Can a group of delinquent high schoolers steal the hearts of the wicked? No explanation needed, it’s anime!
There are those in this world that might call me a huge JRPG fan (specifically of the anime variety) and that has been true for a very very long time. My interest may have faltered a bit here and there over the years, but a good JRPG is like that comfort food that you love to eat, but regret eating afterwards and yet you keep coming back for more because you shamelessly love it.
To me these types of games also kinda go hand in hand with my being a fan of anime. An obsession I can track back to the mid-90’s which conveniently coincides with the release of one of my favorite consoles, the Sony PlayStation. You see as a gaming nerd, I tend to work backwards when it comes to my consumption of pop-culture. I find myself discovering things in video games first before I realize the source material it was based on was found in other forms of media. I certainly played my fair share of JRPGs and seen my fair share of anime in those days, (Sailor Moon, Samurai Pizza Cats and Dragon Ball to name a few) but with the release of the PlayStation there was an influx in my intake of said forms of entertainment.
As I’m sure many of you know JRPGs on the PS1 were brimming with anime cutscenes! Really it was flashy japanese animation heaven for a young pre-teen! These games introduced me to how far reaching anime could be in terms of content, subject matter and… graphic content. They also showed me a JRPG could be immersive, varied and equally as entertaining as the anime they pulled inspirations from. And so the flood gates opened and my life was changed henceforth. Needless to say I was hooked. It was games like that and their superfluous full motion cinematics that made me fall in love with that era of gaming, and why I still gravitate to it today.
From East to West
One company that has satiated my thirst for these Japanese gaming delicacies has be Atlus. There are many other publishers/developers out there that do similar services for us in North America, but really in my mind you can’t say anime and JRPG in the same sentence without thinking of Atlus.
Although, Altus has produced and localized many great Japanese games there is one series that bubbles to the top, at least on this side of the Pacific, and that’s Megami Tensei. More specifically an offshoot of the series known as Persona and its sequels. I have always been intrigued by the Persona games ever since the release of the original game on the PS1. What really drew me to them was that they were like your typical “slice of life/highschool” anime only peppered with demons, tragedy and an overall grim outlook. Which is cool and interesting, but I just never gave them a chance. They always seemed intimidating and or just complicated enough to push me away.
It wasn’t until the release of Persona 5 and all the hype surrounding it that it really grabbed my attention and forced my hand to finally give this series a shot. Honestly, I really don’t know what took me so long because this series has my name written all over it and now I’m a Persona convert. Also, the collector in me is tugging at that “I need to try and pick up every game” string and not only the Persona series, but the Megami Tensei series as a whole. Which will be no easy task, but that’s never stopped me in the past!!
But that’s enough about the future, let’s talk about the now and get swept away by those beautiful anime eyes and lanky limbs of Persona 5!!
Easy, Breezy, Beautiful
If there is one thing I can say about Persona 5 it’s that front to back and top to bottom this game absolutely oozes with style. From the fantastic cover art on the game case (which I want to frame and put up on my wall) and amazing “ransom letter” style of the interface. To the ingame fully animated cutscenes and upbeat jazzy melodies. Your audible and visual senses will combine into one, implode upon itself and envelope your mind in pure JRPG bliss. You may think I’m exaggerating, but take it from someone who experienced said sequence of events first hand. Oh, and look at those screenshots! They speak for themselves!!
The very first thing I thought when I booted up the game was how similar in style Persona 5 was to Catherine, a puzzle platformer game also published by Atlus during the last console generation. Both shared the same character design ascetics, with their stylish hair and lanky limbs, excellently cell shaded figures and eyes that are unnaturally far apart. I think many of the same voice actors appeared in both as well. This does make a whole lot of sense though, considering like the Persona games (including the fifth installment) Catherine was created by the same development team at Atlus, now known as P-Studio. I loved my time with Catherine and I was excited to be able to experience what P-Studio had to offer again, in so many words, I was instantly sold.
It’s Not Anime It’s Persona!
As an anime fan I absolutely loved how great of a job the ingame graphics of Persona 5 portrayed that distinct anime vibe. With the added “Persona” charm everything just feels very put together, deliberately placed and a joy to look at. Which is good because your in for the long haul with this game. The folks over at P-Studios really went all out and it shows, but they also demonstrated they could pull their punches where it counted and that includes their use of cell shading. Typically when games are given the cell shaded treatment it usually feels too cartoony and a bit low budget, and in no way does Persona 5 suffer from that.
The character and monster designs are great as well. I mean they may sometimes feel a bit weird for weird’s sake and bend in seemingly inhuman ways, but overall they’re all unique and interesting with lots of variety! And when they hit the mark, they plow that sucker into the ground. Although, the world you explore in Persona 5 isn’t quite as impressive as the characters and enemies you find within them, it definitely gets the job done as well. Environments range from Shujin Academy (the school you attend), parts of Tokyo including Akihabara and Shinjuku and finally a place called the Metaverse (another dimension where you’ll being doing most of your RPGing). All environments, including those found in the real world are colorful, detailed and fun to explore. Nothing really ever feels out of place, well, at least as much as anything supernatural would feel out of place in the real world.
When in the “real world” P-Studios nailed the ascetic of how you would expect living in Tokyo as a highschool student would feel like in an anime. Taking the train, listening to relentless highschool gossip, being reprimanded by hyper vigilant yet super lazy adults and spending your days on the roof of your school. The Metaverse on the other hand is really the bread and butter of the environments you explore in the game. The real world locations were well done and all, but with the Metaverse they really turned it up to eleven. All fantastical and derived from the twisted desires of the people of Tokyo, each location really added to the game’s variety. What I like about them the most was how from a distance they seemed bright, colorful and light hearted, but just beneath the surface there is something sinister and dark. Which you’ll see is a theme that runs throughout the entire game.
And if all of that wasn’t enough for you, the soundtrack in Persona 5 is just as polished as the rest of it, if not more so. The jazzy tunes are addicting and amplify all the action, dialog and tough situations you come across from start to finish. It’s been a few weeks since I finished the game, but I still have the intro and battle theme stuck in my head! It took a little getting used to the vocals in each of the songs, mostly because you don’t often hear them in video game music, but honestly the music wouldn’t be the same without them. If I was sold before, this made me buy up all of the stock Persona 5 had to offer.
The Relinquished Delinquent
In Persona 5 you’ll play as a teenage boy who was unjustly accused of harassing an “important political figure” after trying to save a women from his abuse. You are now expelled from your highschool, labeled as a delinquent and have a “hard criminal” record under your belt. Not to mention having to suffer the unrelenting gauntlet known as the rumor mill. After basically being disowned by your family you’re shipped off to live with a stranger known as Sojiro in Tokyo to attend the only Highschool that will accept you, Shujin Academy. One interesting tidbit I discovered after completing the game was that the name of the high school was actually a play on words with the Japanese word for prisoner (shūjin 囚人). This may have been lost on those of use that don’t speak Japanese, but this little pun is very fitting!
Honestly, it seems like every single person you interact with at the beginning of the game (the adults especially) are complete a-holes. But you just need to keep your head to the ground and stay out of trouble for the next 12 months while you’re on probation. It doesn’t take long though before you stumble upon an alternate reality set in people’s cognition called the Metaverse. And with that the dark desires of the adults that have been holding you down.
Really the story for Persona 5 may sound a little rote at times and filled with a bunch of anime and teenage BS, which to some degree is true, but all in all it was a fun and intriguing ride. It was definitely slow to start, but the characters you meet make it all worth it with their quirky antics and lively personalities. Meeting new characters and seeing how they interact with each other and react to the events that unfold over the course of the game was half the fun. Not all of them will end up being on your team helping you solve the problems of Japan, but many of them can become a compatriot, each associated with a major arcana (like those found on tarot cards). You will then be able to build relationships and gain specific perks as they level up. Not only that but if they are of the female variety, you’ll more than likely be able to bring your relationship to the next level, romantically that is! Some of the characters have more interesting stories, while others have more useful perks, but all are definitely worth spending a little time with.
Speaking of time, you play the game day by day over the course of the school year. And from the moment you start Persona 5 you will be forced to choose how to spend your time. You only have a limited number of actions you can perform each day, which means more often than not you’ll have to sacrifice doing one thing to do another. This includes crafting items, participating in mini-games, spending time with your compatriots or dungeon crawling in the Metaverse. Oh, and if you decide to visit the Metaverse, that’s pretty much all you can do that day. At times this can be frustrating and overwhelming especially when you have multiple requests on your plate or when you need to craft some items before entering the next Palace (Persona 5’s equivalent to a primary dungeon). Believe you me when I say it can be overwhelming as well. There are a ton of things you can do and a ton of systems the game will introduce to you seemingly all at the same time. But after playing the game for a while you’ll come to see that you aren’t quite as rushed as you may think and you’ll figure out what actions should take priority over others.
Who’s that Persona?!
During the course of Persona 5 the game will be divided into two distinctive gameplay loops. The first being the “Everyday Life” portion where you interact with characters, buy items and so on. While the other half is the actual RPG dungeon crawling portion. I want to say this is where you’ll spend most of your time, but when I think back it’s divided pretty equally. Here you’ll hunt down butt-hole adults that try to take advantage of the apathetic populous. It quickly becomes your job to invade their “Palace” as the Phantom Thieves. Your goal once there is to steal their “Treasure” and change the Palace owner’s heart (basically make them regret their sins and confess).
When you run across your first Palace in the Metaverse the main character discovers he is what is called a Trickster. These uniquely talented individuals have the ability to control entities known as Persona that can be used to fight alongside you. And if it isn’t obvious that’s where the game’s name came from! As you traverse these Palaces you’ll encounter and fight Persona that you can either defeat or “Hold Up” and negotiate with when weakened. While attempting to negotiate with a Persona you’ll be given the option to strong arm items or money from them. But you also have the ability to try and capture them. If you choose to capture a Persona you’ll be asked a series of questions and upon successfully appeasing them, they’re yours! If you only half succeed you’ll just end up getting the item or money you would have retrieved if using the other negotiation options. On the other hand, if you fail, the fight will continue. When you’re lucky enough to capture a Persona they can be added to your team, leveled up and combined with each other to make new, more powerful, Persona. It’s really fun and awakens that Pokemon desire of wanting to capture them all.
It all seems like a lot to soak in, but once you get all the systems down, it’s just rinse and repeat until the end of the game. Which, PSA alert, will easily take you 100+ hours on your first attempt so you have a lot of time to learn. The time investment is definitely a hard pill to swallow as well and can easily discourage you from wanting to play this, shall I say, JRPG masterpiece. But I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend it to anyone willing to sink their time into it. They also offer a new game plus if that floats your boat!
When I first started Persona 5 I really didn’t know what to expect other than the overall positive hype I kept hearing and reading all over the internet. But now that I’ve played it I can easily say it’s some of the best JRPG goodness you’ll find in modern day. It also led to me wanting to play the rest of the games in the series, which I can’t wait to see what they have to offer as well!! So, should you play it? Yes, I think so. If you aren’t a fan of the JRPG then wait until it goes on sale or some super cool friend gifts it to you. But definitely give it a try! Hopefully you’ll discover how charming and fun it can be, just like I did.
What’s even greater is that it doesn’t have to stop here either! A-1 Pictures, the animation studio behind previous anime based on the Persona universe as well as greats such as Blue Exorcist, Sword Art Online, Seven Deadly Sins and Granblue Fantasy, will also be making an anime based on Persona 5!! I may be a little excited, but I’ll try to contain myself until it’s release.
What are some of your favorite RPGs out there, J or otherwise? Have you played any of the previous Persona games?
*All original images, photos and gameplay footage by The Backlog Odyssey