How Persona 5 Stole My Heart
a game review of Persona 5 by Khalid Haddad
2017 was an incredible year for gaming. Gamers all over the globe were blessed with many amazing experiences including Cuphead, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nier: Automata and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game that definitely stood out the most to me though from that year was Atlus’ new instalment in their JRPG social-sim Persona series, named Persona 5.
It entered full development in 2011 and was first announced in winter of 2013, then was finally released worldwide in April of 2017 on the PS3 and PS4. Upon release, it was immediately met with critical acclaim and brought a lot of new attention to Atlus and their games.
Explaining the idea of Persona 5 to newcomers can be kind of difficult. Basically, the game takes place in Tokyo where we are put in the shoes of the protagonist, dubbed Joker (no not related to that one), who is transferring to a different school at the start of the story because of a false assault claim. As the school year starts, Joker accidentally enters the Metaverse (a realm formed from the collective unconscious of the public) through an app on his phone. Eventually, he awakens to his special power (his Persona), then, over the school year, more friends join him forming the Phantom Thieves of Hearts. The Phantom Thieves specialise in “stealing the hearts” of rotten adults (making them confess to their crimes) in their pursuit of fighting injustice and reforming society.
Persona 5, at its core, is heavily about managing your time well. The game runs on a calendar-based system and you have a limited number of days with a limited amount of time per day to do activities. You can form relationships with many of the characters in the game. These are called confidants and they develop over 10 ranks as you get to learn more about the characters. But Persona 5 also has social stats like kindness and charm, and some confidants don’t develop unless you have reached a certain threshold in these social stats. So, it’s all up to you now to balance your time well. Do you want to develop your confidant with the cute fortune teller or work at a job to earn more money for equipment? Do you want to improve your proficiency stat so you can hang out with the odd artist? Or maybe it’s finally time to enter the Metaverse and do some dungeon-crawling to get closer to stealing the next target’s heart? It’s all up to you to decide, but the game always reminds you to “take your time” and think about what to do next.
The combat of this game is not that hard to grasp but it can get complex as you dive in deeper. Essentially you pick which team members you want in your party. They all have their own unique Personas with different strengths, weaknesses and skills. However, you as the protagonist get the much cooler ability of being able to wield multiple Personas at once and can switch between them when you want to. You can obtain Personas from dungeon-crawling or you can fuse them together to create different ones. This system can get complicated but it’s another fun part of the game.
The combat is turn-based and you usually should try to knock down opponents by targeting their weaknesses to certain magic or physical attacks. Knocking down all the opponents in a battle can cause a hold up where you can negotiate a deal with them for items or you can perform a snazzy All-Out Attack to usually end the battle.
The only way I can really describe the art style of this game is - its unbelievably cool. The menus, the transitions and the character design all ooze so much style. From character poses, flashy attacks to high fives in the middle of battle, the game stays exciting, dynamic and sleek even across the numerous fights. The red, black and white colour scheme, being majorly used, helps a lot in pushing the themes of rebellion and individualism that the game portrays. Persona 5 is one of the most artistically ambitious games I’ve seen recently and it pulls it off perfectly.
Continuing in a similar vein, the soundtrack of Persona 5 is absolutely eargasmic. Now I must give credit here where it’s due, Shoji Meguro is a musical genius and has been creating great soundtracks for Atlus games since 1996. His score for Persona 5 is a mixture of pop and acid jazz that fits the visual presentation of the game. The vocals of the soundtrack are performed by Japanese jazz vocalist, Lyn Inaizumi, and the songs she performed are all fantastic! It’s really difficult not to groove and hum along as you play through this game and hear these tunes. The soundtrack makes even mundane tasks in the game, that you may overlook, always feel fun. Exploring the streets of Shibuya while listening to Tokyo Daylight is an experience like no other.
The art and music of this game are all perfectly embodied by the stellar opening cinematic to the game which you should absolutely watch.
It’s worth mentioning that in March of 2020, Atlus released Persona 5 Royal on the PS4. It’s basically Persona 5 but with many “quality of life” improvements, new characters and more story. If you have never played Persona 5 then I would absolutely recommend picking up Royal!Persona 5 is one of the best RPGs of all time. The cast of characters is great, the combat is fun, the art style is gorgeous and the soundtrack is brilliant. The execution of all these elements together with the game’s themes is masterful. It’s obviously not without its flaws and may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I urge you reading this to give it a shot if you think it sounds interesting! When you finally drop your controller to watch the ending, you’ll wish the journey never ended and there was still more to see. The Phantom Thieves of Hearts have come to take your heart and you will gladly give it to them…