Persona 5’s sense of scope is staggering compared to the dungeons in Persona 3 or 4, with palaces easily double or triple the size of those games’ areas. While Persona 4 has you run through linear hallways until you reach the top of a dungeon, Persona 5 has branching paths, networks of hidden rooms, doors that require puzzles to open, and even excursions to other parts of the cognitive world outside of the dungeon itself. Starting each new dungeon is a bit daunting, but solving puzzles and progressing to each new area offers a wonderful sense of accomplishment.
While chemistry between the characters never quite reaches the heights of Persona 4’s Scooby Gang vibe, Persona 5’s more cohesive main story does allow each character to shine in individual moments instead, exploring troubled pasts like the loss of a parent to add weight to present day scenarios. This series has never shied away from exploring serious subject matter, and here it shines light on abuse by teachers, drug sales, suicide, and a host of other issues that are handled well and are at times extraordinarily moving. Each character’s motivation for joining you is relatable and unique, and even each palace’s target has believable conviction. An unrepentant drug dealer, for example, reveals an origin that doesn’t necessarily justify his crimes, but fleshes him out into more than just a bad guy caricature.
Battle in Persona 5 is a familiar turn-based formula, with melee attacks, ranged weapons, and magic attacks based on one of eight elements. A bit like catching Pokemon, you collect Personas that you’ll use to fight, and each has its own unique set of skills as well as its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
Persona 5 is available from April 4 for the PS3 and PS4
While each of your party members has one permanent Persona to use, the protagonist has the lone ability to hold multiple Personas at once. This means that you can acquire additional Personas to use as you progress, and collecting multiple Personas with different abilities is a fun way to tailor your play style to the type of combat you prefer. You can also fuse combinations of Personas to create new ones, which allows you to inherit certain skills until you’ve created the Persona that’s right for you.
Of course, like any good JRPG, Persona 5 needs a place to allow you to grind to higher levels by fighting enemies over and over. While you can’t return to palaces once they’re complete, you can continually return to a (singular) area called Mementos. Mementos is a large, separate dungeon that returns to the format of procedurally generated hallways like in previous Persona games, and new, deeper levels are unlocked as you beat more palaces. It’s a welcome change of pace in that it provides straightforward battles with no puzzles in between, which is a nice break after working through a particularly challenging dungeon.
Since you can’t return to palaces, Mementos also serves as a great place to recruit Personas that you may have missed in previous dungeons. Personas you previously encountered will begin to turn up in new layers of Mementos after you’ve beaten the palace where they originally appeared. Combined with the ability to fuse Personas into new combinations, this thankfully prevents any Personas from being truly missable.
Persona 5 is a solid modern turn-based JRPG first and foremost, but it also quickly becomes a captivating time-management simulator. When you’re not saving the world, your time after school is your own. You’re able to visit hub districts within Tokyo for activities like training at the gym, fishing, working a part-time job, batting practice, seeing a movie, or just heading home to study, play a retro game, or read one of dozens of books. These activities are a gigantic improvement upon the comparatively limited amount of things to do in Persona 4, and a fun way to expand your personal stats like Charm, Guts, or Kindness.
Persona 5 is a massive, gorgeous JRPG with well over 100 hours of gameplay for completionists. With more to do than ever and the series’ strongest story to date, it stands out as an extraordinary, memorable experience and easily one of the deepest JRPGs of the last decade. Its sprawling dungeon design and stylish, fully realized world are an absolute joy to explore, and even after three playthroughs and the Platinum trophy, I find myself itching to go back to try different dialogue options with Confidants or revisit particularly fun puzzles. This is a new gold standard for Japanese RPGs and by far the best entry in the series yet.