Persona games have always stood apart from other JRPGs by daring to venture into darker, more socially relevant material than most any other media. Themes such as rape, teen suicide, mental illness and drug addiction have always been commonplace in the series, dating to its PlayStation 2 days. While publisher/developer Atlus has kept fans’ appetites satisfied with a steady stream of offshoots, spinoffs and remakes, it has been outright cruel at making them wait for the next numbered entry in the series. Nine years after Persona 4 first released, and six months after the Japanese version dropped, comes what proves to be the franchise’s greatest triumph yet — a boundaries-shattering triumph that somehow proves to have been worth the agonizing wait.
Games: Persona 5
Consoles: PS4 (reviewed), PS3
Release Date: April 4
Save for the rhythm-based and fighting game offshoots, Persona games generally stick with the same formula: A network of teenagers moonlight as evil-battling heroes, dating, rivaling and commiserating with one another during the day while calling upon spiritual alter-egos to wage war during the night. Persona 5 sticks with the routine, but adds considerably more depth to the setup and execution while remaining true to the franchise’s beloved spirit. With a new cast exploring a fresh setting, there are characters who are reminiscent of archetypes from past games but all of them are distinguished enough to seem like originals. The game is penned and paced with a novelist’s flair, making the character interactions every bit as thrilling as the turn-based, action-enhanced combat. Even though the general arc is more or less predetermined, there’s so much detail flavoring so many choices that you feel like you’re carving out your own tale.
The well-worn JRPG trope of grinding for loot, experience and special powers to make battles easier remains, but the genius of Persona 5 is that it masks the grind as social exploration, making it well worth the effort to invest hours into the game’s social side rather than rush through it. The bulk of the early going focuses on establishing your social world and intriguing you enough to explore its scope and reach. Ignore the dating/friendship sim side of the game and you’ll not only hamper your combat capabilities, you’ll miss out on what lifts the game to hits towering heights of emotional depths, social commentary and chilling resonance. Translators have always done a hero’s job of localizing the content to make sense to American eyes and ears, and that level of artistic excellence continues here. Matching the story content are the visuals and cutscenes, which stand up to all comers in the JRPG field, neutralizing one of the series’ few previous weak points.
The PS4’s popular share functionality has been disabled, making it tougher to stream gameplay. The move seems to be a way of encouraging players to stick to their own paths rather than constantly second-guess themselves and try to manipulate the story paths by making choices with foreknowledge of the outcome. The game is best enjoyed with horseblinders, leaving nagging possibilities that you’re avoiding for subsequent playthroughs. Depending on the way you juggle your social activities, which allies you forge tighter bonds with and which enemies you conquer and convert to your side, your journey can play out in wildly different ways. That’s a testament to the game’s tremendous ecosystem and rich storytelling depth, which makes all previous Persona outings seem like little more than a warmup to this main event.
Joyously in its own self-importance and gleeful weirdness, Persona 5 is a haunting and thought-provoking journey that proves not only what makes the franchise amazing, but shows off the ways gaming manages to combine the best of literature and cinematic storytelling into an unmatchable interactive hybrid. The fact that the game manages to not only live up to its crushing expectations is impressive enough. But that it meets those demands, crushes them with ease and blows your mind by taking you in new directions just makes you sit back, smile and enjoy the ride. Whether this is your first taste of the series or you’ve devoured every nugget that the Atlus geniuses have cranked out over the years, Persona 5 is an unforgettable, mind-expanding treat that will likely stay in your rotation for months, if not years to come.
‘Persona 5’ Around The Web:
“One of the best games I have had the pleasure of playing.” –God is a Geek
“The pinnacle of the JRPG genre.” –Game Revolution
“It refines and refreshes things that make a great RPG work.” –PlayStation Universe
‘Persona 5’ Screenshots
The publisher provided a review copy.
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