Review: Persona 5

A quick and aesthetically pleasing introduction to the game's party members.
Persona 5 Box Art

Persona 5 was released in Japan on September 15th, 2016 as a way to celebrate the “Shin Megami Tensei: Persona” franchise’s 20 year anniversary. Since the release of the first game on September 20th, 1996, the Persona series has improved with each new entry and Persona 5 is no exception. As Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 was a critically acclaimed title, fans had high hopes for Persona 5 before its release and thankfully it does not let these fans down. Persona 5 is proof that turn-based JRPGs can still hold their own against other genres and that reliving high school as a Japanese schoolboy is much more entertaining than it may sound.

After a brief animated sequence depicting the game’s characters, the player is dropped straight into control of the main character (who from this point on will be referred to as Akira Kurusu, which is the name the manga authors gave this character; although he can be named by the player and is commonly referred to in-game as ‘Joker’). The introductory scene involving an escape from a casino’s security officers provides context for a quick battle to establish the game’s combat system, and a moment to showcase the stealth elements the game has to offer as well. No matter the player’s actions, Akira ends up being captured by the police, who inform him that he was ratted out by one of his teammates, and is then incarcerated. From this point on, the majority of the game is played in the past before Akira’s arrest, starting in the month of April of the year 20XX.

Unfortunately, in spite of Persona 5’s many successes, the most notable problem with the game actually appears very early on in the form of an overly long hand-holding session into the primary gameplay and how the player spends their free time during the day. This takes between three to five hours depending on the player’s speed, and freedom to make decisions should have been given to the player sooner. Ironically enough, the game’s central theme is that of freedom and rebellion as it centers around a group of high school students who see the adults in their lives as being corrupt and abusive. This starts with an Olympic medal winning volleyball coach who is physically abusing his students and goes all the way up to Masayoshi Shido, a powerful politician who will stop at nothing to become the Prime Minister of Japan.

Every step of the way, the player is introduced to new and interesting characters who each have their own personal issues which can be explored in detail, depending on how invested the player becomes over time. Interacting with a majority of these characters results in the creation of a ‘confidant’ system which can be leveled up with future interactions, and these confidants greatly aid the player in and outside of battle. Leveling up a confidant relationship with a teammate will allow them to take mortal blows for Akira, along with other benefits including the ability to heal each other of status ailments. Leveling up a confidant relationship with those outside of battle also yields useful benefits, which range from the ability to buy items at lower prices to receiving a larger amount of experience from each battle. Each confidant relationship also corresponds to specific Arcana, which are classes of Tarot Cards (Fool, Magician, Hierophant, etc). The higher the level of a confidant, the more experience a Persona is given upon creation, which then ties into the titular Persona mechanic which is vital to understanding and succeeding at playing Persona 5.

No one will ever know what secrets lie inside that creature's locked body. Maybe a Jack Frost is inside piloting the Monarch of Snow like a mech?
Shockingly enough, this monster is not even a boss!

Persona are summoned entities that are representative of their user’s personality and desires, and while most characters are limited to only being able to use the one Persona they sign a contract with, Akira has the unique ability to be able to use multiple Persona. New Persona can either be granted to the player through the process of negotiating with an enemy through verbal prompts when they have low health, or when they are fused together in the Velvet Room. The Velvet Room being a recurring element in games in the “Persona” franchise, which is home to Igor, a strange older man with bloodshot eyes and a long pointy nose. In Persona 5 Igor is accompanied by Caroline and Justine, who assist Akira with the Velvet Room’s functionalities. As the game progresses and the confidant relationship between Akira and Igor is upgraded, the ways in which to create and train Persona grow tremendously. These processes range from placing two Persona into individual guillotines to create one, or placing one into an electric chair to turn the Persona into a helpful item.

Persona are able to carry out special attacks (elemental and more severe physical attacks) and are a large part of the game’s turn-based battle system. Aside from using their Persona, characters also have the option of attacking enemies either with a melee weapon or a gun, each weapon inflicting a different type of physical damage. While the SP (skill points) used in combat can be regenerated using items from vending machines and other locations, gun ammo is limited and is refilled when leaving the Palace for the day and coming back the next. All of these elements culminate in an extremely well done battle system that will punish the player for mindlessly selecting moves or mashing buttons without thought. Players are not given the luxury to only perform skills with their Persona due to the limited amount of SP each character has, and not all Shadows (untrained Persona) encountered in the game are susceptible to physical damage. That being said, as the player does progress through the game they can press the Options button on their controller, which fast-forwards through the battle (as well as conversations) to make quick work of lower-level enemies through a series of melee-only attacks.

This is not uncommon though, many gold medal winners end up teaching at high schools in Japan and begin to assault students. Just an unfortunate side effect of success.
Winning a gold medal really went to Kamoshida’s head.

Palaces (the equivalent of dungeons in other games) exist within the Metaverse, a universe similar to that of everyday citizens but with the inclusion of Shadows and other supernatural characters. These Palaces are larger-than-life manifestations of someone’s twisted desires, leading to the creation of a fully-formed castle which is home to volleyball coach Kamoshida, who sees himself as being the King of the school. This Palace is equipped with jail cells filled with high school students at the bottom, while the top of Kamoshida’s Palace has a special room dedicated to his treasure. Once this treasure is stolen from the Palace and brought into the real world, the owner of the Palace suffers a change of heart and confesses to all of their crimes. In his Palace, Kamoshida also takes on a different appearance, changing from his workout gear into nothing more than pink underwear and a regal robe. Akira and his friends also change their outfits once they are recognized as threats within the Palace and adorn sleek and stylish costumes.

The rose petals add a nice touch to the Palace that also includes a phallic mini-boss known as the King of Desire.
Akira can hide behind walls and furniture to ambush Shadows for the strategic advantage.

As Akira and company traverse through the Palace, they must hide in the darkness behind furniture and other large objects in order to get an advantage on Shadows that monitor the halls. If executed correctly, pressing the X button will allow the player to ambush the enemy, giving them the first turn, and in some instances if the party is of a much higher level than the enemy, it will be an insta-kill and the Persona will automatically be bestowed upon Akira. However, if the player is unsuccessful in their attempts to hide the enemy will be able to attack the player in the Palace which translates to the team of Shadows having the first turn instead. In addition, when a Shadow sees Akira not in cover they will begin to chase after him and the security level in the Palace will rise. If the security level in the Palace raises to 100%, everyone is instructed by their cat-friend Morgana to leave the Palace as more Shadows will soon be approaching otherwise. Thankfully, the stealth mechanic in the game is very generous in how close Akira can be to the enemies while covered in darkness. Also, when the player is done with school for the day, they can also choose to craft items which let them escape from battles, Palaces, and lower the overall security level so they are not forcibly removed from the Palace.

Crafting items is just one option for players finished with their school-work, as they can also hang out with friends to raise their confidant rank, train at the local gym to raise their HP and SP, go to the batting cages in hopes of hitting a home run, or players can pursue a pastime like studying in the library, playing video games, or watching rental DVDS as each of these tasks will raise one of Akira’s five social stats. These stats are: Guts, Proficiency, Charm, Knowledge, and Kindness. Each of these social stats help Akira forge new confidant relationships as some characters are inaccessible without a certain level in an individual social stat (ex. Makoto is a very smart student so Akira has to have a high level of Knowledge to interact with her). Depending on the player’s level of planning before the playing the game, they may be able to max out every single one of these social stats on their first run through the game, but it is very unlikely if not impossible that they could do this and also max out every single confidant relationship as well. This is why social stats are carried over to the game’s New Game Plus mode after beating it the first time, which makes it much easier to max out every single confidant relationship on their second try.

So in other words...a subway system.
Mementos takes the form of a demonic subway system deep underground.

Another after-school activity available to the player is the ability to explore the area known as Mementos. As the game progresses, Akira and his friends decide to name themselves the Phantom Thieves and find out about a much larger area in the Metaverse that is not quite a Palace but something entirely new to the team. Certain areas of Mementos will be blocked off only to be unlocked as the story progresses and other Palaces are destroyed, letting the characters delve deeper in order to hopefully find the truth as to what Mementos truly is and why Morgana is so eager to find what is at the bottom. As the Phantom Thieves soar in popularity, a fan-site (nicknamed in the game as being a Phan-site) is created and hosted by one of Akira’s classmates at Shujin Academy. Eventually, requests for the Phantom Thieves help are then sent into the website which are received by Akira and enacted by the Phantom Thieves in Mementos. These requests can range from someone as small as a high-school bully to the “Head Honcho in Showbiz,” and Mementos is always open up until the end of the game if the player feels as if the Phantom Thieves are too under-leveled.

Overall, Persona 5 is an excellent game. The gameplay proves that turn-based JRPGS are not a dying breed and can be revitalized if the right amount of care is put into them. The story is much darker than the previous Persona titles, and appropriate as the game takes on heavy subject matters such as sexual abuse, suicide, the true nature of mankind, and (a whole lot of) death. The areas and characters look beautiful when paired with the PlayStation 4’s graphical power, and the game’s user interface oozes with charm thanks to the spectacular font used, along with other creative choices made to spice up what would in many games be rather bland. The music heard in and outside of battle ranges from welcoming to blood-pumping, and makes the game that much better as a result. Despite an overly long introduction, Persona 5 is one of the best games available on the PlayStation 4, and due to its timeless nature it will continue to be so.


  1. I just bought it yesterday for PS3, but have not played it yet. So, I scrolled past almost the entire article until I do. Starting… now!

  2. @Lusipurr: It is the best-selling Persona game of all time, so maybe it’ll take less than ten years to get the next installment!

    @Corrinthians: Not if they wanted that sweet limited edition Morgana plush…which I might own.

    @Dancing Matt: Fantastic! Hope you have fun with it! :D

  3. We don’t give out many A grades. I hope you got this one right, Adeki.

  4. I’ve only played a few hours so far, but I’m confident it’s an A game already. I also read the article. Radical!

  5. @Lusipurr: I’m 100% #confident that this game is an A.

    @Dancing Matt: Yes!

  6. @Adeki: You were also 100% confident that you were going to get your Wii U out of pawn last week.

  7. @Lusipurr: Check the Discord I’m 100% certain I didn’t use 100% to describe my certainty levels. I almost always do 97% or 98% on the off-chance I’m wrong. ALSO IT’S NOT IN PAWN.

  8. P5 is worthy of the creation of an ‘S’ grade. The tutorial section is unbearable though.

    Incidentally, P5’s translation triggered a NeoFagger so much that he created a website dedicated to exposing some of the most marginal nitpicks in gaming:

    Apparently this same guy was a big supporter of Treehouse’s recent efforts at localising Fire Emblem…

  9. I think it’s worthy of an S grade if only because when you start the game you have to sign a contract agreeing that the game isn’t real. (And it pissed some jackass off.)

  10. @Korusi: I saw the post from the guy who was pissed off. His anger FILLED ME WITH JOY.

  11. @SN: My favourite thing about that page is that the guy acts like there’s only one valid theory of translation: capturing the ‘idea’. Anyone who disagrees with him is wrong, because “actually, it’s about ideas,” which magically somehow disproves any sort of option to the contrary. My colleagues and I had a good laugh about that.

    But you know what, his approach *is* a theory of translation. It’s often used in producing ‘reading’ editions of texts–you know, for large audiences who aren’t interested in a connexion to the authoritative source. You can go to the store and buy a clean, modern edition of, say, Les Misérables, and it will read in modern English very fluidly. It will not, however, be meticulously accurate to the original language.

    But as I said, that is only a (one) theory of translation. There are many different approaches, and his may be the most common for reading texts, but it is not the best for a scholarly, or historical, or historio-cultural approach

    Let’s use my work for an example: typically, because I am an expert in my field, if I ever deal with translations (more from necessity than from anything else) I need them to be slavishly accurate to the original, even if the result is stilted language. An easy example from my work would be something like, say, Orlando Furioso. I read Anglo-Saxon, Latin, French, and a fair bit of Italian, but my Spanish (whether medieval or modern) simply isn’t up to the level needed to read Orlando in the original. However, I still need a hyper-accurate idea of the original language, and so I don’t want some sort of reading copy that takes liberties for the sake of scanning well.

    I rather think that most of the people who are interested in JRPGs in general, and Persona games in particular, are more interested in that second kind of translation–because they are people who are interested in Japanese culture, language, and ideas, and who want access to those things in the most direct and literal ways possible. So this moron’s (false) assertion that ‘translation is about ideas!’ elides the reality that this is only one approach, and that it is by no means the ‘best’, nor is it the most ‘professional’, nor it is really suited to the audience in this case.

  12. This may just be because I watch a lot of anime, but P5’s translation reads perfectly to me – while this guy’s examples of ‘fixing’ the text reads like the ‘JRPGs For Dummies’ version.

  13. See, I read that site too, and was going to comment about it, but figured Lusipurr will break it down better than I ever could.

    To the point though, I would rather read a Japanese game in a stilted language, if that’s how the language is. Otherwise, you have to localize for American’s way of speech (of which there are many varieties!), for British (again!), et cetera. The guy lays out his translation theory, but then 3/4 of the examples are grammatical errors, or using a stock phrase too often. Well, we might not recognize how often we use common phrases in conversation until we see how other cultures’ phrases are translated.

    And more to Lusipurr’s point: although I can’t read a language other than English (the best is German, but not really), I have read a lot of translated literature, and have always found that the most accurate trabslation is best. Les Miserables is a great example. I swear, if I ever had to read that monument of literature in a conversational American English, I could puke. Or how about Goethe’s Faustor Dante’s Divina Commedia? Do you preserve the structure of the rhyme to the detriment of accuracy, or keep a stricter translation to the detriment of the poetry? Both could be right, and have a place (but not prose translations – those are for dimwits).

    However, Persona 5 cannot be subject to multiple translations. So the guy is just full of pandering shit.

  14. Yah, all that grammatical nonsense pissed me off, because it’s not like everyone structures their casual conversations with perfect English sentence structure.

  15. Somebody actually went into it but the group of people stirring up this controversy are actually ‘freelance’ and just looking for some kind of exposure. They aren’t connected to any known projects and appear to be connected to the same people praising the Treehouse ‘localization’ (Butchering) of Fire Emblem Fates. Nothing substantial enough to call conspiracy but it does seem to be completely self interest and poor taste.

    The only connections we can find are Treehouse, Kotaku, Gamasutra, and Polygon. So they may be part of the same email group but we have no evidence of this. Either way it looks like another case of corruption and collusion we know they are guilty of already.

    Still no smoking gun to point to and say with any certainty any of this but the circumstantial evidence is enough for me to point the finger.

    Glad I read this review site instead.

  16. Both Kotaku and Polygon were awfully quick to get out anti-P5 articles. But then there is no doubt that Kotaku and Polygon hate gaming. They are just awful. Kotaku and Polygon are awful.

  17. I am not even sure that their motive is a hate of gaming. I think it’s more an apathy to gaming and a desire to make ad revenue via click bait titles, help their friends in the club, and push an agenda. This much is certain. What P5 has to do with any of this we don’t know. I assume it’s just because Atlus isn’t in the club and not playing SJ games with their audience the way so many other companies are beginning to do to their detriment. As foreign games are released and do well we see the domestic markets falling and failing to win people over… Coincidence? Maybe. I like to think it’s because SJ doesn’t sell. Good stories/gameplay/quality do.

  18. If the intent is to make FE Fates’ translation, and the “philosophy” behind it look better by comparison – FAILURE! I love the game itself, but the translation of Fates was so obnoxious in places that it did detract from the experience. With Persona 5, I get the feeling that I’m playing a thoroughly Japaese game that has been translated so that Westerners can enjoy it too – so, it’s successful in that regard.

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