Persona 5 Import Impressions

With the unfortunate delay of its English release from this lovely Valentine’s Day to April 4, the wait for Persona 5 will be soon over. Until then, I wanted to share a bit of my experiences with the long-awaited sequel in the Persona series.

There will be some spoilers up to the second dungeon in Persona 5 in this impressions piece.

Persona 5 marks a bold new direction for the series. An all-new cast, storyline, and location makes it completely separate from its predecessors, newcomers can freely jump into this without worrying about missing anything.

The plot revolves around a group who call themselves the Phantom Thieves. They claim to steal the hearts of evildoers and make them fess up for their crimes. Opening on an upbeat note, players are tasked with a daring getaway from a casino; the authorities are hot on the protagonist’s tail to arrest him. Everything seems to be going smoothly until unexpected reinforcements are waiting to apprehend him outside.

At this point, I suddenly realized that Persona 5 is not as cheerful as it initially lets on. The events that followed were brutal, blunt, and straight to the point. Beaten by an enraged investigator, the protagonist is covered in bruises. In the eyes of the public, the main character and his fellow accomplices have severely wronged society in some way. The lead prosecutor of his case, Sae Niijima, enters to interrogate him shortly after.

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This interrogation with Sae Niijima is the framework for a good chunk of Persona 5. Recollections of past events from the protagonist fill in the roadmap that leads up to his current situation. It’s a clever tactic that kept me hooked to the story as it filled my head with questions on what in the world happened.

Persona 5’s proper “beginning” may seem a lot like its past titles at first glance. After all, the protagonist, once again, moves to another location for roughly a year with a caretaker of some sorts. This time around, the reasons behind this setup are much more grim.

A fateful night changed this boy’s life forever. He witnessed a random man sexually harassing a woman insistently and he took action to stop it from getting worse. Getting pushed aside, the harasser gets himself injured, so he proceeds to sue and press charges on the protagonist. Fate dealt the main character a bad hand - this criminal was actually a politician with ties to the police force.

His intervention to stop this wrongdoing gets himself expelled. Thus, the protagonist transfers schools to Shujin Academy in Tokyo as part of his court hearing. Welcome to Persona 5.

Word-of-mouth about the main character’s deeds spread fast from the get-go. Gossip, rumors, and conversations behind his back make his presence an eyesore to almost everyone he meets. His caretaker, Sojiro Sakura, is not too thrilled about watching over him; his would-be teachers and principal at Shujin Academy have already judged him before he stepped foot onto the campus. I felt like I was at the bottom of society’s hierarchy, but this low starting point made it all the more satisfying to climb my way back up.

Before Personas are introduced to the mix, the protagonist starts to enter the iconic Velvet Room as he sleeps. Now in the form of a prison, the main character is a prisoner locked up in a cell. The long-nosed Igor is now a warden with two new adorable assistants, Caroline and Justine. Just like in the other Persona games, you’ll be spending quite a bit of time here to strengthen your arsenal of Personas through fusion and other means. It’s a very fitting environmental theme for Persona 5 that I enjoyed coming back to again and again.

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Eventually, the protagonist is wrapped up in a shady plot with his newfound friends - Ryuji, Ann, and Morgana. Persona 5 retains the cycle of the calendar year system introduced in Persona 3 balancing school life and combating supernatural entities. During the day after classes ended, I found myself having to make a decision between spending time with Confidants (previously known as Social Links), raising my character’s attribute levels to open up new opportunities, or make progress in story dungeons, the Palaces.

Taking more cues from earlier Persona games, the Palace dungeons in Persona 5 all have pre-defined layouts, but are more elaborately designed by a considerable margin. The first Palace takes place in a medieval castle, while the second is set in an art museum. Each of the Palaces have a bundle of puzzles to solve as players go on heists for treasures and ultimately, steal a corrupt person’s heart and cause them to confess their crimes.

Navigating these dungeons is an absolute treat. Creative routing is constantly a highlight whether it be jumping from a series of paintings to finding a way through sensor lasers stealthily. It blends the slick style of heist films with a borderline paranormal atmosphere. Being sneaky is absolutely key as well. Getting the jump on an enemy requires hiding from cover-to-cover to ambush them; initiating them head-on will not only put you in an unfavorable situation, but also raise a detection meter that’ll kick you out of the Palace if it completely fills up.

Battles in Persona 5 build off the mechanics of Persona 3 and 4, along with some elements from earlier Personas. Guns are back as a separate command to exploit weaknesses; I found it cool that each party member has a different weapon. Ryuji is armed with a shotgun, Ann sports an assault rifle, and Morgana has a slingshot! Plus, the Psy and Nuclear elements make a return as well. The Negotiation system is also back, but it’s much faster and more streamlined than Persona 2’s sluggish conversations that revolved around a demon’s mood. You’ll be using this to recruit new demons on top of extorting them for money and items.

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Mapping menu items to face buttons in combat is a small addition that goes a big way. It helped speed up the pace of battles without losing vital functionality. Personas no longer have to be individually changed to access their skills; that’s all relegated to tabs for quicker access to them. The new Baton Touch mechanic allows players to instantly swap to another character on the extra turn given by hitting an enemy’s weakness. This allows players to knock down a whole enemy party by switching to members that’ll knock down the rest of the enemies with their weakness.

Stepping out of Palaces, there’s also a Mementos dungeon that deal with all the numerous sidequests. It seems to have a similar structure to Tartarus in Persona 3 separated by floors and layers. Each request is unique and helps flesh out the world in Persona 5.

Tokyo is huge and above all, compact. I was stunned at how well this game conveyed the denseness of this magnificent city. The stylized background character models that constantly fade in and out never made my strolls around the city lonely. There was always chatter; it never failed to feel busy. I found it a nice contrast compared to the laid back, somewhat empty nature of Inaba from Persona 4.

Of course, I can’t emphasize enough one of Persona 5’s biggest features - its jaw-dropping presentation style. Everything from its comic-inspired panel cut-ins to its dynamic UI transitions, it’s a game that oozes style effectively. Persona 5 is definitely a game that will catch the eyes of people. Its unconventional layouts are s sight to behold. Couple all of this with a mesmerizing soundtrack that mixes acid jazz with soft rock, this game is filled to the brim with oddly brilliant stylistic decisions that mesh together in a spectacular manner.

I strongly feel that Persona 5 is a special game. It doesn’t necessarily reinvent the entire Persona formula, but it’s an amalgamation of the series’ finest features into a single package. The narrative is incredibly compelling and its overall cast already rank as one of my favorites in RPGs. My 55 hours of playtime with it so far has surprised me in many ways; there’s still so many features to unravel, but it’s best left up for discovery rather than having it spelled out. There’s a lot to look forward to and believe me, Persona 5 is truly worth the wait.

Persona 5 is coming to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 on April 4, 2017 in North America and Europe.

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