With Persona 5 having been out for little over a month, many thoughts have been shared, confidant guides written and the slew of talk surrounding the game keeps going. Persona is known as a series that delivers big games. Usually taking, on average, at least 100 hours. So it makes general sense that discussion surrounding the game would stick around for just as long.
Finally having gotten to it myself, I’m a bit past a personal 30-hour mark, tackling my third Palace. What has been learned in this time with Persona and seeing the general discussion around it, is that there is a ton going on in this game. It’s pretty much impossible to see it all in one playthrough; I’m still swimming to the deep end and this is already obvious. It’s also what makes Persona 5 so enjoyable. A second playthrough probably isn’t on the horizon, but that’s OK. While the gamer in me (completionist) would love to see it all, having the time/energy just isn’t going to happen. It’s also the core reason for the immense enjoyment that comes from hanging out in Shibuya.
Persona 5 might not be a perfect game, but it’s a darn good one. It mimics life in a way other games can’t due to the mechanic of time in Persona 5, having to play through a full year. By going day-by-day, it allows for a since of permanence, as if actually touching this world. Even if not playing out a majority of the days, Akira’s decisions have weight and impact on the environment around him. Most importantly, his decisions carry emotional weight. While most will probably play to max out their Confidant Rank, playing by thinking about who you would like to spend your time with is huge. It allows for an emotional connection instead of a game mechanic connection. If anything, the Confidant Rank is the bonus. It’s not necessary, but it’s helpful, just as a friend would be the more time you spend with them. Confidants aren’t just use of power, but a metaphor for a powerful relationship.
Even if the relationship aspect isn’t the best (just let us have more options), it doesn’t take away from making daily decisions. Persona 5 does do a lot of the steering, but it also helps in getting to the next moment — day. And that daily grind, quite literally, is what allows for the freedom to not rely on guides. While, I’ve certainly used guides in certain aspects of the game, getting into guides that minmax seems to suck the joy out of a unique play through. Maybe it’s the Western playstyle drilled into me over the years, but most would say “you’re doing it wrong.” Playing a game is whatever the player makes it though. For Persona 5 that means taking all the time in the world. Even one of the loading screens reminds you to ‘Take Your Time.” A simple message that gets across perfectly.
Shibuya is a big city after all, and besides the initial starting area, the many locals featured are just as important. Each local adding its own flavor to an already lived in environment. A quick tie-in, the design of having those around Akira, when he is out, is genius. Cities are big spaces, which means a lot of people. People that most likely will never get a second glance. How appropriate then to have them be nothing but blank slates. It’s not dismissing them as people, just… these people aren’t important to Akira. Not only does this symbolize the unimportance of the vast majority of those around him, but also how important those Akira are focused on truly are.
This focal point for Persona 5 is what makes Akira feel present for those he is connected to. It’s also what makes choosing who to spend time with so nerve-racking. If anything, Akira is the king of not responding, even when he can decline. Akira gives out cold shoulders left and right, yet his crew just doesn’t seem to care. Maybe they just have more important things going on, or maybe because some of them are adults it’s understandable if a teenager doesn’t respond. Even if adults are bad about responding (myself included).
The flip side of the coin is the heavy handedness of the entire cast. While I don’t have the full crew at my disposal yet, I’ve already read and heard it doesn’t get better. Persona 5 has such cookie cutter personalities that it leaves little room for choice. “No, I don’t want to hang out with you Ryuji, you’re kinda annoying in a real loud way.” “No, I’m good Mishima, you’re just… a dick.” Having such one note characters has made it tremendously easy when it comes to choosing who to hang with or what to do on a particular day. The lack of personality for a game literally titled Persona is unfortunate, because it’s the game’s central pillar. It’s hard to back the characters when the whole idea is they’ve unlocked their heart, yet even after taking off whatever ‘mask’ they were wearing, still maintain the poor personality they rolled in with. It just doesn’t add up. It’s hard to acknowledge Ann-Chan’s problems when she still can’t stand up for herself. I thought that was the whole reason for finding your heart? I’m here for you, but stop acting like you’re helpless, I know you’re not.
However cookie cutter they may be, the stories being told are interesting enough that the investment is there. With many hours of Persona 5 ahead, only time will tell if this feeling of relationship keeps up. For the moment, it’s serving out characters I am drawn in by and others not so much. Being such a long game, though, allows for the buildup of relationship with the characters I do care about. Which in the end, makes for the game I want to play.