Persona 5

The Persona subseries of Atlus’s Megami Tensei franchise is one which started off questionably, what with a need to reference guides to make things easier, particularly with regards to their demon negotiation aspects necessary to upgrade abilities, but starting with the third entry for the Sony PlayStation 2, the spinoff franchise would greatly redeem itself by deemphasizing said conversation element, a trend carried on to the fourth installment. With the release of its fifth installment, Persona 5, two console generations later on the PlayStations 3 and 4 (the latter version which this reviewer covers), the pantheon attempts to return in some instances to its roots, but could one consider that a good thing?

As with the third and fourth games, the fifth has a methodical, linear structure with major gameplay elements in and out of dungeons, the latter consisting of Palaces and the multifloored Mementos. The bespectacled protagonist has a daily scholastic life, with five social stats increasable by certain activities such as correctly answering questions teachers occasionally pose to him, studying, taking an evening bath, and so forth. He can further forge bonds with battle companions and other confidants to gain experience bonuses when fusing new Personas from those he already possesses. Social stats sometimes need to be at certain levels to advance Arcana ranks.

The player can outfit the playable cast with melee weapons, firearms, protectors, and an accessory with money obtained from part-time jobs, selling useless junk obtained in dungeons, and from monsters. At certain parts of the game, the player must infiltrate a Palace that is a manifestation of a certain real-life antagonistic character, steal its Treasure, and make said antagonist have a “change in heart,” after which the dungeon disappears. Also mentioned is Mementos, with its various levels unlocked depending upon the popularity of the Phantom Thieves, where the player can fight enemies and obtain parts used in making infiltrations tools, among these lockpicks for secured treasure chests.

Wandering Palaces and Mementos are enemies that the protagonist can sneak up on and surprise, either for a preemptive attack or automatic acquisition of a new Persona, if the party’s levels are high enough. Palaces have places behind which the hero, codenamed Joker, can hide, whence he can instantly jump to pull off the mask of a wandering sentry to get it to transform into a monster party, or, again, obtain the Mask of one of the enemies composing the prospective encounter. Battles occur between the player’s party of up to four active characters and an enemy party.

Combat follows mostly the same rules as Persona 4, with the player’s characters granted additional actions when they exploit enemy weaknesses, although things differentiate once the player has exploited all antagonists’ weak spots. Although players can still perform an all-out attack against all adversaries, players can instead parley with them. Mercifully, the negotiation system is much better than those in the original Persona and both halves of its first sequel, with foes having fixed personalities, and the choices being much simpler akin to mainline Megami Tensei as opposed to the early Persona titles.

If successful, the player will obtain the monster as a Persona mask, but otherwise, the foes may leave or continue the battle. Another point in the negotiation system’s favor is that if the player has already negotiated with a foe of a specific type, they can bypass the conversation process to instantly obtain them as a Persona, the same going for if a player fuses a specific mask from lesser Personas, in which case their strengths and weaknesses further become viewable in the middle of battle, as they do once the player’s characters have used certain attack types against a particular antagonist. Victory, as usual, nets experience and money for all characters for occasional leveling.

Increasing confidant ranks with Joker’s allies can have further benefits to battle, such as characters becoming able to perform a Baton Pass to another ally when exploiting a foe’s weakness, thus mixing up turn order for the player’s characters. The system works surprisingly well, with the series somewhat returning to its roots minus the negatives of the series’ early negotiation systems, with its shortcomings being negligible at best, such as the lack of a full turn order meter, players only able to view which ally or foe gets the next turn. The easiest difficulty, Safe, also allows players the option if Joker’s health expires to restore the party to full HP/MP. Overall, a polished gameplay system.

Unfortunately, the game’s control scheme doesn’t fare as well. Things are superficially decent, with an easy menu system and linear structure mostly keeping players moving in the right direction, not to mention the game showing undiscovered confidant links, although the fifth entry continues to insist upon having fixed saving locations, with their spacing downright sloppy at times, players can only buy one type of item at a time in shops, playtime is only viewable during saving, and a few dungeons have puzzles that muck the game’s pacing. Things could have definitely been worse, although the developers could have certainly given interaction a once-over.

The narrative shows strong promise at first, with the protagonist being on probation for assaulting someone who comes into play later in the game, and the fifth entry having a general darker tone than its predecessors, but somewhere along the way, the writers played a bit too much Kingdom Hearts, watched a tad much Death Note, and stole ideas from them piecemeal. The theme of “stealing hearts” somewhat reflects Square-Enix and Disney’s cooperative franchise, the idea of the Phantom Thieves allegedly doing the public good through supernatural means is somewhat derivative of the mentioned anime, and the methodical structure mimics those of the third and fourth entries. The cast contains reasonable development, but the plot has a tad too many pitfalls.

Even the translation, while an admirable effort, can’t escape scrutiny. Like the third and fourth Personas, the localization team kept the Japanese honorifics intact, making the dialogue seem horribly unnatural at times, especially for the English voice actors, where equivalent titles such as Mr. and Ms. would have definitely sufficed; another game that occurs in Japan, The World Ends with You, did just fine without the mentioned suffixes in its English version. There are also countless moments when characters constantly say things that are painfully obvious to the player, whether a treasure chest is nearby or a character is near death in combat. The dialogue is definitely more than legible, but the translation overall shows a bit of laziness.

The audio, however, is definitely more admirable, with the player able to download the original Japanese voicework as DLC, in case they, like this reviewer, wish for the fifth entry to have a more authentic feel, as opposed to the English voicework’s obvious whitewashing (there’s maybe one Asian among the English cast). The actors do as usual butcher whatever English words show up in the Japanese dialogue, but this writer couldn’t start to imagine the horrors of the English voicework. Shoji Meguro, as usual, does a nice job with the soundtrack, with plenty of energetic tracks, although there are some silent moments. Overall, the aurals, especially if the player decided to play with the original voiceovers, are definitely a high point in Persona 5.

The visuals show reasonable polish, as well, with a nice colorful cel-shaded style for the character models and their environments, the fifth installment sometimes feeling trippy, given the alternations of color that occur at points. Enemies also have better dodge animations as opposed to the “move to the side and back into place without lifting an appendage” that plagued other Megami Tensei titles, and spell and ability animations are believable. There are occasional blemishes in the visual style, however, such as NPC character models visibly popping up whenever the player advances through an area, and figures representing unimportant Japanese often lack distinct facial features. Even so, the game is far from an eyesore.

Finally, the fifth entry is lengthy like its predecessors (though this reviewer does remember beating the Vita port of the fourth in a little over a day’s total worth of playtime), somewhere from two to three days total in terms of playing time, with a New Game+ enhancing replayability.

Overall, Persona 5 very well demonstrates that sequels can return their respective franchises to their roots without potentially becoming unplayable nightmares. The negotiation system in combat, for instance, works surprisingly well, and is skippable 99% of the time especially if the player regularly fuses for more powerful and/or new Personas. Combat generally shines, along with the audio and visual fronts, although the fifth entry somewhat suffers with regards to the sloppy placement of save opportunities, and the narrative is somewhat trite. Does the series’ next-generation debut justify the ninety-percentile acclaim it received upon release? Not by a long shot, but it’s by no means a bad game, and is worth a playthrough from series enthusiasts and mainstream gamers.

The Good:
+Solid scholastic and combat systems.
+Great aurals, with original Japanese voices downloadable.
+Stylish visuals.

The Bad:
-Sloppy spacing of save opportunities.
-Disappointing narrative, with questionable localization.
-Drawn-out endgame.

The Bottom Line:
A little overrated, but still good.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 5/10
Localization: 7/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 2-3 Days

Overall: 8/10

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