It was around the 50 hour mark that I came to the stark realisation that I can’t yet review this game. It is mammoth.
Persona is a Japanese role playing game based around high school and the duality of man (oi and woman!) Taking charge of the charismatic mute Joker, you adventure into the consciousness of the corrupt, leading the swashbuckling Phantom Thieves of Hearts. A group dedicated to Justice and proclaiming terms like “Justice!” loudly whilst holding a clenched fist.
This review has been brought to you by a man who has never played a Persona game before. These days it’s a real effort to divert a 100 hours of my life to anything.
The life of a student at Shujin Academy is a tad sedate. You wake for classes and if lucky, take part in an after school activity or two. It’s pretty rigid. You set yourself little goals like studying a book to improve your charm. You are improving your charm this very second. You can thank me later. Hmm, this doesn’t sound like much of a game. Luckily the corrupt world of adults ruin our day and our hero transforms into a character looking to change society for the better, and take on all-you-can-eat burger challenges on the sly.
Within the framework of the school year you are imprisoned in the velvet room and dragged into the otherworldly metaverse. You take aim at the morally repugnant by infiltrating their warped cognition, and pilfering the source of their distortion in the form of a shiny treasure. Excellent, who doesn’t like heists! You’ll have to gather a team to pull off such daring raids, and you’ll find yourself spending quality time with your favoured companions. The more time you spend with someone, the stronger the bond and the more useful they’ll be to you. Remember, this is almost certainly not true to life. Dave will not level up no matter how much you feed him after midnight. The breadth of options grow and thankfully, remain manageable. In fact, there are times you’ll want to do more.
Side Note – There is nothing more frustrating than an anthropomorphic cat telling you to go to bed. It’s only 8pm! (probably). Plus, who watches a DVD over the course of 2 nights? Would take Joker a week to watch that Avengers film.
Your deadlines are brutally clear and your own personal goals are achievable. All of this helps drag you into your role as the stoic semi-silent protagonist. Our man doesn’t speak much, but when he does, you can really make him your own. Rarely has story and gameplay been so wholly synced.
The metaverse is a dangerous place and to defeat your enemies our heroes must summon their inner-self; Personas. Be warned, terms like “true self” are thrown around quite a bit in this world. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. Everything compliments one other on a far deeper level then you’d first give credit for. One of our characters, Mona, is infatuated with Ann. If Ann used her Persona to set fire to an enemy, Mona can use his ability to land a devastating wind attack. Mona compliments Ann perfectly. Whole articles can be written about mechanics alone.
Your normal everyday fights are generally short and deadly. If Joker falls, it’s game over and you may think that harsh, but it does ensure you don’t completely tune out by the 1000th battle. As you spend as much time making coffee, as you do punching giant cock-monster in a face, fights never seem to be grow tiresome, which is an incredible achievement. You can sneak past battles or ambush your pray for an swift win, if you know your enemies’ weaknesses.Tapping R1 instantly targets said weakness and I almost wept at such convenience. You can have a cosy chat with your opponent, and even shake them down for cold hard cash. If you’re particularly silver tongued, Joker can persuade Personas to join him. Capturing high level Personas can become quite addictive.
Your foes are ingenuously designed, and I’m not just talking about the big bosses. Seeing what’s around the next corner keeps you focused. Yes, of course I captured that penis-monster. Persona 5 inherently captivates. No, it’s not the sharpest looking game, but that really doesn’t matter when the art design’s this good. A special note is reserved for the loading times which are a real blessing, I’d happily swap a lower pixel count for instant teleportation! You get a good sense of place and the familiar music adds to this. I would love to commission a scientific study to check how nearby mammals are likely to go insane with the soundtrack. It’s lovely and I’ve grown to love it, but I’m sure the player is immune to its repetition. It’s like audio-stockholm syndrome.
When starting Persona 5, it doesn’t take long before you decide that you must see it through to the end. The main tale has some lovely twists and the mundane mixed with the fantastical gives everything a changeable fresh quality. Your teammate characterisations are basic but strangely compelling. A hothead learning to curb his temper is a pretty ordinary tale, but it has enough charm to pull you through it. Some of the individual story arcs feel a little rushed, which is hilarious when you consider how huge the game is. This is likely due to late introductions and a tight time-frame. It could also be attributed to the translation, as the amount of dialogue undertaken must have been an herculean effort. Some of the conversation felt redundant as some of it is far too easy to skip. It’s a little strange to explain, but after the first sentence, the second adds nothing.
Curmudgeon Corner – Some characters won’t attain the next rank of friendship until the story has progressed. You’ve no real way of knowing that until you’ve wasted precious time on them. I kinda hated that. No, I won’t invest another 100 hours to befriend a small arcade-playing child or shady shopkeeper.
Not every single mission should be life or death. Hearing “we must do it!” or “our lives depend on it!“, becomes less thrilling when it’s all the bloody time. “We must get to the shops, our lives depend on it!” or “this ramen must be eaten, for my own personal Justice, which I’ll explain in this lengthy monologue!” The details are rich and extraordinary but at times they feel like they have been hung on a pretty ordinary frame.
Chin Holding Corner – Sometimes I feel like your brain cannot comprehend spending 100 hours with anything without automatically deeming it a 10 out of 10. No-one wants to admit they squandered that amount of time. How can any of us remain subjective?
Maybe that is the magic of Persona. The truly bizarre mixed with everyday life. The student playing the dashing thief. The beautiful routine fantasy. How easy it is to fall completely into the world of Persona. What an incredible treasure.
This is a huge game of minute detail and expert craftsmanship. Persona 5 is a technical masterpiece.
Be prepared to invest a great deal of time into this world if you choose to enter it.