As a Persona 4 Fan, I am disappointed. *SPOILERS*
SPOILERS!!! This review will spoil character names and plot events in Persona 4 and Persona 5.
Persona 4 Golden (P4G) is my favorite JRPG to date, so I couldn’t wait to play Persona 5. But instead of immediately grabbing my hands on Persona 5 at release I was eagerly waiting for the improved edition of the game similar to what the Atlus team did with the last two core Persona games. After waiting with baited breath for over a year I could no longer hold my excitement and decided to go all in with vanilla Persona 5.
Persona 5 is a great game. It refines and improves on mostly everything that past Persona games have already excelled at. The game oozes with style. Animations are slick and fluid. Simple things in other games like visiting a shopkeeper or opening a menu is given a full stylistic treatment in Persona 5. Battles and victory screens are a joy to play and watch and never get old. The carefully designed dungeons are an impressive first for first in the series, though the latter dungeons drag on for too long. I can gush on and on about how much Persona 5 excels over other games such as how the story serves as a social commentary of real life Japan and the impressive battle system that makes every single ability, even status ailments viable. Unfortunately I had serious faults with Persona 5 and from this point on it goes downhill.
My initial impressions of Persona 5 was that it was trying to copy what made Persona 4 great. The game’s first act, includes an animal mascot that helps our heroes navigate the mysterious world, a party member that coincidentally looks and acts like a straight version of Kanji, another party member that is like a Caucasian Rise but is an upcoming model instead of a famous idol and... the first dungeon is a castle bathed in red hues. I honestly felt like I was playing Persona 4 all over again but with much better styyyyle and gameplay mechanics.
Thankfully the game evolves and becomes distinct after the first act, but I was continually disappointed at the party members for generally being unlikable or barely fleshed out with exceptions for Morgana, Makoto and Futaba:
Ryuji is a loud, horny idiot with little redeeming qualities
Ann doesn’t play much of a role on the team other than being the hottest member of the crew
Yusuke is too much of an eccentric art enthusiast to be relatable
Haru is introduced out of nowhere and gets little time to be fleshed out before the final dungeon.
And Akechi deserves his own paragraph for how poorly thought out his arc is.
Akechi is initially introduced as the foil to the Phantom Thieves. He harasses the MC at his home and on his commute. He constantly spouts about how the Phantom Thieves are unjust and should be arrested. From the first time Akechi and the MC met face to face I knew this guy is a total sham and should never be trusted. So I was completely shocked that at the end of Akechi’s arc, the Phantom Thieves were sympathetic to Akechi, despite all of the evils he has committed and the evils he planned to commit.
I never felt that the team really gelled compared to the previous two Persona games. The school trips and events were barely memorable. The week long trip to Hawaii goes nowhere. Your party members mostly converse their Phantom Thieves work instead of actually enjoying where they were and what they were doing. I realize it’s part of the plot that your team is constantly on edge but it ultimately didn’t appeal to me. It’s a shame that at the end of the game, I sincerely felt that it was the first time the Phantom Thieves bonded but I was already sick of the game at this point and wanted the whole experience to be over.
Persona 5 also suffers from unusually bad writing at times. Attempts at comedy are lazy and eye-rollingly bad. I barely registered a chuckle on the good cop bad copy routine by Caroline and Justine. I didn’t find it funny when the characters surreptitiously gaze at a wet woman’s clothes, only to be quickly reprimanded. And I also didn’t find it funny when two overly flamboyant gay men started hitting on one of the characters
The adults in the game have terrible, cartoonishly cheesy dialog not dissimilar to the adults in the South Park series. The SIU Director has multiple soliloquies on how evil he is and how the Phantom Thieves are going to be destroyed. Sae’s dialog in the interrogation room sounds like a computer generated script instead of what an actual prosecutor would say to a suspect. And Sojiro’s conversations especially in the beginning sounds like a broken record when he berates the MC to behave or else he’ll report the MC to the police.
The last thing that I felt was out of place for a Persona game was that the high school slice of life is mostly non-existent. There are no school clubs or teams to join. Half of the school (the practice building) is essentially barren with nothing to do. The MC doesn’t bond with many students at Shujin Academy other than his teammates and Mishima. Doing well on exams doesn’t give much benefit other than two ticks of Charm. And the only interactive places at school are the library and the rooftop.
I had lofty expectations to the sequel of my most favorite JRPG and Persona 5 simply didn’t connect with me. I did not leave with the same grief that I had with P4G. I was not saying goodbye to a memorable cast of characters that I’ve grown to love. I was not itching to immediately start a New Game+ to relive the story and try different things. Instead, I was relieved that Persona 5 was finally over and I won’t revisiting this game anytime soon.