Steal peoples’ hearts and rid the world of evil as phantom thieves in Atlus’ newest iteration of the Persona series. From abusive gym teachers to corrupt CEOs, no one is safe! With a strong emphasis on rehabiliation and change, has this new Persona taken its own advice or is it more of the same (and would that necessarily be a bad thing)?
My first experience with the Persona games (and MegaTen in general) would have to have been with the American version of Persona 2 (Eternal Punishment). Best described as “Pokemon with demons,” it was an interesting, though utterly bizarre game with a lot of occult references and dark material in general.
For 4 years (at least in America), we wouldn’t see another MegaTen title of any kind. Atlus took a huge gamble with Shin Megami Tensei – Nocturne, seeing as Persona 1 and 2 (and other iterations of MegaTen) hadn’t exactly done well in America up to this point. However, after the release of Nocturne, they started pushing them out one right after the other.
2 years later, we had Persona 3 and quite a lot changed. Instead of it being a somewhat straightforward JRPG, it was a combination JRPG/date sim/life sim. Instead of just focusing on the tried and true method of go to town, go to dungeon, wash, rinse, repeat…we had something entirely new.
This rubbed some people the wrong way, but overall it made for a very interesting and new experience that really pushed forward the MegaTen series as a whole. Naturally, the same combination was used with Persona 4 with some mild tweaks here and there. So to a degree, I knew what I was getting into with Persona 5, and yet I was still surprised.
The story jumps back and forth between you explaining your story to an (understandably) skeptical prosecutor in an interrogation room and several months ago when you first came to Tokyo under probation for assault. You start your new, sullied life here with people already having a relatively negative bias toward you to the point that it literally seems like the game is picking on your character at first.
Pretty quickly you stumble upon a mysterious app that lets you traverse into the Metaverse, which is kind of like an augmented reality app version of the TV World from Persona 4. You’re able to enter especially corrupt peoples’ “palaces,” which are effectively deep desires and thoughts of these individuals put into physical form.
Incidentally, it felt like they were trying to combine Persona 3 AND 4 for the first one because it is literally a huge castle that, surprise surprise, pops up in place of the school. Fortunately, no, this isn’t another Tartarus! In fact, the palaces aren’t random in the slightest, which means we have some really cool level design, maps, and situations in general that occur in palaces.
There IS still a random dungeon that takes place in the subways and is used to fulfill requests for the phantom thieves, but this is more side mission stuff than anything. I would also argue that the levels in the subway dungeon (Mementos) are far smaller than what we’ve seen in Persona 3 and 4, and to get from one major area to the next takes far less floors to go through in general.
Finally, there are rest areas that come through every few floors or so that you can warp back and forth from. There are similar rest areas in palaces as well, which is well appreciated since the palaces can be rather large in general. This is definitely a breath of fresh air because there’s an emphasis on shortcuts and being able to save as often as possible, which is a BIG change from Persona 3!
Another new addition to the game is security level and stealth in general. What, you thought they were called the phantom thieves just because? Absolutely not! When you’re not solving puzzles and scavenging treasure in palaces, a lot of time is spent sneaking up on shadows and steathily ambushing them.
If a shadow spots you, the security level is raised. Apparently if it gets high enough, you’re ejected out of the palace outright. I say “apparently” because I’ve yet to let it get that high. The stealth is rather easy, so if you’re not that great at stealth games, don’t worry too much. There are other ways to accidentally raise the security level such as accidentally tripping security lasers, etc.
Battles operate more or less as you’d expect. It’s turn based, but options are selected rather quickly as all of the menus have been streamlined to allow for minimum necessary navigation to attack, use persona magic, etc. Guns have also been brought back and there are more types of magic (psi and nuclear) to allow for a wider arrangement of resistances, weaknesses, and so on.
As in the last two Persona titles, when you knock down all of the enemies by exploiting their weaknesses, you can do an all-out attack. But even more importantly, you can also…NEGOTIATE! Yep yep, they brought negotiation back, which hasn’t been a feature since Persona 2. Basically, you enter “hold up” mode where your party surrounds the enemies with guns drawn and you can ask a Persona to join you, give you money, or give you an item.
Alternatively, you could just do an all-out attack instead, but in many cases, this is a great way to get more personas fast or get money or items when needed. There are various other new features in battle such as baton pass where you can swap your turn with someone else and add a boost to their move after hitting an enemy’s weak point and special gun techniques, but if I keep at it, then this review will literally be ALL about the combat system and nothing else!
So yes, the life sim aspect is back as well. Just like in Persona 4, there are 5 social stats: charm, guts, proficiency, knowledge, and kindness. These can be improved by going to the theater, working part-time jobs, doing well in school, studying, reading books, talking to certain people, taking care of your plant, making thief tools, playing video games, watching DVDs…and so much more.
There are also a lot of interesting confidants this time around (confidants are the social ranks). For example, there’s a teacher who’s moonlighting as a maid for a naughty(?) cleaning service. If you improve your rank with her, she can even save you time by making coffee, doing laundry for you, and even letting you ditch class!
The basic idea behind social ranks is as you improve them, your ability to create personas with their particular tarot card will improve. So for example, if you’ve really been working on the Temperance confidant (which is the maid in this case), then when you go to make personas that belong to Termperance, they’ll get a boost and often level up multiple times.
It’s nice that there are so many cool perks you can get from improving confidants this time around because in Persona 3 and 4 it felt like it wasn’t really that helpful and in many cases little more than a distraction from the main game. Persona fusion has come back, but it’s especially strange and chock full of new features this time around.
First of all, since the game is following the theme of rehabilitation, crime, thieves, and prison, you get to LITERALLY EXECUTE your personas to fuse them. The basic fusion between 2 personas, for example, involves having them guillotined. There’s also the ability to transform them into items by throwing them in an electric chair or having them hung in order to strengthen other personas.
However, there are two I especially like. First, there’s the public execution. This involves only using one persona, but you throw it out into the network and get back a random persona. The game is also sure to mention that you can only get certain personas this way, but you can only do it once a day.
Lastly, you can fuse by result. What this means is you can go through a list of every single possible result you can get and the combinations by which you can get them that are currently available to you. This is a great boon because it saves a lot of time, especially if you’re trying to fulfill fusion requests.
There are obviously many more things I could talk about, but I think I’ve said enough. This is an amazing entry in the Persona series and another huge step forward for JRPGs in general. There is so much going on in this game that it’s literally hard to pick out points to talk about. If there was ever a time to hop on the MegaTen bandwagon, it is now!