Tue 2 May 2017
3:44 PM

Persona 5

let us begin the game

Fair warning now: I’m going to do my best to be as spoiler-free as possible, but there may be some very minor ones in here. You’ve been warned.

the show's over

It’s fair to say I was looking forward to Persona 5. It was my most anticipated game of the year for 2013 2014 2015 2016 what feels like forever. I lapped up every spinoff of Persona 4 just to continue to interact with this franchise’s captivating universe, putting up with the frail excuse of a plot in Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story” mode and the appalling Flanderization of basically everyone’s personalities in Persona Q, but never quite getting what I needed. It wasn’t the real deal. So when Persona 5 finally, against all odds, came out in the US, I was ready. I mean very ready: I took a week off work just to play the game, and still ended up playing it most nights after work and most of the weekends in April. So the real question is: was it worth it?

Absolutely. Definitely.

What’s funny is that by taking a week away from work, and therefore from the social media I have easy access to at work, I missed a lot of the game’s early social media furor - I didn’t know about the draconian but now-loosened streaming restrictions (which is good, because I almost streamed it), and I was unaware of how upset people were over the translation. The latter did hit me at a few points, but it’s way more obvious now that I’m on a second playthrough - there’s phrasing that is just extremely awkward, and in one case よろしくおねがいします gets literally translated as Please take care of me” in a dialogue option, which is super weird but I was pretty aware what had happened.

The thing is, I really didn’t care? The voice actors, bless their hearts, did their very best with what they were given, and make no mistake, I love the new voice team. (Caveat: except for unnamed characters in the background of stories. Several of these, especially towards the end, have weird readings, and there is one anonymous student in a school scene early in the game who very clearly has the same voice actor as the protagonist’s homeroom teacher.) In the end, most of the dialogue was perfectly fine. Some was even better than average; Futaba’s dialogue is head and shoulders better than most of the other characters, both written and spoken.

I also admit I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the soundtrack. P3 and P4 both set a certain style with their somewhat out-of-the-ordinary (for RPGs, anyway) J-pop heavy soundtracks; Persona 5 was stated early on to have heavy acid jazz influences, a genre I admittedly know nothing about. That said, after playing through the game, I absolutely love it and have it on repeat in my car (yes, I imported the OST; there are a great many tracks missing from the soundtrack sampler that came packed into the special edition, as usual). It’s got just as many earworms and catchy tunes, and is probably just as good at evoking the game’s moods, even if it does tragically lack any input from Lotus Juice. Recommendations of the top of my head: Layer Cake, Life Will Change, Last Surprise, and Rivers in the Desert.

Mechanically, P-team definitely didn’t just phone this one in. It feels in every way like a substantial iteration over the mechanics of Persona 3 and 4. Dungeons aren’t random anymore (save for the side-quests-only dungeon that is), allowing for more interesting encounters and puzzles. Ambush mechanics are much more straightforward due to being able to interact with the environment. Social links that aren’t your party members have a valid reason to do them besides just improving your Persona fusion strength; learn how to speak well from a politician, and it will improve your ability to recruit Shadows to your side as new Personas (or extort yen from them, as you do). Bosses require you to do more than just survive their attacks; there are gimmicks to most of the important ones that break up the attack/heal/oh-shit-the-boss-is-charging-better-guard dichotomy in cool ways.

don't look at me like that

It’s also stylish as hell. Everything about the game is just effortlessly so fucking cool. I spent way too long on day 1 just opening and closing the main menu. This could’ve just been a simple thing - transitioning from one game state to another - but instead we’re treated to a quick animation of the Protagonist whirling into view and presenting the menu to you. Every animation, every loading screen, everything has had some amount of love and art poured onto it and it just shows. It’s smooth and gorgeous to play. I also love the fact that this entry’s set in a real location - Tokyo, as opposed to rural Inaba or fictional Tatsumi Port Island.

Definitely no complaints on the sheer amount of content here, either. As I mentioned earlier, I was around the 95 hour mark on my original playthrough, and I absolutely missed story content. My New Game Plus playthrough is another 10 hours deep, and since I’ve mostly been doing this one in the evenings, my wife has been enjoying getting to see a lot of the early story that she missed as well.

Story-wise, and I promise there are no spoilers here, I love this game for paying homage to its past while delving into a new theme. Persona 5 has huge nods, storywise and in a couple cases mechanically, to both older entries in the series (specifically the Persona 2 duology, believe it or not) and plain old Shin Megami Tensei. Heck, it’s set in Tokyo; that’s a Shin Megami Tensei series standby. The world is corrupt, fuck the adults, trust no one” narrative resonated with me more than I expected it to, which I suspect is a byproduct of living in America these days. My one gripe, and maybe it was a byproduct of the story as written, is that Persona 5 does not have the typical good ending/bad ending/true ending trio. There is, instead, bad ending/bad ending/true ending. But it works for what’s there.

Will I ever play it again? Hell, I already am. And yes, when Atlus inevitably remakes it, I’ll buy it again, play it again, and love it all over again.

Final thought: Persona 5 was absolutely worth the wait, and a little bit of screwy translation isn’t going to stop me from enjoying what is mechanically and narratively a damn fine JRPG in a franchise that I adore to bits. This was so worth the wait and I was just elated to finally have it in my hands.

Also, Makoto is best girl, fight me.

my queen

(Bonus aside: The formatting for this post was borrowed from Every Game I’ve Finished; it seemed like a nicer way to do it than the summary post I had at the end of last year.)