Just over 20 years ago, Atlus changed the game of Role-Playing Games with the release of Revelations: Persona. Rather than taking place in a medieval fantasy world or a galaxy far, far away, Revelations: Persona brought the dark themes of Shin Megami Tensei to a high school setting. This twist made Revelations: Persona, and its sequel(s) Persona 2, novelties of the Shin Megami Tensei greater. With the release of Persona 3, the winds of change blew yet again. Now with the inclusion of social links and life simulation, Persona 3, and its indirect sequel Persona 4, killed the time of players in the best way possible. Fast forward to 2017, and Atlus is at it yet again. Persona 5 is finally here! But is this Persona the definitive role to play, or should the series go back to school?
The story of Persona 5 is told in medias res. It all begins with a heist gone south by the game’s protagonist, “Joker.” In result of the recent failure, Joker finds himself arrested and quite literally thrown into an interrogation room. While being beaten within an inch of his life, Police Prosecutor Sae Niijima steps in and intervenes. Trying to make sense of the supernatural phenomenon that is the Phantom Thieves, Sae sits Joker down and plays the most intense game of 20 Questions that Japan has ever seen.
Months preceding his captured by police, Joker was an ordinary high school student; just with a police record. Well, that was unexpected. After this first run-in with the police, Joker finds himself needing to change not only schools but towns as well. Doing his best to stay out of trouble, Joker finds himself befriending Ryuji Sakamoto, the resident trouble maker. In a totally unexpected twist, the two quickly find themselves getting into trouble. This isn’t getting arrested trouble, but rather “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” trouble. After messing with a mysterious app that mysteriously downloaded itself onto Joker’s phone, the two find themselves transported to another world. This shadow realm looks much like their own world, only twisted with the darkest of desires. Being seen as intruders, however, they are attacked by the resident shadows. Seeing themselves akin to thieves, the two become just that as they explore the dungeon depths and learn the true nature of the man who created it.
While not a direct sequel in terms of story, the themes of Persona 5 make it a worthy successor of 4. Much like its predecessor, Persona 5 revolves around the idea of social masks and “true selves.” Instead of the heroes battling their own “shadows” this time, they instead battle the shadows of their human adversaries. Think late Persona 4 more than early. This creates an interesting psychological experience throughout. No matter how nice someone may seem on the outside, they may very well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
When it comes to Shin Megami Tensei, Persona was always the flashiest of the bunch. Persona 5 is no exception to this rule. In fact, its stylized design gives even Persona 4 Golden a run for its money. As with last year’s Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Persona 5 is brought to life with effectively executed cel-shaded textures. While P4 for PS2 anf TMS for Wii U were admittedly placed on underpowered systems of their time, P5 takes full advantage of the PS4 and delivers some of the best cel-shading to date. Whether the characters appear in-game or anime cut scenes, it all blends as perfect as ice cream and cola on a hot summer day.
The design of Persona 5 doesn’t end with the dashing flair of the Phantom Thieves themselves. Each menu whether it be the main menu or otherwise features dynamic silhouettes running, jumping, and swooping into action. When visiting shops, the owners too will animate behind their wares, perhaps enticing to make a sale. It’s hard to say no to the sexy doctor as she shows off the length of her legs during pharmacy visits. Perhaps most creative however is the victory screen. Following a battle, Joker and his remaining allies will pose on the screen. What makes this different from other games is that Joker will begin to run, leaving the battlefield and stepping back to the player’s current place in the dungeon. This transition makes every battle feel that much more connected to the greater battle at hand.
In terms of gameplay, Persona 5 is the perfect accumulation of the last 20 years. Before this, Persona 3 and 4 always felt detached from 1 and 2 in many ways, but especially when it came down to gameplay. In part, this is due to how Persona are obtained in each game. Things come full circle with Persona 5 through the art of persuasion. After hitting an elemental weakness or performing a critical attack, an enemy will fall to the ground. As with Persona 3 and 4, the player may choose to do a climactic All Out Attack. This isn’t always the best action to do, however. Instead, players can once again attempt to persuade shadows to surrender over cash, items, or even themselves as Persona. This brings a satisfying level of depth to each and every enemy encounter.
What makes Persona 5 truly stand apart from other games isn’t even the combat, rather it’s what characters do outside of it. As with both 3 and 4, Persona 5 is one part dungeon crawler and one part life simulator. During each chapter, players can decide how to spend their day. Will they enter the current dungeon, go out to eat, or spend time with friends? Heck, they can even go on a date with the aforementioned sexy doctor. The game plays the way that the player wants it to play. The only real flaw is the few hours of oddly linear gameplay. Ultimately, Persona 5 does Persona best when it allows the players to choose the path they take.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona has always been known for its music. With that being said, Persona 5 has some of the finest that the series has to offer. Considering that it’s most recent predecessor got its own rhythm game spin-off, that is saying a lot. The music can is best described as inspirational jazz. Something one might hear in an elevator or café. Somehow each track both relaxes and encourages its listener to be the best phantom thief they can be.
The voice talent of Persona 5 is some of the best that the industry has to offer. While relatively new to voice acting, the talented Xander Mobus brings Joker to life. While supposedly a silent protagonist, the battle cries, and scarce lines are more than enough to define his character. This is a rare example of a perfect ensemble but is exactly what one should come to expect from Shin Megami Tensei: Persona.
Overall Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 5 is that console RPG that gamers have been dying to play, even if they did not know it at the time. The dynamic gameplay, groovy music and memorable characters rival those of the much praised Persona 4. Let’s face it, who hasn’t dreamed of being a cat burglar in the past. Though in Ann and Morgana’s case, it’d be an emphasis on “cat.” With the potential of each playthrough playing quite differently, the game has more to offer than 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins.
Overall HEY! HEY!! LISTEN!!! gives Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 5 9.8 lockpicks out of 10.
A Wild Card
Pros: Well driven plot, relatable characters, peerless soundtrack, The Plague. Cons: Linear first chapter, Morgana's strict curfew.