Acclaimed Japanese role-playing game producer Atlus took its sweet time publishing the newest entry in one of its flagship series, and the wait was more than worth it. A little more than eight years after “Persona 4” was released on the PlayStation 2, “Persona 5” dropped for PlayStation 4 last week.
After spending 30 hours romping through the game’s stylish rendition of Tokyo, I feel like I’m not even halfway to the end, and I couldn’t be enjoying the ride more. The “Persona” series’ blend of high-school social-life simulator and turn-based dungeon crawling creates this cycle between downtime and action that keeps me wanting what the game still has to offer.
You play as a silent protagonist, who can be named whatever you choose, and you attend high school in Tokyo. You meet a wide array of friends that are sure to capture your heart. From the hard-working student council president to the alcoholic journalist, the well-written characters provide entertaining stories throughout the game.
After school, you and your ragtag group of misfits (called The Phantom Thieves of Hearts) travel to another dimension to change the dark hearts of corrupt, evil adults. The dungeons in the game reside in this second dimension, and the design of each dungeon is inspired by the corrupted adult’s sins. Throughout the game, you have to defeat each dungeon by a given deadline, all while managing your responsibilities as a high-school student.
At first glance, trying to be a productive student sounds like an off-putting notion, but it actually provides a strong avenue for storytelling and character development, both of which this game excels at doing. The things you learn about your teammates make you care about who they are and their goals in life, making you more personally invested in what happens to them during battles in the dungeons.
The battle system in “Persona 5” is downright addictive, which bodes well for the game, because you’ll be doing a lot of it. The animated menus help you make decisions quickly while looking sleek to boot. It might take some time to get used to the spell system in the game (for example, a simple fire spell is called “agi” instead of, say, “fire”), but the interface gives you more than enough clues to ease yourself into the thick of things.
The more important battles in the game are done very well, and they mix things up enough to make them memorable days later. The story does a spectacular job of painting the villains in a heinous light, and, therefore, bringing them to justice feels so rewarding.
The sound design of the game also deserves massive praise. Scrolling through menus and hearing the little clicks are a joy, and the sound of cleaving through an enemy feels hefty and satisfying. Driving it all is longtime “Persona” composer Shoji Meguro’s soundtrack. The jazz-rock battle theme, “Last Surprise,” has yet to get old, and the upbeat “Life Will Change” always elevates the hype of any scene in which it’s played.
“Persona 5” is a game that wants you to spend a lot of quality time with it, and it deserves every second you can give. The writing makes every character believable in this wacky world. The story is still going strong after 30 hours of gameplay, and it seems promising that it will continue to be entertaining through the end. It serves as a great entry point into the “Persona” series for anyone interested in lengthy turn-based JRPGs with an endearing cast of characters.