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Reflections on Persona 5 With a Year of Hindsight

Persona 5 blends its music, visuals, and story so well, I wonder how it can be topped.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

Occasionally, we play a game that embeds itself into our senses as much as our memories. It's hard to explain, but when we deeply enjoy a game, certain sounds, smells, and even tastes can whisk us back to when we were wading through a specific adventure. Sometimes those feelings are accompanied with a touch of disappointment, because you know you're never going to get the chance to play that game for the first time ever again.

To use a personal example: It's been a year since I played Persona 5, but my time with the game comes rushing back to me when I hear composer Shoji Meguro's "rainy day" rendition of Beneath the Mask, the song that greets you when you return to your in-game home base, Café LeBlanc. While the vanilla version of Beneath the Mask is a soothing listen after spending the night infiltrating the garish mental Palaces of Japan's corrupt elite, the rainy-day version of the song really reaches out to me. It takes me back to the warm, humid, and rainy spring I spent playing Persona 5.

As I sit here and think back on Persona 5 in mid-April 2018, I'm keeping half an eye on a weather report that's predicting a massive ice storm for my area. I could really use some of that humid spring weather right now. I wouldn't mind another gaming experience that hits my emotions the way Persona 5 did, either.

By default, it's hard to forget a game that looks like Persona 5.

I suppose it's easy to look back fondly on Persona 5 because every screenshot I see, every song I hear off its OST, reminds me of how its graphics, themes, and soundtrack compliment each other beautifully. That doesn't mean Persona 5 is perfect. Its translation lacks Persona 4's personality and polish, its dungeons meander at times, and it handles sensitive issues about gender and sexuality with the grace of a 12-year-old who thinks lisping and prancing is a great way to get a laugh out of their classmates.

But Persona 5 is rougher and darker than Persona 4 (which isn't sunshine and lollipops with its murder plot, either), and it makes an impression early on. Its visuals are done up in shades of black and red and are streaked with rebellion: They're a pushback against the adults (or to borrow an oft-used descriptor from the game's token bad boy, Ryuji Sakamoto, "The shitty adults") who've let down Persona 5's teenage cast and are disinterested in their future. Though Persona 5's story is driven first and foremost by Japanese politics, nearly everything that happens in it is relatable to most denizens of the free world.

Persona 5's most valuable advice: Don't trust anyone over 30.

However, Persona 5 reserves its threatening colors for the teeth-baring moments when the team takes on Palaces and goes head-to-head with the corrupt elite and their literal demons. During the game's downtime, songs like Beneath the Mask remind you of the weight the teens have loaded onto their shoulders—especially Persona 5's protagonist, who I named "Gowan Styx." Though the name was my cheeky way of referencing the protagonist's criminal past (Lord help me, because I just can't help myself), I was immediately struck by how Persona 5 starts on a downcast note: With a kid who's arrested and expelled for trying to do the right thing. You begin the game friendless and on probation—a single misstep away from being expelled for good and sent spiralling into financial oblivion. Your guardian, Sojiro, stuffs you in a dusty attic while complaining ceaselessly about what a pain you are. Like most anime senpais, he softens up gradually, but in the early hours of Persona 5 you can look forward to being locked up in your attic, Harry Potter-style, as soon as school's done.

Interestingly, the rainy season that marks the first couple of months in Persona 5 (and the rainy-day version of Beneath the Mask that accompanies them) somehow softens the melancholy of your uneasy days while also adding melancholy to them. It's a unique feeling no other game's treated me to. I hope I get to feel it again when I play the inevitable Persona 5 "upgrade" for the Nintendo Switch. But I guess I can also come to terms with the realization I experienced a quick, deep flash of emotion that I ought to embrace in my memory because I'm unlikely to ever replicate the environment and mindset I need to re-experience it again. Sigh. Adulthood.

There's a time to fight in Persona 5, and there's a time to stuff your face with a big-ass burger while the rain drenches the streets.

Either way, even though it's been a year since Persona 5's North American launch, I still think of it as a game that divides itself expertly. It serves up harsh, bloody reds when you're on the battlefield, and then tucks you in with soft, gentle greys when it's time to rest. It's a special contrast that's still lodged in my memory, and I wonder how Atlus plans to make that kind of impression with Persona 6.

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Comments 25

  • Avatar for pdubb #1 pdubb 3 months ago
    Are you gals gonna do the spoiler version of P5 for Axe of the Blood God soon?

    Or did I miss it?
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  • Avatar for nimzy #2 nimzy 3 months ago
    I can't help but wonder if the series is ready to go back to having adult protagonists. We have reminders in Persona 5 that the game's audience skews older (according to some theories about why certain relationships are in the game at all). The reporter confidante in particular was a strong Persona 2: EP reference.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #3 riderkicker 3 months ago
    I had a great time with this game, bring on the Crimson Edition.
    Edited April 2018 by riderkicker
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  • Avatar for Drachmalius #4 Drachmalius 3 months ago
    Yeah P5 was one of my favorite games last year, but it's still no P4G. It seems to be getting some backlash among some folks, but you can't deny the overall quality of the game despite some glaring flaws. Like the translation and really bad treatment of LGBTQ characters in particular were really disappointing.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #5 TheWildCard 3 months ago
    Yeah I'm still a bit ambivalent about P5. I enjoyed it for the most part, and there's no doubt parts of it are remarkably good, but I didn't connect with it's characters or themes anywhere near the way I did with P3 and 4. And as much as I love Meguro's music, Beneath the Mask REALLY wore thin for me.
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  • Avatar for PsychicPumpkin #6 PsychicPumpkin 3 months ago
    I've been itching to play Persona 5 again, really hoping the Switch version becomes reality. Thinking back to playing it for the first time reminds me that I was squeezing in as much time as possible to finish it before my son was born. I ended up finishing it while I was at home with my other children while my wife was stuck alone at the hospital. Game related side note, his middle name is Ganon.
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  • Avatar for nilcam #7 nilcam 3 months ago
    I really wanted to love Persona 5. It was beautiful and cool but it just didn't click. It didn't leave me as cold as P4 but it didn't grab my like P3. I think I'm a big fan of Persona 3 and not the series.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #8 Flipsider99 3 months ago
    Persona 5 wasn't quite as good as Persona 4... but then again, Persona 4 is arguably one of the best RPGs ever made. It's right next to Chrono Trigger, SMT: Nocturne, Final Fantasy 6.

    Persona 5 is merely a solid masterpiece. It's not quite the best RPG ever made, has a few very minor flaws, but it's quality is undeniable. It has some of the absolute best art design in any game, an incredible soundtrack that is one of the best in the last decade, really refined and polished gameplay that is able to stay fun for 100+ hours. It's an amazing game.

    If it weren't for NieR Automata being even just a little bit better, it would've been my favorite game of last year!
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  • Avatar for Maxbeedo #9 Maxbeedo 3 months ago
    I can't fault anything about the "art" of Persona 5 (graphics, aesthetic, music, menus, etc.). It's a good example of the type of games I like in that sense, ones that are truly art, labors of love, and not strictly micro-transactiony, early-access assembly-line business products. It's nowhere near the top when it comes to gameplay and pacing though and could improve in those areas. A lot of people say P4G is better, but everything I've seen about how it PLAYS makes me never want to touch it. P5's extremely, EXTREMELY slow start ("100 hour tutorial" memes aside), the low equipment variety, the simplistic weakness system; the game is too simple for me to stay engaged relative to the length of the narrative (a shorter narrative or more complex mechanics or both would help). Even without those changes though, going forward I will still check out Persona games as they continue to add more quality-of-life changes.
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  • Avatar for Flipsider99 #10 Flipsider99 3 months ago
    @Maxbeedo Nothing wrong with that opinion. But personally, I think that Persona's battle system is one of the very best. And the reason why is precisely what you are calling a flaw, it's simplicity. I see that as a strength. It's actually not that simple of a battle system, it has extremely important buffs / debuffs, weaknesses are important, managing your own setups and figuring out good strategies are important.

    But even with all that, the key thing that makes it so good is that it doesn't overdo it with complexity, as many RPGs do. It's just simple enough to be almost the perfect balance of approachability and complexity. Simple enough to be approachable, easily understood, fun, not too heavy... but complex enough to have enough strategy to be interesting. It's an excellent balance.

    I think for RPGs like this, the balance between simplicity and complexity is far more important than most people realize. Just look at some of the other commonly considered "best" RPGs: Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6, SMT Nocturne... they all have that same kind of balance in their combat system. I think it's critical to what makes these games fun. Finding that exact balance is how you make a game like this feel unendingly fun, even for 100+ hours.Edited 2 times. Last edited April 2018 by Flipsider99
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  • Avatar for Scimarad #11 Scimarad 3 months ago
    I played the first two fortresses and really loved the style, the music and the battle system but I'd already felt I'd got my money's worth by that point and didn't feel the urge to go back again. It didn't help that there is an awful lot of repetition in game structure.
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  • Avatar for Fourfoldroot #12 Fourfoldroot 3 months ago
    Great game but, unlike golden, I wasn't motivated to replay it ad get the platinum; the dungeons were long and tedious
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  • Avatar for ojinnvoltz #13 ojinnvoltz 3 months ago
    My favorite Persona, but I'd be fine if P6 was shorter. I crammed 112 hour of play time into two weeks. If they were maybe a tad shorter, I might be more into a second playthrough to get all social links.
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #14 TheWildCard 3 months ago
    @Flipsider99 It's interesting how complex an ideal rpg should be. Maybe I'm too much an rpg guy to notice, but I don't I can name many rpgs that get widely regarded as being to complex to get into. Western rpgs, especially those in the crpg tradition can be a bit much, but japanese console rpgs? I usually see overly easy and simplistic gameplay being a common criticism of the genre. Personally I enjoy finding jrpgs have more than usual going on in its battle system. I think P5 has solid middle ground combat (although I think P4 with fewer elemental types was actually tighter).

    I love FFVI, but the battle system isn't one of the first things to come to mind when I think about it. If anything the battle system is a little too bland in the later stages of the game.
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  • Avatar for hamfighter #15 hamfighter 3 months ago
    @nimzy Great point about the adult protagonists. As a 39 year old guy, P5's adult social links appealed to me in large part because I can't really get into the high school girls. Despite the weirdness of the *in game* plot with people like Takemi, Kawakami, and Ohya going for this high school guy (if this was real world... kinda icky!), they resonate more with me as an adult than the teenagers. It's a weird damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation that P5 is in, in that you either potentially make an adult *player* the creepy one crushing for on high school girls, or the adult *game characters* the weird ones for their desire to get with a teenage boy.

    FWIW, I also liked Catherine a ton in large part due to the more adult interactions (and I'm beyond hyped for the remake).

    I'd be all in on a Persona 6 with a somewhat older cast.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #16 Kuni-Nino 3 months ago
    It’s a good game but all I can think about how the game kinda fizzles out after Futaba’s dungeon. Other than the casino dungeon, I sort of hated playing the game after the pyramid. Haru remains woefully underdeveloped too with a storyline that only develops her father more than Haru herself. And the final dozen or so hours are a mess; a complete mess with a plot line that comes out of nowhere and establishes a nebulous evil that feels less menacing than the villains you had previously been facing. Whatever message the game was trying to send, it’s layered beneath a mountain of clichés and nonsense that all the preaching at the end just didn’t land for me.

    Not a bad game at the end of it all, but I felt it had the makings of a classic like its predecessors. I think you can make the same arguments against P4 and P3, but at least those games felt fresh upon their release. With P5 not pulling any new tricks, the sense of familiarity definitely lingered. I felt the slog.
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  • Avatar for jimmyhill11 #17 jimmyhill11 3 months ago
    Beautiful article Nadia!
    P5 didn’t grab me in the way P4 Golden did. It’s hard to put my finger on why, but I haven’t got round to finishing it yet. At this stage I’m maybe holding out for a Switch or Vita version.

    P4G is just about the most perfect satisfying handheld game I’ve experienced. I can’t help but think that P5, even with all the amazing art and production that pops the tv & sound system, might just be better suited to the handheld format.
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  • Avatar for Macuelos #18 Macuelos 3 months ago
    @riderkicker
    The rich and powerful take what they want
    We steal it back for you

    Man, that was such a good fun show.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #19 MHWilliams 3 months ago
    @Kuni-Nino It's interesting, because if a reviewer wrote that pre-launch about P5, the ropes would come out.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #20 Kuni-Nino 3 months ago
    @MHWilliams Of course lol. Persona fans are nuts. But at least it would have been honest.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #21 Kuni-Nino 3 months ago
    @MHWilliams Of course lol. Persona fans are nuts. But at least it would have been honest.
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  • Avatar for Nazo #22 Nazo 3 months ago
    My feelings about P5 and P4G almost perfectly mirror my feelings about living in Tokyo and then in the Japanese countryside.
    P5 had lots more to do, was bold and brash and in many ways is the better game by far. But those P4G characters felt like proper friends and there was a real warmth to them and the way they interacted. By contrast, the team in P5 felt like they were working together for a common cause but little more than that.
    P5 is the world I'd visit but P4G is where I'd want to live.
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  • Avatar for davedalrymple11 #23 davedalrymple11 2 months ago
    @hamfighter This was my reaction too. I was more interested in relationships with the adult women than with the high school girls because they appealed more to me, personally, as an adult male. The protagonist is such a blank slate, by design, that I have trouble just playing him as a character, rather than as an extension of myself.
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  • Avatar for secularsage #24 secularsage 2 months ago
    On the one hand, P5 has the strongest storytelling (though not necessarily story) of all of the Persona and SMT games, and the dungeons (aside from the final one) and broader world of Tokyo are so well-designed and planned out that it feels like it's far more than an entry-level JRPG.

    On the other hand, there's an argument to be made that it's more style than substance, and there are plenty of gameplay elements that make P5 feel a lot more like a magic trick than an actual adventure. One thing I really resented was how little control I had over my own time, and even though P3 and P4 would have long stretches where you ceded control to the story, I rarely felt as boxed in as I did during swaths of P5.

    I still love P5 and don't regret the 100+ hours I put into it, but unlike P4 (which stuck with me for months after I finished it) and P3 (which had me really bummed for days once I finished it), completing P5 felt like less of a real moment and more of a task to be completed. I chalk a lot of that up to the characters, whom I enjoyed, but never connected with.
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  • Avatar for KeroseneBlast #25 KeroseneBlast 2 months ago
    I'd be okay if Persona 6 takes a step back, bathes everything in green, and focuses on a more peaceful adventure in a small rural Japanese town. Some kind of palate cleanser after the darkness of Persona 5, focusing a bit more on the characters. Basically, Persona 6 should do for Persona 5 what Persona 4 did for Persona 3.
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