How Persona 5 took my heart – Reader’s Feature

How Persona 5 took my heart – Reader’s Feature

Persona 5 (PS4) - modernising the JRPG

Persona 5 – the JRPG for people that don’t like JRPGs

A reader details his first chance with a Persona title and how playing through the first of the game’s dungeons sold him on the series.

The first chance I rode a bike properly I was on top of a small hill, with gravity as my co-pilot I finally wrestled my nerves and inner ear under control and after a short circumnavigation of the street in front of my house I disembarked to rapturous applause from a gobsmacked crowd (mum, dad, and elder brother). I also remember the first chance I got stitches, me and my elder brother were playing army and he threw a stick at my head which actually struck home in a rare moment of accuracy. As a result, I had to be rushed to a GP to have the wound closed and I was under a solemn oath to my brother to not mention to mum and dad the specifics of the ugly incident.

First times can be good or bad, but they stick in your head in a unique way, that’s what makes them special and how they can stand out from the herd of with similar features memories. I’m 20 hours into Persona 5 and have encountered one of those good first-time memories.

For the people who don’t know, Persona 5 is a unique Japanese role-playing game from Atlus, in which a young boy works through a school year making friends, studying, and working by day and journeying to a place called the metaverse in the evening to battle the mental manifestations of broken people who inhabit the real world to help put them on a good path.

As I said, this is my first experience of this storied franchise, but my expectations were high – driven by the uniformly positive reviews and effusive recommendations from friends to play the game. I’m glad to say I have not been disappointed so far and I think the point that has solidified my high hopes is finishing the first palace.

I’ll come back to what a palace is in a moment because I’d like to quickly touch on the first impression you get when you boot up Persona 5 for the first time, which is a winning combination of stylish élan and bombastic confidence. There’s a swagger about it, it’s clearly built by people who are experienced making this type of game, they know their audience and have honed their style into something unique and different.

I’ve never seen anything like its bold reds and blacks, beautiful anime cut scenes and the menus with a sex pistols album cover aesthetic all voice-acted well, if slightly showing that the localisation is not as through – which for me is part of the charm. It basically had me on board before I even pressed start.

After I did press start, like all Japanese role-players, it takes a whilst to get going. This is natural, they tend to have dense, interlocking systems which all need to be learned to get the best of the game and the first part can be turgid as things are explained to you in excruciating detail. Persona 5 on the entire does an okay job of explaining its systems, there is a few assumed knowledge but not so much that you can’t do a quick google to catch up.

In the first few hours you learn about the daily schedule, meet your grouchy guardian, and your mixed bag of teachers – ranging from disinterested to megalomaniacal. You are also introduced to your friends: the brash Ryuji, the reserved Ann, and your guide Morgana. You are thrown together by circumstances, as outsiders of the school community, and make a pact to work together to deal with the source of all your woes: Kamoshida’s Palace.

A palace in Persona is a place that exists in the metaverse, a place accessed using a demonic app on your phone and is the physical manifestation of a real person’s ego. It is populated with their desires and the parts of their personalities they prize the most. This concept immediately recalls Psychonauts, with gameplay centred around the concept of changing the person by psychically attacking their defences and defeating their neuroses in mortal combat.

In the palace you also learn about personas, your most powerful spiritual attacks closely linked to the personalities of your teammates. These attacks on the palace have real world aftershocks and each time you come back to the real world your activities in the metaverse are reflected in all the people around you, with the goal being to steal the treasure at the centre of the palace. In this case the palace is constructed by the gym teacher Kamoshida, the competitive and bullying volleyball coach who is the undoubted top dog of Shujin Academy.

All of this would be pointless if the gameplay did not measure up, but it does. Levelling is pretty much perfect and without grinding you are usually challenged throughout but always have a good chance of success so long as you manage your resources carefully. The way palaces are structured you have a limited amount of health and summoning power to get as far as you can in one sitting, this is a popular challenge and palaces are final. If you fail one, it’s a game over.

They are designed to be both a roadblock and a puzzle. You need to plan ahead, carefully organise your in-game time and be careful not to burn through your persona powers too fast. I found myself going back to earlier saves, so I could re-spec my team to tackle the trickier parts and thinking about palaces outside of the game. Which is about as meta as I like my games to get, a game about penetrating minds penetrating my mind in the really real world.

It was during that first palace that Persona clicked for me, I got what they were driving for, I had absorbed the systems and all the gobbledygook from early in the game built sense now. I started to feel for Ryuji, an outcast loner frustrated about being ignored and powerless to affect change around him until you come along. I felt quite paternal towards him, especially as you start your exploration of the palace.

Then there’s my current favourite Ann. A quiet, reserved person with a burning determination who is both compassionate and fiercely loyal towards her friends. I admired her motivation and her headstrong way of handling situations. They both have depth and heart that allow the somewhat corny clichés to be taken sincerely. I like both these characters.

I’m only going to touch on these two since I am only at the beginning stages of the game, these are the only people to be fleshed out but if this is the standard I look forward to making new friends and have the first impressions subverted as they were with both Ryuji and Ann. Indeed, already my grumpy stepdad Sojiro is softening towards me and a goth in the local clinic is expanding my horizons with intriguing possibilities.

My time in high school was hard but at least I didn’t have to spend my evenings having to take down lascivious PE teachers with a god complex by invading their mind and strip-mining it for loot whilst stealing their most treasured possession. No. I collected Panini stickers and tried to get a shiny Ryan Giggs to round out my collection. That said this game is a gem, even if you’re not that into Japanese role-playing games you should give this one 20 hours or the first palace and I guarantee by that time it’ll have stolen its way inside your heart.

By reader Dieflemmy (gamertag/PSN ID/NN ID)

The reader’s has does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

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