Yesterday I finished the hundred or so hour epic that was Persona 5. I have a tendency to love most JRPGs I play and I really did enjoyed myself, despite this being my first taste of the Persona series. I think it might have been for a different reasons than why I’ve liked other JRPGs though.
I’m going to try as much as possible to discuss Persona 5 without talking too much about the main story line, as Atlus (the studio behind the game) initially wanted the internet to remain as spoiler-free as possible, and as a writer myself, I can definitely understand. I think Persona 5 has a lot more to differentiate it from other JRPGs, it’s less about the story and more about the characters themselves. The most I will say is the main story, predominantly set in a real-world, present day Tokyo, is much, MUCH darker than any similar games I’ve played.
The JRPG I’ve played the most of other than Persona 5 is Final Fantasy VIII, a game that I’ve had hours and hours and hours of fun with since first playing it while visiting my half-sister’s house. I love everything about it, but particularly the Guardian Forces. battle system and side quests/distractions. It’s something I’ve enjoyed in most of the JRPG’s I’ve played, and I certainly did enjoy it in Persona…just not as much as usual. I did like the battle system, and the Palaces (essentially the dungeon areas) were interesting to explore, but after the third or so I found myself tiring of the battle system. The only highlight in each being seeing what new creatures the game had for me to fight and collect. I bored of the puzzles, and was sick of fight after monotonous fight to get to the treasure. However, I didn’t do what I’ve done in almost every other game when I got bored. This time I actually kept going.
I’ve often put down my controller when the characters of the game begin to annoy me too much or when I get sick of the game play, but Persona dragged me past that point in a way no game before it ever has: I was completely fascinated by the social side of things away from the battle, away from the fantasy elements of the universe. In Persona 5, you build your relationships (or bonds) not only with the team you fight with, but with the other people around you in the “real” world. A genuine part of your job as the hero, along side levelling up stats and earning money, is to talk to these people and be their friend and confidant. You can find out about the trials in the life of your homeroom teacher, hang out with a washed-up journalist at a bar or learn about life lessons from a former politician. You hear these people’s stories and you get ridiculously connected to them. I didn’t want to be a hero for the general public, I wanted to be the hero the people I met needed me to be.
That, in many ways, is Persona’s ultimate strength. Your characters often talk about saving a faceless public, but by forming these relationships, you see directly what your power can do, both as a Phantom Thief and as a human being who is willing to listen. Your character, and the characters around them, mature and change organically as they interact with each other socially and emotionally, and that’s not something I’ve seen a lot of in gaming, let alone the JRPG genre. I’m hoping that this game will inspire others, to not just show us a faceless city to save but to give us interactions and relations directly with it’s people. I want to be a part of the area my character lives in, to change the people around me and let them change me, and Persona 5 let me to that. It’s not an experience that I’ll forget soon.