After being in production for nearly seven years, Persona 5 finally released earlier this week. The game was subject to a lot of hype, due to both its long production time and the success of the smash hit Persona 4 before it. So, how does it hold up against it against the hype?
In a word: Bold. Everything, from the vibrant graphic art style to the deceptively dark storyline hidden beneath, is punchy and brilliant. The characters are immediately arresting and the plot wastes no time jumping in head-first into the twisted storylines the Persona series, as well as its parent series Shin Megami Tensei, is known for.
Although the Shin Megami Tensei series has been around for 20 years, and the first Persona game was released in 1996, it was largely unknown in the west until the moderate success of Persona 3 in 2006, and then the series was thrust into the spot light by the critically acclaimed Persona 4. So, because many Western fans are mostly, if not only, familiar with 4, comparisons between 4 and 5 are inevitable.
Fans of 4 will immediately understand many of the base mechanics of 5. You play as a young student, new to his school, who inadvertently given access to an alternate dimension, dark and dangerous worlds created by the innermost thoughts and fears of those around you. There, you receive your first Persona, physical projections of one’s inner strengths that take on the forms of mythological beasts and legends. With this Persona, along with other Persona’s you discover along the way, you battle your way through the new dimension, and ultimately, by defeating it, free the person whose thoughts you’ve entered either by allowing them to come to terms with their inner demons or by eliminating them altogether. In true RPG fashion, you aren’t alone – you meet other students at school who awaken to the same power as you, and you work together to achieve your goals. When you aren’t scrounging through alternate dimensions, you live a life as a regular high school student, forming bonds with classmates and the people around you, as well as doing regular things like studying or working part time jobs. These actions may seem unimportant, but they are actually crucial to the game – by making friends and learning skills, your own mental strength increases, which means you to wield more powerful Personas. Beyond that, the relationships your character can enter add a level of emotional complexity few games have. In accordance to the game’s themes of personal growth, every character, no matter how seemingly insignificant, has a backstory, as well as personal goals and fears, that you can only learn about if you chose to befriend them.
While 4 and 5 have a lot in common thematically, 5 returns to the series roots with a lot of its mechanics. Fans who have only played 3 and 4 will be surprised to find that Personas have individual personalities, and are not just weaponized emotions, but this isn’t new to 5. Rather, 4 and 3 were the oddballs. In 4, you are basically given new Personas after a battle, like picking up items in other RPGs. In 5, much like in Shin Megami Tensei and the original Persona games, you actually have to battle the Personas themselves, and then, when you have the upper hand, convince them that they should join you. It can be a little jarring for new fans of the series to suddenly start conversing with characters you never thought were sentient. In terms of gameplay, 5 also changed it up a bit. In previous Persona games, the alternate dimensions were more like mazes, and aside from fighting enemies and finding treasure, you couldn’t interact much with them. In 5, the character is given more freedom, and can climb up walls, jump across gaps and solve puzzles within the maze.
Finally, 5 is shaping up to be much darker than 4. While Persona 4 wasn’t light-hearted by any means (the storyline involves a gruesome murder mystery and also contains themes of family conflicts as well as characters questioning their gender and sexual identities), it still remained fairly jovial throughout the game. 5, on the other hand, immediately jumps into physical abuse, rape, and even suicide, all before the tutorial act ends. While the characters still have the same quirkiness and charm that prevents it from being incredibly depressing, the game is no doubt much heavier than its predecessor. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t leave me stunned more than a few times.
Persona 5 is already receiving amazing reviews and some critics have even called it the greatest RPG ever made. Whether you’re a fan of the series or not, this is definitely a game you have to experience for yourself.