There was a tremendous improvement between Persona 4 and 3. And while I found Persona 4 to be fantastic, I had no idea it would become a breakthrough hit like it did. Its numerous spinoffs were evidence of its popularity – they even made a god damn fighting game! However,Persona 4’s success made me incredibly skeptical of Persona 5. How would Atlus top Persona 4? How much would Persona 4’s runaway success influence them? The last thing I wanted to see was a Chie knock off.
It was quickly apparent Persona 5’s cast differentiated themselves very well. Ryuji Sakamoto was a convincing dumbass that I actively wanted to slap silly. Ann Takamaki had an embarrassing outfit in the Metaverse but was offset by her kindness and determination for doing the right thing. Morgana was less outrageous than Persona 4’s Teddie and served as the Director of Sleeping for the player. I could go on with the rest of the cast but the key takeaway was how much of the cast had quirks, faults, and qualities that gave them a sense of dimension that I did not see in Persona 4’s cast.
The interactions with adults seemed generally pleasant and “normal” in Persona 4. This made it incredibly baffling to witness Persona 5’s awkward and unusual dialog exchanges. It was immediately apparent during the opening moments in the interrogation room and continued well into Sojiro’s introduction. The weird interactions would persist till the very end. It’s easy to attribute such oddities to questionable localization but, at the same time, I found it ended up somehow working for Persona 5’s theme of mistrust and misunderstandings with adults. Most interactions among the students and teammates seemed fine but with the adults? It can’t be helped, I guess.
I appreciated the amount of effort poured into realizing each target’s Palace. It was a step up from the retextured random dungeons from previous games; I appreciated the fact that each one had a thematically relevant gimmick. Castle infiltration, bank and casino heists didn’t exhibit many mechanical differences but it was better than running through hallways hoping to find the next staircase down. They could have trimmed the padding down a bit for the latter Palaces but in the end though.
It seemed like the developers weren’t too keen on completely ditching the mindless and wayward dungeons of the past. Mementos was there for me to drill down and revisit from time to time. Thankfully side quests and gated progress gave me just enough reason to visit Mementos and a reason to leave. It was the epitome of mindless.
The combat received its share of additions and tricks in an effort to break monotony but it ultimately boiled down to exploiting enemy weaknesses and knocking them over for “All-out Attacks”. It’s still very much a turn based battle system and I had my fair share of Game Overs due to negligent play. It’s not brain dead easy but it brushes awfully close to it in spots. I don’t know how to make the battles more engaging but tossing out each elemental attack in search of a weakness was not a complicated strategy. The final bout leaned towards the more complex side of things and I wished there were more bouts like that throughout the game. Also, can they finally step away from the idea of the game ending when the protagonist gets incapacitated? Other people can resurrect as well.
As the Persona series makes its way onto the big stage, it was only fitting to see the game’s locale transition towards a metropolitan city like Tokyo. Persona is in the big times now and nowhere was it more evident than on the subway map; Shinjuku, Shibuya and other districts were now available for exploration. They had their share of shops, theaters, and activities to partake it in. Unfortunately I felt they were severely underutilized in the Social Link interactions.
I didn’t discover any mind blowing information by interacting with my teammates – they merely reinforced and elaborated on what I already knew. Time spent with Confidants yielded more flavorful stories that gave me more insight to the different citizens of Tokyo. I approached each one armed with a lot of intrigue. Unfortunately, they ended up with a side quest into Mementos. A few stories justified the use of the Phantom Thieves to change hearts and get the individuals out of sticky situations but others seemed like dangerous overkill. I understood the need to take down a con artist taking advantage of poor and uneducated people but should the Phantom Thieves be dealing with a controller mother What happened to just talking it out?
Recognition and online fame became a staple theme throughout the game. Not long after the formation of the Phantom Thieves, a fan site popped that tracked the group’s popularity. A voting poll showed how the people of Tokyo saw the Phantom Thieves. As more and more targets were taken down, the site’s meter would rise. Comments flashed by below the meter, giving some pretty convincing “internet comments”. They surfaced this data on transition/loading screens. They reinforced the idea of public opinion and popularity through the use of ambient chatter when we’re out on the streets and subway. TV stations regularly reflected the latest happenings of the Phantom Thieves. And if that wasn’t enough, they dedicated a screen to show off text bubbles of the public’s thoughts and opinions on all sorts of topics including the Phantom Thieves. I chose to downplay the need for recognition through my dialog choices but it’s difficult to ignore that when Ryuiji wants to leverage his Phantom Thief fame to pick up girls. By the end of the game, the entire group were seeking recognition in order to save themselves and everyone in Japan.
I just couldn’t empathize with their desire for online recognition but I appreciated Atlus for trying to tackle this phenomenon. Seeing Ryuji, Ann, Futaba, and gang get visibly upset that strangers were not recognizing their efforts for good was perplexing. It wasn’t like their real selves were being assaulted and yet they were consistently bummed out by the unsavory comments. I didn’t have time to worry about the relationship between our hero personas and the public, I had Social Links to maximize.
As I progressed, I wanted to maximize the time spent on Social Links development and minimize the time I spent in dungeons. By maximizing sneak attacks, swapping teammates in and out of combat, and tactful play, I tend to wrap up a palace with over a week to spare. This meant I would be spending a lot of time thumbing through Social Link or activity dialog boxes. It was then that I realized how much padding there was within each Social Link. I want each interaction to build upon the character’s story and not just a brief scene in a ramen shop. I would have also appreciated more hotspot options and scenes that took place within the major districts. Tokyo is a big city but it looked like everyone only enjoyed a handful of hotspots across this big city. I would have liked to compete with Ryuji at the batting cages or play some arcade games with Futaba.
The music and style of Persona 5 was undoubtedly stellar. I love the soundtrack to bits. Many tracks make repeat appearances throughout the game and I continued to jam to them all despite hours of exposure. Even the overly stylized menus never lost their charm. It’s not the most technically proficient title but running at a faultless 60 FPS with these stylish visuals makes for a very pleasant impression. I could have done with fewer loading screens though. (Likely a remnant from its legacy as a PS3 title as well.)
It’s always bittersweet to reach the end of the of a long game like Persona 5. Hanging out with the Phantom Thieves was a regular ritual for weeks and now it’s all over. I didn’t find the twist and final chapters of the game to be particularly wowing like Persona 4’s but I was left satisfied. I will gladly relive the good times through the game’s soundtrack though. I I wouldn’t say this game was a giant leap forward like Persona 4 but they expounded on the modern Persona formula in appreciable ways. If they were a bit more mindful of the excess and addressed some of the weaker aspects of the game for future installments, there’s a bright future for Persona.
I love it