First Thoughts on Persona 5

So, Persona 5 came out last week, and as a big fan of the Persona series, this as a game that I had pre-ordered. I’ve started playing it and am about 12 hours in, just past the first “Palace”. What do I think of it so far?

I think it doesn’t have the charm of Persona 3 and Persona 4.

As I’m going to talk about the early plot, there will likely be some spoilers, so I’m going to put it below the fold:

Persona 5 strikes me as a somewhat “modernized” Persona game. This is clear when it comes to the graphics, which are more realistic in terms of graphics and even in terms of art style. The problem is that it’s more realistic, sure, but not realistic enough to avoid moving straight to the Uncanny Valley. They look … okay, but again without the charm that the more simply drawn Persona 3 and Persona 4 graphics had. I don’t look at them and think “Wow, look how great the graphics are!” but at times think “That’s … kinda awkwardly drawn”. So the graphics aren’t exactly wowing me.

The gameworld is also much bigger, and there are, at least as far as I can tell, a lot more things to do in it. I’m finding this confusing, because while the game — at least on “Easy” — explains a lot, it doesn’t really tell me what I need to do. So there are a lot of things I can do to raise my various stats … and I have no idea how much I need to do them or focus on Social Links or on beating the Palace. So far, most of my time has been spent trying to beat the Palace, beat the Mementos, and studying for exams, while talking to Ryuji (since my abilities aren’t high enough to advance Ann yet). I’ve also tried to advance the Doctor S-Link, but again don’t have the courage. I can advance the link with my guardian, and now make coffee, read, study, train, go to the movies, go to the diner, go to the batting cages, go to … ARRRRRGH! Am I going to have to look up a walkthrough just to figure out what in the world I should be doing? I don’t want to mess up my character because I ignored a critical ability or area in the world for too long, but right now everything is too restrictive. Add in the fact that the bigger overall gameworld means that I get lost trying to go to places unless they’re listed in quick travel — just getting to school that first morning took way longer than it should have for me — and I’m torn between wondering if I need to find everything and wanting to just stay home. I suppose that’s realistic for me …

The dungeon gameplay is quite a bit different. Instead of having simple runs through dungeons, you now wander the halls of palaces, hiding so that you can get Ambushes and often having to run around and climb up things to get to treasures and items and even to continue in the game. It’s interesting, in a way, and “Third Eye” helps you see what you need to do, but it can still be annoying. Also, you can only save in Safe Rooms, and can only travel between Safe Rooms, which is a bit of a problem if you are caught between Safe Rooms but want to return for some reason, like you need to stop playing for the night or, more commonly in the early stages, because you’re out of SP and are worried that you’ll get stomped in an upcoming fight. Or, heck, even if you want to return to the Velvet Room to fuse some Personas because you have too many to get new ones and there are some that you think you might like coming up. And sometimes the Safe Rooms are fairly far apart. Also, despite your companions telling you in Safe Rooms how far along you are, it can be hard to tell just how much more you need to do. In the first palace, I was almost right at the end, with my companions saying that maybe we should come back tomorrow. So I did, and had a very short run to the end that I could have easily done that day, burning another two time periods where I could have done something else for what amounted to 5 minutes of game time.

This game really seems to be trying to bring together a lot of the elements from the other games. The negotiation with Shadows from the original Persona games is back, and is the main way to get new Personas other than by fusing existing ones. The problem I have with this is that the ideal strategy in Persona games is to use their weaknesses to take them all down, which triggers the potential to talk, and since you can get an item or money or the use of the Persona from them it seems like negotiating is always a good option, but it seems to impact the XP you get from the combat. I’m not certain, but my rough analysis just from playing is that you get the XP you’d get for defeating the one you negotiate with, and not all of them, even though it sends the battle. So my choices would be to negotiate and end the battle with an item and some XP/money, or go for an All-Out attack and risk not actually killing all of them and thus having to fight them again. And some of them are really annoying to fight. Guns return, but as special abilities for all characters with limited ammo, but since some Shadows are only weak to guns/ranged, they do become very useful. Books return from Persona 4. S-link abilities return and seem to be ramped up. And there are a number of other things that seem to be mixes of things in the various Persona games.

The story, this time around, is very, very dark. The game starts with you being sent out of the city on probation because you stopped a man from raping a woman and hit and hurt him doing so. Your guardian doesn’t care much for you (although they have obviously already hinted that he has a softer side inside, which will surprise absolutely no one). Your homeroom teacher would rather not deal with you at all. Another teacher spreads the rumours about your criminal past and that you are on probation, making all the students wary of you or dislike you. That specific teacher is also completely abusive, physically abusing the students on the volleyball team that he coaches and sexually abusing female students whenever he can get away with it. He pushed your first companion, Ryuji, so far that Ryuji ended up hitting him, which the teacher then used as an excuse to shut down the track team so that his volleyball team would be more important to the school and get all the attention. He blackmailed your second — well, third, after Morgana — companion, Ann, into some kind of a sexual relationship — the game says that they never had sex — by threatening to kick her friend Shiho off the volleyball team if she didn’t, when Shiho felt that she had nothing else except playing volleyball. When Ann demures at actually having sex, he then focuses on Shiho herself … and the aftermath of that causes Shiho to attempt suicide. Then when confronted the coach says he’s going to get you, Ryuji, and his abused “helper” expelled, which sets up the need to finish the palace and “change his heart” before he does that. And this is the first palace. Oh, and we also start the game at the end where you are running a heist, get sold out and caught by the police, and are beaten and drugged and finally interrogated by an unsympathetic to you but at least not really interested in hitting you cop. And we keep flipping back to that as the game progresses. Yeah, dark.

The interrogation framing is similar to that of Dragon Age 2, but isn’t done as well and so feels more intrusive. At least the interrogation moments in DA2 were entertaining, as one might expect with them being between Varric and Cassandra. But here, there’s no fun or humour and often little attempt for the silent protagonist to even reply, and that’s reasonable given the set-up. But they drag me out of the game to experience something that I have no reason to experience and, in fact, don’t really want to experience, which is frustrating.

So far, the game is okay. I can play it and can lose hours to it doing things. But I’m not sure that I’d want to replay it when I finish it, and there are a lot of scenes and things even this early in the game that are ability locked that you might want to see when you restart with full abilities (which I’m assuming they’re keeping given that). But, so far, the biggest impression I have of this game is that I’d rather play the other Persona games than this one, which I don’t think is what they wanted.

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