Game: Persona 5
Publisher: Deep Silver
Console: PS4 (Reviewed)
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Picture this. You and your friends changed subway lines in the bustling city of Tokyo. The moonlight shines beautifully onto the monitors that are plastered onto the sides of the towering skyscrapers. Instead of advertisements playing on a nearly endless loop, you hear something else. The music changes, and the screen turns to static. That’s when you see the symbol, a flaming top hat coupled with the words “Take Your Heart”. The rumors are true. They exist. As you make your way through a sea of the confused Shibuya crowd gathering towards the screens, you see him. Messy black hair coupled with a white and black mask appear on the screen. “We have come to steal the hearts of the evil adults…we are the Phantom Thieves”.
In a modern day setting in the massive city of Tokyo, the phantom thieves of hearts lurk in the shadows, carefully choosing their targets. However, they are not your typical burglars or robbers that have ill-willed intentions and flat-out criminals. Instead, the phantom thieves have a bigger purpose, to steal the “hearts” of the wicked. Their targets are ones who abuse their power and authority to bring others down. Fighting for justice, the thieves enter another world into someone’s mind, otherwise known as their “palace”. The palace is the manifestation of one’s inner thoughts and feelings, a snapshot into how they see the world around them. It is up to the thieves, a group of high school students oppressed by society, to fight against the evil that stands in their way.
This is the world of Persona 5.
I have spent an entire month with my most anticipated game of my lifetime. With over 120 hours of gameplay and the completed words on my save, I feel so happy yet so empty that my first playthrough is over.
After many years of trailers, announcements, and hyped up livestreams, one of the most anticipated JRPG releases of the decade finally released worldwide this April. Eager fans lined up in stores and eagerly waited for their copies of their favorite game to arrive. Finally, it was in our hands.
The JRPG, or Japanese Role Playing Game, has had a critical role in gaming, especially with the PS1. They introduced a basic concept that was addicting: using turn based combat and party members to fight enemies. Many developers who took this concept and went above and beyond. Final Fantasy, for example, created vast open worlds and memorable characters that will be remembered for years to come. However, the genre has been facing a problem: staleness.
Many modern JRPGs fail to do one task: create a memorable and replayable experience that doesn’t become too boring or routine. With many titles, it’s one and done. After playing one in a series, you may have played them all, or combat gets repetitive and boring.
However, Persona has changed all of that. Introducing a game that has both fun and addicting game elements that are balanced with social sim elements was a tough task to complete.
Persona 5, however, stole the hearts and exceeded expectations. Not only can you play this game for hours upon hours without it getting old, there is so much detail and things to do that you will find yourself with a new experience every time. ATLUS made sure to make a game tailored to the player and the gamer in all of us. It has even created a surge of new fans who were curious about the game and what is has to offer.
As mentioned before, Persona 5 has an amazing concept. The idea of the phantom thieves is charming, and pays homage to classic literature and tales of “rebels”. In a corrupt world, the thieves must fight for their own sense of justice using their “personas”. A persona is a manifestation of one’s consciousness into a mythological being. Think of it as a part of yourself that fights in the other world. It is not only symbolic of who you are but also helps you fight in the cognitive world. Since the Persona series is deeply rooted in psychology, this is a concept supported by real life research and studies.
In Persona 5, you play as a reserved high school boy who was falsely accused of assaulting a man back in his hometown. Labeled as a delinquent, he is seen as a bad influence before he even arrives on his first day of school.
After a run-in with a suspicious teacher/volleyball coach, the protagonist finds himself in the “palace” of the school, a place seen as a castle for the evil adult exposing the students. Once navigating his way through this castle, you as the protagonist, awaken the famous gentleman thief, Arsene, as your main Persona. However, as the main character of the game, you also have the ability to wield multiple personas, which is where part of the gameplay comes in. Using elemental attacks like in the Pokemon series, you summon creatures in order to aid you in battle. Also, you can use your main Persona as well as the other character’s personas that have specific skill sets in order to do one thing: exploit the weaknesses.
Gameplay is super addicting and fun. Keeping with the thief theme, you must sneak around the palaces and avoid detection, finding shadows to fight to gain experience and prepare you for the major fights to come. Fights are fast and require strategy, which is absolutely a blast to tailor to your experience. With a refined battle system that has a sprinkle of what made each Persona game great, Persona 5 made a near perfect combat system. Between the stylish all out attacks for knocking all the enemies down and the added demon negotiation system from the past that allows you to recruit new creatures, there is plenty of ways to play. Demon negotiation allows you to talk with the various creatures and try to get them on your side. It’s fun and even gives the enemies characterization which brings to life yet another detail of the game. Talk with Naga about drinks or discuss “self-hees” with the Jack Bros.
Speaking of bosses, Persona stays true to the thief theme, with the goal of finding someone’s cognitive treasure and stealing their heart. However, you can’t just stumble into a boss battle without them knowing who you are. So when you are about to fight one of the villains, you must send a calling card in order for them to notice their opposition. There is nothing more satisfying than taking the hearts of the villains, which are incredibly realistic, well done, and are characters that you will love to hate. Boss battles are challenging, fun, and offer an experience that truly makes you feel like a hero of justice.
However, you are not a thief without partners in crime.
One thing that really is perfect about this game is the cast. In Persona games, characters may fit tropes, but are exceptionally well written and all have real life problems and issues we face in our own world and life. When we meet the first members of the phantom thieves, we see students who struggle with problems involving the adults.
Over the course of their story, we learn more about each character’s struggle with society and how they deal with people who try to take advantage of them. Our first encounter is with two unique students, Ryuji Sakamoto and Ann Takamaki. Ryuji is a delinquent and a former track star, while Ann is a beautiful girl who is rumored to be with a teacher. Of course, the rumors are false, but there is one big problem at the school: Kamoshida. Serving as the perfect introduction to the game, Persona 5 introduces a teacher who is the very definition of corruption. Seeing girls as sexual objects and treating the players he coaches as slaves. Kamoshida is the perfect first target for the thieves, as they are given a reason to fight and awaken their powers by taking the first “evil adult” in their way.
Each of the characters may fit into typical tropes but go beyond that, especially through confidants, another brilliant aspect of the gameplay. Through confidants, players have the choice to spend their free time with the various characters and build relationships with them.
In line with the other persona games, each character represents an arcana of the tarot card. Like in fortune readings, the character’s personalities and actions are based on the arcana that they represent. For example, Makoto Niijima, the class president who joins the party is of the Priestess arcana, which is known for strong female leader types who take on motherly qualities. The navigator of the group, Futaba Sakura is the “Hermit”, and is a shut-in who suffers from social anxiety. Each of the characters fit into their arcanas and have a story aside from the main plot for you to unfold. Freedom is one thing Persona 5 does nicely, especially regarding gameplay.
Although you will spend a good amount of time stealing hearts and fighting against the many enemies in your way, you also are a student with a “normal life”.
A breath of fresh air, the world of Tokyo and the many districts are brought to life in Persona 5. In the past games, you were limited to certain areas, which made exploring more restricted. In this game, there is so much to do that it’s almost overwhelming. Not only are there several stores with items, there are many locations to discover and activities to complete. You have certain stats that need to be increased, from Charm to woo your favorite girl to Guts to have the courage to say and do certain things. Most of your first playthrough will be focused on increasing the stats to build relationships with others and gain certain perks.
Fate is in your hands.
Want to hang out with your bro Ryuji? There’s an option for that. Want to romance every girl you can? Stay single? There’s an option for that. Feel like getting a part-time job to help pay for equipment for the Palace adventures? There definitely is an option for that. The world is yours to decide.
Choosing your friends is not just about hanging out and learning their individual stories either. There are many perks that are useful in battle as well, pertaining to your arcana and the character. With each rank, you learn a new persona to fuse, and when you max it out, you get an ultimate persona in that arcana that proves useful in the final battles. For example, hanging with our favorite artist Yusuke will allow you to duplicate skill cards and spending time with your teacher/maid will give you some extra perks like opportunities to goof off in class. Not only are the relationships and stories tied to the corrupt world interesting, they give you the incentive to complete all of the links in multiple playthroughs.
Events are also present throughout the year that a typical high school student would experience. From a class trip to Hawaii to a school festival, there are times to hang out with your group. However, unlike the past entries, there are less events and they are less relevant. Although the other features and immense world make up for it, it would be nice to see even more opportunities to hang out with your crew, lobsters optional.
Another plus this game has to offer is the magnificent soundtrack, composed by Souji Meguro. Featuring unique sounds of acid jazz, the music is beautiful and a joy to listen while on your adventure. The battle music is extremely catchy and never gets old. Voices of the characters are also top-notch in both the English and Japanese dubs. The voice actors really bring life to the game through emotion and actions. Whichever you prefer, you are bound to be immersed in the experience.
With each dungeon and major story reveal, there is something to be realized. Persona isn’t merely a game. It is a narrative that draws us closer to the characters we meet. It’s almost as if we are experiencing the story in our own lives, especially with the realism and real-life problems that we face.
Drawn to Ann Takamaki, I related to the struggles she faced with bullying and being seen as a sex object. Watching her overcome her problems and stand up for herself in the first 10 hours of the game was simply amazing. Spending extra time with her and making her my in-game girlfriend just made the experience even better, and it was like I actually knew her.
When approaching endgame, the story picks up tremendously, with twist after twist that will make you think you received the bad ending. With the tremendous character development of Sae Niijima and Goro Akechi, we learn how the society really is, and how people fight to change it. There is also symbolism and realism in the political spectrum. Not only through the confidant of the political candidate, but a final boss that shows where true corrupt power lies: in the hands of the people who run our world. It is amazing to see the thieves be praised, hated, forgotten, and loved again by the public. Even when fate longs to control us, there is a way out.
One thing to take away from this masterpiece is that beneath our masks in our everyday lives, we have a version of ourselves that will mature and realize who we are. We can steal the hearts of those who oppose us. There is hope for all of us out there.
Persona 5 isn’t just a game — it’s life-changing. It can inspire you to make a difference in this world. To Wake Up, Get Up, and Get Out There. It changed my heart as well, through the large, community I can call my family to cosplaying the characters I know and love. Persona 5 changed my life.
It is time to steal the world.