It’s been over 8 years since Atlus released the critical acclaimed Persona 4 on PlayStation 2 and after countless delays and 7 months after its Japanese release, Persona 5 finally arrived on Western shores in April. Was the long wait worth it? Most definitely, yes!
After being accused and convicted of assault, the protagonist (who can be named by the player) of Persona 5 finds himself at a new school in the middle of Tokyo where he is supposed to spend his probation period. Due to spoilers I will not delve into the story aspect too much and all I want to say is that the story of P5 stays engaging throughout its long duration (my first playthrough took me 119 hours) and tackles darker social themes that feel fitting for this present time, especially in Japan. As with 3 and 4 I’d say that the quality of the actual cast of playable and non-playable characters is a lot more central to the game’s enjoyment than the overall plot and I think that 5 once again features a great cast with a lot of interesting and well-written characters that players can connect to. A minor gripe that I had was that there seemed to be less “group events” compared to 4 and the cast in 5 therefore feels less like the tight-knit group of friends as the characters in 4.
It helps that the voice-acting in Persona 5 is extremely well done in both languages and it is a shame that not all scenes have been voiced. While I would argue that playing it in Japanese is the best way to experience this very Japanese game the English voice work doesn’t seem too bad either. One standout performance that I want to mention though is the Japanese voice work for the cat-like character Morgana, who is voiced by Ikue Otani who most know as the voice of Pikachu. She manages to sound cute while retaining the boasting and aloof characteristics of the character, you just have to listen to it to understand what I mean!
Thankfully Atlus USA offers players the choice of playing it with the original Japanese voice work or with the English dub which should ensure that everyone can play the way they want. One minor annoyance about playing the game with JP voices is the fact that some background dialogue in anime-cutscenes (like lines from news presenters on the TV) are not subtitled although they soemtimes contain useful and interesting info about what is happening. Since I understand a decent amount of Japanese it was not a big issue for me, but for others this might be an issue.
As with previous Persona games, players have the chance to deepen their bonds with a wide range of characters, which not only provides interesting insights into each character’s back story, but also provides the player with different perks that make your life in the dungeon portion of the game easier. In this regard, Persona 5 is a clear improvement over its predecessor. In the last 2 games, bonding with your own party members felt more important since they gained useful battle abilities by leveling up the relationship with them, while bonding with non-playable characters gave no special perks except for fusion bonuses. P5 changes this by locking useful abilities behind NPC confidants, making bonding with them much more meaningful from a gameplay perspective.
Over the course of the whole school year, players will be able to enjoy and experience countless more activities than just hanging out with friends. These activities range from going to school, working part-time, going to the movies, playing games at the arcade, going to the batting center and of course visiting the countless dungeons that the game has to offer. This mixture of highschool simulation, time management and dungeon crawling has made Persona 3 and 4 fan favorites back on the PS2 and this formula is not less addicting in Persona 5. Although the game gives players a high amount of things to do, many options only open themselves up over time, giving new players enough time to get used to the many systems that the game has to offer. The lenghty prologue that also serves as the game’s tutorial also manages to stay interesting without feeling like obvious hand-holding and is therefore perfect for series fans and beginners alike.
The dungeon-crawling and battle portion of the game has mostly been carried over from previous Persona games, but a few additions and adjustments have been made in order to improve the experience. The game still features the well-known Press Turn combat system of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise in which characters and enemies can agin extra turns by succesfully hitting the opponent’s weak points. In this regard, the reintroduction of Gun Damage and the introduction of 2 new elements (Psy and Nuclear) gives players even more tactical options than before. I still think that the Press-Turn System is one of the best turn-based combat systems out there and Persona 5 doesn’t dissapoint. Atlus even managed to make the turn-based combat feel more fluid and snappy thanks to assigning one battle option to each of the 4 face buttons which allows players to choose actions much faster than before.
The main source for the combat power of your party are also once again beings called Persona that can be summoned to unleash powerful attacks. In contrast to 3 and 4, the player does not acquire new Personas through a post-battle card system anymore. In its stead, Atlus has brought back the “Negotiation” Option into the game that players might know from other SMT games. Through conversations, the player can try to gain the trust of demons in order to add them to their repoirtoire. Personas can also be fused in order to create more powerful Personas and thankfully Atlus carried over the improvements from Persona 4 Golden and once again lets you choose the abilities that the fused persona will carry over. The skill card system from Golden has also been implemented through which players can sacrifice a Persona to gain a skill card that can be used to teach another Persona a certain ability.
The dungeons in Persona 5 probably feature the biggest improvements from previous installments. While 3 and 4 only featured randomly generated dungeon floors that were mostly boring, Persona 5 features several well-designed dungeons which are fun to explore and also visually attractive. Most dungeons also feature minor puzzles that need to be solved in order to advance which keep things interesting without being too complex. The player can also steal valuable items throughout each dungeon which adds to the whole thievery atmosphere that the game is going for. Unfortunately, the final dungeon feels a bit boring compared to the rest of the intricate dungeons which is a shame.
Randomly generated dungeons are not completely gone though since the game also includes a dungeon that is more resembling of Persona 3’s Tartarus. This dungeon mainly exists to give players the opportunity to grind and to do requests which kinda serve as the game’s sidequests. Because of the lower importance of this dungeon, I think that it is forgivable that the dungeons asthetics are boring compared to the rest of the game’s dungeons.
One of the first things players will notice when starting up the game is the fact that the game just oozes with style and features expressive art design. The art is not merely for show though since it fits the game’s theme perfectly and enhances the sense of sly thievery that the game is going for. This art style permeates nearly every visual aspect of the game, be it loading screens, UI design, menus, text boxes or all-out attack animations and it is great to see how even small details have been designed in a consistent way. The menus in this game and the transition between different elements also look cool as hell and I dare to say that game menus have never looked as stylish as in this game.
Although the player can only explore parts of the many locations that Tokyo has to offer, I think that the game gives players a good sense of how it feels to live in a city as big as Tokyo. It is a pity nonetheless that only Shibuya, Shinjuku and Akihabara are freely explorable while one can only see glimpses of other locations such as Ikebukuro, Asakusa, etc. A fun fact is that the protagonist’s school is situated at Aoyama-Itchome and that he goes there by transfering to the Ginza-Line at Shibuya Station which is coincidentially the exact same route I had to take to get to my work place during my stay there. 🙂
The soundtrack of the game is also great and has a heavier focus on jazzy tunes and features less Hip-Hop/J-Pop inspired songs than its predeccesors. The music fits the game perfectly and manages to give the game a strong musical DNA. That being said, I feel that the soundtrack features less stand-out songs than Persona 4 which might be disappointing for some. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any amazing tracks on the soundtrack though. Some of my favorites are probably “Life will Change” and “Rivers in the Desert”.
All in all, Persona 5 is an amazing J-RPG and not only managed to meet the high expectations of the fanbase but even managed to exceed them. Persona 4 and especially Persona 4 Golden was already one of the best J-RPGs ever created and Atlus has managed to obliterate the few weaknesses that P4G had while even improving the strong points of the game even more. If you are in any way interested in Japanese-RPGs there is absolutely no reason to not play this game. If you couldn’t get into this genre before, I don’t think that Persona 5 will necessarily convince you to love this genre, but I feel that this game’s formular is different enough from traditional J-RPGs that it still could be something for you. Of course, with a length 100+ hours, this is a very long game and I could see why this huge time investment might be a turn-off for many. I think it speaks in favor of the game’s quality though when I can say that I wish that the game would have been even longer after spending nearly 120 hours with it. Could it be the best J-RPG of all time? This is disputable, but all I can say is that this is easily the best J-RPG of the last few years and as of now my No.1 Contender for Game of the Year.
Tl;dr Pro & Contra
+ Engaging Story
+ Great cast & characters
+ Great Voice Acting
+ Game is long, but doesn’t overstay its welcome
+ Artstyle is amazing and permeates all aspects of the game (UI, Loading screens, Text boxes, Menues)
+ Great soundtrack that fits the theme perfectly. As a stand-alone OST it’s weaker than P4’s though imo
+ Gives players tons of things to do, but doesn’t overwhelm them
+ Great Dungeon Design that is a clear improvement over 3 and 4
+ Combat System and Persona Fusion have stayed engaging and they even added more elements to it to improve it
+ NPC S-links feel more crucial for the dungeon aspect of the game thanks to the perks that they offer
+ Dual Audio Option in the game
– Not all scenes are voiced
– Silent Protagonist
– Less “group event” scenes compared to 4
– Final Dungeon feels boring compared to the rest
– Compared to 3 and 4 there are more moments in which the freedom of play is taken away from the player
– Some background voices in anime-cutscenes are not subtitled when playing with JP audio
– PS4-Share-Function blocked by Atlus