Atlus, aside from the absolutely stunning Catherine, largely skipped the previous home console generation. Persona 5 not only marks the sixth main entry in the Persona series but also marks a triumph of a return for Atlus. Persona 5 is not only the most accessible game in the series to date but also one packed to the brim of things to love for longtime fans of both Persona and the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series. A game where I spend 100 hours in a single playthrough and immediately hop back in to start again is something truly special.
The formula is similar to previous titles in the series. You play as a young Japanese student. You’re sent to Tokyo on probation after an incident in your sleepy hometown. Unlike its predecessors, Persona 5 opens with a literal bang. Starting at a late-game moment, the game boldly gives you a glimpse of what’s to come before being whisked back to the beginning of the story; most of the story delivered in flashback fashion.
Given how the game is narrative-driven experience, I won’t spoil anything further. Persona has never been a series to shy away from mature subjects, but the light-hearted atmosphere softens the blows a little. Atlus delves a little deeper thematically and engineers an experience that gripped me from start to finish.
The members of the Phantom Thieves all feel like outcasts from their families and peers, and the sense of community and friendship that grows between them all is very heart-warming. There are absolutely no punches pulled; you get to see first-hand how subjects like failure, suicide, and abuse change people, and it’s truly impressive to see how much care Atlus takes when dealing with these sensitive issues.
Atlus delves a little deeper thematically and engineers an experience that gripped me from start to finish.
There are multiple twists along the way and multiple endings; the true ending being a perfect conclusion to the tale of the Phantom Thieves. The story of Persona 5 is definitely one to miss spoilers for. All of the characters are extremely well written, and their adventures are as heartbreaking as they are hilarious.
The core Persona gameplay is still present from previous games in the series. The game follows a calendar system, and you have to balance your life as the leader of the notorious Phantom Thieves with living an ordinary high-school life. A normal day sees your protagonist taking the train to Shujin Academy, going to class, then choosing what to do with free time afterwards.
There are tonnes of pastimes to take part in, such as studying for your exams, working at a part-time job or going fishing; just to name a few. Doing these activities is very important, as they raise your personal traits (such as your knowledge or charm), which are useful for talking to certain people.
And you’ll definitely want to talk to a lot of people. The social link system makes a return as the Confidant system, giving you a whole host of people to spend your free time with. Spending time with folks not only provides benefits in battles (such as unlocking new skills for your teammates, giving you more options in negotiations, or unlocking more items for you to buy) but also provides an opportunity to get to know the supporting cast.
The small stories on show are every bit as well written and gripping as the main plot. My favourite cooperations were with your teacher Kamakawi, the down-on-his-luck politician Yoshida, and Futaba and Makoto from the main party, but all of them are worth delving into. I’m just sad I couldn’t see them all to the end on my first playthrough.
All of the characters are extremely well written, and their adventures are as heartbreaking as they are hilarious.
In addition to this, there are two types of dungeons for you to explore. The main story dungeons are drastically different to the procedurally-generated affairs of Persona 3 and 4. Here, the dungeons have been painstakingly crafted, full of enemies, puzzles, and traps and all have very distinct styles.
The main dungeons are called Palaces; which materialise as the desires of people become distorted, and are like alternate reality versions of real-world locations. The goal of these dungeons is to steal the treasure waiting at the end, thus forcing a change of heart in the individual the Palace belongs to. There’s also a new stealth system, which allows you to weave in and out of cover, allowing you to ambush your foes for advantages in battles.
Each of these palaces has an alert meter, and the party is kicked from the dungeon if it reaches 100%; successfully ambushing enemies, and not simply rushing through, is the key to keeping it low.
The other type of dungeon is akin to Tartarus from 3 and is a giant labyrinth of multiple, random-generated floors. This dungeon is the result not of one single person’s warped psyche, but that of the entire city. This second dungeon is not essential for completion, but gradually expands throughout the story and offers a neat little way to gain experience, more Personas to use in battle, and complete a few side quests.
The dungeons have been painstakingly crafted and are full of enemies, puzzles, and traps, each with a distinct style.
The battles have also seen a huge improvement from previous games. While other studios have strived for a more action-orientated approach, Atlus have remained steadfast with turn-based combat. Battles have been sped up, and actions are now mapped to the face buttons, saving you from navigating tedious menus.
Battles play out similarly to Pokémon, in that you use your Persona’s skills to hit the enemy’s weakness to deal damage and knock them down. When all enemies have been knocked down, you rush in for a highwayman-esque Hold Up, during which you can either negotiate with the enemy or wipe them out with an all-out attack (coupled with a super stylish animation and victory screen).
Negotiations return from Shin Megami Tensei, and talking to your enemy can persuade them to join your roster of demons, give you an item or money, retreat or even go back to fighting you. Personas can be fused together to make even more powerful ones to fight alongside, and all of them make reference to mythologies or religions from across the globe. Imagine Pokémon, except Pikachu is Thor and Charizard is Satan.
Tying the whole experience together is some of the best presentation I have seen in a video game. Everything is delivered with a vibrant and bright sense of style. I can’t remember the last time (if ever) that a loading screen of all things looked this good. The menu system is absolutely gorgeous, with bold tones of red comforting the screen.
Imagine Pokémon, except Pikachu is Thor and Charizard is Satan.
Long-time series composer Shoji Meguro brought his A-game to Persona 5, and the result is an inimitable soundtrack. The acid jazz tones of Catherine, combined with singer Lyn Inaizumi’s vocals and influences from Meguro’s more rock-influenced work for the Digital Devil Saga games makes for one hell of a potent combination. The music is also perfect for the scenes it plays in, from sitting in a cafe on a rainy afternoon to laying the smack down on the final boss, every song sticks the landing perfectly.
Persona 5 is not just a follow-up worthy of its amazing predecessors and its lengthy development time, but also one of the finest games ever made in its own right. This is the perfect start for curious newcomers to the series, and a treat for long-time fans alike. Since getting my copy a month ago, there hasn’t been a moment I haven’t been thinking about this truly special game.
This copy of Persona 5 was purchased by Staff Writer Michael Hicks for £45. He spent 90+ hours drinking coffee to fuel high-stakes heists.