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02/13/2020 19:30:38 •••

Jazz Punks!

I don't like jRPGs, and avoid them where possible. But it turns out you can polish a turd, or to put it diplomatically, you can meticulously stylise and streamline a game to the point that it will appeal to people who hate the genre. Persona 5 gleams with polish; bright comicbook pop art, acid jazz, glossy anime, and realistic depictions of mundane Japanese urban living, all confidently mashed together.

There's so much detail paid to things that would utterly be ignored by other games, for instance, the usual boring, game stopping spreadsheet that normally appears at the end of a fight gets presented in P5 as flowing line animations and heroes dashing onward to their next fight. Just the pause menu screen in P5 has more style in it than any album cover I own. In short, it's effortlessly, consistently, overwhelmingly cool.

Gameplay-wise, half the time is spent as a standard (though swift, deadly and again, cool) turn based RPG, and the other half is a calendar management and dating sim. I love the RPG stuff, but find the time management a drag. The game constantly shoos your hands away from the controls, arbitrarily deciding that you aren't going to be allowed to do anything on this particular day, because an important plot event is going to come up. In the first fifteen hours or so, the game keeps sending you to bed early. As a teenage life simulator it is spot on, but from a gameplay experience it is aggravating as hell for the game to show you this busy Japanese metropolis to explore, only to keep denying access to it.

Then there's dating. I'm iffy on dating games, and Persona 5 has its problems. For instance, the first villain you encounter is an evil gym teacher who abuses and sexually harasses female students. But for dating options, you're high-school aged protagonist is given the opportunity to seduce adults in positions of power (a doctor, a teacher, a journalist), which I guess the game doesn't treat as a major ethical problem. Hypocrisy aside, I'm also annoyed how the game doesn't offer any gay dating options. This came out in 2016, give me the full buffet! The game generally isn't great at depicting gay people, which is a let down for an anti-authority, anti-oppression story.

As to the story, it's too much to summarise here, and I still don't quite get my head around the abstraction involved. The fun urban fantasy plot can only do so much hand waving to justify the mixed metaphor of, "manifestations of personality sneaking into into someone's mind palace to steal their heart to cause a change of heart".

I'm halfway through the 100 hour game, and I'll definitely be finishing it in-spite of the bellyaching. I don't know how much of P5 is overly familiar to seasoned jRPG players, but it's perfect for outsiders such as myself.

12/23/2019 00:00:00

I personally enjoy the time management elements of the game, and while Morgana sending you to bed can get annoying, P5 handled this fairly well. You don\'t have that many options early on, while you\'re still getting a feel for the game, and can generally spend much of the first month increasing your social parameters when you\'re not progressing the few Confidants available.

I\'ll agree that the various romances with adults (especially the teacher) are problematic, and that it\'s disappointing that you have no same-sex romance options, but you don\'t have to choose the former; there\'s a reason why the Phantom Thieves are generally the most popular romance options. As for the themes of the game, it\'s more about challenging the tendency to blindly submit to authority figures(one that\'s especially prevalent in Japan), so not having a gay romance isn\'t as dissonant with those thieves as you think.

I\'m not sure what to say about the Metaverse that won\'t be merely subjective and/or spoil plot twists, but there are reasons for this. It\'s also possible that you may be conflating the \"will of rebellion\" that gives rise to the thief outfits, with the Personas, which are manifestations of one\'s personality.

While I do appreciate your willingness to disclose that you haven\'t finished P5, I generally recommend waiting until you finish the game before writing a review, unless you run into something that is so bad that it makes you give up on it entirely. Game journalists may have to deal with deadlines, but since the game has been out for more than three years(two in the US), no one will mind if you wait a few weeks to write the review.

12/23/2019 00:00:00

When it comes to the adult relationships, the two situations are very much different. Kamoshida was a clear predator in a position of power looking to force girls to let him have his way with them, generally abusing all of the power he\'s been given. It\'s reversed in Joker\'s case. Joker is the one who wants the adults, and he doesn\'t really abuse any power he has over them. And besides, Joker is the younger party in all cases, whereas Kamoshida is older. The two aren\'t comparable.

12/23/2019 00:00:00

If I had two things I'd harp on that other reviewers haven't, they'd be the fact that the dating sim/time management stats exist at all, since they're pointless genre artifacts that exist only to be infuriating roadblocks on a first playthrough and meaningless guff on subsequent ones, and that their implementation is hilariously imbalanced, with ultra-high stat requirements hitting early and often for many Accomplices.

And if I had to praise one thing that most reviews don't, including this one, unfortunately, which I otherwise dug from the perspective of someone who likes JRP Gs but understands that acronym's a dirty word in many quarters, it'd be that the "dating sim" label feels inadequate and that the game deserves praise for putting as much and more effort into the "platonic" social encounters as the romantic ones.

12/23/2019 00:00:00

I don't like jrpgs and avoid them where possible, but it turns out you can polish a turd.

So, in your view, all jrpgs are automatically "bad"?

I'm not a fan of first-person shooters (or first-person games, in general), but I wouldn't say they're automatically "turds" simply because they exist.

12/23/2019 00:00:00

I\'ll disagree with SpectralTime\'s points about social links. At the very least, P5\'s Social Links have lower initial requirements than most of P3\'s links; on the male route, you need maxed out Charm, Courage and Academics for Yukari, Fuuka and Mitsuru, respectively (the former becomes available very early on). The only really inconvenient attribute gate is Iwai\'s requiring 4/5 Guts, despite becoming available in early May.

Of course, that doesn\'t mean that it\'s perfect. In P6, I\'d not only like to see same-sex Social Links/Confidants/whatever, but also platonic ones with members of the opposite sex, a bit like Junpei in P 3 P\'s female route (even if it\'s because he canonically falls in love with Chidori).

12/23/2019 00:00:00

I think my problem is that you hit those roadblocks much later in the game when you\'ve had more time to grind them, though. My little brother, who doesn\'t consult guides so much as consult me, was really worried when Iwai required such high Guts so early in the game, for instance. And both of us smacked into similar barriers around, say, Makoto.

Plus, again, I see the entire concept of the time-management stats as nothing but a time-sink in a game that can already be positively ulcerative in terms of time management, especially if you are a new player, don\'t know that spreading yourself too thin in terms of going wide rather than deep on Social Links is screwing yourself, and end up not unlocking almost any ultimate Personas to make a second playthrough easier... if you even plan on doing one.

What I meant about the platonic ones is that doing a \"friendship route\" with various girls is also rewarding, and my go-to improvement over 3, where any two social links with girls meant bein\' a dirty cheater, which I generally avoid in these titles. I tend to find the \"friendship routes\" pretty well-written too, and low on heartbreak and so on. The \"gay romance\" angle is simply not a priority for me, but I know this series has a substantial LGBTQ following, and I don\'t think it\'s an unreasonable ask. But what I meant there was, developing a platonic friendship with various male characters is also something I appreciate.

...I do miss that Persona 4 had that totally-platonic relationship with the old lady mourning her husband though. It was very sweet, and helped tie in themes of being honest with yourself and admitting your faults without falling into despair over them in a unique way; one that doesn\'t have some of the same dissonance with the game\'s overall look at small town life many people complained about in other Social Links.

12/23/2019 00:00:00

Joker consenting/initiating the relationship doesn\'t make the relationships ethical; there\'s still a fundamental power imbalance. I guess Joker and the teenage audience of the game wouldn\'t care, but I\'m a grown ass adult and I see people fired for that sort of thing.

02/13/2020 00:00:00

Just to update, I have finally finished the game, and can offer a post scriptum.

I feel that the length of the game, and individual sections, is a bit of a disservice to a lot of its best ideas. Some of the levels go on for hours, artificially extended by simplistic puzzle elements and repetitive fights. That's a more general jRPG problem, but I'd have really appreciated a "short mode" that cuts out maybe half of the same-ish dungeon stuff. The final couple of hours of the game were a real chore, not just because of the sheer number of bosses you have to chip away at, but also because it robs you of any sensible opportunity to stock up on the dozens of healing items that speed up the fights. The final boss battle took nearly a bloody hour alone, forcing me to play ultra-conservatively due to the scarcity of resources.

And that was me playing it. For anyone spectating, the game can be torturous. Games generally can be annoying to have on in the room if you don't pay proper attention to them, but my wife had to put up with the tv shrieking PERSONA!!! every five seconds, backed by the exact same music playing on perpetual repeat, for 98 hours, over the course of several months. Any console game comes at the potential cost of depriving friends and family access to a tv, and can also be massively annoying via a kind of passive smoking type effect. I could see P5 causing resentment here especially, so buyer beware!

Storywise, it had some fun twists, some I saw a million miles away, and others I didn't, with the obvious ones acting as a kind of camouflage/Kansas City Shuffle for the trickier ones. I'm not familiar with how it is in the previous P5, but this game is quite good at giving us stakes and then following the negative consequences through. People die! It sometimes gets particularly dark, and I appreciate the game is able to keep the darkness grounded in reality, a method of story telling that can be far more effective than fantasy violence. Character work is great to, with the protagonist, Joker, being a really solid take on the hero protagonist: games tend to lurch between stoic badass and angsty crybaby, whereas Joker instead is an uncommonly confident, wisecracking, and aloof introvert. It's almost like if you asked Bugs Bunny to save the world, but without Space Jam's writers being involved.

I definitely want to check out more about the previous Persona titles, but there's no way I intend to sink a hundred damn hours to an older, uglier title. I would sooner explore the manga, anime, and other spin offs.

02/13/2020 00:00:00

You can explore the spinoffs if you like, but you should be forewarned and forearmed that they are generally not of very high quality. None of them have the spark or good writing of the original games, especially not the adaptations of them. The absolute best of them are somewhere around “entertaining but not particularly accurate and/or powerful fanfic” level.

I mostly agree with the idea that these games are just flat out better on a portable system where they can be easily played with headphones and where it is much, much easier to just minimize the window and take a break when you need to. Unfortunately, they seem to have determined that they are not going to do that anymore, which mystifies me.

02/13/2020 00:00:00

I didn\'t have all that much trouble with staying healed through the final boss battle on my latest playthrough on Hard mode; I\'d stocked up on SP-restoring vegetables from Haru\'s garden, which generally let me use multi-target healing whenever I needed it. It would\'ve been nice to have an opportunity to go back and shop like you did in P4\'s endgame, but it\'s obviously impossible given the circumstances; keep in mind that in P3, you have to stock up before you go into Tartarus for the final confrontation.

As for the \"repetitive\" fights, it seems to, by your own admission, be due to your dislike of JRPGs. Persona 5 has a much more engaging combat system than most JRPGs, considering the tactical depth involved and how it favors those who seize the advantage. If you play your cards right, you can easily end battles in one or two rounds, but if you get careless, then normal encounters can turn deadly.

I can understand the problems that you had with P5\'s length, but since I don\'t have to share my TV, I never experienced them myself. Maybe the problem is with your current arrangement, and a game as long as Persona 5 merely aggravates it.

As for why Persona games aren\'t coming out on portable systems anymore, one problem seems to be that not only is the Switch the only \"real\" portable system around anymore, but portable systems are less powerful than the home consoles of the same generation; that\'s why P3 Portable has simplified graphics and no cutscenes. Another problem is that Atlus seems determined to keep the main Persona series as PlayStation-exclusive, which means that no matter how much we ask, we\'re unlikely to see P5 on the Switch, which is quite unfortunate.

I\'ll agree that the spinoffs aren\'t nearly up to the main series\' level of quality, but I enjoyed the Persona Q series, and am interested in P5 Scramble.

02/13/2020 00:00:00

He didn\'t suggest those kinds of RPG spin-offs though (and recommending the Q series to someone who wants less grind in their gaming experience is a bad call anyway). He was talking about the anime/manga spin-offs which, man, I have just heard nothing good about and have not enjoyed when I watched them.

02/13/2020 00:00:00

I wasn\'t necessarily recommending them as much as expressing my opinion.

Persona 5 The Animation is not a very good adaptation of the source material, but I have heard people who don\'t have the time to play the game say that it\'s a decent way to get the main story. I haven\'t seen the Persona 4 anime, but it\'s apparently somewhat better, although the Golden anime doesn\'t sound as though it\'s worth my time.

As for the manga, I actually enjoy them. The Persona 3 manga has a fairly interesting treatment of the main story, in that it often focuses on specific characters and their arcs; for example, Volume 4 is about Yukari and Mitsuru, while Volume 5 is about Akihiko, Shinjiro and Ken. Persona 4 has some nice added scenes, and actually does a fairly good job of giving the main character a backstory and some personality. I\'ve only started reading the Persona 5 manga (only the first volume is out; 3\'s manga is complete and 4\'s is up to December 3), but it seems fairly promising so far, at least compared to the anime adaptation.

02/13/2020 00:00:00

Fair enough about the mangas then.

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