Blue, yellow, and now red. Atlus’s JRPG franchise comes back with a vengeance with the thematic experience that can only be described as Persona 5 (yet, here I am, about to describe it).
The background behind the Persona franchise is one for the ages. Initially a spin-off from the Shin Megami Tensei series, Persona revolved around characters using their mythical beast-turned personalities to fight in an alternate universe. This created a scenario where regular people fight using magical powers in an RPG setting, a theme visited only by the Mother series. However, Persona was failing, even after Persona 3‘s massive change to its style and music, most likely due to the game’s blue tone focusing on sadness, depression, and a final boss that is literally the manifestation of man’s need to kill himself. I’d say the developers of Persona 3 needed Jesus, but they killed him in that game as well. Persona 4, on the other hand, was made on a shoe-string budget and was almost exactly the same format as 3, yet was filled with such a yellow, happy, vibrant personality, from the story to the music, that it became an instant classic that revived both Persona and Shin Megami Tensei. Long story short: Atlus made some amazing lemonade after years of lemons.
Persona 5 continues off of this legacy, combining the original styles with impressive 3-D, cinematic graphics reminiscent of Catherine, a one hit wonder for the PS3 era that held fans over for the next Persona between spin-offs. It might be strange to fixate on the graphics without reviewing the core gameplay itself (I’m looking at you, IGN), yet the graphics themselves aren’t what grab the players, it’s style and schedule. The 3-D models, to be quite honest, have never been that impressive unless they were in a cutscene or had mass amounts of effort put into them, like most shadows (enemies), attacks, and Personas. The graphical style lies in how banners and menus jump out in vibrant colors with crazy designs, how each person’s face has a cartoon representation that matches their mood and action, and even how each character gets their own all-out attack graphic. As for the musical design, there is no need for an explanation, Persona has held some of the funkiest beats on the planet for some time now.
The gameplay itself is schedule-based; starting in the beginning of April you are to live in a city containing your future party members. Your days are split up into two sections: day and night. The object of the game is to use these time periods to the best of your abilities, ideally to fully bond with all available characters. By completing Confidants/bonds you are able to power up your fusions and eventually summon more and more powerful personas. Personas were originally manifested to fight shadows, but as of Persona 5, shadows are replaced with other personas. This might seem lazy, yet the ability to talk to and steal these personas as masks adds an entirely different layer to the combat system. Additionally, the narrative’s theme of revenge, rebellion, and victims reintroduces guns as a mechanic, meaning that when Atlus said as of Persona 4 “okay we’re done making edgy stuff,” Persona 5 rethinks this concept and states, “haha, just kidding, screw that and screw you.”
Speaking of the story and screwing, the story is similar to other Japanese anime games, it really gets stuck up its own ass. Not in the sense that it’s convoluted, everything is psychological science-fiction so not everything has to make logical sense, I get that and I appreciate it. What I don’t appreciate is when the usual 3 hours to get the game started is extended to 5 hours. What I don’t appreciate is when side-events meant to keep everything comical, interesting, and unexpected transform into a blase mess (nothing happens on the Hawaii trip, but the camping trip from 4 was incredibly entertaining). What I really, REALLY don’t appreciate is when weeks at a time are taken away from the player, spent covering repetitive plot aspects that everybody already understands preventing me from playing the game’s actual content at my own leisure. That’s right, you lose a combined total of 3 months of gameplay due to boring, plot-based “drama.” Combined with the final events of the plot, the actual game is limited to just 6 MONTHS, and when the game’s content is sullied due to theatrical choices, I really don’t appreciate it.
Narrative choice has slain the potential of many great titles, yet this is not one of those titles. Regardless of how irritating it is to be stuck listening to an audiobook while being told to go to bed by black Garfield and screaming, “I just want to play the goddamn game I paid for,” the wait is worth it. The schedule is filled to the brim with things to do, the combat rivals only the masterful design of the dungeons, and the plot concludes on one of the most impressive notes I have seen in modern times. Yes, the climax even rivals Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door. I know, crazy, right?
Atlus makes the most of nearly every opportunity, from the story they’ve created to new (and deceased) voice actors. The characters are crafted so well they seem almost human, and the dialogue is spotted with humor to break up the drama. True, some characters are shoe-horned in (*cough* HARU *cough*), yet even these characters have redeemable, interesting traits that put the PERSONAlity in Persona. Sorry, too cheesy, I know. While it might only be nearly halfway through the year, I only need 6 months to let you know that Atlus’s Persona 5 will be game of the year. Wake up, get up, and get out there.