Persona 5 Review – Back To School

What a bunch o’ jokers…

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Format: PS3, PS4 (reviewed)
Released: April 4, 2017
Copy provided by publisher

It’s not often I sink 120 hours into a game in just two weeks, and usually doing so feels like an absolute chore pushed through solely for work purposes. Honestly, I really didn’t mind spending almost all day, every day, for multiple weeks being a magic Japanese school boy. Persona 5 made trading any semblance I had of a social life for a fake one full of talking cats and jock punks seem like a worthwhile and valuable use of my time.

God It feels weird to have finished something that consumed my life so fully.

Persona 5 is an RPG where you play as a japanese teen who, after preventing a powerful politician from sexually assaulting a woman, finds that same politician framing him for the assault. As a result he’s kicked out of school and sent from his small town to Tokyo, and a big city school that’s better equipped to deal with “problem students”.

He meets an eclectic group of archetypical classmates, then bumps into a talking magical cat and realises that he’s going to have to split the next year between managing a standard life as well as fixing some otherworldly bullshit. In that regard, it’s pretty standard Persona series fare.

If you’ve ever played a Persona game before, the core flow of the game here is largely unchanged. You have to split your time between managing your social bonds, attending school, practicing for tests, earning money at a part time job, reading books to beef up stats and tackling the occasional long form story dungeon.

There are only so many days available in the game, with certain events locked to set date ranges, so it’s highly likely on a first playthrough you’ll in some ways fail to utilise your time perfectly, and I certainly feel some room in P5 to come back a few months down the line and try refocusing my time in certain parts of a repeat playthrough.

If you’ve not played a Persona game before, don’t stress about the 5 in the name, it’s a completely stand alone title.

The most notable way Persona 5 differs from past entries in the series is the vastly improved approach the game has to dungeon design. While Persona 3 and 4 featured randomly generated labyrinth style dungeons that largely gated progression through sheer forced grinding and did little to clarify intended paths of progression, Persona 5’s dungeons are unique crafted spaces.

This shift from randomly generated content to actual designed levels helps a lot with the overall quality of the design, taking areas from grind fests to spaces that felt like I as a player could actually plan paths of least resistance and work towards a known goal.

The shift away from randomly generated labyrinths also allows for areas to be a lot more visually and thematically tied to the unfolding story, acting as mirrors of areas from the game twisted in interesting ways. This really helps the dungeons to feel more tied into what’s happening in the rest of the game.

The combat flow inside of dungeons is also considerably altered in P5 with a focus placed on successful stealth before engaging in combat.

Here’s the short version – If you fight an enemy without sneaking up on them, or are caught mid-sneak, a bar within that dungeon fills by 15% and if you defeat a set of enemies it drops by 5%. If the bar hits 100% then you are booted out of the dungeon for that night, meaning that you’ll need to spend an additional in-game day attempting to complete the dungeon rather than making any other uses of your time.

The stealth system on the game is simple and stylish with easy options to hop behind cover and lunge at enemies that will likely pose no mechanical interest veteran stealth game players. Someone like me, who sucks at stealth mechanics, gets to feel consistently cool and in control. So long as I took a few seconds to think about where I was heading and my route there, I was able to avoid the vast majority of non stealth encounters with relative ease.

The use of lost time as a punishment for failed stealth feels like a brilliant level of punishment because of how keenly aware I was at all times of the feeling I was already missing content passing me by in game.

However, if you are a fan of those randomly generated dungeons or just want to grind out levels in an environment that isn’t a fixed story environment, Persona 5 does include an optional way to experience that content in the form of Mementos.

Mementos are endless randomly generated dungeons that remove the stealth elements from dungeon traversal, allow level grinding without having to revisit old environments, and allow the story dungeons to be made more story tied and tight while not closing off the old style dungeons as an option for players. I really feel like in that regard Persona 5 fit in the best of both worlds.

The combat in Persona 5 is still largely the same turn based combat system from earlier Persona games with a few minor tweaks that I think largely benefit the overall flow of the game.

The biggest of these combat changes is an increased focus on elemental attacks. If you successfully work out an enemy or enemy type’s elemental weakness and attack them with it you’ll knock that enemy down allowing for an out of order followup attack. If you can successfully knock all enemies in a fight down simultaneously you can either finish them off with a cool team wide finishing move or talk to them.

Previously employed in the Shin Megami Tensei series but not in the last couple of Persona games, talking to a group of downed enemies will allow you to attempt to recruit them as Pokemon style summons for the protagonist, as well as asking them for money or items. This is done via a slightly wonky dialogue tree that requires some guesswork to ascertain what sort of response will get the enemies to co-operate rather than run, but it does feel cool to occasionally add a badass creature to your toolset mid dungeon.

I do however wish working out what to say to enemies was a bit more clear and less convoluted.

Outside of the mechanical stuff which all either is as it was in Persona 4 or improved, the overall presentation in Persona 5 is pretty stellar. While it’s not a technical powerhouse in terms of pushing the PS4 to its limits, the bright crisp over the top art style really gives P5 a solid unique identity. It’s the kind of game I could be hard pressed not to recognise from any given screenshot. The music is also some of the best the series has seen, mixing jazz, classical, orchestral rock and J-Pop beats into a catchy blend I’ve been listening to on loop while writing my review.

The writing is up to the Persona series usual high standards. It’s a slow burn of a game, the kind of game you need to be willing to sit down and focus on to experience properly rather than just rushing through dialogue.

While some are going to be annoyed by the sometimes glacial pacing, I personally loved the day to day flow the same reason I tend to enjoy my first few weeks with an Animal Crossing game. I got quickly invested in the game’s wider cast, the ways their day to day lives evolved, and I was more than happy to sink countless hours into delving into building relationships with a fascinating group of people.

Honestly, I only have one major gripe with Persona 5, and it’s a gripe that I’m not sure is unfair or not. A big part of my ability to invest as much time as I did into Persona 4 Golden was due to it being playable on the Vita, a portable system, and Persona 5 being locked to home consoles (PS3 and PS4) does somewhat hamper my ability to integrate it into my life. While I usually want to be playing the game’s big sprawling dungeons on a TV, the slow intricate social life management sections of Persona are honestly perfect fodder for playing on the sofa while watching TV or on a quick bus ride to pass the time.

As someone who has spent a lot of time with the Switch recently, and who loved the hell out of the Vita during that year or two it was getting regular games released on it, I really did find myself at times wishing this game had some kind of portable version. It just felt like the social life aspects of the game might have been more at home when I experienced them on the Vita in P4G.

Still, the fact that’s my biggest complaint in 120 hours of JRPG says a lot. I was damn impressed by Persona 5, and will certainly be returning to it once I’ve had a few months to decompress from this super concise playthrough. I played 120 hours in just a couple of weeks and damn it was a lot of fun.

8.5/10
Great

Mongoose
Guest
Mongoose

Besides the dialogue tree being kinda weird which has been a complaint for the Shin Megami Tensei series in general, what other major criticisms were there besides it not being portable? I want to understand why a 8.5 or not a 9 or a 10. In my eyes giving it a 8.5 means that it has one or two major things holding it back but they don’t seem to be mentioned. I’m just curious since I do love the Persona series but I’m not blind to how wonky it can be.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Man i wish if Atlus bring this to Switch,P4G is my favorite handheld game of all times

DickardDeckard
Guest
DickardDeckard

Good read.
Thanks, Laura!

Mattux
Guest
Mattux

OH NOES WE GOT A LOW LOW SCORE OF…
…8.5?
Really guys? I love Persona as much as the next guy, but let’s not get into the Zelda BOTW levels of salt here.

Mando44646
Guest
Mando44646

I’d die to have a portable Persona 5 on Switch

Sned
Guest
Sned

Please can everyone actually read the review before commenting. Laura has many more criticisms other than “It’s not portable”. Don’t think like that’s only reason she knocked it down a couple of points.

Emily Richards
Guest
Emily Richards

Review is kind of disappointing. Not because the score. But because I don’t feel she did a good job explaining what the games flaws were. She spends like 2 paragraphs talking about it not being on Vita.

Don’t get me wrong, I put easily 200 hours on my vita for Persona 4 and Golden. I understand why she would want this on Vita. I get it. But this literally has no bearing on the game itself.

I’m about 15 hours into the game, and there is just so many things to talk about, that isn’t in this review.

Alex
Guest
Alex

I had an anxiety breakdown at the end of 2008 and never finished Persona 4. I like to think I’ll finish Persona 5. If I wasn’t busy with the Great Gaming Flood of 2017 I’d try to go back and finish P4. (I’m juggling Horizon, Zelda, Pokemon, and Nier.)

Tvirus Getz
Guest
Tvirus Getz

yeah, I wish it were portable too
having played 3, 4 and Q all on handhelds, having to play a persona on console is gonna feel weird

Alex Olinkiewicz
Guest
Alex Olinkiewicz

I HATE YOU LAURA…. No, not because you gave the Sequel to my 2nd Favorite Game of All Time a 8.5. But because you got to fucking play the Sequel to my 2nd Favorite Game of All Time, while I still have to wait 6 MORE FUCKING DAYS to play the Sequel to my 2nd Favorite Game of All Time!!!! Though personally I’m not bothering to read your review, because I have been avoiding every Trailer and Article about P5 like the Plague, the less I know the better my first experience I’ll get will be. But man, this has… Read more »

Xyra
Guest
Xyra

Great review, I am really looking forward to sinking my teeth into this game.

And 8.5 is probably well deserved if P3 and P4 are anything to go by. There are definitely dead space moments of dungeon crawling and repetitive gameplay loops in the older games that really hold them back.

Gurphardt
Guest

It would be really cool if one of these Persona games people seem to hold in such high regard came out on a platform I actually own.

Fallen Prime
Guest
Fallen Prime

To future commenters on this article who see the 8.5 as some kind of personal slight: I’m sure Persona is near and dear to you. It certainly is to Laura, and she gave it a great score to reflect her enjoyment of 5. So please, for everyone’s sake, DO NOT ZELDA THIS UP.

dougalicious
Guest
dougalicious

Spends 120 hours playing it over 2 weeks.

One major gripe is it’s not portable.

Considering I couldn’t give less of a shit if a game is on a portable system, this basically equates to a 10/10 review for me.

Joe Keckley
Guest
Joe Keckley

Love the review, but i never want portable games if i can help it. As someone who has no time to do anything outside. I’m driving, shopping for groceries, or at a theater. I’ve no time for portable games, and my 3DS is squarely locked to it charger when in use. So, i don’t have a portable life..

I want more portable games to be TV games.

Omega068
Guest
Omega068

Thanks for your perspective Jim! Looking forward to playing this one myself. And yeah I hope it gets a Golden style remake on a portable system, maybe the Switch, at some point.

And guys, don’t get mad if you don’t like the score. He recommends we play the game pretty overwhelmingly. That’s all that really matters.

Sperium3000
Guest
Sperium3000

Wow, early review. Nice.

Davorbasic
Guest
Davorbasic

I demand her head on a platter jk

CaptainDustTree
Guest
CaptainDustTree

Before this gets too far out of hand, thanks Laura for a great review. It really showed the genuine enthusiasm you had for it.

Rehanlbp We'd
Guest
Rehanlbp We'd

Burn her … Kappa

Shui Gor
Guest
Shui Gor

That’s unfortunate about your gripe, but if Persona games being ported to handheld is any indication (except the Arena spinoff), chances are P5 will eventually hit the handhelds.

Beej
Guest
Beej

So who here read the first line in reyn’s voice from xenoblade?

MajorKoenisch
Guest
MajorKoenisch

So your only gripe with the game is that its not portable? Are you fucking serious? Ever heard of Remote Play?

Kain Klarden
Guest

I can see how that would be. I never finished P3 and 4 to this day just cause I somehow never felt that invested in playing it on a home console. I probably should give the PSP and Vita versions a go, I bet I’ll be able to finish them much sooner. But Persona does feel like something that should fit portable system perfectly, it being more visual novel-y and slow burning.

Abdeel Morales López
Guest
Abdeel Morales López

wtf? only 8.5? for not being portable?

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