Sunday, June 18, 2017

Persona 5 Review

Tired of having free time?

Persona is a tricky series for me to discuss. Like most people, I got into the series with Persona 4, an RPG so good that it made me buy a Vita just so I could play the enhanced remake. Outside of that game, I haven't really played any other game in the series. I've played Persona 2: Innocent Sin on my PSP, but I never beat it. I own Persona 3 Portable as well, but I've never even touched that one. So you can say that I'm a fan of the series, but in the same way that I'm a fan of Silent Hill even though I've only played three of them.

Still, I've been eagerly looking forward to Persona 5. It's a massive continuation of the Persona 4 formula with a ton of style, some polished graphics, and a story that looked like it would be going an extra step beyond its predecessors. I've sunk dozens of hours into this game, and for the record, I have not completed this game yet. So why continue on with my review? Because I feel like with all of the time sunk into this game, my generals thoughts aren't going to change. I'm looking at the fundamentals of the game, and despite not seeing the credits roll, I have a fairly strong sense that I know how its going to play out.

To make a long story short, I love Persona 5, but it's not as good as Persona 4. In fact, I'd argue that it's significantly weaker than Persona 4 in some areas. And to illustrate that point, this review is going to pretty much be a long compare and contrast between these two games. Persona 4 may be the better game in my eyes, but Persona 5 does a lot of things right, and does some things even better than Persona 4.

Persona 5 is about a high schooler student that just moved to Shibuya. He was sent there because he was arrested and put on probation for saving a woman from being assaulted. Once he arrives, he's immediately treated with scorn and derision by his peers except for a few people that can understand and relate to him. He soon discovers though that he can go into a place called the Metaverse with the aid of an app, and while in there he gains magical powers. He meets up with a strange cat named Morgana who tells him that he needs to steal the hearts of of corrupt adults. Basically there are being called Shadows that inhabit the Metaverse. Shadows are born from human desires, and some Shadows are so strong that they can create palaces based on their own distorted values and morals, so you have to steal their hearts to make their real world selves confess their wrongdoings and wow this is an incredibly complicated premise and I haven't even scratched the surface of the plot.

So Persona 5's plot is complicated. That's the territory for a JRPG of this stature. However, the execution is really formulaic, but that's not always a bad thing. You'll find an evil person, learn about them, enter their palace, encounter their Shadow, then continue making your way to the boss room until you actually fight the big bad themselves. All the while you'll have free time to do side quests, up your stats, grind, and a whole host of other features. Describing a Persona game mechanically is a nightmare because each game is so dense to describe. Do I talk about the RPG mechanics in the palaces, or do I talk about the various relationships that you can boost in order to get perks in game?

Oh wow this is kind of overwhelming to discuss, especially to new players that have never seen a Persona game.

I'll be upfront in saying this, but Persona 5 is not an RPG for someone that doesn't have time on their hands. Plus, this isn't the game for someone who doesn't like meticulous mechanics and features. You will micromanage nearly everything in this game, but that has less to do with Persona 5 and more with the series has always been this way. If you're not prepared for a game that has as much depth and layers as this one, I recommend playing Danganronpa, if only so you can see what it's like to balance a bunch of relationships and gameplay styles at once. If you're cool with all of that, then read on.

So I'm going to focus on plot here for a bit because in a game as long as Persona 5, the plot is really the driving force here. The gameplay is good, and we're gonna talk about it, but in a 100+ hour RPG of this magnitude, we need to talk about the plot. Mild spoilers for the first five or so hours of this game and moderate spoilers for Persona 4.

So I mentioned how this game was pretty formulaic in its structure, but that's never been a problem for me because the execution is so damned fun. However, where Persona 5 struggles, and I mean struggles, is with its main characters. With a party of nine characters, I'm barely attached to any of them and I actually find a handful of them pretty annoying at worst, and I think the structure is to blame for this. In order to explain why though, we need to look at how Persona 4 did Shadows and dungeons.

In Persona 4, Shadows were still reflections of people and showed their desires, but there were two main differences. First, the Shadows were of the main characters, the characters that you play as throughout the game. Second, Shadows were representations of their true selves that they tried to repress. Sometimes they're outlandish, while other times they're more dark and deeply personal. Our heroes confronted these Shadows and by accepting that their Shadows were a part of them, then they could join your party and become playable. Just by playing the game, you got to know the characters intimately and see who they really are and watch them grow.

In Persona 5, the Shadows are of the villains. We get to know the villains extremely well and the villains are all well done, but they're all villains of the day. Once you beat a Shadow and their palace, you never see them again. Kamoshida, the first villain, is a fantastic villain that you truly do hate by the time you get to fight him, but because all of the development is spent on fleshing him out, we don't get a good chance to learn about our heroes. We only learn about how the villains effect them, and most of their opinions boil down to "they're a monster! They need to be stopped! I hate them!" Then once the villain is defeated, we're left with a hero who we don't know all that well and their arc already reached a climax by defeating their primary enemy. Then the game just moves on to the next villain for another character to defeat, rinse and repeat.

It's a shame tom because like I said, the villains are all great. They're fun, sometimes a bit too over-the-top, but they're still great to fight against and offers some memorable moments and scenes. It's just a shame that I'm thinking more about the villains than our heroes. So when we see Ryuji, our first friend, act like a punk, it's less charming and more grating because we don't know much about him besides he disliked Kamoshida.

While I may prefer Persona 4's cast and story, I can't deny that Persona 5 plays so much better. Combat is fast and incredibly responsive. You take turns fighting enemies in battle, but every characters can attack with melee attacks, guns, or use special elemental abilities to deal damage. Every enemy has a unique weakness, and they can be exploited easily if you know what you're doing. If you're able to down an enemy, you can do one of four things; you can launch a super strong attack that'll kill them, demand money, demand an item, or try and have them join your cause. If a demon joins your cause, you can summon them into battle whenever you want and use their abilities, weaknesses, and strengths to fight enemies. In Persona 4, you could recruit demons by a lottery wheel, but in here it comes down to negotiation and planning, which is much more fulfilling than hoping a wheel stops on the demon you want to collect like Pokemon

Outside of palaces, you can boost your Confidants, which are friends that will give you unique boosts and abilities the better friends you are, boost your social stats which will allow you to get more Confidants and some items, craft item for palaces, work jobs for extra money, or even go into a dungeon called Mementos which will let you accomplish sidequests for extra money and EXP. Plus the game runs on a calendar system, so you can only do so many things per day before you have to go to sleep, making you plan every inch of your day just so you can maximize your time. 

The gameplay is absolutely engrossing and you're never going to be at a loss for what to do. Palaces do have time limits, so you'll need to complete them by a certain point, but everything else is all up to you. You have complete control on how to spend your day. Want to work at a flower shop? Go for it. Want to read a book about Zorro? No problem. Want to spend your free time performing most likely illegal medical trials for a woman that is known as "The Plague"? Very specific of you, but go for it!

But above all else, Persona 5 is stylish as hell. The game stands out with its reds and chaotic aesthetic, making it stand out in your mind. Persona 4 may be fun with its yellows, but when you remember the pause screen for how stylish and how much it pops, the designers did something perfectly. The soundtrack is also full of jazzy little tunes that just relax you and put you into a cool state of mind. If you get the chance to download the soundtrack, do it. 

But Persona 5 does run out of steam. After a certain point, you'll see all of the tricks the game has to show you. You'll fall into a groove that won't really stun you or surpass your expectations. Persona 4 kept on upping the ante the longer you kept going. It had a slow start, but a fantastic middle and a solid end. Persona 5 has an unbelievable start, but coasts for about 50-70 hours. 

I can't say anything about the ending of the game since I haven't reached it, but the routine became extremely apparent the more I played. Persona 4 broke up the tedium by having sequences of just our heroes being fun high schoolers. They went on camping trips, went to the beach, did school events, brought katanas to shopping malls, and did things that established who they were and made me like them as a group of friends because they were good characters rather than because they were the protagonists. To me, Persona 5 doesn't have as many of those lighter, camaraderie building moments. It's all about the plot and how the characters want to make villains repent, instead of letting us enjoy being around them. 

The structure may be off, but still, I highly recommend Persona 5 to anyone that's an RPG fan or anyone that is looking for a game to become engrossed in over the summer. The world is a blast to be in and the gameplay is the definition of engaging, just don't go in expecting a subtle or deep plot. And who knows, maybe my opinion will completely change in the next dozen hours when I beat the game, and maybe I'll have to re-review the game sometime in July when that happens, but I highly doubt it. It's a fantastic game, but I would still recommend Persona 4 over Persona 5. 


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