Review: Persona 5 – Steal Your Heart!
Publisher: Atlus/Deep Silver
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3
It should really be impossible for a game to be this damn cool. Usually, going for style means sacrificing substance. Actual explanations are glossed over, flashy animations take too long. The whole thing dances with that most terrible of labels: that of ‘trying too hard’. Persona 5 has had an extra three years since its first release date to mix style with substance. Can this long-awaited juggernaut actually have something behind the mask?
In much the same way as the previous Persona games, this fifth instalment starts with a boy on his way to a new town. Back at home, he had stopped a man, drunk, from forcing himself on a woman. Unfortunately for him, this man happened to be particularly rich, powerful and vengeful. The simple shove that sent the man to the ground turned into assault charges, then expulsion from school, then banishment to a whole new town under the care of a stranger.
So things aren’t going well for our hero right from the start. The entire student body of his new school know of ‘the delinquent with the criminal record’ before he even arrives, skyrocketing him into the role of social pariah before he even sets foot aside. Fortunate, then, that he has a friend in fellow exile Ryuuji – oh, and that the two get thrown into an alternate world known as the Metaverse soon after meeting, where an inner strength known as Persona manifests. Together with talking cat Morgana, they form the Phantom Thieves, a band of Persona-users committed to using the Metaverse to steal people’s hearts and bring them to justice for their evil deeds.
It’d be a grand injustice to spoil any more than that. As the party grows, so too do the scale of the heists. Structurally, it’s similar to Persona 4: a target is identified and must have their heart stolen within the time limit. Myriad mysteries are overlaid on top of this – secret identities, new enemies, people who may expose the Thieves’ identities – but by and large, most time is spent with the Phantom Thieves working diligently towards their next big move. At the very least, each heist takes three days. Often, it will be more. The Phantom Thieves being so invested means the player can’t help but be too.
This investment continues outside of the plot. The game progresses on a day-to-day scale, just like real life. Most days, being a student, you’re at school. But your afternoons and evenings are your own, open to do whatever you please, and the amount of things to do are almost overwhelming. Part-time jobs, study, shopping, hanging out with friends…all of it, in some way or another, benefits you and the Thieves. There are tradeoffs, too: going into the Metaverse, for example, leaves you too tired to do anything in the evening but go to bed. Without a plan in mind, there’s simply no way to do everything.
The most important activity is the Persona mainstay: spending time with your Social Links, now rebranded as Confidants. Here, too, we have a link into the Thieves’ activities. Every relationship you maintain confers certain benefits to you – the back-alley doctor selling you medicine, for example – and unlocks skills to make your thievery easier. Some cannot even be started until your skills are high enough, making you really work for their bonuses. That these Confidants are often compelling and interesting people as well as useful allies helps even more. There’s nothing stopping you from ignoring some people and focusing on others, creating the network of allies that you truly want.
In the end, experiencing your student life is probably even more fun than the fighting itself – so much so that when you’re restricted from doing so, it becomes an irritating hindrance. Talking cat Morgana is your constant companion, riding along in your bag when you go out and sleeping in your room when at home. The amount of times you’re forbidden to go out – stating that you’re too tired to read a book, take a bath or even make coffee – becomes so maddening that you just want to fling the bloody animal out the nearest window. But when the games does flow…oh boy. There’s nothing else quite like it.
Which brings us to the battle systems. And are there ever battle systems! It’s a good thing that Persona 5 slowly drip-feeds you details over the first five or so hours of the game because there is a lot to cover. Returning players will find most things as they left them. Battle is turn-based, consisting of two types of physical damage (melee and gun) and eight kinds of magic. If you strike an enemy’s weakness or perform a critical hit, that character can perform One More!, an extra move which continues as long as you keep getting them. Once every enemy is on the ground, the ground can perform a Hold-Up. The easiest path is do an All-Out Attack for massive damage. But you can also demand money or items, or ask the demon to lend you their power.
This demon negotiation, along with guns, are the big introductions from the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series that Persona has spun off from. Guns are simple (greater damage at the cost of limited ammo), but recruiting your enemies can be pretty complex. Gauging their personality and picking the right answers, you can gain that demon for yourself as a Persona. Then, later, the Personas can be fused together to create new, stronger demons, able to inherit the skills of their parents. These sorts of neat ideas continue to set Persona apart from other RPGs, making dungeons an event, rather than just a place to get EXP.
Make no mistake: this game is still SMT-hard at times. It’s wholly possible, if you’re not paying attention, to get knocked down yourself and have your party wiped by what should be a normal encounter. If your protagonist goes down – that’s it. Game over, man. That easier difficulty is there for a reason.
The Palaces within which you steal hearts, markedly, are not the randomly-generated areas of Persona 3 and 4. Being the stronghold of their target’s twisted desires, the Phantom Thieves have to find a way to get to the Treasure before they can try to steal it, which allows for a great deal more set-pieces than were available in other games. The Thieves zip from cover to cover, disabling security systems and running across chandeliers as they go. When they face an obstacle inside the Palace, they might even need to leave and change the person’s mind in real life to eliminate that barrier. The randomly-generated dungeons still exist in the form of Mementos, an always-available and ever-growing dungeon, but these Palaces are the jewel in the crown of the game. Sometimes, in previous games, the dungeons just felt like something to get through so you can get back to Social Linking. These Palaces are something to experience.
Of course, no game is perfect. Not even Persona. I mentioned earlier that the game keeps you leashed far too often, and this is very true. A ridiculous amount of the early-game railroads you directly forward, denying you the very freedom this game is so good for. But there’s another, more concerning problem for the returning fan…a lot of it just feels like it’s all been done before.
Sure, the Phantom Thieves themselves are charming and the problems they tackle are unique. But the character types are very, very familiar. You have your slightly goonish best friend, your intelligent student council president, your loudmouth mascot. Your space-case quiet friend, your gruff guardian. It’s old faces with new problems, through and through.
(I cannot stress this enough, though. It is so good that the Phantom Thieves are actually committed to their task. If, after all the times the Persona 4 Investigation Team talked about the serial murderer they were chasing for maybe two minutes before getting distracted for a month, the Thieves had done the same, I may have screamed.)
No doubt the difficulty of Persona 5 at times seems punishing. No doubt the sheer amount of jobs, activities and people can get overwhelming. Yet, small qualms aside, Persona 5 is the masterpiece we’ve been waiting for. The cool masks and cartoon cats hide a tale about betrayal, rebellion and determination; about the importance of standing up to things, even when everyone around you is ignoring it. It’s a game where your first foe is not some devil or demon, but just a teacher who abuses his position to hurt people who cannot fight back.
Allow yourself to experience this game. Persona 5 cannot be missed. They might be three years late, but the Phantom Thieves can absolutely steal your heart.
|Dripping with style and packed to the gills with content, Persona 5 cements itself as a classic worthy of its heritage. Some minor railroading issues don't stop this game from being a must-buy for any RPG fan.||4.8 4.8 ( on 5 rating)|