-generated dungeons, Mementos is your place. Randomly-generated, lots of floors (more unlock as you progress in the game), fairly boring but a decent place to level up if you want to waste lots of time. It is pretty important to go through as the game advances though, as this is where you’ll do sidequests and it’s good for a bit of extra cash… plus preparation for other things.

This game is LOOOOONG, and not in a good way. Also linear to the extreme

So the RPG parts are great, the story’s really good… but man this game is annoying as fuck. And yes, I know this is an issue that’s pretty normal with Persona.

So this game runs on a calendar. You go to school, then do 1 after school activity, 1 evening activity, then go to the next day. On weekends you still only get 2 activities. If you go to a palace or Mementos it also takes your evening activity and Morgana will tell you to go to bed. Since it runs on a calendar, it is insanely linear. Things happen at specific dates, palaces need to be done by certain dates,and when the game decides “fuck you, you don’t get activities today”… well fuck you, you don’t get activities today, and Morgana will tell you to go to bed. He does that. A LOT.

Activities range from going to the diner to maid cafés to studying to hanging out with confidants. Some confidants require certain social stats like kindness and guts and such to hang out with them, you can find all sorts of activities to increase those (and sometimes hanging out with characters gives extra points).

SO when you get access to a palace, you’re given a time limit to clear it. Around 21 days usually (+/- 10 days). A palace takes roughly 3 days to go through. Those remaining 18+ days? Activities! The palace is down so you can’t go back there. The story doesn’t advance either until the time limit. You can go to mementos, but that’s a pretty massive time waste (I honestly only did it once per palace). So I hope you like reading dialogue. Because there’s lots of dialogue to read when you’re not going through dungeons and doing other such stuff that’s actually fun. Most of said dialogue isn’t even really important to anything unless you really care about the social link. By the end of the game I was skipping all that shit, even with the characters I like.

So that’s my primary complaint with this one. Sure the game is great and probably the best post-two Persona, but geeze, I think in my 77 hours of gameplay roughly 45-50 of those were spent NOT HAVING FUN (well at first it was fine, but it dragged on). That’s a lot to ask, and not something I feel is really hard to fix. Just put in more dungeons and less time spent outside of them talking to people. Or reduce the number of days and make activities give more stats/progress. I feel I could’ve gotten the same experience if the game was half the length, honestly. Just less annoyed at all the boring by the end.

Seriously if this issues wasn’t there this game would be a top 3 choice for GotY probably. But it’s such a big issues it gets knocked down a bit.

Kawakami is the best waifu

Deal with it nerds.

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