Persona 5: First Impressions
For those of you that are lucky enough to live in the glorious Land of the Rising Sun, this is all old news since you’ve had the game since September of last year. But for the rest of us, Persona 5 is finally available after four years of waiting for all to enjoy! I had a lot of thoughts about the game but didn’t have much time to play (only 14 hours in) to be able to write a full review, so a brief first impression will have to do.
The Persona series is a spin-off of Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, which is usually known for its unforgiving, hardcore JRPG experience. Persona is the lighter version of its bigger sibling and focuses a lot more on the story and characters that live in its world. It relies heavily on some basic formulas for its gameplay: a high school setting, silent protagonists, and the use of “Personas” during battle. The series manages to stay fresh with each entry, with director Katsura Hashino building out an exciting world and set of characters to interact with. Although it doesn’t sell as much as the other JRPG behemoths such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, the series has been slowly creeping up to join them in their ranks.
The more recent entries (basically any game that Hashino directed) have turned more heavily into the light-novel/high-school simulator genre, with a lot more emphasis placed on interacting with various people. Doing so allows you to build social links with them, which offers a variety of advantages and skills both during and outside of battle. Each activity you undertake eats away at a chunk of time you have during a given day in the game. With a looming deadline set against you for most of your main quests, the game teaches players to manage their time and make careful choices.
One thing I enjoy about Persona 5 compared to the other recent entries is the backstory for the protagonist. I understand that in previous games you were given a blank slate to give you a better sense of freedom, but I found the main characters for Persona 3/4 to be a bit bland at times. By fleshing out that tiny amount of history for him, the player can understand some of the motivations and have more internal dilemma before making choices.
I can’t say the same about the supporting cast so far. I think Persona 4 did an excellent job in introducing all your party members, exploring their backgrounds, and showing off their conflicts. This game, on the other hand, seems to gloss over a lot of the characters you interact with daily (oh it’s that girl from class, oh it’s that dude you met on the first day, etc.), and it’s hard to sympathize with them when things go south. My hope is that the game is just taking its time unwrapping the complex stories behind each character.
The overall story is interesting though, and the whole set-up of jumping back and forth between the past and the interrogation in the present is an interesting premise that keeps you guessing at what lead you to this situation. My guess is that the interrogation marks the halfway point of the game, and the real twists and turns will only begin once you’re out of the “flashback” sequences.
They opened up the world this time around, by setting the game in a real-life place (mostly around Shibuya) and the addition of the railway system. Traveling is done via free movement (or quick travel if you get lost) and the game seems encourages exploration at all times. The addition of a cellphone that allows you to talk to your friends keeps the pace quick (and a bit overwhelming at times). The combination of all of these things makes it feels like there’s an endless amount of stuff to do during your free time.
… Which would be great if the game lets you do what you want.
I understand a lot of the early game is supposed to be a setup for the rest of the story, but it’s frustrating being banned from leaving your room because you’re too tired (or at least, according to Morgana). I would say the first 5–8 hours is heavily scripted and even the “free time” you are given is worthless because you’re sent to bed every night. I understand the previous games did this as well, but I found it less annoying since it was reasonable excuses from the character themselves instead of from a curfew-enforcing cat that didn’t allow any fun.
Unfortunately, the free roam feels a bit clunky. I found myself running into walls quite often, and the interaction boundaries don’t seem to be set correctly; I usually spend a good 15 seconds trying to go to bed because the prompt doesn’t come up.
I’m digressing since the main focus of the gameplay is supposed to be the dungeon crawling/battle system, which I will say has been done extremely well. It doesn’t deviate too much from the usual Persona formula (although I read they wanted to implement a real-time battle system), with the same old fusing, grinding, and dying system previous players are familiar with. Persona 5 features the addition of firearm weapons, which I just saw as an additional “element” that some enemies were weak to.
The baton pass feature is a nice touch; it allows players to pass the “extra turn” to another character while providing an attack/recovery boost. It allows you to plan out your attacks if you know the weaknesses of the enemies that your party is going up against. It may make the game bit too easy (I’ve only game over’ed 3 times so far), but I’m sure the game has some nasty battles up its sleeve.
All of this is complemented by the incredible UI system which still blows my mind every time I see it. Every little animation they put in just feels right and flows so well with the rest of the game. Whenever I see a new animation, it feels like a treat, and it makes me actively seek out how I can see it again.
The art direction seems to have taken heavy inspiration from comic books and fits well with the backdrop that the story sets up. Atlus hired Production I.G. for the animated scenes that are littered throughout the game, and it’s exactly what you would expect from an industry leader.
Oh right, the music is magnificent.
Discounting some minor nitpicks here and there, I’m impressed with Persona 5 (and relieved that it’s a good game) and can’t wait to get through the rest of it. I obviously can’t give a score since I have yet to finish it, but I strongly recommend checking this one out if you have a PS4.