I remember picking up Persona 2: Eternal Punishment as a kid and becoming instantly hooked! It was my first time playing an RPG that took place in modern-day Japan. Everything from the clothes the characters were wearing, to the 90’s deep-house music that played during cutscenes oozed with style. Persona has a very special place in my heart.
The Persona series has continued to wow me over the years with its fresh take on age-old RPG conventions. Persona 3 and 4 bolstered the series into mainstream popularity by mixing dating sim elements into the addictive dungeon crawling formula the Shin Megami Tensei franchise is known for. This success spawned multiple Persona spin-offs including two anime series, two 2D fighting games and my persona(l) favorite, a rhythm game! Now, with the arrival of the 5th entry in the main series, it’s kind of hard to believe the Persona franchise is over 20 years old!
Persona 5 retains the core dungeon crawling and high school simulator elements that have made the series so popular, but has some things that stand out from its predecessors. Gone are the sunny suburbs of Inaba and the adorable Nanako that made Persona 4 feel so inviting. In this game, your nameless protagonist has been forced to move to Tokyo under some dubious circumstances and, like most teens, is carrying a ton of emotional baggage with him.
Your protagonist is given no choice but to live with a caretaker who couldn’t care less about him and go to a shady school that doesn't have his best educational interests in mind. The game makes it clear early on that you’re an outcast. This sets the stage perfectly for the central theme of the game—rebellion. You will come to learn that life is not going to be easy for your protagonist...and that’s exactly where this game shines. At no point are you ever made to feel comfortable or welcomed by the people you initially meet.
Don’t be scared off by the game's slow start. Sure, you’ll have to dump a few hours into cutscenes and tutorials, but it’s all worth it once you dive into the story! Without spoiling too much, your protagonist will eventually gain the ability to rebel against the restrictions of the world by summoning a Persona, a magical entity akin to the Stands from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. With these powers, the protagonist becomes a Phantom Thief. As a Phantom Thief, you’ll spend most of your time dungeon crawling in Palaces, a twisted take on familiar locations in Tokyo that reside in an alternate dimension called the Metaverse. Have you ever wanted to enter a dimension where the true feelings of evil people are made manifest? No? Me neither, but you will in Persona 5. With these new-found powers, your protagonist is able to fight monsters known as shadows, steal the hearts of evil individuals and look really cool doing it!
The Persona series is renowned for its incredibly fun turn-based battle system and number 5 keeps the tradition going. The "1 More" system from earlier entries of the Shin Megami Tensei series is back and is better than ever. This game rewards you for targeting an enemy’s elemental weakness with an extra turn. What you choose to do with that turn is entirely up to you. You can choose to heal, run away or launch more devastating attacks. If you hit the weakness of every enemy on-screen you are presented with two options, to go for an All-Out attack or perform a negotiation, a game mechanic returning from Persona 2 which allows you to have hysterically weird conversations with enemies! These conversations won’t get you any experience but is a new way to net Personae. Demon negotiation is a staple in the core Shin Megami Tensei games, so it’s totally a welcomed addition back into the world of Persona.
The easiest way to win battles is to strike an enemy’s elemental weakness and launch an All-Out Attack, an awesome cinematic attack (which looks like it’s ripped straight from a manga panel) that does a lot of damage to all enemies on-screen. This is easier said than done, as you will have to reserve magic points to cast spells and even the most mundane of enemies can defeat your party if you’re caught off guard. While this is occasionally (very) frustrating, it makes every battle feel tense! There’s just something so satisfying about defeating all enemies with a perfectly timed All-Out Attack…it just never gets old! Be warned though—this game is tough! Healing is sparse and there are no shops in the Metaverse! Preparation is key.
When you're not busy battling demons, you'll be balancing your social life. Want to grab a Big Bang Burger with your friends after school? Order up. Want to practice your swing at the batting cages? Go for it, slugger. What makes Persona 5 so special is that these day to day activities are just as important, and fun, as hunting shadows!
One of this game’s many strong points lies in its character development. Throughout the game, you’ll recruit a motley crew of cat burglars, hackers and teen models to join you on your quest to steal hearts. These characters are fully realized and getting to know them is a real treat. The personalities you run into are sort of a mixed bag and some are definitely more interesting than others, but you’ll often find yourself looking forward to getting to know every character you come across.
Getting to know your teammates and the characters around Tokyo plays a huge role in powering up your personae. Persona 5 revitalizes the series iconic Social Link system with the Confidant system, which allows you to summon even stronger personae and access new abilities depending upon the strength of your relationships. Get out there and socialize!
While not a graphical juggernaut, this game has a similar anime art style as Catherine, another Atlus title. Whether you're fighting shadows or working a shift at the local convenience store, It's visual flair shines. It makes you feel like you're playing a really awesome anime.
For me, Persona 5 easily steals the spot as the best JRPG this gen. As a self-professed lover of all things Shin Megami Tensei, P5 totally lived up to and surpassed my high expectations. Whether you're a newcomer to demon negotiations or can solve investigations as quickly as Raidou Kuzunoha, Persona 5 is an awesome entry into the series.
Hint: This game is rife with Easter Eggs and callbacks to previous games in the series! Be sure to check out the Shibuya Station Square to find posters of Rise Kujikawa and Kanami Mashita from Persona 4!
by Lawrence Tagarelli
Already have a VIZ account? Log in.
Don't have an account? Sign up.
Enter the e-mail address associated with your account and we'll email you a link to reset your password.