Persona 5 Hands-Off impressions

At E3 2016 I was given the distinct pleasure to view a gameplay demonstration for Persona 5, which is certainly one of the most anticipated Japanese RPGs arriving in the near future. It's been a long time coming, and a lot of questions about it have yet to be answered. While this demo unfortunately didn't offer a chance to get hands-on with the game, after viewing this demo I'm feeling much more confident that this game could end up delivering on the monumental expectations placed upon it.

The first thing I would like to make note of from the demo is that this was the very first taste the Western audience has had of the English voice cast. Our demo was introduced by Morgana, but as her English counterpart this time around. She just gave a brief summary of what Persona was and its history, as well as what to expect from Persona 5.

Following this speech the rest of the demo was entirely in Japanese, a sure sign that localization is in the works and the cast in place but with work still quite a way from completion. Atlus confirmed with us after the fact that the English introduction portion of the demo was something they put together on very short notice just for E3, but despite that it left a strong impression that the English dub of the game will be as fantastic as Persona 4's. 

One thing that's absolutely clear from the outset is that Persona 5's Tokyo setting is far more grandiose than previous entries. The sprawling and bustling streets of Tokyo are of a greater scale than that of Persona 4's Inaba. What's more impressive is that despite the increased scale the detail and style of the world has not diminished. In fact, as with comparing any small town to the big city, there seems to be a ton more activities to take part in and sights to see.

These activities include the likes of baseball with your friends, and the glimpse of these distractions during the presentation seem to indicate that Persona 5's take on Tokyo is just as lovingly hand-crafted as prior locations in the series were, doing well at balancing that priority with bringing environments up to a larger scale.


One thing that Atlus was keen to point out is how the social aspect of this game has been beefed up considerably over prior entries in the series. Part-time jobs were a part of Persona 4, and there's no difference here - we know that Persona 5's protagonist will be able to work in the likes of a flower shop or convenience store, building up funds that can then be used to buy the necessary gear for your supernatural adventures.

While there's much to love about Persona 3 and 4, one thing even dedicated fans can admit was lacking in the titles was the quality in dungeon design; their randomly-generated dungeon designs were mediocre to say the least. Early hints in Persona 5's initial gameplay trailer made it appear that P-Studio was looking to up the ante in this area, and seeing the game played at E3 seemed to confirm that: gone are the days of dull randomly generated hallways in favor of more elaborate dungeons with unique mechanics and vistas.

At one stage of the demo the P5 cast were scaling a dungeon cliffside by jumping from platform to platform much like you'd see in an old school 2D platformer. It's safe to say that the developers have learned from past design bumbles seen in places like Persona 3's Tartarus in favor of dungeons with variation in their design and layout. In addition to the layout design shift, dungeons in Persona 5 are bursting at the seams with color and style. Through improved design and art direction, the feel and design of dungeons may end up as the biggest change moving from Persona 4 to this entry.

One of the areas that's caused a stir around Persona 5's trailer that likely needs to mention at all from me is its sense of visual flair: It's a damn good looking game in both a technical and artistic sense. I was initially concerned that setting the game in a real city like Tokyo as opposed to a fictional one as in Persona 4 Inaba might hamper the art team's creativity; I could not have been more wrong.

The city streets brought to life here brim with lavish personality.  The gameplay footage I saw was just under 10 minutes long, but it was easy to get lost in the detail. Tokyo comes alive in a sea of neon lights and soft warm colors - things are just ridiculously beautiful, especially considering the constraints of a cross-generation PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 release plan. 


As with dungeon design, the mechanics in Persona 5's combat appears to be an area of focus. While the previous two entries had perfectly serviceable combat systems, Atlus appears to be looking for an upgrade all the same, with significant tweaks made to the gameplay systems while maintaining turn-based traditions for this fifth entry.

Chief among the changes is the addition of a "hold up" system which has been likened to 'demon negotiation', a system that was a staple of the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series but left out of Persona 3 and 4. At the end of a fight you're able to hold up a demonic foe and invite them to join your party, though in practice seems like more of a replacement for the "shuffle time" mechanic from Persona 3 and 4 than true demon negotiation as SMT fans will know it. Other mechanics being added to combat include the 'Baton Touch' which allows you to pass a turn from one party to the other while also giving them boosted stats. 

The Persona 5 demo Atlus prepared for E3 this year was short but left a very strong impression. The game is shaping up very well, including this earliest glimpse of its localization. While we won't get our hands on it in North America until February 2017, it looks to be taking a solid aim in its plot to steal our hearts.