The rise of PERSONA 4 last generation was heartening proof that quality always eventually rises to the top.

For what was essentially a game made for the PS2 in the era of the 7th generation consoles, the amount of traction and credibility it managed to gain among the core gaming audience was yet more evidence that true success lies not on the amount of copies sold or marketing spend but the impression you can make in the hearts and minds of a passionate audience.

It was a niche title made for a small group of gamers that somehow managed to captivate the entire world, launched multiple (excellent)spin offs for various other consoles, an official anime as well as a passionate community that still extols its virtues and talks about it to this day.

And virtues they are, indeed. P4 was far and away the best JRPG released in the last decade (except for Lost Odyssey, perhaps) and a game so polished and intricately put together (and a significant improvement over it’s already stellar predecessor, PERSONA 3) that it was borderline shocking to see such craftsmanship. Especially in this day and age.

So naturally, expectations are through the roof for PERSONA 5.

Persona 5 is a role-playing video game developed by Atlus for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 video game consoles. Persona 5 is chronologically the sixth installment in the Persona series, which is part of the larger Megami Tensei franchise.

FYI: The following review does not include any captured screenshots since capturing has been completely disabled on the console for Persona 5. The images have been collected through media releases and public assets.


PERSONA 5

DETAILED REVIEW


After an extremely long and hyped development cycle, amazing promotional campaign and a years’ worth of stalling by ATLUS to ensure that the localization is up to scratch, the expectations and hype for P5 has reached borderline monolithic proportions. It has not only to be the leader of the pack but go beyond those expectations. Delivering the definite JRPG experience of the 8th generation.

So does it deliver?

Like you had to ask.

STORY AND NARRATIVE:

Like previous PERSONA games, you navigate the world through the prism of a Japanese high-school student, wrongly framed for delinquency. Along the way, you meet (and befriend) various other students, meet many shady characters, a wise-cracking cartoon cat and try and solve a large scale mystery. You spend your time in both the real world and ‘the metaverse’, a dark manifestation of reality in which you both fight/level-grind as well as face climactic story bosses.

While the gist is familiar to previous titles, P5 does a good job switching up the context. For once, the tone is quite a bit darker that the almost consistently upbeat PERSONA 4. It also is a much thematically deeper game than it and tries to tackle modern socio-political/psychological issues that are plaguing not only Japanese teenagers but the country as a whole as well. Topics such as greed, sexual abuse, power abuse, corruption etc. are explored with remarkable subtlety (which comes as a huge respite after the general ham-fistedness of YAKUZA 0, a couple of months ago).

It fits so beautifully into this current year of 2017, P5’s narrative takes a detour from the usual ‘Anime archetypal teenagers bond together as friends and realize their true self’ and steps into bold, uncharted territory. It may be an ‘Anime fantasy’ but it makes extended efforts to dissect and provide commentary on modern society’s social ills. It’s central premise that a group of idealistic, students calling themselves ‘The Phantom Thieves’ can launch a calculated assault to clean up the society by targeting specific individuals who they believe are responsible for it’s decline  is a subversive fantasy that will definitely strike a chord with you.

Along the way, in classic PERSONA fashion, they all get to bond as a group of friends and the way the game nurtures and develops these relationships comes across as completely fluid and natural. Characters are completely fleshed out in the game and are genuinely three dimensional people that you can relate too. And yes, as per series standards, you form ‘social links’ with them like P3 and P4, except here, they’re called ‘Confidants’ instead. There are plenty of other ‘Confidants’ scattered throughout the game and finding them out and maxing all of them (Eventually) is kind of impossible on your first playthrough (much like the older titles) but it’s a worthy quest for repeat ones.

The story is extremely sophisticated and smart and leads to many stellar (and moving) moments throughout the campaign. It may be an angry game but it’s not cynical and genuinely believes that change is possible.  I can’t spoil too much here exactly how that is but rest assured, it’s all great.

THE GAMEPLAY:

For those unfamiliar with the PERSONA series, it can be described as a cross between a turn based RPG and a ‘life simulation’ (with elements of a visual novel). Aspects of which, blend into one other. The bonds you form with various individuals throughout the game affect the various ‘Arcanas’ that strengthen your ‘Personas’ (think POKEMON but with hidden aspect of your inner personalities) that give you various abilities in combat throughout the game.

True to series fashion, you can fuse Personas to form even stronger ones as the game goes on and in a welcome addition, can choose previous powers from earlier Personas to carry over to the newly formed one. It’s a great option that players a lot of flexibility in order to form their personas that either of the previous titles.

Another major improvement that has been made is in the Dungeon Crawling. Unlike the themed but randomly generated dungeons of P4 or the monotonous, never-ending Tartarus of P3, P5’s dungeons are hand-crafted ‘levels’ that seem significantly larger in size and variety than ever before , with hidden doors, multiple save points and even puzzles. It’s daunting for sure but it’s always fun and the newly added stealth/backstabbing mechanic ( think pre-emptive strikes) makes the game flow much smoothly and combine that with the return of the classic ‘Demon Negotiation’ tactic and it always feels like you’re traversing through a dynamic world with plenty of stuff going on at all times.

In fact, I’m really glad ATLUS bought back the ‘Demon Negotiation’ as a means to collect Personas and did away with the ‘card shuffling’ from 3 and 4. It can be extremely entertaining to beat a demon using a ‘dialogue wheel’ ,which I assure you is not tedious like the usual fare. The conversations are extremely well-written and logically thought out that despite being obtuse occasionally, do seem to reward common sense.

True to the series roots, P5 is a turn-based RPG. No attempt has been made to turn it into an ‘open world hack and slash’. It follows the classic series ethos of collecting and fusing ‘Personas’ and trying to exploit enemy weaknesses to triumph in battles. The much ‘meme’-fied new battle interface, with actions assigned to each of the PS4’s buttons is spectacular and probably the best one yet in a JRPG yet and does more to ensure that PERSONA’s signature fast-paced battles remain even faster paced. It all works so smoothly that it often feels like a miracle. There is also an option ‘advanced’ dungeon (with variable, condition-specefic difficulty) called ‘Mementos’ where you can grind to your heart’s content for better rewards (and some story progression near the end of the game). The boss battles also are quite varied , fun and interesting than previous titles. (Although a couple of them are on the lamer, more tedious side. Especially, the final few ones.)

Also, be warned: PERSONA 5 is a long, long, long game. Just like it’s predecessors, it can take over 90+ hours to complete. With that said, you can adjust the combat difficulty at any time during the game, just in case you want to make your process getting through the game faster. It’s a welcome addition for those that have less time on their schedule.

PRESENTATION:

Is there anything that needs to be said? PERSONA 5 is by far the most visually striking (and distinctive) game out this console generation (let alone JRPG). Dripping with style and attitude from every pore (and loading/transition screen), it often feels like a burst of go-for-broke, slapdash creativity. The game throws every visual trick in the book it can at all times to make sure that your ears and eyeballs remain in a state of visual overload.

Everything in the game is stylized. From the constant transitions to the menu screens, to pre battle animations and post battle victory poses to ‘all out attack’ animations, everything seems in-your-face without trying too hard. P5 wants you to know that it’s cool and creative but it does that by being it, as opposed to appearing like a drunk uncle trying to crack jokes in front of your female friends and pretending to be. It may take newcomers off guard for a while and take some time to get used to, but soon settles into a comfortable groove and you have no problems navigating through it.

Add to that, another legendary score by regular Shin Megami Tensei composer Shoji Meguro ( probably the most underrated composer working in video games ) that features a blistering of various musical genres like J-pop, Acid Jazz, Ambient sounds and Guitar Riffs only adding to the coolness factor. The tracks during battles are fast paced and energetic, whilst the ones during exploration are peppy and sometimes relaxing. In fact, ‘Last Surprise’ may be our favorite PERSONA battle track ever. (Replacing previous favorite ‘Mass Destruction’ from P3).

Smiles are guaranteed.

RANDOM THOUGHTS FROM SERIES FANBOYS.

We at Indiannoob are of course MASSIVE Persona or hell, Shin Megami Tensei fans in general. So here are a few observations from us overall:

Is it better than PERSONA 4 ? Not sure yet. I think that the once-in-a-lifetime chemistry between the case in P4 is hard to top but in every other aspect, this game trumps it. Be it the storyline, thematic content, boss battles or dungeons. I do have more of a soft spot for P4’s soundtrack though and it’s more idiosyncratic portions. We’re going to let this gestate. Talk to us in about 5 months.

Is it padded occasionally like the previous titles? Of course. It’s hard to maintain momentum across more than 90 hours. Most people won’t admit it but P4 had a long stretch of inactivity and boredom about 3/4th of the way through the game. 5, on the other hand sort of breaks down somewhere along the final portion for a while. With tedious encounters and bosses. Not to worry though, Just like P4, it recovers spectacularly and endgame ( and story revelations) are all stellar.

Is it better than other mainline SMT titles? Well, that depends on person-to-person. Our all-time favourite is still NOCTURNE. But that’s because we’re ‘dark and disturbed’ people in general.

VERDICT

It was an agonizing wait. But it was so worth it. All hail ATLUS once again.

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