The last change that I want to talk about is the combat system, since it’s the largest part of what you do in any JRPG. Once again they changed this aspect of the game, and once again they did so in such a way as to make this the new standard for the series. Bringing back guns was a nice touch, as well as giving two new damage types (Nuclear and Psychokinesis). They also kept the new changes from SMT IV: Apocalypse where Light (Bless) and Dark (Curse) damage types are not just for instant kill spells. But the general dynamism and flow of the battles are the largest improvements. Not only is the visual representation of the fights very stylish and cool, but the addition of the baton system makes the battles flow in a more interesting way. Baton Pass allows a character who does a critical hit or hits a weak spot to pass off their additional hit to another party member, but that party member does about 1.5 times the damage for their next attack (something that has only appeared in the recent Tokyo Mirage Sessions before). If that party member who was passed to also hits another weak spot of a non-downed creature, they can also baton pass to someone else. This is a little difficult to explain in words, but it makes the battles more interactive, quick, and fun. To counterbalance this, the enemies are generally much stronger than the shadows in the previous two games. They are already much more interesting because they are persona type shadows once again instead of just being generic enemies, but they also seem to hit harder and have a little bit more intelligent AI than in previous games. So you really do need to make the most of the combat systems to give yourself an edge in this one.
The other consequence of having the shadows be personas again is that they have reintroduced demon negotiation into this offshoot series. Interestingly they did not go with the much more complex negotiations of SMT IV: Apocalypse, instead keeping it fairly light and easy. I can definitely understand, and generally agree with this decision, as the mainline SMT series has always been considered more of a “hardcore” design. You can negotiate for a shadow to either join you, give you money, or give you an item. Once you have the shadow in your registry (even if they aren’t in your actual party), it allows you to get money and items off of subsequent shadows that are the same. The best way to go about battles for maximum effectiveness is to try and kill all enemies but one, then either down that last one or reduce its health to just a sliver (after that they will usually give up themselves, especially if you are a higher level than they are) and then negotiate with that last one for extra cash or items. You generally will want to avoid negotiating when you have a full party of shadows downed because you will only receive the experience and money from the one that you negotiate with (the rest of them will basically just run away and nothing will be earned). Some of your Confidants (such as party members and the Sun Arcana) will give you boosts to your negotiating abilities as well, so this system is generally fairly easy and much more fun than it is a chore.
There are way too many new systems to go into them all here in the review, but there wasn’t any part of the game that I felt was a step back from previous ones. I still really love many of the characters in previous games, and I still intend to go back and play them fairly often just like I’ve always done. But even in the character department, my all time favorite Persona character is now from Persona 5, and that’s my new waifu for life Futaba. But speaking of going back and playing these games, the long term viability and interaction with Persona games tends to be with New Game+. That way as you go through the game again you can just enjoy the story and Social Links without having to build up your Social Stats again. This is why my save file for Persona 3 Portable is over 300 hours and my save file for Persona 4 Golden is over 400 hours. When I want to play them again I just pull up my most recent clear game file. Interestingly enough, they also improved New Game+ for Persona 5. You still get the same things that you used to, retaining your Persona Registry, money, and equipment. But this time you are also given special items from all the Confidants you have reached Rank 10 with at the very end of the game. This allows you to use a lot of the really nice abilities from those Arcana as soon as you gain that person as a Social Link, even before you have raised them back to that previous level. For instance, once you reach the day where you can get Rank 1 in the Strength Arcana, you will also open up the ability to use Lockdown as well as the higher Lockdown skills. This allows you to give even the early Personas more special skills and make them even better than before. Additionally, you will receive one special item from a special lady (of your choosing) which will allow you to increase her Social Link at a much faster rate in your next game, and give you even more Free Time. I realize that not everyone will understand these things right now, but as a niche JRPG website, chances are many of our readers are extremely familiar with the Persona series.
The Persona series has always been known for its fantastic music and voice acting, and they are just as great as you would expect in this one. I’m honestly still trying to decide whether I like the Japanese voices more or the English voices (particular pleasure from hearing one of my favorite voice actors, Matthew Mercer). In general I prefer the Japanese voice acting simply because the story is set in Japan and it retains that wonderful Japanese feel to everything that happens, even though much of the last 25% of the game feels like it could have easily happened in the USA last year. The one negative about the voice work is that I wish a higher percentage of the dialogue was fully voiced, but for a game this long and for this much written dialogue, I can understand why it wasn’t. Most of my favorite songs in this game are in the last 50% of the game, but the entire soundtrack is really stellar and this series just keeps on being highly innovative in that department. But previously the music was much more stylish than the artistic designs were, which is not the case in this entry. As you can tell from all the screenshots and trailers for this game, it just absolutely bleeds style from every pore. Honestly it’s going to be really difficult to go back to mundane JRPGs after this visual feast. From the battles to the menus to the animated scenes, everything is just simply gorgeous.
So where is the paragraph of negatives or criticisms of the game? You won’t find one here: this game is basically perfect for my sensibilities. I accept that many people will not enjoy Persona 5 because they just don’t like these kinds of games. And that is completely fine: I would not be as interested in the game if it was created for everyone. Bringing the discussion back to my first and second paragraphs, I find it highly interesting that ATLUS and Square Enix took their highest selling series in completely opposite directions. The latter decided to go wide by trying to make an entry that would appeal to a wider demographic of people with a more western flavored RPG. ATLUS took the opposite tack and decided to just make the best JRPG they possibly could, iterating on every formula and everything that made this series great instead of replacing it. For me, there is little doubt as to which direction I prefer. Plan for an epic story that will take you many hours to complete if you jump onto this stylish bandwagon: my Clear File was a couple minutes over 135 hours. It’s certainly possible to finish this game in less time, but I’m determined to try to find as many nooks and crannies and optional things to do as I can when I review a game. But I really don’t think that anyone who finishes the game in under 80 hours (and gets the True Ending) really experienced the game: it is genuinely that long even without any grinding. Even at 135 hours my party members were not even at level 90 and I had only finished 95% of the Persona Registry. I’ve put about another 25 hours into New Game+ so far, but catch me in a year and I wouldn’t be surprised if my save file is well into the 200’s and possibly even 300’s. So there is zero doubt that it’s worth the full $59.99 price for the game, and I would consider it worth the price of a PlayStation 4 on top of that (just like I consider a PS Vita worth buying for Persona 4 Golden alone). Even in a year stacked full of amazing games, this is my game of the year so far, and one of the greatest JRPGs ever made.
Review Copy Provided By The Publisher