A Persona Preview

Making friends, going to school, working a part-time job...oh, and diving into dark desires, manifested as elaborate dungeons, to steal a heart. All in (many) a day’s work in Persona 5.

Persona 5 Title Screen

Persona 5 Title Screen

10 hours into the game and I've fallen into a familiar rhythm. There is a dungeon to be cleared, but also social links (now confidants) to socialize with, skills to increase by studying or watching DVDs, and the winding streets and alleyways of Shibuya and Tokyo calling out with numerous ways to spend one's time. A mystery is slowing being revealed, and it's up to the Phantom Thieves to battle Shadows, summon their Personas, have some personal growth, and get to the bottom of it.

Persona 5 is a Persona game through and through, and while it's hard to say where it stacks up with the ones that came before it, it’s the most stylish of the franchise so far. The menus, loading screens, battle transitions and even your phone UI are sleek and polished, and they show as much life as the streets of Tokyo you explore.

The soundtrack backs this up: a mix of acid jazz with vocals that are unlike any other video game soundtrack out there. Reminiscent of Persona 4's OST, these new tracks help give the style context, and reflect the colourful personality of the game's characters and confidants.

Mechanically the game is very similar to the original games with some smart quality of life improvements. Pressing "R1" now brings you to an enemy's elemental weakness, without navigating through other menus, if you've already discovered it. The world map lets you know where confidants are, and through your phone UI, you know when party members are down to hang out. Also, you can now negotiate with fallen enemies, a new mechanic for this game, but one that previously existed in other Shin Megami Tensei games. This allows you to either get extra items/ money in lieu of experience points, or it lets you ask the Persona to lend you its power and join your party.

Returning from Persona 4 Golden, the game allows you to activate network features to access the Thieves Guild and see what other players have done in terms of spending their time after school, test answers, and even to ask for help in combat.

The daily social/life simulator aspects are back in full force as well, with even more options added. You'll be able to work part time jobs for skill increases and money, eat various food, buy books, play video games, go to batting cages, and even wash "clothes" you find in dungeons to reveal their true nature. The game faithfully recreates Japanese school life (minus the extraterrestrial extracurriculars). Also, this time around, it gives your main character a voice, and a bit more of a personality than previous games. You also do all of these while hanging out with Morgana, the new mascot characrer who is a cat and, so far, miles ahead of Persona 4's Teddie.

The Velvet Room returns as well with Igor and attendants, the same haunting music echoing through your dreams as you (probably) spend many hours fusing and registering Personas. The game’s many aspects are well tutorialized for newcomers, while also hinting at a variety of deeper levels and mechanics, for series veterans to uncover. You have (going off of the game's calendar) a full year to unravel the story, and the way you invest your time is very much up to the player.

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Story-wise I'm only scratching the surface, but what I've seen so far has me hooked. It's a creative new take on the standard Persona formula, giving the main characters good reason to go diving into strange dungeons (now Palaces), and even seeking out more of them. They can be proactive this time because the “name of the game” is diving into physical manifestations of people's darkest desires. The game's first antagonist is a P.E teacher from the school, who has been abusing his volleyball team, and some other even darker abuses of power. You battle your way through his "castle" to steal his treasure, and ultimately dissolve these dark desires ‒ make him a better person, one that will confess to his former crimes. The game does not pull any punches and juggles many adult themes right from the start, with varying levels of success.

The main character's past, and reason for transferring, deals with mature themes that serves as a stark reminder ‒ contrasting Japanese and Western cultures. I’ill dive into this aspect of the game with a follow-up article, and talk about the game's representation of Japanese culture as a whole.

If you're a Persona fan you're in for a treat, and if you're new to the series there is no better time to jump in.

 
 

Growing up in a small town, going to school for graphic and web design and finally moving to Toronto, Colin began to look for a new project and landed on Third Person. He has always had a passion for video games and finally decided to do something about it. Inspired by websites like Giant Bomb, Polygon, and Waypoint, Colin has founded Third Person with the intent of covering games using a mix of the old and the new.

Colin loves to dive into RPGs of all kinds, exploring their worlds and developing his character. Well-crafted stories draw him in too, and he is always on the lookout for a new adventure.

When he's not spending a billion years in a game's character creator, he can be found behind his camera, reading comic books or probably sleeping.

Some of his favorite games: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect, Overwatch, Life is Strange, Persona 4