Persona is a series that I hold very dear to me. I love the balance between demon hunting, plot-driven gameplay and the more laid-back leisure time you can have with your friends. This offshoot of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise has garnered so much popularity that it’s commonly looked to nowadays as a major player in the JRPG spectrum, even more so than its parent franchise. Persona 5, the latest effort in the franchise, is a great time as well, stuffed to the brim with activities to do, people to interact with, and personas to summon. Most of this content is a little tricky to get to in one playthrough though, which is where New Game Plus comes in. I recently went through the game again and there were a few things that I realized that I missed on my first playthrough. It’s good to analyze things so you can see the good stuff that grabs you as well as the bad stuff that can be improved on. Also, if you haven’t played the game, this is probably going to spoil a good bit of it. If you care. But you read the title, you knew what you were getting into.
How many abilities are available to you during gameplay
The base combat system in Persona 5 is already expanded beyond what the franchise has been used to for the past few games. Bringing back guns, expanding options when it comes to Bless and Curse attacks, and reintroducing the ability to talk and bargain with enemies, this game is already full of options for different kind of playstyles. However, there are many, many more cherries on top of this cake that I don’t think many people will get to experience. There are skills that only unlock once you’ve progressed a Confidant to a certain level, and yes, I do still need to stop myself from saying Social Links from time to time.
Some Confidants are tricky to get going but since you probably have your personality stats maxed out from your first playthrough, it’s all gravy. Progressing through the confidants in the game, you learn abilities from minor (lower security level increases when you’re spotted) to major (being able to pull party members from battle and switch them in real time). There are really so many abilities that change the way the game is played. A little kid in a “Get Smoked” hat makes gunplay more prominent and actually viable in certain situations. The Millhouse character of the game makes it so every single character gains EXP from fights, whether they’re in or out of combat. A teacher ends up letting you stay up at nighttime after going into the Palaces and Mementos areas of the game, and can make you SP-replenishing coffee while you read or play videogames, and is just overall the best. These change the experience so much and even though they end up making the game a whole lot easier, it’s worth it just to see what new opportunities are opened from hanging out with another character.
Just how good some of the confidants are
On that note, hanging out with people is awesome. The characters in this game are really interesting to get to know and some of the time that you spend with them can change your whole opinion. On my first playthrough, I wasn’t too impressed with Ohya the reporter and the few times I hung out with her. I knew she had a case with an old partner, but it just wasn’t enough to get me invested in her or her storyline. But after going through the whole thing, my opinion of her is much more amicable. She had a little bit more depth in her interactions and ended up turning into more than just a washed -up alcoholic journalist by the end. I mean, she’s definitely still an alcoholic, but she functions.
The other characters are similar in that sense. What can end up being kind of forgettable characters end up showing lasting depth if you stick with their confidants and watch their growth. Some of them have to deal with heavier issues than the others, but it’s interesting to watch how they react. In this way, the Confidants can end up being more like characters than just paths to progression. The pattern between the confidants can oftentimes be pretty similar (hang out a few times, change the heart of someone giving them problems around rank 6 or 7) but the confidants themselves are pretty varied and all show different aspects of human weakness. Whether it’s dealing with lasting guilt over a past mistake or feeling insecure around people more capable than you, these characters give some good food for thought.
Money is no issue
There are a few things that carry over into New Game Plus. You keep tems, equipment, trinkets from completing a Confidant’s storyline, but most importantly, money. You are going to have so much freaking money when you start out your new game. Unless you went on a massive fusing spree on the last dungeon, you are going to have enough money rolled over from the last game cycle to keep yourself flush with healing items or to summon back your high level personas from your last game. This leads itself to so many possibilities. Once I started up again, I got my boy Arahabaki back from my compendium and went on a tear. The dude reflects physical attacks and blocks Bless and Curse skills. The only things that it is explicitly weak to don’t show up for about four or so dungeons. This allowed me to breeze through the game and not worry about any sort of items for quite some time, which lead to even more money. All this money makes a second playthrough perfect for fusing high-level personas and lets you see even more of the game.
Just how cool some of the personas are
And those high-level personas are pretty neat. The Shin Megami Tensei series has always had incredible designs and mythology behind its demons and even though most of the ones in this game have been seen before, it’s nice to get reacquainted with old friends. Getting to use iconic demons like Beelzebub and Metatron is a great time and unleashing your first couple of “Die For Me”s or “Hassou Tobi”s can have you grinning for a good long time. Now that the game has been out for a while, the shock of seeing these demons in high definition on an actual console has worn off, but they still look great with stylized graphics. It’s important sometimes to forget the bigger picture and to just let yourself enjoy these kind of things, like the spectacle of seeing and using Mara, the demon pictured above. Plus, without getting Mara yourself, you’d never know that he has a passive ability called “Firm Stance.” Which is amazing. A+ stuff, really.
Opposite from the Confidants you can hang out with, there are plenty of characters who are just not very fleshed out at all, whether out of plot-convenience or just lack of effort put into them. To be clear, I’m not talking about the stereotypes of the game like the gay couple or the minor “back-in-my-day” teacher curmudgeon. These characters fill a role in spicing up daily life or creating a humorous situation, with varying results. I’m talking primarily about the antagonists of the games, the adults that you go about changing the hearts of. While it makes sense that these characters are criminally shitty in their Palaces since that’s a representation of their true feelings, there’s a bit of a disconnect when they’re just as cartoonishly evil in their real life counterparts.
Every single antagonist in the game is portrayed as comically evil with no redeeming traits. Madarame is a man who steals artwork from indebted students and lies to the whole world to keep up appearances. Once you manage to get behind his front of peace and love for the arts, it’s revealed that he only cares about money and thinks of his students as his property. Oh and also, he let Yusuke’s mother die and then stole her work after her death. This is fine. It’s fine for an evil bad guy to have evil bad guy intentions. And the dynamic of Yusuke being torn between his devotion to his surrogate father and righteous anger at what he’s done to countless students is interesting. But this is all he really has. After he’s defeated, he states how he had to scrap along before getting to where he was (which is also the excuse for a few of the other antagonists, but that’s neither here nor there) and he didn’t want to lose it all. That’s not really enough to try to understand why he would be so cartoonishly evil. Doing Yusuke’s Confidant, it’s revealed that he had a soft spot for Yusuke as well, which is something, but it stands in total contrast to the man we previously knew who let a young boy’s mother die in front of him so he could steal a painting.
It’s also strange that Madarame is a stand-out example. Okumura is a shrewd businessman who rules with an iron fist, doesn’t care about his workers, and also wants to force his daughter into marriage to help further his agenda. Shido is a corrupt politician who doesn’t think anything of his people and garners favor with other higher-ups by killing their enemies through the Metaverse. These guys have even less justification and little to no sympathy can be felt for them or the situation they created for themselves. It’s fine to have villains be evil, but they need to be grounded as well. Otherwise, it’s like you’re going around bopping members of the Legion of Doom on the head.
No real endgame
This is sort of an issue with all of the Persona games, but it still stands. Once you get into the high-level personas, get amazing equipment and accessories, max out all your Confidants, there’s really not much to do. There’s only one optional superboss that you can defeat and while it is a challenge, once you do it, that’s pretty much the hardest thing you can do. Aside from that, you can go and fight the Reaper as much as you want, but that’s only one enemy and it can get tedious to wait for him to show up time after time. The mainline Shin Megami Tensei games don’t have this problem at all, with tons of optional bosses and difficult challenges to overcome even with maxed stats. But where those games have branching storylines and allegiances to see new gameplay, the Persona games are structured in a much more linear way. With the lack of any sort of ultimate dungeon or many tough challenges, all of those incredibly high level personas that you made are just for another New Game cycle. And I don’t know, but after going through all the effort to create Satanael, the ultimate persona in the game, the thought of using him to beat on low level mobs in another game cycle strikes me as a little deflating.
Repetition in writing and uneven pacing
The story in Persona 5 is probably one of the better ones in this franchise. Unfortunately, that major plotline is all it really has and it hurts the game as a whole. The Phantom Thieves are a group that go after criminals and as such, they’re always on the offensive, looking for new targets and talking about what their next move is. The trouble is, in a 70-80 hour game where you play through each day of the year with a few exceptions, that’s a whole lot of downtime in between targets. It seems that every conversation that your group has when they get together is about who they’re going to target next. Every time these high-schoolers get together, it’s business. It gets even worse when text message chains are brought into the equation. There’s nothing more frustrating than finishing a dungeon and then getting day after day of long chat logs where the team is talking about whether or not the change of heart worked.
This constant job mindset comes at the expense of actual character interactions. Since so much of the script is taken up by work, there are few chances for characters to show their personality and interact with one another. If you don’t take the time to hang out with them in their Confidants, some of these characters can seem straight-up boring. There’s a great moment where you’re hanging out with Futaba after saving her from her dungeon and she and Yusuke have a back-and-forth. This is a super promising start, the two eccentric characters are going to have a little rivalry going and it’s going to add a little color to the team. But that’s not how it works out. This back-and-forth dynamic is only used about four more times in the entire game. There’s no time for quirks when there’s work to be done. This ends up hurting all of the characters as well as the group as a whole. If it’s not believable that these people actually enjoy being with each other, it’s a lot harder to convince me that they’re all friends fighting against the evils of the world. I have a feeling that the upcoming Persona Q2 will probably have more of these moments though, so that’s something.
On the subject of repetitive writing, we all know the memes about Ryuji’s “For Real?!” but it is seriously an epidemic across the whole game. It’s not just him, other party members say it, enemies say it, they made my dear sweet boy Sojiro say it. It’s like they wrote it once and loved how it sounded so much that they needed to hear it out of every character’s mouth.
Where the game was a little unfinished
Persona 5 is not a finished game. The game was in development for a long time, so while it is understandable, it’s also somewhat disappointing how unfinished it is. This is something that is easy to overlook because what is here is still pretty good, but there are some glaring things that stick out when you pay attention to them. Mechanics are all polished and well-developed, but there is a lot of patchwork when it comes to the story in this game. Plot points don’t really come together, big moments don’t end up having much payoff, and character arcs are forgotten about or rushed. One of the best examples of this is in Haru.
Haru is the last party member you get at a late point in the game and the amount of attention to her character is a little disappointing. She’s sort of rushed into the story as a way for Morgana to have a big moment and there’s not any sort of buildup to her character. This stands in stark contrast to characters like Makoto and Futaba who are seen or talked about for a substantial amount of time before they join you. Those characters feel more fleshed out because of that time, they feel like they belong. Haru, on the other hand, is tossed in the story out of nowhere and doesn’t have to time to develop. As soon as the Okamura Palace is done, the main story kicks into gear and she can’t get the time she needs to become something close to a real character. She expresses doubt in the rest of the team but that is set aside almost as quickly as it’s brought up. She doesn’t end up sharing her feelings with the team beyond a cliche “Let’s do this!” hurrah. She doesn’t even show any signs of grieving over the death of her father. You could say that due to her upbringing, she’s used to bottling up feelings and putting on a front, but in a game where the apathy of the masses is actualized as a giant six armed god who attacks you using the seven deadly sins, I’m not convinced they would be so subtle.
Persona 5 is a good game. It’s a great experience and even against its amazing predecessors, it holds up. If there is one thing that this game gets right, it’s the big important moments. The twists the story takes are so interesting and the locales it conjures up are great fun to go through. It’s stylized and crisp and its attitude infects every corner. I don’t regret putting another 60 or so hours into another playthrough. Going through and looking at the game under a magnifying glass may not be for everyone, but for me, it’s a perfect way to analyze what this game does right. For every misstep that this game takes, I have to think back to why I hold the game in such high esteem in the first place. It’s then that I can really appreciate those positive qualities and just how brightly they shine for me. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s what it needed to be. And hey, when Persona 6 finally comes along, hopefully it can use this great foundation to build something even better.