Tag Archives: Persona 5

Nakama Power

Making new acquaintances in Akihabara

Halfway down this week I would never have believed just how big Persona 5 can be. Last time I expected to be on the final straight and wondered why the adversary I thought to be the final boss didn’t really exude an aura of epicness that they often tend to do. It ended up being no wonder at all, since after that the game kicked into serious high gear, featuring massive events and growing into a crescendo that almost felt ridiculous yet absolutely awesome. The last 15 hours were full of drama, suspense, a fantastic (actual) final boss, and an epilogue beautiful enough to get even the eyes of this cranky codger a little misty. Damn I’m going to miss these rascals!

At that point, I had already been playing for 77 hours. Even following a walkthrough, I managed to mess up my in-game schedule and miss out on some juicy tidbits here and there. Thus, there was no choice but to begin anew. Even if NG+ features a hidden boss, one new Persona, and a chance to get romantic with someone else from a selection of nine characters, that’s pretty much all there is. Thankfully money, personas, and social skills from the first playthrough carried over, so round two was mostly just fast-forwarding already seen scenes, enjoying plenty of extra time to do things, and completing a full 191 Persona compendium. The platinum trophy unlocked at 112 hours and I’m now dead tired but happy. Persona 5 would be even better if it allowed everything to be experienced in one go but the rerun was still fairly enjoyable.

Just like with its predecessor, the most memorable thing about Persona 5 is its sincerity and warmth. This is mostly thanks to the main characters who are more just everyday youngsters than they are actual super heroes (aside from the talking cat, Morgana, of course). The character chemistry is exemplary, and the game usually steers well clear of implausible conflict scenarios just for the sake of drama The Phantom Thieves are simply a bunch of extremely good friends who get along exceptionally well, overcoming all hardships as a team. This good vibe carries over to the player, too. I rarely get emotionally attached to game characters but this gang turned out to be people I came to genuinely care about and root for.

If anything is at fault with Persona 5, it’s because of its publisher. On PS4, it’s delightfully easy to grab screenshots and video clips for your own amusement, as long as the game allows it. Most of them do. Atlus, however, abhors spoiling jerks so much that it often restricts these features. On Utawarerumono, capturing content was disabled after the first 15 hours and on Persona 5, that happens after five minutes. Their products and their rules, sure, but it’s still a pretty drastic measure, especially as it can be circumvented with an ordinary capture card. The policy is more akin to taking a holiday abroad but having to leave your camera at the customs.

Still, it’s hard to be angry at Atlus. Persona 5 is a masterpiece that easily exceeded all expectations. It has to be a pretty darn impressive release to top this one by the end of the year!

The Summer of 20XX

Ryuji, the protagonist, and Ann

Blessed be both free time and Persona 5! The exchange year of our protagonist began in April. Now, after more than 60 hours played, I’m enjoying the last few days of November. What has already been a most emotional and action-packed roller coaster ride just keeps on getting wilder! With yet three more members, the Phantom Thieves have risen to fame, fallen from grace, experienced surprises and plot twists of all kinds, and the story is currently scorching at a hundred miles per hour on a straight that seems to lead towards the finishing line. There’s still plenty to do but the feeling that this might be my game of the year just keeps on growing stronger.

Only a handful of games manage to be this captivating, and Persona 5 manages to excel on multiple fronts at that. As I’ve already pointed out a couple of times, it’s a pinnacle of pure style. Its visuals are an exhilarating explosion of color, and absolutely everything from menus and loading screens to dialogue windows and character close-up shots have been designed with utmost care and originality. The wonderful looks are complemented by an equally wonderful soundtrack, which might not feature that many songs, but which provides appropriate aural bliss for every occasion; bass-heavy jazz and lounge music for the more relaxed scenes, wailing electric guitars for the thrilling boss fights.

Voice acting is particularly brilliant. The previous game featured a forced dub which which wasn’t bad as such but seriously subtracted from the ambiance of an otherwise so fundamentally Japanese experience. This time around Atlus was considerate enough to remember us purists, too, releasing the original audio as a free piece of DLC. Granted, when I downloaded it from the European PSN store, it cryptically stated just “Cannot find the application.” The reason for this was my physical copy imported from North America, and the “simple” solution was to create a new US account and use that to download the same DLC from the PSN store across the pond. Oh, how easy and convenient this digital future can be. Still, well worth the hassle as there’s no better audio than original audio!

Most importantly, Persona 5 possesses that ever-so-essential soul. The charm of our mystical hero is like a magnet, drawing in not just other main characters but several NPCs as well. Everyone has been written a meaningful side-story that has been split into more than ten scenarios. The game has plenty of humor to enjoy, but it can also be extremely touching and does not shy away from such controversial subjects as depression, suicide, arranged marriages, social anxiety, bullying, etc. All of this takes place during a delightfully authentic school year that features everything essential from grueling exam weeks to school trips, culture festivals, and intolerably humid summer holidays. The game does a fantastic job combining a supernatural adventure with everyday life, and it’s a recipe that is just plain stellar!

As for the minor annoyances mentioned last time, they’re really rather inconsequential. If fighting through the dungeons feels too challenging, there’s always a Safe difficulty mode that gives out such ridiculous amounts of money and experience that a game over is pretty much impossible. As for time management, it’s just a matter of consulting the internet (e.g. KillScottKill’s nifty spoiler-free walkthrough) on what to do at any given free moment. Sure, these are extremely cheap ways to experience the game but then again, they are polite nods towards those who either can’t or don’t want to sink triple or quadruple digit hours into a single game. Then again, with or without training wheels, the game simply has so much to see and do that NG+ is pretty much a given once the end credits have rolled. For now, I’m off to reach them!

Youth Revolution

About to punish a pixie

After more than 25 hours, Persona 5 just keeps on getting better! Having named their group the Phantom Thieves, the upbeat Shujin high schoolers have already managed to get three treacherous adults to confess their crimes. While at it, this elusive group has also gotten two new members, and is starting to draw the attention of both the media and the police. While it’s nice to be famous, some are still on the fence about such vigilantism. Thus, our heroes have no choice but to up the ante and try to win over public support by exposing grim secrets of increasingly more famous and dangerous individuals.

Catching these wrongdoers is not a particularly straightforward process. To find a suitable target, the Phantoms need to figure out not just their name and location, but also the nature of the place that lurks within their subconscious. Once these are known, the team can enter said subconscious to work their way towards the desire hidden deep within its depths. To stand in their way are plenty of Persona demons to be bested in turn-based battles. They could be a real threat, but thankfully each team member has awoken a Persona of their own, and the protagonist can actually possess several of them. Each Persona has its own skills, strengths, and weaknesses, so combat requires a constant keen tactical eye to take the best advantage of them. If a Persona has been given a thorough thrashing, it can sometimes be recruited into the arsenal of the main character, or extorted for extra cash or items. Of course, the same applies the other way around, so a careless player can end up in a hostage negotiation about the life of his friend.

Even if the battle system is heavenly versatile and full of depth, it suffers from rather unbalanced economics. Even on easy difficulty, individual encounters yield only pitiful amounts of money. Just a single weapon or a piece of gear for a single character is often a notable investment that has to be thought through long and hard. Even more annoying is the weakness and rarity of health items. Especially magic points needed to invoke persona skills are nigh on impossible to restore, because those recovery items are ridiculously rare and might not even restore enough points for a single use of a single skill. Resorting to melee attacks only is hardly an option, so the most common reason to retreat from a dungeon back into the real world is running out of skill points to fight efficiently.

Slow grinding wouldn’t be a problem as such, but just like in previous Persona games, time is also an extremely finite resource. There’s a deadline for conquering each parallel world, and while it is often generous on its own, enjoying adolescence to its fullest takes plenty of time, too. Each day only has a couple of slots that can be used as the player sees fit. As well as challenging the main story dungeons, there’s plenty of relationships to deepen, five different personal attributes to improve, several part-time jobs to consider for additional income, etc. There’s always so many ways to spend free time that it’s pretty much impossible to experience absolutely everything in a single playthrough. Since this adventure will probably take well over 80 hours to begin with, such blatant dependence on an eventual NG+ is actually pretty disheartening.

Still, it’s quite possible to forgive (or even circumvent) all these apparent defects as the Phantoms stylishly steal the hearts of not just the bad guys but the player, too. More about that not until the next status update, as right now the pull back into this wondrous virtual Tokyo is just too strong to resist.

Bliss in the Making

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Now that my summer vacation is in full swing and provides nothing but heavenly free time, I’m also hopping on the bandwagon that sings praises to one of the most notable releases of this year. For some, Persona 5 is the zenith to the wait of almost a decade whereas I fell in love with this JRPG/teen life hybrid not until last year, courtesy of Persona 4 Golden. That one was hands down my Game of the Year 2016, so it took quite a bit of willpower to not jump into this latest entry until being able to gorge it pretty much 24/7.

The player is a small town teenager who gets into trouble merely by defending a helpless woman from the advances of a drunken boor. Unfortunately that schmuck not only gets hurt in the process but also carries enough influence to land the involuntary hero a criminal record, an expulsion from his school, and a year of probation to be spent somewhere else. Fair or not, the youngster is sent to Tokyo. There, at Shujin Academy, he’s supposed to start a new life, even if rumors of his supposed delinquency are already spreading like wildfire.

It’s not going to be dull, everyday life, though, as a mysterious mobile application leads our hero and his new classmates – the hot-headed troublemaker Ryuji Sakamoto and allegedly immoral beauty Ann Takamaki – into a strange parallel world full of demons known as personas. There, they are met by a talking cat, Morgana, who gets these understandably rather confused teens up to speed. These strange worlds are the dark manifestations of the subconsciousness’ of deranged individuals; playgrounds for their sick omnipotence, if you will. The only way to stop such narcissistic psychopaths in real life is to steal the hidden desires within their hearts. Thus, the three youngsters and one talking cat have no choice but to get absorbed in some genuine hands-down psychotherapy. Of course, kicking demon butt is one thing but there’s also the fleeting days of youth in a bustling metropolis that need to be enjoyed to the max.

As weird as that might sound, it should be more than a familiar premise for long-term fans of the series. Since my own journey has barely begun and will most certainly lead to multiple blog entries, I’ll wrap up this first one just stating the obvious: yes, it’s a glorious and utterly stylish game, yes, it feels like the best Persona ever made, and yes, it carries more than a hint of that elusive Game of the Year fragrance. Still, I think I need a few more hours to constitute a slightly more objective perspective into what makes it tick and what does not. Nevertheless, it sure is some damn good stuff!

The Swinging Sixties

Yes, I am hidden (^^;)

Despite just recently getting out of the 80’s, I’ve somehow found myself back in the past once more. As predicted, Mafia III jumped the line and took me to 1968, the year Lincoln Clay returns home from a four year sortie in Vietnam. He’s keen to start living a normal life and get an honest job but his foster family is having a bit of trouble. Haitian ruffians are hampering their lottery racket and they have fallen badly behind in payments to the town’s most prominent mafia family, the Marcanos. Clay, with his special forces expertise, wastes no time dealing with the Haitians and even a ballsy, most lucrative heist of the Federal Reserve Bank goes without a hitch. The money stolen should be more than enough to appease Sal Marcano, yet the ruthless Don prefers to keep it all to himself and get rid of Clay and his friends for good. Clay is the only one to barely survive the ensuing bloodbath, and after recuperating for a few months, it’s time to strike down upon Marcano and his lackeys with great vengeance and furious anger. No style points for originality but it’s still a decent setup for yet another sandbox.

Mafia III takes place in the fictional city of New Bordeaux on the Gulf Coast of the United States. It’s a nicely varied blend of business, industry, and slum districts. There’s plenty of neon, ramshackled shanties, playful alligators, and 60’s classic rock. Heck, when even the main menu song is Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower, you can be certain that the musical aspect of the game, at least, is in good hands. Still, even if the game’s radio stations are full of excellent music and there’s plenty of mighty nice looking screenshots on the internet, New Bordeaux comes off remarkably flat, faded, and muffled. The roads are smooth and wide, there’s a little bit of traffic, and at least a handful of pedestrians who randomly greet Clay or scold him if he bumps into them. Everything you’d expect is present but rather than a bustling metropolis, the city feels more like a subdued ghost town.

As for actual gameplay, Mafia III is equally bland, if perhaps a tad more enjoyable. You go after Marcano by taking over his rackets one by one. By first roughing up informants, you learn what is going down and where. After that, you cause enough economic damage to the racket that its leader has no choice but to come forth. They are then either killed for some quick cash or recruited to Clay’s side for less money but more long-term benefits. For the first seven hours or so nearly all missions have been variations of the theme “go to the given location and deal with everyone there in a way of your choosing.” This is where Mafia III gets unwittingly silly. If you prefer to use firearms, the game regresses into a mundane cover-based shooter. It’s remarkably more fun to sneak from cover to cover and use melee attacks to get rid of the enemies with stealth. They’re dumb as bricks and apparently half blind, too, so every area is essentially just an empowering stealth track where it’s nigh on impossible to screw up. Besides, even if you get discovered, it’s just a matter of whipping out a pistol or a rifle and rain lead on the remaining baddies who either charge you or hide behind cover, waiting for that inevitable headshot. It’s all very unimaginative and unchallenging but, in some perverse fashion, also pretty damn relaxing.

Even if I’ve barely just started the game, it already feels like an antithesis of Mafia II. That one had a great story but was a pointless sandbox whereas this time around the scales tip the other way. Grand Theft Auto this most definitely isn’t but at least it’s awkward in a good, adorable way. It probably was a huge disappointment as a day one AAA behemoth but as a B-class bargain bin find, it’s actually really quite entertaining.

Aw yiss, motha f**kin P5!

As for having to curse like a sailor, there was no need for that, after all. Earlier this week, Atlus’ purportedly stellar Persona 5 finally found itself to my household, accompanied by NIS America’s gloomy puzzle platformer (I guess?) A Rose in the Twilight. While my original plan was to dedicate this four day Easter holiday to the first of those two, I’m making such jolly progress in Mafia III that perhaps a little break from Japanese games is in order. Of course, considering how fast my backlog grows, I’m destined to have projects long into my potential retirement years. Still, can’t really complain; these are exceptionally good times to be a console gamer!

Tokyo on My Mind

One more month of agonizing waiting and we finally get to enjoy Persona 5! Regarding the game, I’ve deliberately kept myself in the dark as much as possible but what the heck, one fast-paced trailer won’t hurt. I didn’t get into this outstanding and highly creative demon slaying / everyday high school life JRPG series until last year (!) on Vita but on that one, Persona 4 Golden instantly became one of my most beloved games ever. Compared to that, Persona 5 seems very much the same (even including the main characters) but with even more style. One of the only minor flaws in the fourth game was its forced dub, which ate away some of the ambience of such a deeply Japanese experience. The fifth game, however, also features original audio so come April 4th, it might provide an even more authentic virtual Tokyo than Yakuza 0!

Speaking of Tokyo, Spike Chunsoft announced some interesting news this week. Even if it’s not until spring next year, PS4 will be getting a localized version of 428: Shibuya Scramble. It’s some sort of peculiar visual novel that combines text, anime, and live action video clips. In Japan, the game was released on Wii in 2008 and on PS3/PSP in 2009. That’s pretty much all I know but since Spike Chunsoft is a true professional of the genre and since Famitsu awarded the original game a perfect 40/40 score, I’m most certainly picking it up come 2018. It’s delightful to see how even Japanese niche releases are slowly but surely finding a market here in the west, too!