Persona 5 Review: Stealing your heart

Credit: Atlus
Credit: Atlus /

Persona 5 is might be the most stylish game ever made, but does it have the substance to go with that style?

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus USA
Platforms: PS4 (Version Reviewed), PS3
Release Date: April 4th, 2017

Persona 5 is the latest entry in the long-running Persona series, which is actually an offshoot of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. As a whole, the franchise is all about high school kids fighting demons, but the Persona series makes it more of a metaphor for life and our hidden personalities and desires. This is especially true starting with the third entry, which is arguably where the series started getting more notice and then skyrocketed with the release of Persona 4.

If you have played either of the past two Persona games, you probably are very familiar with the basic setup for Persona 5. You are a kid from out of town sent to live with a guardian. You are an outcast, but you strike up a quick friendship with other outcasts. Also, there’s a hidden world of demons that you and your friends go into and fight to try and change the world in some way. Along the way, your party and other people often discover and embrace previously hidden aspects of their personality, making them grow and change This is also while building relationships with not just the members of your party, but various characters in the game that provide benefits both in and out of combat.

Sega /

The main change-up in Persona 5 is that each dungeon isn’t in some tower or a mystical demon world you enter through a television. The concept in this Persona series is that everybody has a “palace.” This palace represents how they truly see the world and the people around them. But some people have a twisted and distorted view of the world, and this leads to them having some pretty weird palaces. These people can be changed, however, by stealing their “treasure” at the heart of these palaces, usually resulting in a change in their personality for the better.

This game absolutely oozes style out of every inch of its being.

You and your friends, through some serendipitous circumstances, form a group known as the “Phantom Thieves” to break into the palaces of certain people that are definitely doing wrong things and getting away with it in order to steal their treasure and make them have a change of heart (and usually confessing to some heinous crimes they have committed). Tied to all this is that unlike in previous games, the public knows that there is a group out there called the “Phantom Thieves” doing these deeds and the very idea of fame and public perception is explored in the game.

The basic mechanics of Persona 5 haven’t evolved much from the last two games. In some ways that’s great, because there wasn’t much to really improve on. The battles are turn-based, but unlike many other RPGs, rely heavily on you using special attacks that drain either your SP (basically magic points) or HP in order to have effective attacks. The good news is this keeps most battles entertaining. You can’t simply slam on the attack button and quickly get through a battle (unless the enemy is weak to physical attacks).

Sega /

Every battle requires knowing what type of attacks your opponents are weak against for maximum efficiency. It means even mundane enemies can wreck you if you aren’t careful and aware of what weaknesses your party members have. For better or worse this also means you can’t often beat a palace in just a couple of attempts. Odds are each palace will take several trips as you’ll reach a save point and be too drained of resources to continue.

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Unlike many RPGs, time management is a huge part of Persona as a series. Persona 5 is no different. You have a set number of in-game days to complete each palace when they become available. The given time is generous, but you also must decide if it’s more important to build a social stat like your charm or knowledge, strengthen your social links to gain more abilities, or just grind to gain levels so you are powerful enough to take on the bosses and more powerful enemies in the game.

It might seem like a very traditional RPG, and in a lot of ways, it is. But there are several things that really set Persona 5 apart. One, even for an RPG that can potentially take over a hundred hours, it actually has a ton of little tweaks to make it more efficient. You can fast travel in the city and in dungeons, fast forward through most scenes if you want to, and you can even fast access spells that exploit enemy weaknesses if you know them.

Second, the game takes place in a modern day setting, which while normal for the series, is rare in general for a genre more known for wild fantasy settings.

Every single party member in Persona 5 is worth investing time in.

Third, this game absolutely oozes style out of every inch of its being. The use of colors and design is just stunning, along with some incredibly creative and fun designs for the palaces you travel into. Each has a unique theme and look. The only one I think is boring is “Mementos,” which is a place that plays a part in the story, but is most useful as an area to grind levels. The design is pretty drab and similar throughout that particular place, which stands out negatively against the colorful main story dungeons you traverse.

That alone would be enough, but arguably what makes Persona 5 stand out even more is the incredible music. It’s unlike any soundtrack to any game I’ve heard before. It’s funky pop with even a bit of disco flavor and it sounds amazing. Game soundtracks rarely catch my attention. In fact if I can, I often listen to podcasts while playing games, and I certainly did this while I was grinding levels in the game, but whenever I would have the opportunity to listen to a new track or the track at the end of a palace or the music for a boss, I would always listen; it never got tiresome.

Credit: Atlus
Credit: Atlus /

However, all of this would feel pointless if I had to spend dozens of hours with characters I couldn’t stand. RPGs often live or die more by their casts than their mechanics. A compelling cast can get you through rather sub-par gameplay. Luckily, I can say the main cast of Persona 5 is one of the most engaging and fun bunch of characters I’ve ever spent a long amount of time with. There might be individual characters in the previous entries I liked more than any one character in this game, but every single party member in Persona 5 is worth investing time in. That goes for both your social bond with them and their skills, but also their personal journey through the game. I have rarely felt as connected to a cast in a game as I have to this, especially in the span of one game.

That’s not to say everyone is the game is so stellar. The non-party members that play a significant role in the game, both allies and enemies, can be pretty hit or miss, and some of the ambient dialogue is downright laughable, either through writing or performance. That actually might not stand out so much if the central cast wasn’t so good. It might be a minor thing in some games, but Persona 5 is a game where you are listening to or reading dozens of hours of it so when it’s bad it’s really noticeable.

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Finally, I admit I may be unique in this situation, but I feel like the general setting of the Persona series as a whole is getting stretched just a bit thin. It’s always some outsider coming into a school where he doesn’t know anybody in a Japanese high school. There are a lot of other settings (even high schools in other countries) that could be explored. But this could also be because I really only got into the series in the last few years so I have played the past three entries in a relatively short amount of time when separate entries are usually at least several years apart.

. Persona 5. 9. Persona 5 is an exquisitely put together RPG overflowing with incredible style and a main cast you will sorely miss when the game is done. It’s easily the best RPG I’ve played in a few years. There’s no question it demands a lot of your time; mine was actually at the low end at just a little over 86 hours. But you are well-rewarded for that time in arguably the best RPG of this generation thus far.. Atlus

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.