A 16-year old Japanese schoolboy sees a woman being assaulted on the street one night. He intervenes and defends her from the assailant, but when the police arrive it’s the young man who’s thrown in jail. The attacker in the alley was a very powerful, very important man, and his friends in the police department have kicked this boy hard to make sure he stays down. Injustice. For a 16 year-old to experience injustice of this magnitude is sobering, perhaps even disgusting. Is there such a thing as justice in a world where the rich eat the poor and spit them back out, where the strong tread on the weak, where the sadistic take from the noble?
And there it is, right from the start. There is no justice in the world unless we make it. The young man is sent to Tokyo to live with a family friend and begins attending a new school. On the very first day, you and a classmate wander into an alternate shadow world overlaid on our own called the Metaverse, and find yourselves in a medieval castle full of demons and ruled by a particularly shitty teacher at the school. Accompanied by a talking cat with a sword, you’ll sneak, battle, and style your way through this massive dungeon to figure out what the hell is going on. I’ll leave it at that for the plot. No spoilers!
Persona 5 is the only game ever made that lets players truly live out the super-hero fantasy. You’re thinking of Arkham, Spider-Man, Infamous — these games allow the fantasy of being a super-hero, yes, but they end there. In Persona 5, the hero work isn’t even half the fun.
By day you’ll attend school, do homework, hang out with friends, do the laundry, work a part time job, clean the house, etc. You will have to manage your time wisely, making sure you have time to study because you’ve got a big test on Friday. But you also need to hang out with Ann on Tuesday night because she specifically asked, and Wednesday you were supposed to work out with Ryuji at the gym. Weren’t you supposed to do the dishes?
By night, you and your friends will don the masks of the Phantom Thieves, a superhero team that dives into the metaverse to steal hearts and bring justice back to the world. No one at school knows who you are, and no one in the world knows the identity of the Phantom Thieves. This is the true super-hero fantasy. There is no Spider-Man game where you are looking forward to playing as Peter Parker. It’s unprecedented, and it’s what made me fall in love with it just hours in.
The super-hero parts of the game involve exploring giant palaces in the metaverse, manifestations of the hatred in the hearts of people. The Phantom Thieves track down targets who are rich, powerful and evil and break into these dungeons to steal the hearts of these targets, causing them to have a “change of heart” and confess to their crimes. One person at a time, the Phantom Thieves bring justice when all hope has been lost. There are no murder teens here, no sir. In fact, the characters are quite conscious about not killing anyone because, well, they’re teenagers.
Each dungeon contains different Personas, spirits that you collect by battling and then succeeding in dialogue trees with. The Personas are not your slaves; they are partners you’ve formed a contract with. They can be anything from tiny imps to forest sprites to ancient deities. The turn based combat and collectible monster angle often bares comparisons to Pokemon, and I’ll grant to a degree that’s true. Even as a Pokemon aficionado myself, however, I have to admit the combat system doesn’t hold a candle to Persona 5.
The gameplay never felt repetitive to me, except inside the much too long final dungeon. Historically I have not enjoyed turn-based combat, but the structure is so quick, flashy, and colorful that it feels just as exciting as live combat, if not more. The aesthetics and colors of the game are over the top, and they never slow down. Every single motion you make as the Phantom Thieves screams flamboyant and flashy, and it all contributes to making the player feel like a super-hero. Persona 5 is also the proud owner of one of the best soundtracks in gaming history. The sound design is worth mentioning too, punctuating moments with the exact right upbeat, jazzy, funky tracks you won’t be able to forget. You will feel stylish playing this game, whether you like it or not.
The RPG mechanics of Persona 5 run deep. Equipment, accessories, armor, weapons, guns, etc. need to be customized and upgraded along with items, potions and persona attacks to optimize your characters. I found myself hand-drawing diagrams to coordinate my persona’s movesets to create a perfect team, but Persona 5 also allows players to not care about these details very much at all. If players are searching for levels of detail rivaling old CRPGs, look no further. Managing your time during the day to optimize your stat levels feels better than it does in real life. I don’t get experience points in real life for making coffee, so why am I even doing it?
The characters… oh the characters. I legitimately fell in love with each and every one of the Phantom Thieves. Over 100 hours with them sounded daunting at first, but now I wish there was more. Even the characters I disliked at first I now love, and can’t imagine the squad without them. How did we ever get by? Morgana, even being a cutesy anime mascot, never gets annoying. He’s a core member of the Phantom Thieves, and his B-Plot to discover his origins is worked into the main story marvelously. Ryuji, Futaba, Ann, Makoto, Haru, Yusuke. I miss these kids, and I am going to miss them forever. You may have heard there’s a lot of romance options in this game; it can be gratingly difficult to pick one. The ending you receive with you romantic partner feels earned, however, after putting 100 hours into making that relationship blossom.
I have only had this sad feeling once before, with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, when I realized I would never get to play this game for the first time again. But perhaps some of you can!
Final Verdict: 9.5/10 — Probably the Best RPG I Will Ever Play
The flashy colors, beautiful visuals, god tier soundtrack and amazing characters round out the host of reasons you need to play this game. Aside from the last dungeon being twice as long as it should have been, I have found no faults with this game. The entire time I was playing this, I could not shake the feeling that this was one of the best games I would ever play. If I was unsure before Persona 5, I now truly believe that there is no justice in the world unless we make it. We are all responsible for creating justice wherever we go. These themes permeate throughout every aspect of the game and are never forgotten or thrown to the wayside. There is a spirit of rebellion in all of us, and working a 9 to 5 office job every day, I think I had forgotten that. This game helped me remember the fiery passion for justice that I had in my younger years. It’s still inside me. It’s still inside you.