Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Persona 5 Review

SPOILERS follow

Played on a PS4 Pro on Ben-Q 2560x1440 monitor (easy mode) then Seiki 4K TV 5o inch (normal mode).

Persona 5 forces me to recommend the Playstation 4 as the best choice available.  Prior to Persona 5, my history with the series consists of my playing Persona 4 Golden (4G), up through saving Yukiko, on the PS Vita.  At that time, I never got around finishing it, for no reason I now remember.

However, after playing Persona 5, I had the empty feeling one gets after playing an extremely immersive and gripping game, so to fill the void, I finished playing Persona 4G on normal mode, so I will compare and contrast those.

In Persona 5, you play as an adorable unnamed 16-year old high-school student who is arrested on false charges of aggravated assault after defending a woman from being raped.  As a result, the main character is court-mandated to attend Kosei High School and to live with Sojiro Sakura, a cafe owner whose customer is a friend of his parents.

The beginning of the game demonstrates that the protagonist wants to protect and help others, so it makes sense that he, and his allies, also troubled students and victims, band together to upgrade the consciences of perpetrators through stealing their hearts in alternative worlds created by each of the villains' subconsciouses. The game features excellent camaraderie among the characters, as does 4G.  You have the option of controlling only the protagonist or also his teammates.  Also, the protagonist can capture the adversaries' Personas, their shadow-selves, for magical and combat purposes.

For my first playthrough, I used easy mode, as I found the first dungeon strangely difficult and continuously ran out of SP (magic meter), and the enemies take 1/3 to 1/2 of your health with each hit.  I could have used my usual technique of grinding levels; however, the story was so gripping that I wanted to get through the dungeons as quickly as possible to get through the plot's interesting twists and turns.  There were a lot of WTF moments where I would drop my controller.  By playing on easy, I was able to get through the dungeons quickly without having to grind.

Furthermore, along with the story, I was captivated by all the NPCs whom you establish social links, called "confidants". For example, I desperately had to find out if Hifumi Togo, an amateur high school shoji player, often criticized for being famous for her looks rather than talent, was able to defeat a professional shoji player on national TV. However, I couldn't find her after a certain point in the game, and I was avoiding guides to avoid spoilers.  I believe the main character has to reach a certain level of skill (such as courage, charm, knowledge and diligence) to be able to advance and rank up the social links of your confidants, which progress through their story line, so she might have disappeared due to my low skill level.

The confidant stories are so compelling that I really feel that all video games henceforward should follow this model for side-quests.  Instead of cringing through the typical fetch quests or escort missions, I look forward to promoting the social links, as it advances the confidants' captivating story lines and their relationships with you.

After understanding the mechanics better by the end of Persona 5 and finishing Persona 4G, I revisited Persona 5 and played it on normal, which I highly recommend on your first playthrough, if  you have the patience to wait out the plot advancements.   As with Persona 4G, the first dungeon tends to be difficult (and it's okay if you need to spend extra days), but then the subsequent dungeons are easier.

The strategy that I recommend: make sure your protagonists and his teammates are on manual mode so that you can target the enemies' weaknesses specifically rather than relying on AI for the teammates.  To save on SP, I recommend looking up each enemy's weakness, and use their weaknesses against them.  If they all go down in one teammate's turn, your team has choices of an all-out attack, adding  them to your list of Personas, getting an item or receiving extra money. The main reason why I ran out of SP on the first playthrough is that I used everyone's elemental attacks to find out what their weaknesses were.

If you're not at a save point, and don't have SP and are running out of items/health, you can always flee from battle, as long as you aren't attacked first. Ambush and stealth mechanics are crucial in this game; I fled, in the first dungeon, escaping a lot of the battles.  However, this can raise the enemy's alertness, and if it goes to 100% alert, I believe you'll be kicked out of the dungeon.  However, this didn't happen to me, and I reached the save points.  It took me three days to complete the first dungeon, and then three days to finish the second dungeon (this is forced due to story mechanics), but one can complete the future dungeons in one or two days with SP regenerating gear.

As early as possible, make sure you rank up the Death Confidant Link, Tae Takemi, your city's doctor, to 7 as quickly as possible so that you can buy the SP regenerating accessory.  Although not necessary, I would try to have the Death persona at hand.  At rank 7, you get 1/2 discount, so the most effective SP accessory costs 50K.  I had enough money to buy four before entering the third dungeon.  And thanks to this accessory, I only used less than 5% of SP, so I was able to complete this third dungeon in one day, without using any items, healing or otherwise.  It's best to find a weak enemy, keep guarding at every turn if you can put an enemy to sleep (or any other status ailments such as dizzy), until you get your SP back up.

Each time you reach a save point, I also recommend going back to the starting point and registering your new Personas.  I believe that if you capture a new one, but it's not in your list of Personas that you carry (i.e. you release it), it won't be registered. Edit: as long as the Persona is in the list that you carry around, it's automatically registered.

As a result of playing the game in normal mode, I actually look forward to doing the dungeons, as you need to attack your enemies' weaknesses and try to conserve your SP as much as possible.  In other words, the gameplay, which is turn-based, is extremely addictive, and it never gets old when you ambush an enemy to give yourself an advantage. Playing on easy doesn't encourage the same addictive feel, because you can just tank through the enemies instead of more engaging strategizing fun in normal mode.

Persona 5 improves on the dungeon concept from 4G as the main boss dungeons, called Palaces, are the set dungeons, and have maps that you can find.  In 4G, all the dungeons are randomized.  I don't like random dungeons as they can never be as intricately puzzle designed as those in the Dark Souls overworld levels, or a Zelda dungeon pre-Breath of the Wild.  Set dungeons also can have brilliant enemy placement, as seen in Dark Souls 1, which is the model for how enemy placement should be done, as opposed to randomized one.

The dungeons in Persona 5 are remarkable due to their diversity; not just variety of design, but differing puzzle and traversal mechanics.  On my second, normal-mode walkthrough, I kept noting how much fun and how creative the game is.  There are no frame-rate issues in combat. As the game is offered for the PS3 and PS4, the graphics aren't as crisp as I would like, but I'm confident that the sequel will show improvement.

Once you finish a Palace, it disappears completely. However, one brilliance of Persona 5 is the Mementos system, where one collective unconsciousness dungeon is random (for those who prefer the variety), and never disappears.  I did grind a bit between the first and second dungeon at the Mementos after escaping the latter half of the first dungeon battles, so there is no issue if you want to escape all your Palace battles--you can grind in the Mementos whenever you want.  Further, there are some great items that lurk there. Morgana, who serves as your loyal sidekick and turns into a car, controls so well and easily that it's a joy to drive around the dungeon--he can do very tight 180 degree turns.  I believe I would have continued with Grand Theft Auto IV if the steering in that game's vehicles were as good as Morgana's.

In addition to strategizing the combat, you also have to strategize how you spend your time, as there is a wide variety of social activities you can engage in.  I would start each new dungeon immediately because if the dungeon is not completed, many of your teammates will ask about tackling the dungeon, rather than spending time leveling up their rank. A secondary priority is to target maximizing the protagonist's Death arcana social link, then your teammates', as the next most crucial steps, and achieving the appropriate skill level to be able to rank up.  Also, you should maximize Mishima as he gives you extra XP if you ever find your team too weak.  Finally, make lock picks as you can only make two to start out with.

There are very minor issues I have with Persona 5.  At times, the camera angles aren't framed to display what you face, so one can be disoriented.  This becomes a problem when you're stealthily moving from one area to the next quickly at different angles, and not simply going forward.  However, this only occurs occasionally, so it's a minor complaint.

Another issue is that some of the dungeon soundtrack music is too repetitive, such as that in the first dungeon and the Mementos, but one can't turn down nor turn off the background music.  in my first playthrough, since I'm awful with directions (even with the excellent map design), I spent hours finding my way through and got to the point where I almost quit playing the game as the music became very irritating; I hope they will patch this out. I needed the sound effects to help with gameplay cues, and Morgana's comments are helpful in making sure you didn't miss an item or enemy weakness, so I couldn't just turn off the sound completely.

However, aside from this music issue, I had no trouble with the other dungeons and the rest of the soundtrack is fantastic.  In fact, I get chills whenever you make a vow to a confidant and rank up, and the music adds to this effect.  The lack of music control is also a problem with 4G.  I hope that Atlus will have separate music and sound effects volume controls in Persona 6.

The last issue I'd note is that the HUD design is rather cluttered and takes up a large part of the screen, which was quite obvious on the smaller BenQ monitor screen, but isn't as notable if the screen is 50 inches or larger.

Conclusion:  Persona 5, like 4G, is a masterpiece due to its unique and varied dungeon designs, gripping  characters' stories, and the addictive, stylish and strategic gameplay and pace when played in normal mode.

Rating:  A+, Masterpiece.

-Alice

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