HOW I GOT INTO IT
THE PERSONA SERIES was one of those games that I never felt the need to play. It wasn’t until the summer of 2008 that it finally entered into my life. My wife and I were dating at the time and she wanted to look for a new game to play. We were on a trip to Irvine, CA because my sister wanted to attend a dance workshop.
SO, WHILE MY SISTER was dancing, we decided to take a look at the shopping center since we had a lot of hours to kill. We happened to upon a Gamestop in the corner of the shopping center, and a cheap copy of Persona 4 and Persona 3 happened to be on the store shelves. My wife wanted to get both, but she settled on Persona 3.
ONCE AGAIN, I WASN’T interested in playing, but my wife became obsessed. Persona 3 is one of her favorite games of all time, so suffice it to say she played and beat Persona 3, Persona 3 FES, Persona 4, Persona 4 Golden, Persona 4 Dancing All Night, and both of the Persona 4 fighting games. When Persona 5 eventually came out, she was stoked!
SHE HAS BEEN TRYING to get me to play the Persona series since her introduction in 2008. It’s taken me until now to finally give one a try. Yes, I started with 5 (as far as the main titles go). Specifically, because my wife and I plan to go to Anime Expo this year. She plans to cosplay as Futaba and I want to cosplay as Joker in his school uniform. So I figured I should probably at least play the game, you know?
I HAVE, HOWEVER, played and beaten Persona 4 Dancing All Night and loved it! So I’m not sure why I never jumped into the main titles in the series?
OH, AND **SPOILERS** AHEAD!
YOU TAKE ON THE ROLE of a high school student, named Joker (In the anime his name is Ren. In the Manga his name is Akira. In the game he’s just The Protagonist. I like using his Phantom Thief name, and will for the remainder of this review). He’s a delinquent that has been charged with assault, and is currently on probation, under the care of the cranky business owner, Sojiro. Sojiro runs and owns a small coffee shop called Lablanc, and allows Joker to live upstairs in the messy, cluttered, attic.
JOKER IS ENROLLED in Shujin Academy, where he eventually learns that he can enter a different universe via a mysterious app on his phone. In this world, known as the Metaverse, he can change his clothes, call upon a Persona, and seeks to change the hearts of corrupt adults in an attempt to reform society.
HE MEETS COMPANIONS along the way that share his vision of justice, and they ultimately become what society knows, and fears, as the Phantom Thieves. You follow their exploits as they jump in and out of the Metaverse, changing hearts, and helping people, via requests on the Phantom Thieve’s website “Phan-site”.
THE GAMEPLAY IN Persona 5 is split into several sections. The main section of the game is the real world. Here you go to school, take tests, work jobs, hang out with your companions, and shop around the various districts like Shibuya, Akihabara, and the like. A large portion of the game takes place here since it’s where you prepare stats and equipment, before heading into the Metaverse.
YOU JUMP INTO the Metaverse for the second section of Persona 5, via the Nav-App. This is the dungeon crawling segment, where you traverse through the distorted reality of corrupt adults, known as a “Palace”. In a Palace, you must traverse through a maze of corridors, solve puzzles, and fight Shadow creatures, before ultimately taking on the Palace’s main Boss.
COMBAT IS TURN-BASED, where companions and enemies take turns attacking, defending, or casting buffs and debuffs. The actions that you and your party have at their disposal are Attack, Defend, Item, Persona, Order, and Gun. The Attack allows you to deal melee damage with your weapon. Defend puts you into a defensive position to nullify a bit of the impact from oncoming attacks. Item lets you use healing or other items that help boost your stats. Persona is essentially casting magic spells. Order lets you change party members or give them commands, and Gun allows you to initiate a Hold Up.
HOLD UP OPENS a few more options. When an enemy is knocked down, you can hold them at gunpoint, which allows you to unleash an All Out Attack, where every member of your party pummels the enemy in unison or can decide to Negotiate. During negotiations, you can coax the Shadow to join your party, ask for money, or ask for an item.
WHAT I LIKED
I LOVE THE VISUAL presentation of the game! Everything, from the intro, to the battle menus, the main menu screen, and even the transition screens, scream with visual flair! I love the heavy use of blacks, all the ragged lines, shifting outlines, and juxtaposition of the red against everything. It just pops! And add that to the brilliant, beautiful smooth jazz-esque soundtrack, and the entire auditory and visual experience is freaking phenomenal. I can’t think of a game that nails the presentation quite like Persona 5. I seriously can’t stop listening to “A River in the Desert” and “The Poem of Everyone’s Soul”.
THE CHARACTERS ARE by far one of my favorite things about the game. I think it might be because you have a chance to spend a lot of time with them, and unlocking their various Confidant levels builds a deeper understanding of who they are, not only in-game, but to you as a player. Each character is distinct, unique, and has their own motivations that set them apart. It was always interesting to hang out with the various members of the Phantom Thieves, just to see what they would say, and how they’d react to the decisions you make.
DURING MY FIRST PLAYTHROUGH I maxed out the Confidant stats for Ryuji, Ann, Futaba, Morgana, and of course Akechi, Sae, and Igor. My top favorite characters, based on likability, would have to be Goro Akechi, first and foremost! Futaba is super freaking cute, Ryuji is my dude, I love Sojiro, Sae started to grow on me in the end, and Yusuke is freaking hilarious! I was sorely disappointed that I never got a chance to fully max them all out. If I could, I would have maxed out the stats of everyone in the game. Especially Sojiro, Yusuke, Mishima, Shinya, the Warden Twins, Takemi, Hifumi, and Chiyaha.
THE STORY HAD ME captivated from beginning to end. I think what made it stronger was the ability to forge bonds with many of the characters, though the Confidant rankings. Aside from that, as I said, I loved the character interactions, and how the various members of the Phantom Thieves related and acted towards each other. It made working through the game more meaningful, and when the end finally happened it added a lot of gravity to the situation because I was worried about the group. I have to admit, more so than saving or reforming society. I didn’t give a crap about what happened to society, as long as the core team was safe.
WHAT I DISLIKED
SO MANY CUTSCENES! There was so much stop and go. Loading, talking, more loading, small cutscene, fade to black. Persona 5 has a really slow pace since you only have a finite area to explore, no matter where you go, before the game transitions to the next scene, the date changing, or a character appears to talk or give you advice. Also, after battles are won, it seems like Joker runs for a little bit too long, after the battle results? Like, come on! Why is there a few unnecessary seconds of nothing but his run animation? I wish there were more fluid transitions from one area to the next. The graphic visuals made it bearable, but man did I notice it. So. Much. Waiting.
THE TIME LIMIT. I understand what they were trying to do, but the time limit was so… well, limiting! And having to go to sleep each night just adds to the irritation. It was always upsetting for Mona to constantly tell me I had to go to bed. Like, is sleep that important? The world may end, people are about to die, but you need to be in bed on time! Can I go level up, so I have the power and abilities to stand against evil and proclaim my justice to the world?
I GUESS I SHOULD also talk about my least favorite characters, as well. For about 90% of the game, I hated Morgana! All she did the majority of the time was bi*** and moan about everything, talk down to everyone on the team, boss them around, and then betrays you at some point. She eventually levels out in the end and I grew to like him, but dude, he’s like the equivalent of Navi in Zelda Ocarina of Time, except with more lines and dialogue.
I also wasn’t too fond of Ann because a lot of what she hoped for and wanted felt superficial. Her only saving grace is her need to help Shiho. Mishima was another annoying character, that was clingy, weak, tried to manipulate the Phantom Thieves for his own gain, and was just so freaking needy and pathetic. Up until you ranked him to the point where he had a change of heart, that is. It was nice to see him chill out, at some point.
I WAS EXTREMELY DISAPPOINTED in the way that the game reveals how Joker survived. It was just a long exposition dump, that downplayed the whole thing. The plan was overly complicated. There was so much that could go wrong! And it just “happens”. I mean, I feel like they should have peppered and foreshadowed clues to what they planned to do, throughout the game. But there wasn’t. They just say Joker “forgot” and then just suddenly remembered the details. So instead of it being a mind-altering revelation, it just comes out of left field and feels tacked on because there was no build-up to it. They just throw it in there. I mean after waiting out the whole interrogation, I was waiting for some epic Oceans Eleven/Inception level reveal.
THE FINAL BOSS, in the True Ending, also went down like a punk. After all the build-up, and a massively annoying final confrontation with the Holy Grail, one shot to the face ends it? I mean that’s cool and all, but I was hoping the deed happened in a bit more… epic fashion? The whole scene, compared to the emotional moments that preceded it, fell flat.
SPEAKING OF FINAL BOSSES, I found it odd that most of the boss characters didn’t look like final bosses? I mean Kamoshida was a huge, hulking, demonic-looking creature that ate legs to regenerate. But then Madarame was just a bunch of picture frames, Kaneshiro was a lame looking fly with a piggybank robot, Okumura just looked like a Darth Vader-esque dude that didn’t even fight, and Shido looked the most human of all! The only real characters that felt and looked the part of an actual boss was Akechi, Sae’s Shadow, Futaba’s Mom, and of course the Holy Grail (Yaldabaoth).
AND LASTLY, on a final story note, I didn’t buy when society finally accepted the Phantom Thieves. I mean, it was awesome, and fun, to finally see the counter hit 100%, but it came out of nowhere. First off, they didn’t see the battle, just a blank screen with the calling card logo on it. How did they even know what was going on? This is the same society that didn’t accept anything, even when the Phantom Thieves had that bad@$$ visual calling card for Shido blasting on every screen.
I think it would have been more effective if maybe Futaba hacked the battle onto the screens, and their phones and society were all able to watch it unfold, hear the Holy Grail’s insults, and ultimately decide from seeing events happening in real-time themselves, you know? Or if the Phantom Thieves called out for society to stand against the one that shackled their fate, thus inciting some kind of rebellion? As it stands, the people kind of heard some stuff, and then decided, “Hey Phantom Thieves! We believe in you!” Really? I also think it would have been a nice touch if it was Sojiro, Sae, Mishima, and everyone else that had connections to the group, that started to rally the cry for the Phantom Thieves, in the first place.
**EDIT 6-23-2-18: So apparently if you maxed out the social link with certain Confidants (like Takemi, Hifumi, and Chiyaha) they would have been there, in the end, to rally the people around the Phantom Thieves! And if you maxed out Mishima he would have been there too (which I almost did! But stopped leveling him up at like 8 when I started leveling up Futaba and other characters). THAT’S what I was hoping for! A missed opportunity, on my part
I AM HAPPY TO REPORT that I was able to get through the game and achieve the True Ending without cheating! I just answered all the questions truthfully, followed my gut instinct, and it didn’t lead me astray. I might try again from a previous save file to see what the Good Ending looks like (where you accept Igor’s offer). Or save me the trouble and just watch it on Youtube. We’ll see.
I HAD ORIGINALLY INTENDED to date Makoto. I was preparing myself! I mean I did have Futaba in the back of my mind, cause she’s a techno-geek that reminds me of my wife (loves video games, computers, is socially awkward and all, wears glasses) but I was like oh man! Makoto seemed more my speed, in the game. So I was maxing out the Knowledge stats and spent a lot of time building it up, in preparation. And when it finally comes down to it? You need CHARM maxed out? She’s the Student Council President! I thought it would be Knowledge, you know?
I ENDED UP RAISING Kindness high enough to date Futaba, simply because I was trying to level Kindness to a point where I was able to finish my Confidant rank with Sojiro. Oh well. Futaba’s quirky and freaking adorable! I was barely able to get her Confidant rank to 10 before the end of the game. Just barely! Even then, I was still trying to rank up Charm for Makoto, but it leveled so slowly, and the opportunities weren’t as abundant as they were for Knowledge or Kindness. My wife loves Futaba, so I was able to achieve something she couldn’t do during her run 😛 She ended up dating Ann in her playthrough.
I WASN’T EXPECTING to enjoy Persona 5 as much as I did. I truly went into the game not expecting much and found myself drawn into the world in ways I never imagined. I love the characters, the writing, the story, the concept, the music, the visual aesthetic, everything. It’s freaking stylish as hell! Aside from the slow pacing due to loading and too much stop and go, Persona 5 has become one of my favorite games. It was worth all the hours I sank into it. I’m just sad that it took me this long to get into the series. Now? Onto Persona 3 and 4! Hopefully playing the latest entry in the franchise won’t spoil my experience of the older games.
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THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading! I’ll be back with another entry next Monday. Keep that imagination kicking! Please take care, you all rock. Cheers!