By William Haderlie / April 14th, 2017
|Release Date||April 4, 2017|
|Genre||Japanese Role Playing Game|
|Age Rating||ESRB M for Mature|
At this point, you have likely heard the news about this game and have some idea about what review scores Persona 5 has been getting. So I’m not even going to bother burying the lead and I will verify that, yes, this game is a masterpiece. Not only that, it’s quite possibly one of the best JRPGs ever made. If you like that genre of games at all, you would be crazy not to purchase this game and at least give it a try. So instead of just focusing on that side of the story, I’ll be diving a little deeper into the game and its long term appeal from the perspective of someone who is a very old school fan of this series. In fact, I still own my original PlayStation disc from before the Shin Megami Tensei brand was known here in the US and it was named Revelations Persona. While it is interesting that this newest entry in the franchise is getting such wide critical acclaim, I’m going to personalize this review by talking about how and why it so deeply resonates with me. I never thought that my review would consist of this phrase prior to playing the game myself, but I will also go into why Persona 5 is an even better game than Persona 4: Golden.
If you asked what my 5 favorite games of all time were, the list would change a little depending on my mood at the time. But generally, the answer would be something along the lines of Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Dragon Quest VI, and Persona 4: Golden, in no particular order. That list is notable for a couple reasons. The first is that 4 of those 5 games are properties of a single company, Square Enix (and yes, I know that the original Dragon Quest VI release on Super Famicon was strictly an Enix game). The second point of interest is that the only non-Square Enix game on that list happens to be a much more recent release than all the others. I would also like to give my list of favorite Persona games, this time in descending order (prior to this game): Persona 4: Golden, Persona 3 Portable, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and Persona. Obviously I am only using what I consider the best version of each game and I’m excluding the non-RPG offshoot releases. But my point is fairly obvious: for me the Persona games have consistently gotten better with every release. Not everyone agrees with this opinion, as many people think Persona 3 was the height of the series, or that Persona 3 FES was a better game than P3P. I’ve seen a couple people who think that Persona 2 is the series highlight. But most people agree that this series has gotten better over time. I frankly did not think that this trend would continue, but I was quite wrong. When you combine how I’ve felt about the 2 most recent Persona games along with how I felt about SMT IV: Apocalypse, I would dare say that ATLUS may be operating at 1990’s Squaresoft-level in JRPG development.
The reason this game ended up being my favorite Persona game is the same reason that they have each gotten better in the past—ATLUS has taken the formula that makes each game so great and has iterated and improved upon it. There are a few tie ins in each game that ensure you know that they all take place in the same basic universe, but none of them are direct sequels other than the two versions of Persona 2. There are really only a few things that tie all Persona games together and are separate from the rest of SMT: The Velvet Room, Igor, and high school kids. The fact that this series is set around high school was actually the initial impetus for the first Persona game and its differentiating factor from the rest of the main series. Other series mainstays have been added or removed in each subsequent entry. Good examples of these changes are: 3rd person dungeon crawling added in Persona 2, and demon negotiating and guns removed from Persona 3, replaced with greater focus on social links and interaction. For this game they added back in the guns and the demon negotiating, but also kept the major focus on social development from the previous two Persona games. Not only that, but they made the Social Links even better than before by making each Confidant much more well written and individual than any previous game in the series. Each of them also give greater benefits to the combat party, the main character’s abilities, and their time management. A really good example of this is the Star Arcana Confidant (I will try to avoid names and spoilers) who gives you huge benefits to your combat abilities. These effects even extend to changing the way Persona combat plays out in a very major way, allowing you to change out your party members mid-fight (similar to Final Fantasy X at the Arcana’s highest level).
Not only do the Social Links add a lot of fun combat abilities and buffs, but there is a really great cast of characters here. Because I am still generally abiding by the embargo information, I’m going to generally avoid too many specifics about the later party members. Also, the inability to take any screenshots beyond a certain date in the game makes showing examples problematic as well. But I will say that the cast of characters is massive and very esoteric at times. However, if you are looking for an amazing waifu, look no further than this outstanding cast. One of the more shocking aspects of the game for me was just how many of the women you can romance in the game (no, there is no same-sex relationships, even though I would have been completely fine with that), and even beyond the number is the variety. Only one of the women the hero can romance is even younger than him, and only one of them is his own age (obviously Ann, the Lovers Arcana). The rest of them are either slightly older than him, or significantly older than him. For some reason our main character is prime cougar bait, but when those women are this fascinating, who really cares? It did shock me a few times that they really went there with some of the relationships, and I have little doubt that a few people were offended by it (particularly the Temperance Arcana). But the stories told in each of these relationships were all extremely fleshed out and often took rather surprising turns. Once again, taking what was already good about Persona 3 and Persona 4, and making it even better.
There is so much to do in this game that it can feel overwhelming at first. Some of that is actually intentional because they really wanted to give the feel of a frenetic Tokyo, and it definitely worked for me. With so much to do, the worry becomes whether you can get all you want to do done, because time management is always a factor in every Persona game. I suspect that there will be guides for how you can get as many trophies as you want to in a completely fresh run of the game, but honestly that’s not the most fun way to play any game, let alone a Persona. But what I found instead is that it was actually a little easier for me to max all my Social Links and Social Stats on my first run through the game than it was in Persona 3 or Persona 4. There were a lot of things that I couldn’t do, looking at the trophy list after, such as reading every book and playing every video game and so on. But on the very last fishing trip I was even able to fish out the Pool Guardian. So even if there aren’t quite as many days available as there are in Persona 4: Golden (due to the couple extra months added at the end), there is still plenty of time to do what you want to. Some of your social links (especially Temperance) also give you extra time in your days as well, so they really have refined even the time management in these games.
The improved Social Links and the overall world story being slightly better than either P3P or P4G would alone be enough to call this the best Persona game. But they weren’t done innovating the series there: the largest improvement was most definitely in dungeon design. A common complaint about the previous two entries in the series was that the procedurally generated dungeons felt a bit boring and repetitive. Even though I loved grinding in those dungeons, there is certainly a point to that criticism. They totally addressed that in this game and designed each of the palaces from the bottom up to be more interesting, and each one is quite different from both the games that came before and the other dungeons in this game. There is another dungeon in the game called Mementos that is mostly (huge spoilers to say any more than that) procedurally generated, and you can use that dungeon to grind for levels, crafting materials, and new weapons and armor. But the story dungeons, called palaces, contain a lot of interesting puzzles that are exclusive to that dungeon and generally themed around the ruler of that palace. You also play as thieves so there is a general overriding theme of sneaking around (like you see above) and attacking enemies when they are unaware. Thankfully each of the dungeons has safe rooms that you can save your game in, because many of the later dungeons can be extremely large (but always in a fantastic way, and I was never bored with them whatsoever).
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