Thoughts on Persona 5 After Playing it Once

So, I recently finished Persona 5. It took me just under 80 hours, and I almost immediately started over again once I finished it, for reasons that I’ll get into in a bit. But there may be spoilers for the game below this point:

Overall, I enjoyed the game, but I still feel that it doesn’t have the charm of the previous two games. It definitely went for a far darker tone, which results in a mess of completely and totally screwed up S-links with terrible and very depressing situations. Things still work out in the end, but it can be awfully depressing to get to that point. I only managed to finish three S-links, however, so things might be different in some of the other ones.

The only S-links that I managed to finish were three of the ones that can end in a relationship … and those were three of the four older women that your high school student protagonist can fall in love with. The main reason for that — despite my trying pretty hard to finish Makoto’s and ending up just short — is because two of them were in the evening where, as far as I could see, there wasn’t much competition. The other one that I noticed there was Sojiro’s, and that was ability blocked. Even in my second playthrough — I’m up to Yosuke’s dungeon — I still haven’t maxed out my Kindness stat. Those other three S-links were far easier to get, and to get to the right stat levels to proceed, which made them easier to get. Oddly enough, the Mementos blocks were, in general, far less of a problem or annoyance to me, because I pretty much only went to Mementos when I had a number of requests and free time, or else had a Mementos block on an S-link, and so I ended up blasting through multiple floors only killing things when I needed them out of my way, and so was able to limit Mementos to a small number of days. And I still couldn’t get more than those done. I didn’t manage to finish Mishima’s link — mostly because I forgot where to find him, I think — and didn’t even find Hifumi’s and the fortune teller. And there are probably a couple more that I missed somewhere.

Anyway, the biggest problem with the three romances that I pursued is that the “love” part seemed to come out of nowhere. There’s no real hint about it and you have to essentially drop it on them in their rank 9 scene, and they are always shocked by it and need time to “think about it”. Sure, that might be more realistic, but it also, at least for me, makes it very artificial, as there’s little if anything to indicate that before that (other than some cases where you can pretend to be dating them).

I ended up choosing Ohya over Kawakami and Tae, mostly because I found Ohya’s character model so incredibly and strangely cute for some reason. This led the other two to beat me up on Valentine’s Day.

My favourite characters were Makoto and Futaba, and I have a fondness for Yusuke’s eccentricities. But Ryuji, though loyal, isn’t an interesting version of the hothead, Ann is a bit of a ditz, and Haru comes across that way as well even though she is intelligent, and her voice annoys me. Futaba really is a classic Woobie, and her casting everything in video game and other pop culture terms is cool. I actually got her S-link up to level 9 and took the friendship route, because while she would definitely be a potential relationship interest for at least one of my characters, I knew what the Valentine’s Day guilt trip would be, and couldn’t bear to have her, who was just coming out of her shell due to the support of the protagonist and the team, feel that betrayed, which might have destroyed her. And I couldn’t guarantee that I would have chosen her over Makoto. And, besides, I still think that her and Yusuke would make a cute couple, as there are a lot of hints of that, including the scene that gets her to open up — when Yusuke rearranges her Neo Featherman figures and she explodes angrily, eventually explaining it to him which he gets — and the fact that she keeps teasing him, and the even more obvious one where Yusuke makes a terrible “mice” pun and keeps prompting her for a reacting, and I think it is ultimately Makoto who tells him that Futaba gets the joke but isn’t going to react.

For Makoto, one of the things I like best about her is … that she has a bit of a nervous tic. She keeps brushing her hair back behind her ears. I noticed it early and it’s just so incredibly cute. There are scenes — that I only noticed once — where she is trying to investigate you and, well, isn’t all that great at it. I did once come up to her and caught her reaction, which was also dorky and cute. And, ultimately, that’s the charm of her character, kinda like Futaba’s. The only problem I have with her is that she is so uptight that she desperately needs to be teased, but reacts badly to it (unlike, say, Chie, who reacts more flustered which is how I think Makoto should react, especially later in her S-link where she likes you and relies on you, and so shouldn’t react angrily, but more puzzled and flustered). In this playthrough, I plan on making her my romance option. I don’t know if I’ll do any other romances, even though I do want to finish more S-links.

As the mascot character, Morgana is a bit more interesting and more involved in the story than Teddie or Koromaru was, but for the most part he’s just … okay. Sojiro works well as the replacement for Dojima, starting out harder but you can see even from the start that he’s a lot more kindhearted than he lets on.

Story-wise, the plot is … okay. The time shifting leads to a somewhat interesting — if somewhat convoluted — major plot twist, but none of the main villains are as interesting in the end as Adachi was, nor was there the more personal stake in the final fight as you had with Ryoji. Igor being replaced by the main villain was an interesting idea that really didn’t pay off, although I admit that knowing that that twist was coming might have spoiled that for me a bit. But they didn’t seem to really do anything with that in the plot, and saving Laverna was, again, pretty short and didn’t really go anywhere. More hints and giving you more of a reason to care would have worked better, in my opinion. At the end of the day, for me the plot, though dark, is serviceable: it works to move you through the game and give you some emotional connection to things, but at the end of it all I really felt like I was just going out to save the world because. To compare to Persona 4, there was no real scene that had the emotional depth of Nanako’s dungeon and death — although Futaba’s dungeon definitely struck similar chords, but is hampered by the fact that you get met her — and the scene where Morgana fades away doesn’t have the pull of Teddie’s leaving. I liked it well-enough, but it just didn’t have the charm of the other games. Even the scene where you have to free your teammates after defeating fake Igor is a good idea that just doesn’t actually have the oomph that it should have.

The dungeons and the combat are, in fact, okay as well. They can be frustrating if you don’t get the puzzles right away — as you can end up running around using Third Eye trying desperately to figure out what you’ve missed — and that is hampered by the fact that when you change areas the enemies respawn. So if you’re backtracking, you can end up having to fight a lot of fights just to make sure that you didn’t miss anything. That heading into a Safe Room counts as changing areas is even worse, as you can make sure to clear everything out, decide to save and/or return to the entrance to fuse Personas, and then return only to have to fight everything again. And since, like all of the Persona games, you’re SP-limited, that can mean that you have to stop for the day, which can stop you from doing more interesting things either that evening or the next day. And Mementos for me, as stated above, was an exercise in fighting as little as possible so I could clear up all the requests so I wouldn’t have to come back for a couple of weeks.

The biggest issue is this: in every Persona game from Persona 3 on it has been the case that unless you are super-efficient you will never get to see everything in one playthrough. Just maxing out your abilities so that you can do all the S-links takes enough time to make doing all the S-links difficult. Persona 4 added more optional things to do, and Persona 5 adds even more. So you can’t do everything your first time through, and maybe even not your second time through. But Persona 5 is at least twice as long as, at least, unvarnished Persona 4. So you want to play it more than once, but it takes a massive time investment to do that. It took me almost a month of far more regular game playing than I normally would get in — thank you, Stanley Cup Playoffs! — to get through it the first time, and the second run will either require the same amount of effort or will take longer. This kinda hurts the game for the casual gamer who is more likely to be interested in the side events over the main plot and yet gets stuck digging through the main game instead, especially the first time through. Length hurts replayability, and the Persona games have always had as one of their main attractions their replayability.

I liked Persona 5. It was a good game. I enjoyed playing it once, and am enjoying playing it again, especially since I now know some things to look for in later playthroughs (including talking to Makoto in the library). That being said, I don’t think it’s as good a game as Persona 4 or Persona 3, as it seems to be trying to catch the better parts of both and fails at it. But it still manages to pull off being a good game nonetheless.

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