It’s finally here! Over eight years after the initial PS2 release of Persona 4, and following a bunch of spin-off titles, we finally have a new numbered sequel in the Persona series. And with the clock counter almost touching 80 hours, I have ultimately reached the True End credits. So it’s time for some spoiler-filled word vomit about why I bloody love it. Oh, and SPOILERS!
With a deep love for the colourful cast of characters in Persona 4, I was a little wary that I wouldn’t have the same affection for the new crop of high school students which P5 presents. Aside from a couple who I really didn’t have much time for (I’m looking at you Ryuji!), each one has a decent-ish story arc which (mostly) wraps up nicely if you complete their associated social link.
There’s the doctor who wants to use you as a guinea pig in her medical trials; the reporter who wants to get to the bottom of her missing friend; and a young arcade ace who just can’t take losing. And unlike P4, all the confidants you level up have some sort of special ability, whether it’s aiding you in the dungeons or maximising your free time in between story sections.
The one area of the game which has come under the most scrutiny is the main story. A lot of this hate is focused on the localisation, something which I found a little unfair. After coming straight from another Japanese product, Yakuza 0, I can at least say that it lacks the humour of that game; it’s often quite pedestrian in its script. That said, I found it no better or worse than Persona 4, which I don’t remember coming under such criticism. The main story as a whole, though, does lack the surprises or revelations of its predecessor.
As an example: right from the outset, it’s implied that a traitor is in your midst and was responsible for your capture, as the whole game uses future interview testimony and flashbacks as a part of its storytelling framework. Unlike P4, where the reveal that (SPOILERS!) bumbling detective Adachi was the culprit the entire time felt like a real surprise, here it’s not quite as much of a shock. Akechi, who joins your team for one mission, is a shady character from his introduction. As a young detective, he’s trying to bring the Phantom Thieves to justice from the moment he appears. Always portrayed as an antagonist to your crew, the game does at least try to make him more likeable as he joins your team, but it’s so short-lived before his obvious betrayal that it doesn’t have the impact that I’m sure the writers wanted. The same goes for his redemption and eventual sacrifice; it’s like they rushed through two-thirds of the games script in ten minutes. The Akechi stuff, however, remains a small blemish on an otherwise engrossing tale.
As I write this I’m deep into a New Game+ playthrough, mopping up a number of trophies, and I can’t see myself stopping till I have the coveted Platinum and have seen everyone’s social link through to the end. The gameplay is a solid as it’s ever been and the newly designed dungeons are, for the most part, well-crafted. The only exception here is Shido’s Palace, the cruise ship, which unfortunately throws in an awful mechanic where your party all get turned into mice. Seriously. It makes navigating the level a boring slog.
What P5 does just as well as the last game – and maybe even better – is giving you so much stuff to do. For someone new to the series this can be overwhelming; heck, it can even be overwhelming for Persona veterans. If you have a dungeon to beat you can try to conquer that first, or you can instead slack-off and hang out with friends, read a book or play a video game (very meta!) to raise your personal stats. You can even choose to craft infiltration tools to help you with the dungeon itself, at the cost of your free evening time. There’s so much to do that unless you make peace with the fact you won’t see this all in one run, you might struggle to balance it all; it’s clear a lot of the content was made for NewGame+. But then again, the game is so good that I don’t mind having to complete multiple playthroughs to see everything and score every last trophy.
I would’ve liked to have streamed some of Persona 5 instead of writing this, but alas, Atlus’ archaic view of gameplay streaming means nobody was able to do so around launch without significant restrictions. Ultimately, is the best Persona game? Not really. Is it the best game of the year so far? In my eyes, yes. Which is not bad for a year that has been filled with so many amazing games.