Persona 5 Review: Long-Awaited Installment Somehow Still Ahead Of Its Time
But first, some backstory: I was first introduced to the Persona series with Persona 4 Golden on PlayStation Vita. I spent about a year or so playing and completing the true ending of the game. I'm not the kind of person who is able to power through an 80-hour campaign in a couple of weeks. I have to take breaks, and honestly, I enjoy spreading out the experience over a long period of time.
And with Persona 4 Golden, that resulted in me effectively spending a year with my in-game friends. Rather than feeling like a game I played over a couple of weeks, it actually exists in my mind as hanging out with those incredible characters over the course of a year.
The Wait Begins
So with that experience, the wait and anticipation for Persona 5 was excruciating. I had to suffer through endless delays, and I was even in Tokyo (filming our documentary on F3 | alucarD) when the game released there back in September 2016.
I was tempted to purchase a Japanese copy and check it out, but knowing how important the story of Persona 5 would be to me, and the fact that I don't read or speak Japanese, meant that I would be severely tainting the experience. So I held strong. Well, other than purchasing some Persona 5 accessories and a Japanese strategy guide that I definitely could not read.
Yobodashi Camera in Akihabara
I also got to see the promotional madness for the game at Tokyo Game Show (even getting to meet Morgana!).
Tokyo Game Show 2016
The game was delayed again in the United States and finally released this year on April 4. Never forget:
A Review In Progress
With all that said, this is absolutely a review in progress. I am only through the first palace (aka dungeon) in the game, which puts me about 10 hours in. I by no means have a full grasp on everything this game has to offer. But it's just too important a game for me to rush through it in a week or two.
However, I do feel that I have a strong enough grasp on the themes, concepts, and mechanics of the game to give you my opinion on Persona 5.
Time To Steal Some Hearts
I will refrain from getting into spoiler territory. It might seem silly to say that with an 80- to 100-hour game when I'm only 10 hours in, but you have to understand that in one sentence I could spoil about five hours' worth of gameplay. Persona 5 takes its sweet time letting the story unfold, and it does so in fantastic fashion. The game even goes so far as to show you a "take your time" graphic on loading screens.
I'll say this about the story: it deals with incredibly mature and interesting themes that I don't see anywhere else in gaming. Persona 4 was well ahead of its time in this regard when it released on PlayStation 2, and now, Persona 5 feels ahead of its time again.
You play as a transfer student who has been wrongfully accused of something, and you find yourself in a world where you must turn to thieving in order to make things right. There's a flashback mechanic in play that works perfectly and constantly makes me want to find out how everything ended up here. Unlike Persona 4 (which took multiple hours to see some action), Persona 5 jumps right into an exciting action scene that propels you into this incredible journey.
I love the dark nature of the story, characters, and themes, mixed beautifully with J-Pop style and good old-fashioned JRPG gameplay.
Oozing With Style
Speaking of style, Persona 5 is the most stylish game I have ever played. Full stop. Even the options menu is a masterclass in not only game design but also design in general. Every aspect of the visuals in this game has been expertly crafted and evokes the feeling of living inside of an explosive and creative anime.
The turn-based battles feel high energy and move at a fast clip as the camera zooms around characters and the art style blasts in at every opportunity.
How About The Gameplay?
If you've played Persona 3 or 4, you know what you're in store for. It's more of that, and everything has been enhanced and well thought out. It truly is the premier Persona experience.
If you're a newcomer, I've got good news for you! You don't need any knowledge of the previous entries either from a story or gameplay perspective. You can start up Persona 5 completely fresh and have an amazing experience. Each Persona game shares themes and story similarities, but has its own cast of characters, locations, and plot.
The basics of the game revolve around living your daily life in Tokyo (and let me tell you, they *nailed* Tokyo), enhancing your relationships with fellow characters, which in turn enhances your Persona abilities, etc., etc. Eventually the story will lead you into "palaces" where you will fight shadows (enemies), a boss, steal some hearts, get treasure, all that fun stuff! The cycle continues as you grow as a character, not only through the narrative but physically in battle as well.
There's definitely a lot more to it than that, but this gives you a basic understanding of what the game has in store. Persona 5 handles every mechanic and storytelling beat masterfully.
That's a whole lot of words to say this: Persona 5 is a magical game. As I'm only 10 or so hours in, I can't call it a masterpiece or use any other definitive statement to sum it up other than the word magical. Because that's what it truly is: magical. Everything from starting the game up to surfing through the options menu has this sense of wonder, mystery, and elegance.
Persona 5 was delayed repeatedly, but the extra time Atlus took on this one has clearly paid off. I look forward to playing Persona 5 for quite a while and taking my time.
Persona 5 review copy provided by Atlus.