…when it works it’s absolutely charming, engaging and quite unlike anything else available…
For most people over the age of 30 high school is a dim, distant, half-remembered nightmare. The pressures of schoolwork, fitting in, avoiding punch-happy bullies and trying to develop as a human being during the trial-by-fire that is adolescence creates a strangely surreal time of your life that is mercifully never repeated.
Persona 5 is a Japanese RPG that asks the question: “What if your high school life also had some anime-style magical nonsense in it?” and, surprisingly, answers the query with a decent game.
The broad strokes story of Persona 5 is that you, a silent high school student with a bad reputation, stumble onto the ability to enter the tainted psyches of various demented adults. In this metaverse realm you can affect the person’s real world personality, turning a touchy feely abusive teacher into a guilt-ridden confessor of their crimes for example. Over the course of the game you form bonds with your school friends, and the occasional not-terrible adult, and navigate the best course of action in both worlds.
Among your friends is an obnoxious ex-jock, a simpering love interest, and a talking cat that can turn into a bus – although many more appear along your 60+ hour journey. As ‘The Phantom Thieves’ you’ll engage in turn-based combat against manifestations of negative emotions and during the day you’ll engage in faffing about, working part time jobs and making sure you return your DVDs on time.
The juxtaposition between the real world and the metaverse doesn’t always work, and Persona 5 seems to delight in withholding the game’s charms. I wasn’t even sure I liked the damn thing until about ten hours in and when it finally let me enter the randomised dungeons, so if you have a low tolerance for JRPGs – and time management sims – this may not be the game for you.
That said there’s a lot to like in Persona 5. The music, visuals and voice acting are all excellent, lending a style to the game that feels fresh and unique. The dungeon crawling is enjoyable in an old school way and fusing Personas together to create stronger, weirder combinations is oddly addictive. Ultimately, though, it’s the game’s quirky story that will keep you coming back. For all its odd pacing issues Persona 5 spins a genuinely intriguing yarn about that strangest of times: life in high school.
Persona 5 won’t be for everyone’s tastes – and frankly I grew tired of that bloody cat telling me to sleep – but when it works it’s absolutely charming, engaging and quite unlike anything else available.