Thoughts on Persona 5 After Playing it Twice

I’ve played Persona 5 on “Easy” and finished it twice. I have already put almost 150 hours into the game in the two months since I got it. And yet … I could start a third game, right now, and the only reason I’m not doing that is that I need my weekends and weekend afternoons back to handle mounting work pressure and other projects that I really need to start working on, and so only have about four hours a week to play video games, which would mean that it would take me five months to finish. Which either means that I’d have to keep interested in the game for that long and not want to play anything else or, more likely, that I’d decide to play Persona 5 in the times when I really, really should be doing something else. So, I have to put it away for a while.

But that, to me, is the beauty and wonder of the Persona games. No other game series has had that quality, where I can simply restart the game and keep playing it for hours and hours and hours. I have easily put over 1000 hours into Persona 3 and Persona 4 combined, and almost certainly will play them again at some point in the future. I will indeed play Persona 5 again. If they release a P5 Golden or FES or whatever version of this game, I will buy it and play it. I am quite likely to, at some point, play it with a main character based on Phil Coulson from “Agents of SHIELD”, which is the big temptation I have right now. For whatever reason, the combination of the life/dating simulation where S-links balance with the main plot — and impact it — and also balance with a relatively easy and painless battle system — on “Easy” — that you still have to think about if you want to be at all efficient and so isn’t generally simple “Just hit them until they go away” really, really resonates with me. And the Persona series does this better than any other game series I’ve ever played, including Conception II and even Trails of Cold Steel, which I tried but ended up stopping because the second class trip paired me up with characters and conflicts that I didn’t care for. And it’s social aspects aren’t as strong as Persona’s either.

So, the Persona series has an embarrassment of riches at this point: a game built around three aspects that all generally work and where a significant number of gamers will really like at least one of them, and where all of these elements improve from game to game. But this, it seems to me, is potentially causing issues for the series, since the improvements end up making each aspect more complicated and more prominent in each game. If you really like or can at least tolerate all three aspects, these improvements are good for you across the board; you’ll just like the game better because everything in it got better. But if you don’t like one of the aspects, then the increasing complexity and prominence and importance of the elements will likely bore and annoy you. For me, the combat and dungeons are the least interesting parts of the game, and so often, especially on my second run, I found myself slogging through and generally dreading the palaces, to say nothing of Mementos, which I found incredibly boring. But I liked the S-links and even the other activities, and both wish there were more of them and that I could focus on them earlier (especially the activities) because at the end I was looking forward to finishing the game — I needed to finish it on the long weekend to, again, be ready to do all of the other things — and so ended up deciding that it wasn’t really worth trying to learn them and take extra time that I might need to finish the final fight. Which, BTW, I remember being a slog but which was much easier this time, especially considering that I managed to figure out that you can attack the final boss’ extra arms. The first time through, I focused on the main boss and then had to keep taking all the extra attacks, but here I managed to let Ann and Makoto kill off most of the arms to prevent that.

But, any way, back on topic. The thing is, as the combat and bosses and dungeons get more complicated, people who were willing to put up with it to get back to the things that really interest them might not be so willing anymore. One of the reasons that I don’t go back to Persona 3 as often is because the dungeons are, in general, more about grinding than anything else, and the grinding is, in general, very boring for me. But in reading around on this game, there are a number of people complaining about the life simulator and S-link portions. As these get more prominent and more detailed, these divides are going to get even sharper, as more and more people find at least one part of the game that annoys them but that they are forced to go through if they want to go through the parts they, well, actually like. The worst case scenario is that everyone really likes one part of the game and hates the other parts, making the game feel mediocre at best. That’s not going to ensure the long-term success of the series.

The best way to counter this would be to make the other elements far more optional, where there is limited need to delve into them if you don’t want to. However, Persona 5 makes things more integrated, as the S-links provide great benefits for dungeon crawling and Mementos is required for S-links, for example. If this continues — and it seems likely to — then the exact opposite will happen; each element will be more integrated and so more necessary to do in order to complete the game. So either the game will have to make each element be more interesting to people in general or people will feel that they have to or at least are encouraged to do those other elements that they dislike in order to advance in the game. Or, as I call it, grinding. The former risks losing what made some people like them in the first place, and the latter is generally boring and annoying.

Persona 5 is a good game, but it doesn’t seem to me to have the same feel as the other games. It often feels like it’s merely emulating features and storylines from the previous games rather than adding to them or using them properly. Makoto is a shallower version of Mitsuru, for the most part (and note, before anyone complains, I really like Makoto as a character, and romanced her exclusively my second time through and enjoyed every bit of it. But her role in the game and in her S-link is very much a simpler and shallower version of Mitsuru, without the arranged marriage part that appeared in Haru’s). Sojiro, Futaba, and your becoming a member of the family is a less emotional version of Dojima and Nanako from Persona 4. The negotiation, brought back from Person and/or Persona 2, is more shallow and less fun (I have played both Persona and Persona 2: Innocent Sin, albeit briefly). There are a lot of plot and S-link and gameplay references to previous games, but they don’t really seem to capture what was great about them. I guess there was a push for some of this because of the anniversary (20th, I believe) but I don’t think it really did this game a favour by failing to capture the spirit of what made those parts memorable and demanded by the audience.

Still, Persona 5 is a worthy Persona game. I look forward to putting over 500 hours into it over the course of the next few years, like I did for the previous games. This game, itself, will make buying the PS4 worth the price.

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One Response to “Thoughts on Persona 5 After Playing it Twice”

  1. My Thought Process on Choosing the Next Game To Play | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] as I said while talking about my second playthrough of Persona 5, I need to choose a different game to play because while I could play Persona 5 again, the time I […]

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