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Persona 5’ builds on a stellar franchise

Players fill the shoes of a nameless hero from rural Japan

  • PERSONA1-jpg

    The protagonist, Joker, moves through the city in ‘Persona 5.’

    ATLUS

  • PERSONA2-jpg

    A screen shot from ‘Persona 5.’

    ATLUS

  • PERSONA3-jpg

    A screen shot from ‘Persona 5.’

    ATLUS

Despite being 15 years removed from high school, I still remember the self-righteous indignation I possessed all too well. I was rebellious, but maybe only because I thought that was the thing to do. Most of all, I looked forward to a day when adults wouldn’t quell my burning desire to be right about everything, no matter what.

Not much has changed in that regard, but reminders of this time and those feelings are few and far between. One of the few things that has managed to channel that youthful rebellion is Japanese role-playing games, a genre stagnated since the PlayStation 2 era.

The best Japanese role-playing game stories are the ones that create a sense of connection and familiarity among the main cast; for that, there’s no better setting than high school. The “us versus the world” mentality that becomes the basis for teenage friendships is a powerful storytelling trope and one of many reasons for the rise of popularity in anime and manga — both staples of Japanese entertainment.

PERSONA 5

Grade: ★★★★★

System: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3

No. Players: 1

Published by: Atlus

Developed by: Atlus; P Studio

Genre: JRPG

ESRB Rating: Mature

Grades: ★★★★★ Outstanding; ★★★★ Very Good; ★★★ Good; ★★ Fair; ★ Poor.

Leave it to a game about thievery, ramen, talking cats, stupid adults, and angry deities to not only stoke the fires of youth but also revive the JRPG genre from a cold grave. Persona 5 manages all of this and more as it follows in the footsteps of the beloved Persona 4 at capturing lightning in a bottle for the second time in a row.

The Persona series has always been an odd, yet winning combination of anime tropes, Jungian psychology, turn-based combat, and teen romance novels. A tight story and fast, fun combat is the glue that holds these elements together, with Persona 5 as no exception. This time around players fill the shoes of a nameless hero from rural Japan who is sent away to Tokyo after falling into trouble with the law.

A circle of friends begins to form based around a city-wide conspiracy and the hero’s mysterious ability to call forth a power referred to as “Persona,” an entity that represents how people internally view themselves. If that all seems too much to take in, I can sum it up as such: Make friends, fight monsters, solve a mystery, and save the world.

All in a day's work, right? Each individual day is a chance to get things done in Persona 5, as the basic structure of the game has you choosing how to fill your time each day after school. The choices in the game boil down to how to properly spend your time and whether it’s prudent to progress a relationship with a teammate, work a part-time job, or delve into enemy-infested dungeons.

Story-driven moments will also fill your hero’s days and nights, which is why one of the most satisfying things about Persona 5 is finding ways to maximize your in-game free time and still accomplish all your goals. Building social links with the game’s cast is as large a part of the game as the combat, with rewards and new abilities coming to those who see each character’s personal story through to the end.

These character moments are where Persona shines as a series, creating a cohesive sense of friendship and familiarity between the various characters. By the end of the game, I felt a sense of sadness and loss, knowing that my time with these characters was coming to an end. After all, the 80 hours or so it’ll take to complete Persona 5 means you’ll spend a lot of time with the likes of hot-headed Ryuji, student council President Makoto, and Morgana, the aforementioned talking cat.

Persona  is defined by its characters and their role in the story, and Persona 5 is a standout in the franchise. The plot is a twisting combination of teen dramas, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars and the 2005 high school mystery thriller Brick, using the backdrop of school life as a vehicle for dark and adult story moments.

The story told is one of the best JRPG stories in over a decade, with numerous twists and turns that will keep you on your feet and guessing what will happen next. What keeps the tension fresh — even at the 80th hour — is a soundtrack and sense of style that demands your attention and oozes a cool factor that must be experienced.

Few game soundtracks are as catchy or so well-composed as what Persona 5  offers, continuing the franchise tradition of toe-tapping tunes to traverse the troubles of teenage turmoil.

Whether you’re a fan of anime, a long-time admirer of JRPGs, or yearn for a game with a true sense of style, Persona 5 is the best use of your time and energy. 

Not since Persona 4 almost a decade ago has a game been able to make me feel, for better and worse, like I did in high school.

I should go apologize to my parents. Perhaps they were right about a few things after all.

A copy of the game was provided to The Blade by the publisher for the purposes of review.

Contact Will Harrison at: DoubleUHarrison@gmail.com or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.

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