I stand opposite my opponent, our eyes locked, our bodies tense. He’s watching me – I have to be careful. I strafe around him, careful and slow, trying not to make any sudden movements.
Then I make a break for it. Without a word, I sprint by him. But his words halt me on the stairs, like an invisible wall.
“Aren’t you tired? Let’s call it a day and get some sleep.”
NO! I sprint to the workshop desk in the corner, hoping to sneakily craft a means of escape.
“Let’s not do that today.”
I grab at the chair in the corner, desperate to throw it at the meddlesome cat.
“You must be tired after today.”
“Let’s get some sleep.”
What I have only slightly dramatized is the showdown that punctually faces players at the end of each day spent in Atlus’ Persona 5. In the game, you can only partake in so many activities per day before the game forces you to go to sleep, ushering in a new day of decisions and choices. However, this highly addicting game makes sleep the bane of the player’s existence. The oppressor of this forced drowsiness, a cat named Morgana, sits in your room and smiles while you beg to stay up. Morgana’s warnings have become so ludicrous to players that he has become something of a meme to P5 players.
Dr. Doomcliff is a newcomer when it comes to Persona. Having never played an entry in the series, I by chance read a review for this strange little Japanese game and decided to throw my copy of Mass Effect: Andromeda out of my castle window. Let’s give P5 a go, I said. That was nearly three months ago, and I still haven’t returned to Mass Effect, nor have I fished it out of my shark-infested moat.
Persona 5 is the fifth *official* entry in a series that has been running for twenty years. I say official because there are many spinoffs – some even include “dancing”, to my understanding. But the Persona series, in essence, thrusts you into the dual life of a high school student/supernatural explorer. During the day you go to class, hang out with your juvenile delinquent friends, or consume copious amounts of beef at the local burger joint. At night, you enter another dimension where you battle demons using your bestowed demon-wielding/capturing power.
The story goes like this: you move to Tokyo after being kicked out your old school for a crime you didn’t commit. You discover that you and some new friends have the ability to enter a bad guy’s cognition, which manifests itself into a labyrinthine dungeon called a “Palace,” and fighting through the Palace you change the hearts of criminals from pure evil to whimpering repentance. You and your friends gain popularity as the “Phantom Thieves,” stealing hearts and changing society for the better, while persued by those who believe your unconscious meddling with the heart is unjust.
As far as Japanese stories go, believe me, it’s actually one of the easier ones to follow. You want some truly muddled shit, try on Kingdom Hearts 2.
So what’s so great about this psychoanalytical life simulation where a talking cat holds your bedtime over you like a guillotine? The game rolls effortlessly – days pass, decisions are made, new missions are introduced. Rinse and repeat. Time is finite, though, and missions have deadlines. Every single day is a calculation of how to most efficiently use your time. You start to plan in advance in your head – tonight I’ll hang back and read this book that builds my courage, so that tomorrow night I have enough guts accumulated to hang out with my ex-Yakuza confidant. Or, I could spend the same time on a different path, and still impact the gains for my character and my story.
The characters in this game are real achievements because I wanted to hang out with them even after I maxed out our bonds. I looked forward to taking time out of my days to go to new places with them, to see movies with them, or to in some special cases, go on dates with them. Many complain that these characters are just different anime tropes, but I disagree – thanks to the committed and vibrant voice acting and the sometimes-cheesy, often hilarious writing, these characters shine in what’s already a compelling story.
But aside from the narrative elements and the high-school nostalgia, there’s a whole other side to this game that shines like a jewel in the moonlight. And that side is the battle system, and the dungeon-crawling gameplay in the “otherworld” that parallels the “real world”. Just as addictive as any daytime activity, the battling in this game is a fun blend of Pokemon style monster taming and Final Fantasy like turn based strategy. You wield a demon-like “Persona,” using skills your opponent has a weakness to in order to down them. Once you down all of your enemies, you unleash a stylized, “All Out Attack” where you deliciously pummel the hopeless fiend(s), dealing massive damage and nearly always killing your foe. It’s a lot of fucking fun.
As many praises as I can sing for this strange, amazing, beautiful game, there are a few downsides to it that any fair purveyor of justice such as myself cannot ignore. One of these weaknesses is that the game is LONG. Expect more than 100 hours – and that’s just to finish ONE playthrough. And while the long sections of story cutscenes are usually fine thanks to the peppy writing and acting, some of the voice acting in the game, usually from secondary characters, doesn’t meet the bar that the rest of the cast sets. And some of the lines are pretty cringe-worthy. I’m looking at you, Junya Kaneshiro’s bug-form, yo.
Overall, the Scales of Justice indicate a lot of weight on the positive side. The style, gameplay, and story in this game are delicious. All of the components of this game come together to synergize what is definitely one of my favorite games of all time. And – as gentleman, I should mention that while it is possible to date all of the female confidants at the same time, in my first playthrough I stayed faithful to Makoto until the end. Ahh, Makoto – a vision of the perfect girl; brains, brawn, and body. Doomcliff doubts he will find another love as true as Makoto as long as he games – or anyone else who looks so good in a black leather body suit. I rate Persona 5 forty-six out of fifty on the Scales of Justice.