Over a decade ago, I was – at most – a casual fan of the Persona series, but nonetheless obsessively played Persona 4 as a teenager. Cut to 2016, and now living in Japan, when the latest instalment arrived and went, without much of my own personal fanfare. It was that kind of feeling where I thought I had outgrown these games, or that my interest was no longer the same, or even perhaps too much time had passed, anticipation fading with it. Nonetheless, I decided to finally check it out, in the lead-up to its Western release and find out if Atlus were still capable of the same magic. Spoiler alert: I think they kind of are.
As Persona clocked its 20th year, the much-awaited follow up – Persona 5 – finally made found a release date in Japan on September 15, 2016. This latest entry to the cult-classic series, nine years in the making, juggles the task of meeting some expectations held by longtime fans who have patiently waited almost a decade, but also creating an approachable experience for new players. Many gaming franchises seem to take this approach as they attempt to make the generational leap between not only consoles, but also target audience. Thankfully, this newest adventure creates a great starting point for newcomers to the series – serving as a stand-alone title in the Persona universe – while remaining faithful to many of the elements which made previous games memorable.
Perhaps the most commonly used descriptor for Persona 5, at this point, is the word ‘stylish’ – nearly any commentary surrounding the game has been sure to mention just how stylish the game is. Indeed it is fitting to call it that – the game is impossibly stylish. Set in a rich, hyper-stylised Tokyo, Persona 5 takes players into a vibrant, seemingly otherworldly setting, with painstaking detail to attention – while also including a scattering of nostalgia, seemingly familiar tropes that have become hallmarks of the series, and visual throwbacks that create a simultaneously fresh, but similar outing.
Style feeds into every element of Persona 5, and in that sense, no stone has been left unturned – from the costumers, to character design, locales, musical score and interface – everything just pops.
All of this comes together cohesively. Director Katsura Hashino, along with artist/character designer Shigenori Soejima, and composer Shoji Meguro – after working together for so long, including on past Persona titles – seem to be able to intuitively piece together their ideas and contributions seamlessly.
Anyone who has been to Tokyo will notice how much the real world parts mirror or include locations such as Shibuya and Shinjuku, famous landmarks, while even managing to capture that unique vibe Tokyo has – albeit, with the saturation turned all the way up. The music complements the scenery perfectly, across a range of musical genres, and creates a pop-infused soundtrack that add its own colourful tone. The characters are sleek and quirky, drawing from anime and Ghibli, along with other influences, and resulting in fluid, interesting avatars that are just satisfying to watch.
In equal parts, the game has a lot of substance to back its style. You begin the game in a buzzing casino, and you will waste no time with drawn-out cutscenes or overly complex narrative set-ups, as has become the custom for many Japanese RPGs. Instead the action is instantaneous, and you begin the weighty adventure (I’ve seen some say the game can last upwards of 100 hours play time) immediately, with a sense that the main character is already competent. Then, character development and those kind of ritual tasks come after – when as a contrast to the fantastical Metaverse realm with dungeon quests and exciting battles – you navigate the day-to-day life of a school-aged Japanese teenager, in the classroom at Shujin Academy, or by taking a part-time job. Add another layer to that, and Persona 5 makes various commentary on the societal expectations in Japan, or the many pressures of academia and formative teenage experience.
In this, the game places you as a by-day and night protagonist known as Joker, leading two very different lives. You arrive as Joker in this new life, and begin to put together an unlikely team tackling with their own problems at school, to eventually using their own unique abilities to take on mythical creatures known as Personas.
Persona 5 is a game about the internal and external conflicts of a group of troubled youth who live dual lives. They have the typically ordinary day-to-day of a Tokyo high-schooler – attending class, after school activities and part-time jobs. But they also undertake fantastical adventures by using otherworldly powers. – Playstation EU
As aforementioned, there is a substantial amount of detail and thought in every corner of this game, and it would be easy to cover all this. Ultimately, Persona 5 ticks all the boxes and serves a satisfying, extensive, immersive Japanese RPG – employing some tried-and tested formulas championed by not only this series, but also other games within the genre. More importantly, it implements some valuable and refreshing new ones, creating a colourful, exciting new standard – whether this is your first time playing, or a gratifying play through to round out a decade of delays, to discover that it was worth the wait.