I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared of the prospect of reviewing a game with a huge fan following that I’ve never played before.
Turns out, Persona 5 is way better than I expected, and my only knowledge going is was that it uses the stereotypical anime art style. I’ve never played the original Persona 5, so I can’t comment on what has been added between the first game and its re-release, Royal, which is the one that I played on Steam. With that in mind, I will be talking about what was in the version of the game that I did play.
The first thing about the game is that the RPG elements are so, so fun. Besides one boss fight where the difficulty is ramped up specifically for that area and nowhere else, which is very odd. There’s quite a few mechanics going on at the same time, including the baton pass that allows you to change your turn to another member of your group, giving them health and SP.
There’s multiple different elements such as ice, fire, wind, gun damage and physical damage, but the last two can be used independently of the other elements. Quite a few turn-based RPGs that I’ve paid tend to very quickly get into the hole where the battle system gets boring or frustrating after a short while, but with Persona 5 that never happened – and part of that is in turn to its eponymous mechanic: Personas.
Personas are like Pokémon – you can collect them through different means, and each player that joins you on your journey has their own Persona with a variety of different abilities and elements that can be used in battle to find enemies weaknesses and strengths. All characters besides the main protagonist, Joker, has one persona.
Joker can have up to 12 personas that can be switched to at any time. Each Persona has their own unique models and treats – some which look really cool and their abilities can be upgraded over time as they level up. In battle isn’t their only use though – they can also be used to assist in outside battle through their associated tarot card.
If you can’t tell by now, Persona 5 has a lot of mechanics that are introduced; some are introduced 40 hours into the game. It’ll get some getting used to, but they never feel intrusive to the gameplay and make the gameplay more interesting.
Mementos, for example, is an alternate dimension that you slowly gain access to throughout the course of the game’s story. It’s a good place to grind and buy items that you need, offering a short change of pace from the rest of the game but it can get tedious quite fast, requiring you to battle shadows (you can collect them as personas too) for the most part, or dodging them entirely to reach the end of the section that you’ve unlocked, which still takes a bit of time.
Alongside the main battle system in the game, you’ll find yourself exploring and walking around different districts in Tokyo as you try to navigate and juggle your school life with being a phantom thief – the main group in the game that Joker is the leader of.
Over time, your social skills will increase through reading and other activities such as hanging out with friends, studying, watching TV, attending classes or by working part time jobs. You’ll get to know a variety of different people throughout the story, some who act as “confidants” with tarot card names that match the personas that can be caught. These captured personas can help speed up your bond with characters, unlocking the special abilities that they can give you.
Depending on the time of day, you have the option of spending time with these confidants to slowly increase their rank, but this’ll pass time (the same with improving social skills) and as such you need to be careful with your time management to get the best out of your first playthrough of the game.
It’s fun to walk around the different districts when you have the free time, discovering things that may aid you in unique ways, or just using it to appreciate the art and the world that the developers have created. Each area has at least two or three different activities that you can interact and try like shops, working a part time job and even taking characters on dates to areas you wouldn’t get to see otherwise because they’re unique to being used as places to take friends.
Persona 5 Royal does include a New Game+ mode, which carries over social skills, discovered personas, money, skill cards, playtime and equipment. Enemy strength doesn’t increase after New Game+, so it may be better to increase the difficulty if you end up finding it too easy. NG+ also has some other perks that I’ll leave out which will be pretty obvious when you start.
One of the best things about the game is the soundtrack. It’s incredible. There will be points where hearing some of the tracks may get tedious as the game tends to repeat its daily cycle by taking you back home in the evening, including with the area’s background music. I don’t think that should take away from how fantastic the OST is; it might be up there as one of my favourite game soundtracks ever next to the Jet Set Radio games. All the music is distinct enough that you’ll instantly recognise it as being from Persona. My favourite song might be the instrumental version of “Life Will Change” – the first time you hear it being used in the story is one of my favourite parts of the game.
Persona 5 Royal is one of the most fun JRPG games that I’ve played. It’s completely different to anything I’ve played in the past, and I find myself wanting to play more despite its gameplay loop being mostly the same. The charm of the series comes not only from the interactions that you have with the characters but as well as the incredibly fun battles that you have to fight to save the world along the way of trying to live a normal teenage life at school.