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LONG BLOG

Persona 5 Review (PS4, SPOILERS)

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The reason why I have not gotten around to writing this is because the Palace post battle screen's red and black combination appears to be like color bleeding to my eyes on an old TV and hurts my eyes if I play for an extended amount of time. It makes it hard for me to sit through more than about an hour of gameplay each day. I've gotten a little more used to it by messing with my monitor's brightness settings, but it doesn't help much.

Story:

The story of Persona 5 is one of those weird stories where it starts near the end. The tutorial of the game starts with a dungeon, but the main character (MC is unnamed) is caught because there is a traitor among their ranks that ratted them out. Sae is a public prosecutor who interrogates the MC, who then asks that the MC start to recall events starting from the very beginning. This is where we learn that the MC was transferred to another school in the care of his reluctant uncle, Sojiro, who runs a coffee shop. The MC was convicted under suspicious circumstances that are not fully revealed until two dungeons later. At the school, the MC and Ryuji (a classmate) discover there is something weird going on and the two of them decide to try to figure out what it is, only to discover that a teacher, Kamoshida, is abusing his students. Through a special app on his phone, the MC can enter the Palace of these individuals and see how the Shadow of the person really sees their surroundings. Thus, the MC, Ryuji, Morgana (a talking cat), and Ann (a classmate) decide to form the Phantom Thieves of Heart to correct society's wrongs. This runs in contrast to the main enemies of the game, that seek to control humanity through the manipulation of people. You are joined by others on the journey. Eventually, you find out that the main enemies have manipulated you into doing their bidding, and in your effort to redeem yourself, you are caught, putting you into the interrogation room from the beginning. At the core of it all is a special Palace that contains the subconscious of humanity called Mementos, a place that literally is an optional dungeon until near the very end of the game. 

The story of the game is decent, but the constant flashbacks to Sae's interrogations messes with the flow of the game. Every time you create a new Confidant (Social Links of Persona 3 and Persona 4), it cuts to a scene of Sae asking about people who have helped the MC. It does nothing but break the atmosphere of the game and feel like they are trying to tell two different stories at the same time. What makes matters worse is the fact that you will probably forget that Sae's interrogation is even a thing when you are spending long hours trying to clear the next Palace. The whole starting the story from near the end only creates problems, especially when they give you a list of options to choose from before you have any idea what is going on in the game. While having choices is nice, there's no point to it when you have no idea what is going on. The game's story would have been significantly better if they stuck to telling a chronological story. Having the game basically in "foregone conclusion" mode for most of the game really hurts the atmosphere of the game and the constant cuts back and forth do not help it even more. It is poorly done compared to a game like Final Fantasy 10, which is one of the few games to do it right because there were no interruptions and the main character served a purpose as the narrator of the story. There is just one cut. In Persona 5's case, the result is what feels like a bunch of messy cuts.

Graphics:

The graphics of Persona 4 are very good. The character models look great. The generic monsters you encounter transform into the in battle models in a spectacular manner. The anime style cutscenes are even better. The worst looking things are some of the lower level spell effects, but even those are pretty good. Characters have unique all-out attack finishing screens. Environments and weather effects are done nicely. The game does a very good job of using the graphics to sell you on the atmosphere of the game and the uniqueness of each named character. Of course, there are a few problems when you try to apply that flair to everything. The red on black background on the victory screen hurts my eyes when the running MC switches back to exploring mode. There is a lot of unnecessary flair in the menus that do little. While it does look good visually, it seems to have no purpose and the post battle screens simply cover for loading times. In fact, a lot of the animations seem to serve as animated loading screens. This is an example of when there is too much unnecessary flair. Some things, like menus, do not always need that flair. There is no need for a person jumping across the screen for a simple menu transition.

One of the issues I have here with the game is the lack of character to character interactions compared to the previous games. With the advent of the cell phone, it is used to replace a lot of what would be otherwise narrated dialogue. It essentially downgrades some conversations into small character portraits talking without voice. It's a cheap way to justify it, but it also feels lazy. There are times when I feel like they put more effort into the graphical transitions and animations between menus than they did the conversations.

Gameplay:

Right from the introduction, you have no idea what is going on. You are tossed into a heist where you are captured. It is here that the game truly begins. The rest of the game is told through the eyes of the main character who is trying to tell the story to Sae until it reaches that point in the story, but it makes it difficult to believe him because he's been tortured by others prior to talking to Sae and it is up to the narrator to convince Sae (though you have little control other than game over by not meeting a deadline). The game keeps jumping back between the past and the present, which feels awfully strange. They do this whenever you acquire a new Confidant, but it makes Sae's interrogation even stranger as she seems to randomly bring up people she should have no clue about and then getting angry at you when she already trusted you before. The attempt is nice, but because of the rather open ended nature of the game, this causes major problems in the narration and sequence of events. Sae's interrogation perhaps should have been used as a post Palace summary, where it would make more sense.

One of the biggest changes to the game is the introduction of the stealth mechanic. Because of the Phantom Thieves nature of the game, the characters are able to sneak around a Palace. Getting caught makes enemies more alert and chase after you. Killing enemies also reduces the alert level of the enemies by a small amount. Unfortunately, this enforces a Metal Gear style that forces you to sneak around and attack enemies from behind. It greatly discourages fighting enemies head on yet often requires you to do so for story specific items in some dungeons. This is vastly different from the previous two games where the dungeons were randomly generated. In Persona 5, the dungeons are fixed and not randomized, yet some of them feel even longer for no apparent reason. There are some interesting puzzles, but sometimes, it just feels tedious as it forces you to backtrack and use your magical thief sense to find specific enemies and objects. Normally, this is not bad, but for dungeons that are already about ten floors to begin with, it can feel like it goes on for a little too long since they force you to go in and out of dungeons multiple times while sneaking around. Later on, they add things like timed puzzles and they make you go through three of them, making them feel tedious. It would have been fine once or twice, but they added more to pad out the length of a dungeon that was already very long.

The best thing about the game is of course the combat. The combat throws in a few extra elements from past Shin Megami Tensei and we now have basic holy, dark, and nuclear type attacks. They are no longer restricted to instant kill, which is nice. Each Persona and enemy has strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited for extra turns. The extra turns can also be passed around through a new Baton Pass feature that even gives bonus damage to the next person. Characters also carry a gun that can be used to inflict piercing type damage. The only downside to the guns is that the imagination power that runs them (I'm serious here by the way, it's powered by imagination) only gives you a limited amount to use each time you enter a Palace, making them quite restrictive until you get physical skills that basically do the same. Then, your guns become useless outside of special initiations in combat by Futaba. The downside of course is that healing items are incredibly rare until much later in the game. SP, which is needed to use magic is the biggest problem. Healing items for it are not available until much longer and there is no healing NPC until much later in the game. This makes playing on any difficulty above normal on your first run near impossible due to the lack of resources and this remains a problem until you can rank up the Confidant with Death until you unlock the SP regeneration ring.  At that point, it becomes the most important item in the game due to the lack of resources. Many of the shops carry far too limited of a supply or the items are too awful to be useful.

If you weaken enemies, you can convince them to join you, pay up money, or give you items. It only works on non-event enemies, but it is a nice evolution of bribing enemies from past Shin Megami Tensei games. Each enemy type has a personality that you have to speak to using the right choices in order to convince them. Mess it up and you will not get what you want. It is not too difficult though and you can usually navigate around the correct set of choices to get what you want from them. It is a nice fix over the random cards that were present in Persona 4.

The downside to the combat are the bosses. While some bosses do have a new interesting feature in the form of a weakness, it essentially turns those major bosses in the game into having to trigger an instant win condition to finish the battle. Of course, taking too long sometimes also triggers an instant loss condition. I am a fan of neither and I found this a little disappointing. This made the boss battles a little less exciting for me as I eagerly awaited for the instant win condition to appear for each boss and sometimes was disappointed by the lack of one. You can usually tell the boss is which by the rate at which you are dealing damage to it. If you hit it for like 400 and it barley shows, you need to wait for the event. Otherwise, just smack it down.

One of the best things that return are the Social Links, referred to as Confidants in Persona 5. The annoying interruptions that appear with the introduction of every new Confidant aside, they focus a lot more on personal issues of the characters and their ability to overcome those issues. Persona 4 sometimes left these issues unresolved, but rather accepting of things the way they are, but Persona 5 focuses on overcoming those difficulties and learning to change. Every character in the game seems to suffer from some kind of social problem that is more blatant than its predecessors and it really fits the overall atmosphere and theme of the game well. The main character helps bring them back into the fold of society at least just a little and the final interactions are definitely worth the pay off. The only problem? The game needed more voiceovers. A lot of the game is unvoiced and told through text messages between characters. Even a lot of the Confidants seem to be missing voice acting and it is very noticeable. Overall, it feels like it has less voice acting than the previous two games, which greatly hurts the narrative style, especially with what they were trying to do.

Persona 5 has a lot more restrictions on the time available. Even though Persona 3 and Persona 4 had time restrictions, you often only needed one or in some cases, two days in order to clear a dungeon. In Persona 5, you often have to dedicate 3 if not more days depending on the dungeon. This makes the limited time restrictions even tighter and makes it even harder to schedule out the things that you want to do, especially when there are many days where you cannot do anything at night whether you went to explore a dungeon or a story event took place. In the past, this only happened during exams, but in Persona 5, this even happens in the story events that lead up to the dungeon. Then there are story events within the dungeon itself. The boss battle of the dungeon also has to take place on a separate day after finding the end point. If they give you 14 days, expect to take at least 3 for the dungeon and 4 days to be off limit for story events, giving you far less time to prepare for dungeons overall. It felt something like 1/3 of the days were dedicated to story events, giving you very little time to build your character's stats and relationships with others. You can free up a little more time, but you have to get the Temperance Confidant to 10 and it only frees up a little bit more because all it does is allow you to go around town after going to a Palace (but not taking the Treasure) or Mementos. You also need to spend time making lock picks for some of the special chests in the dungeons. Each dungeon has something like 3 or 4 and until you get your Proficiency high enough to craft 3 at a time reasonably, you will be forced to backtrack a lot through dungeons and spend a lot of time trying to track chests and find time to make the picks. This essentially forces you to go through a New Game+ to find out what were in those chests unless you sacrifice a lot of time building Confidants to do it.

But ultimately, what hurts Persona 5 the most is the narrative style. Unlike Persona 3 and 4, the game lacks an overarching story that makes its presence well known. Persona 3 had Tartarus. Persona 4 had the Midnight Channel. Persona 5 has the Palaces, but they are bound to each character instead of an overarching story. Mementos should have been the equivalent, but it sits in the background and is basically treated as an optional dungeon. It doesn't make itself relevant until they suddenly treat it like a Palace and you have to go to it. The constant cuts back and forth really hurt the pacing when it could have been done so much better in a chronological order rather than this start at the end. It feels like the narrative style is an excuse to say "this is where you have to go next just because" when it was not really needed. You could have completely taken out Sae as the interrogator until you actually came across it as the plot twist. Instead, the game has you make choices that you have no way of knowing at the very beginning of the game when you have no idea what is going on. It turns an "OH SHIT!" moment to "So this is where I get caught" because it is already a foregone conclusion and they tell you so. The pacing back and forth causes Sae's reactions to your social links make little sense, especially once she establishes the Judgment Confidant, essentially cementing the two of you as allies. It would have also been a lot better if they did not show you what the "villains" of the game are doing at the time until later because the cuts to them do not give a lot of context. Instead, you have tons of conversations without context in the interrogation room, random people who have not been properly introduced talking, and then oh hey it's that one guy who got the main character labeled as a delinquent yet no one can remember. To make matters worse, one of your allies literally points out on 10/24 (the day that Atlus forbids streaming at) as "HEY IT'S THE BAD GUY!" but the characters literally ignore it in an idiot ball (involving actual takoyaki balls and the bad guy taking the big spicy red Russian Takoyaki).

EDIT: I know there's more to this that kind of resolves their behavior and kind of makes sense considering the format they chose to tell the story, but I'm leaving it out to avoid spoiling too much. What happens after and the final month of the game's story is just completely absurd and ridiculous.

Overall: 7/10

Persona 5 is good gameplay wise, but they sacrificed a lot of pacing and an overarching story to do it. The game lacks an overarching story until much later in the game (like after the space themed Palace, where things slowly start to fit together, but that's something like 2/3 of the way through the game and almost as bad as the Legend of Heroes: Trails series). While each dungeon does have its own story arc and character, there are times when it feels forced as the Phantom Thieves of Heart really just wander around with no direction. The game lampshades it at times, but does not actually do anything to fix it. The game is difficult mainly due to the lack of resources available to the player (Death Confidant fixes this with the SP Adhesives and insane healing items at Rank 8+, but there are no NPC heals in any of the Palaces). The new Confidants do a lot more to contribute to character development, but the lack of voice acting in a lot of scenes sometimes hurts the overall narrative when they already screw it up with their choice to start the story and flash back to everything else. It might have worked if there was more context in the beginning, but you are given nothing. The game does have a lot of gameplay improvements, but other aspects of the game are sacrificed for it. For me, the greatest improvement was the Confidants. Yet, it also has the horrible choice of confining many conversations to the cellphone and giving you giant pop up warmings of major plot points. The Playstation logo appears to your top left with the words YOU CANNOT TAKE A SCREENSHOT AT THIS TIME. In the end, Persona 5 is a game with good gameplay. The forced stealth elements and annoyingly long puzzles can be a turn off later on as you are forced into more and more fights. Other than that, if you ignore most of Sae's early talking, the game is a lot better.

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About Blanchimontone of us since 10:18 PM on 09.14.2008

I studied to be a teacher, but I only have a tutoring job right now that has very few hours. When I'm not busy, I'm trying out random games that get my interest and writing reviews about them. Keep in mind that these reviews are based on my own opinion and what I think about the game. I generally dislike F2P features that exclude players by making the top items only obtainable with real money or are absurdly expensive and P2P games that limit a player's ability to play with something like fatigue or stamina systems. I also tend to be late with reviews as I only purchase games when I have the time to actually play them.