Some games become legends before they are even released. The expectation levels for Persona 5 have been off the scale amongst lovers of JRPGs ever since it was announced and now the time has come to experience the next chapter in the revered Shin Megami Tensei saga.
For those unfamiliar with the ‘Persona’ games, they are an engaging mix of high school life simulator mixed with magical fantasy dungeon crawling role-playing. By day you get to go to school in Tokyo, make friends, flirt with girls and study for exams. After school, you can get a part time job, make coffee with you guardian who runs a café or explore shops and backstreets.
When not at school or exploring the ‘real world’ you get to battle demonic forces in alternate dimension dungeons and dream palaces – stealing treasure and bringing down real world criminals by capturing their hearts desires.
What you do in the day-to-day has ripples and repercussions in the alternate dimensions – friends can become partners in battle, items crafted like lock picks can be taken with you and used and acquaintances can unlock special powers (personas).
The Persona games require patience, this isn’t an action RPG, in fact at times it can feel like a virtual novel as you pick dialogue and make decisions, there are certainly lots of cut scenes to wade through. But where these games shine is in the alternate dimension turn-based battles. Persona 5 is the most refined, most exciting and best looking of the series – packing a wonderfully deep combat which is easy to pick up but hard to master. The namesakes of the title are super powerful beings who can unleash a range of crazy attacks, abilities and battle changing buffs. Collecting them Pokémon style (by defeating foes and/or fusing them to create new ones) makes for compelling gameplay, and trying out different Personas in battle allows a great deal of customisation in terms of how you choose to fight. Each enemy shadow type has a different weakness and finding these allows you to knock them down and then choose either to capture, demand money or items or unleash a combined team combo finishing move on them.
As well as the arcane powered Personas, each character gets various weapons – both melee and ranged – to wield, as well as armours and stat boosting trinkets. The outfits are unique to each member of the team (one of whom is a cat who can change into a bus – don’t ask). There is an old-school sexism at work though with armoured cooking aprons only usable by female characters, whilst the guys get macho combat vests!?
Progressing through the story takes a good number of hours (50+) and there are a tonne of side missions on top of the real-world elements that demand time because there are various activities you take part in, actually, help raise your character attributes / that allow you to be more effective in battle.
The philosophy around the Personas delve into mystical elements associated with manifestations of suppressed psyches. The story is pretty twisted, dealing with teacher/student abuse, perverted longings and other degenerate behaviour. Thanks to a website you can monitor requests from the general public and pick who you want to help – the back stories for each victim add to the righteous anger of the heroes as you battle to restore justice or just dish out some violent revenge.
The graphics are a striking art style of anime and every element is highly polished, from the cool menus through to the battle exit animations that show how much money, experience and items you have ‘won’. There is a strong soundtrack too – although it can get repetitive after sinking almost a hundred hours into the game.
Persona 5 packs a good number of challenges, and is enhanced further by a fun multiplayer element where you can check how others have used their time on the day you are currently on. This is a useful addition because there are times when it can be unclear what is the next best move. But trial and error is always rewarded and the satisfaction of taking down criminals after defeating their boss alter-egos offers some of the best gaming fun available.
The PlayStation 4 is building up an incredible catalogue of exclusive games and Persona 5 is an awesome addition, bringing some of the best JRPG goodness ever. If you’ve ever enjoyed or be curious about trying a full-on dose of Japanese role-playing, don’t deny yourself the chance to experience such a quirky, cool and engaging game – there’s nothing else like it out there!
Review Score: 4.5/5
Words by Matt Adcock.
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