There are an endless amount of spoilers in this post. Avoid if you've not finished, and honestly, probably avoid it regardless.
I’ve finally finished Persona 5 and it is a massive game. I am so sorry, but his is going to be an equally massive post, as I have a lot of thoughts. I realise that I’m probably going to come off as unfairly critical, so I want to preface this whole thing by saying that I think this is a brilliant, fun game with some aspects that are just shy of perfection. Some background: I’m a particularly slow player logging 130 hours on medium difficulty for the majority of the game (more on that later), and honestly, I mostly feel relief now that I’m done. I have never played a Persona game, a SMT game, or really any JRPGs beyond Pokémon and Paper Mario, so I don’t have a lot to compare this too. I RP’d the role of the protagonist fairly heavily, meaning I intentionally played sub-optimally (even missing entire SLs) and avoided guides. My opinions - although strong - are just opinions, so all the love & respect for anyone who disagrees, and I would love to discuss anything I say here in greater detail with any of you.
Persona 5 is gorgeous. The menus and UI impressed me for the entire 130 hours of my playthrough. Seriously the standard for games moving forward. The highlights are the two big shop menus, the post battle summaries, and the IM app. Special mention to the dialogue design in general too. Oh, and the combat UI. Just wow. I guess my only complaint is that constantly having the date on screen makes for easy huge spoilers. Like, I saw some 12/24 screens and knowing that that was coming on that exact day kinda sucks.
The soundtrack is solid across the board. Persona just presents itself almost flawlessly. Worth the price of admission just for that, and I will be comparing games’ menus to Persona 5’s standard for the foreseeable future.
Combat is an interesting topic for me. I’m certainly not an expert, and I didn’t grind (although I never avoided fights) but I found fights to be generally very easy. That said, the line between flawless victory and game over always felt very thin. One lucky turn or getting ambushed - whether from being careless or having a shadow appear on top of you - is enough to end you if things go sufficiently wrong. I appreciate that smart play on the player’s part can make combat go quickly, but it feels very bad when you miss twice then an enemy get three crits in a row and then kills off the player character with nothing you can do about it, and that exact thing happened to me two separate times. I believe I game overed 5 times. Only 1 of those felt entirely like my fault and 2 of them I felt there was nothing I could have done to prevent it (besides making the player character block every single turn for the entire game). One of those two instances happened during Shido’s palace in one of the very long spans between safe rooms and I lost almost 2 hours of progress. Already 110 hours into the game and feeling fatigued I didn’t have the patience for that and put down Persona for about three weeks. When I came back I turned the difficulty down to easy so I wouldn’t have to worry as much about cheap deaths. It’s lucky I did because I had some turns that surely would have killed me if I were still on the higher difficulty (though I admittedly played more carelessly after turning the difficulty down).
So it’s odd. I appreciate all of the tools to make the majority of combat encounters as quick and painless as possible, and I like that the enemies fight by essentially the same rules as you, yet it still feels rough when the enemies turn the one more system back onto you. Exploiting weaknesses, sure. But chaining criticals is gross. So honestly I would probably remove criticals as a one more trigger from both sides. They feel unearned either way and the increased damage should be enough. That said, I wouldn’t mind if technicals knocked down characters and triggered a one more. That would reward smart play better than criticals.
All of the systems surrounding the use of personas are great. The negotiation system is interesting and even at the end of the game I was never entirely sure which answer was correct. Fusing personas was scary at first, but I quickly learnt to not worry at all and love expanding my database. Being able to resummon personas alleviated a lot of the worry I had. Oh and completing the strength arcana was some of the most fun I had in the game. Great system.
I really enjoyed the palaces. Great variety between them and they all had exciting sections to make you feel like a phantom thief. The puzzles were always clever, if trivial in difficulty. I’m most disappointed by the boss fights, especially in the later palaces. Most of the bosses don’t really have strengths or weaknesses (except for block all physical or all magic types) so it really is just a matter or brute forcing them down. Which, if you have a capable healer - as you absolutely should - are essentially dangerless slogs. Past the first two palaces they were also relatively easy to go through in a single go (especially after getting SP3 patches, which basically break the game). And then of course it’s always odd when you beat the palace in 2 days and have 20 days of hearing nothing from the high-profile victim. I get that this is perhaps pedantic, but surely there’s a more elegant solution?
Mementos is a cool concept that mostly just feels like a grind. That said, it’s nice that they provide a place to grind, and to allow the phantom thieves to do more good deeds. The payoff and story implications for Mementos were worthwhile in my opinion though.
What happens in between the palaces and all the fighting is the reason I played Persona 5, so let’s dig into that. First off I want to say that I love getting to choose what I’m doing every day. I love that I don’t know if I’m making good decisions, that I can’t do everything I want to, and that I just have to live with the choices I make. I also believe that choosing who you spend your time with forces the player to consider their relationships carefully, and creates a deeper investment in these relationships. It’s refreshing to have a game where there is urgency to the main story and how you spend your time matters.
I found the major story arc (the cognitive god of control’s game between the trickster and the detective prince) and its major themes (freedom, the power of rebellion, and never compromising on your ideals) quite interesting and well told. From the end of Shido’s palace to the defeat of Yaldabaoth is thrilling. What an absolutely anime boss kill.
The ending sequence after the final boss kills the momentum and doesn’t offer enough of an emotional payoff for how long it is, in my opinion.
And then there’s the rest of the story, on which my opinions are much more complicated. There’s nothing particularly wrong with any part of the story, but I didn’t find it exceptional and I had a hard time getting invested, which is disappointing in a game that asks for over 100 hours of your time. A lot of the difficulty I had getting invested in the story has to do with the fact that that I find almost all of the characters boring and not particularly likable. I’m going to go into how I feel about each character one-by-one, but before that here’s an important note about how I played Persona. If I didn’t want to get to know a character I simply wouldn’t. I don’t care if “their SL is good,” or “there’s a reason they’re like that.” In a narrative piece of media, if a character’s presentation doesn’t make me want to dig deeper, that is the character’s fault - not mine - and whatever revelations there are regarding that character does not matter to me. It’s harsh, but it’s how I feel about any media.
TLDR for the next section:
A lot of the characters feel very one-note. I find the writing often attempts to make you laugh at the expense of a character, but there are very few moments where characters make jokes and are genuinely funny. These few moments are very effective in creating a connection with the characters so I wish there were more of those moments. The silent protagonist means there are a lot of “dialogues” that feel more like monologues, so I really didn’t feel like I was playing a role in the story. If anything it felt like I was answering test questions, and the fact that how well I did gets reflected in little music notes doesn’t really help negate that feeling that there’s a right and wrong answer in a lot of situations.
I got to rank 7 with Ryuji and that was mostly near the end of the game when no one I’d rather hang out with was inviting me out. I found him to be an obnoxious fool who I never took a hint. He was repeatedly rude to people who didn’t deserve it and nearly ruined everything by revealing our identity because he has no idea how to be quiet. I’ve heard the argument that he is the first person who doesn’t judge you for your criminal record, and that’s what makes him likable, but he also happened to have a supernatural experience with you (before he even knows who you are) and nobody else would ever believe him, so that seems to be the big reason why he clings on to you. Despite all of this, I was legitimately sad when I thought he died at the end of Shido’s palace.
I maxed out Ann. She was a welcome change from Ryuji, so we bonded quite a bit early on. Ann is boring and dumb. She’s not unlikable, but other than her devotion to help others (which she is not unique in having) there’s not a whole lot to admire.
Maxed out Morgana; I assume that’s a given though. Cute cat, but Morgana is a creep and a self-important egoist. I was so happy when Futaba joined the party and I no longer had to hear “You’re so gorgeous, Panther.”
I got to rank 7 with Yusuke. He’s a dummy, but I appreciate the arts so I was okay hanging out with him, and he is probably my favourite character to laugh at the expense of. Really he’s just a caricature though. He’d probably feel quite at home in Big Bang Theory.
I maxed out and dated Makoto. I have a few things to bring up with Makoto. More than any other character you are shown a lot of scenes from Makoto’s life - both before and after she joins the party. Because of this you understand her situation and her motivations and so it’s easy to immediately care for her. It’s a little odd that the game gives her this advantage, so it really feels like she’s almost the intended romantic partner. Makoto is smart, driven, caring, and honestly a badass. Compared to the other party members at this point she’s amazing. But although she’s a good person, she’s not a particularly fun or sentimental person.
There’s another thing that bothers me about the writing in this game that I think Makoto exhibits well. On a few occasions Makoto got mad at me for a moment and then almost instantly collected herself and apologised for being unfair. That is not how people work! Nobody has that sort of composure. I get that this is somewhat to do with there being a silent protagonist (I honestly believe the silent protagonist needs to go away), but I wish that the she would have actually gotten mad and we could have talked through what I said or at least that she would have taken more than a second to apologise. The one-sided-ness of conversations in general bothered me. It felt like I was answer a test more often than playing a role in a story and Makoto just really highlights that feeling for me.
This is a relatively minor complaint, but dating - and the way they interacted with each other - felt so stiff. Like, just cuddle a bit instead of sitting properly on the couch next to each other you fools!
I got to rank 6 with Futaba. I think she could have been a super funny character, but her localisation just doesn’t seem quite right. Her inability to talk without constantly memeing really made it hard to spend time with her, despite me wanting to help her out. Oh, and that is not a comfortable way to wear headphones, though I sit like her all the time.
I only got to rank 5 with Haru. I think she really suffered for being introduced rather late and she really didn’t force herself into your life all that much so I found it way too easy to just ignore her. And I actually feel bad about not getting to know Haru more because I legitimately like her in a way that I don’t like any other character. Haru is genuinely funny. She jokes around with you, I joked around with her. She makes callbacks to other times we’ve hung out. Like, we developed inside jokes. It seems so simple, but none of the other characters do that. And that’s honestly why I don’t care for most of the other characters. None of the others make me laugh, other than the occasional chuckle at their expense. I just wish more characters were funny. It really makes Haru feel real.
Cool character. Very clearly significant from the very beginning. I actually noticed that he heard Morgana speaking in our first encounter but I had such little faith in the localisation that I thought it might be an error. Regardless, I was pretty sure he was a villain from quite early on. I think he is the over-the-top sort of villain that he needed to be. I honestly enjoyed every interaction with him, and he was even sort of funny from time to time.
Caroline & Justine:
I maxed them out. I loved the challenges and think it’s a great way to motivate me into uncovering more story. They’re cool characters, and they do very well to create intrigue.
Reached rank 9. Kinda sad I didn’t finish him off because I really like him. He started out as a bit of a creep, and I don’t really know if the localisers just forgot to keep that going or if that was just an act.
Reached rank 6. She really didn’t leave much of an impact.
Iwai (Hanged Man):
Only reached rank 3. I didn’t really use guns except to exploit weaknesses, and his SL didn’t really feel worth my character’s time, so I didn’t bother.
Maxed it out. I like Tae. Her SL benefits are clearly linked to her character, so I was invested to help out the thieves, but I got in deep enough that I wanted to help right the wrongs she’d been dealt.
Reached rank 3. I didn’t find her interesting and didn’t see how she could help me.
Reaced rank 4. He was fine, but I basically just put him after everyone else. For whatever reason he just didn’t motivate me to hang out with him.
Maxed her out. I honestly just really like board games and puzzles so she shares my interests. She’s likable, but doesn’t really have any personality traits that no one else has. Regardless, I like the peer mentorship relationship you have with her and would love to find a shogi teacher.
Maxed him out. I don’t like Mishima, and so that’s why it’s interesting that I finished his SL. I spent time with him at first because I thought it would help the phantom thieves help others. I continued to spend time with him because I was concerned that he was going to create trouble for us. I think that motivation to spend time with Mishima was well design. He’s a creep and a sycophant and I don’t like him. It feels like you’re supposed to like him for his unwavering loyalty, but that trait is shared by your entire party shared with few exception, so it doesn’t feel special. Regardless, I think his SL is well done.
Maxed out of course. I admire her dedication to her work and her personal justice. She’s more like a party member than any other confidant.
I did not start her SL. I didn’t want to check out a creepy maid service with Mishima and Ryuji. As a teacher Kawakami treated me as an inconvenience, not a student, and I have almost zero respect for her.
I didn’t start Yoshida’s SL either. I didn’t see the point of working a job I hate to impress some random guy I know nothing about.
I really enjoyed Persona 5, but it left me wanting both less and more. I honestly want less game; 130 hours is too long for what I really didn’t think was that thorough a playthrough. I would love to try out different strategies and do a second run for the platinum, but I just can’t commit that sort of time again. I want more games with as much attention to detail in the UI as Persona 5. I want less unpredictability and snowballing in the combat. I want more games to encourage you to switch up your strategies and move-set in the way that the persona-fusion system encourages you to. I want less monologues and more conversations. I want less laughs at the expense of your party and more joking around. I’m very happy that I played Persona 5. I’ve loved thinking about it, and I would love to talk about it more if anyone is interested!