Now Playing: Persona 5

During the Easter holiday, I’ve been glued to my screen playing Persona 5 . Here are some of my impressions, as spoiler-free as I possible could write them, I want people to uncover the details for themselves when playing this game. I’m writing this because I’m convinced Persona 5 is something special, and I know there are people who look at screenshots and dismiss the game because it’s “Japanese” or “anime”.  Persona 5 encompasses everything I love about video games: a colorful cast, engaging story, fun gameplay and some unique touches. Persona 5 nails every aspect and is an absolutely wonderful experience.

I loved previous games in the Persona series and I was curious how the first proper HD installment in this franchise would match the writing and game design of the previous entries. I wasn’t that hyped initially and kept myself in the dark about the game, but when all the positive reviews came in several weeks ago I caved and watched footage. I ordered the Take Your Heart edition in a heartbeat. I’ve played 25 hours (supposedly the game needs ~110 hours) glued to my screen in awe of just how polished, fun and engaging this game is. In short, Persona 5 is nothing short of amazing and it’s a masterclass in game design, pacing, and art direction.

Persona 5 is a Japanese RPG set in Shibuya in Tokyo. You assume the role of a transfer student and learn your way around the city. You have the power to summon and create Personas, powerful enemies that will aid you in battle. The game works off a calendar system. You wake up, go to school, you’re free in the afternoon and evening to choose what you do, but doing an activity takes up time. When the day ends you go to sleep and move to the next day. Generally, the game has two interwoven sides: the social school-life side in Shibuya, and the RPG side as a “Phantom Thief” in fictional dungeons. There’s a plethora of freedom in the activities and events to partake in, and managing your time is important.   All of these things work really well and keep players engaged because the world feels so dynamic and I’m always curious what will happen or who will be available to talk to when I move to a certain part of the city.

There’s a lot of dialogue in the game and a big focus on story, I honestly didn’t think this would work well in 2017. The game is pretty constrained and slow-paced in its opening hours, but strangely it works and introduced the game’s systems well. A big draw for this is the great art direction: Persona 5 oozes style. The user interface and character artwork is super stylish and left me gasping for breath during the first hours. The UI… wow… just wow… it’s so stylish in motion…  Likewise walking through the bustling streets of Shibuya feels great too. You’ll see people chat about what’s trending, react to weather and pollen,… I just love strolling around when I can find the exit of the god damn Shibuya train station, looking at all the people who pass by and how they comment about the actions my party has achieved as Phantom Thieves. The game has a sense of style, crispness, fluidity, and polish to its animations, art and user interface that few games have. Deep down it’s a PS3 game, with a really low polycount, but their cell-shading and art direction masks this really well. Add a poppy soundtrack, great voice acting and you have something that just captivates you from the moment you start playing.

Atlus modified some of the more tedious RPG elements to make it more approachable and forgiving, without touching the core of what makes the Persona franchise great. You will still scale dungeons with multiple floors with a turn-based battle system, but there will be a checkpoint at each floor to save, and fast travel to outside the dungeon or between floors. Dungeons have much more gameplay to them, nicely tied with the current story arc and generally feel like an improvement over Persona 4. The switch from PS2 to PS4 is a huge one, and it’s more than welcome.

The battle system while traditionally turn-based adds the option to quickly target an enemy’s weakness and does away with a command list by binding commands to face buttons. Along with a rush mode and stylishly fast animations battles can be really fast and don’t feel tedious like in some older RPGs. When you attack enemies with their weakness, they go down, and when all enemies are down you have the option to negotiate with them to get money, an item or to join your party. These dungeon and battle enhancements don’t mean the game is easy, but when you die, you won’t lose too much and rip your hair out. The game is carefully balanced so yeah, you’re going to have tough times, but overcoming those challenges is what adds to the fun.

Fast travel is available too during the social school-life parts of the game when strolling around in Shinjuku. There’s plenty of things to do and they all have some kind of effect on your stats and your ability to create higher level Personas for use in battle. Minigames, part-time jobs, visiting stores, quality time with characters, reading, studying, going to a bathhouse,… the list goes on and on and everything changes a little depending on the day and weather. The world feels lively and it’s chock-full of Japanese culture and name puns, and just little things that’ll make you smile. You’re always curious what will happen the next day or which person or NPC you might bump into on the streets. Shinjuku might feel big at first but really it isn’t, it’s just right to not feel like things are getting over your head. No day is the same and the way Atlus balanced everything is really worthy of all my respect.

Minor intermission – Why would you fast travel when the background music is this:

2017 is an amazing year for Japanese games, with titles such as Breath of the Wild, Nier Automata and Yakuza 0 giving a renewed importance to Japan and video game design.

I can’t reiterate enough how this game just feels fresh hour after hour, it always feels new, stylish and you will always want to see what happens next. It offers just the right balance in both the social and RPG aspects of the game, to never feel too easy, too constrained, too predictable, it just feels right. I try to avoid saying things like this, but heck it’s the whole game is so freaking cool and I never expected to say that out of a text-heavy turn-based role-playing game. I’ve never played, experienced or seen anything like this and this might well be one of the best games to come out of Japan in recent memory.

(High Quality screeshots taken from USGamer’s Persona 5 review, a good read too!)

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