Believe it or not, Persona 5 is the first and only JRPG I have ever played. I never got into games like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Suikoden, or Dragon Age. Before Persona 5, I honestly avoided the genre like the plague.
I remember renting Final Fantasy 7 from Blockbuster in ‘97 and thinking to myself, “why are we taking turns fighting” and “where’s the jump button?”
I was instantly overwhelmed by the whole style of gameplay, the plethora of menus and avalanche of items. At the time, I felt a major disconnect with the general style of gameplay and simply accepted that this is not a genre for me. I know, pretty blasphemous but it’s true.
So imagine my surprise when Persona 5 becomes one of my favorite games of all time.
What is it about Persona 5 that got me to fall in love with it so hard? Why did I care about this high schooler’s life when I am a 28-year-old and hated high school? Why would I ever jump into a game genre that I have actively avoided for my whole gaming life?
Well, for starters when the game was first announced I couldn’t care less about it. A high school life sim/Japanese dungeon crawler?
Oh. My. Gosh. No, thank you.
Everyone on gaming media would not stop talking about how excited they were, and the hype was everywhere. Curious, I decided to look into it despite having absolutely no previous knowledge of the series. I checked out the Japanese gameplay trailer and, to my surprise, I thought that it looked pretty darn cool. The vibrant colors, the beautiful anime cut scenes, and the exciting looking gameplay, and overall badass attitude caught me off-guard. Granted, I have not paid any attention to a JRPG since Final Fantasy 7 all those years ago, so this could have been the norm for these type of game, but this looked awesome.
When the release date drew near I was still not convinced, but despite my trepidation, I dropped a cool $60 on a preorder and hoped for the best. Luckily, I fell in love with Persona 5 instantly.
I knew I’d made the right choice as soon as I hit start and got thrown into the awesome casino escape scene, my character hopping on massive chandeliers as people gamble below, beautiful and vibrant casino lights illuminating the area, unknown allies guide me, adding urgency to a situation I know nothing about.
It was awesome.
This level of agency I had over the character and interaction with the environment was a huge surprise for me. Before long I was engaging in my first battle and I had no idea what to think. I came into this game with an open mind but the same questions popped into my head. Then I realized how dumb I’d been; as a kid, the idea of methodical combat scared me. You can’t button mash, you can’t fight blindly, you have to pay attention and plan 3 steps ahead. But now, as an adult, I was ready to open myself up to this new style of gameplay and I happened to love it. Obviously, the first battle was a cake walk but I was excited to see how the game would continue to challenge me and looked forward to seeing how it would evolve past the first fight.
As soon as the casino escape came to an end I was thrust into a complex and intricate story with twists and turns galore got its hooks in me and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. I loved how Persona 5 dealt with heavy subject matter with sincerity but always undercut it with enough whimsy to not bum you out too much. I always wanted to push forward and see what crazy twist will be thrown my way as I conquer new palaces (dungeons) and bring its psychotic boss to their knees in the most accurate representation of poetic justice.
Next thing I know, I’m 50 hours into Persona 5 and loving every minute of it. By this point I’ve conquered about 4 dungeons and had countless battles and couldn’t wait to explore and fight more. The combat became so much more engaging, intricate and epic. As new party members joined, I loved balancing them and using each one’s strengths to exploit enemy weakness and achieve victory. I loved the whole idea of collecting and combining Persona’s (for those who don’t know, Persona’s are like spirits that your party uses for battle) and using them to annihilate my enemies. This was opening up a whole new world of gaming for me and I couldn’t get enough.
Exploring the dungeons was just as refreshing and exciting as the combat. Each palace reflected its “dungeon master’s” sick and twisted fantasies and I loved exploring them and diving deeper. Every single one ends with a spectacularly epic boss fight that just gets crazier and crazier as the game went on. I loved how each boss battle consisted of different iterations and learning their weakness and discovering how exactly to defeat them was intense, to say the least. By the time I’d reached the later game battles, I was impressed with myself on how methodical and careful my planning was going into each fight. It felt rewarding as hell. These tense battles would leave me holding my breath throughout and as soon as they ended, I was overcome with relief but couldn’t wait to tackle another.
As excellent as the combat was and how diverse the palaces were, the thing that really “stole my heart” (pun intended) was the Life-Sim aspect of Persona 5. I was so obsessed with creating and strengthening my social relationships, exploring Japan’s many locations, and participating in random activities, so much so that I found myself rushing through the dungeons just so I could spend more time mucking about in the real world. Even going to school (in-game) was exciting. Catching up with my friends to discuss the craziness of a dungeon from the previous night, or making plans for study groups after school was awesome and help keep this very fictional story relatable.
And oh, how amazing the core group of heroes are. Morgana, Ryugi, Ann, Yusuke, Makoto, Futaba, and Haru were so much more than just party members, they felt like actual living, breathing people. Each one reminded me so much of people in my life, whether it be Ryugi’s hot-headedness, or Makoto’s need to succeed and be perfect. It’s a stellar cast and completely grounded the experience in a way that made it absolutely believable. The rest of the colorful cast was no less amazing and just sucked me further into the world.
It took me a whopping 100 hours to finally complete Persona 5 and it was easy to say that I have absolutely never, ever, played anything like it. By the time I finished, it truly felt like I gained a core group of friends and been on this insane otherworldly adventure that solidified our friendship for eternity. The battles we fought and the challenges we conquered together as Phantom Thieves will forever resonate with me. Seeing the conclusion to everyone’s story and feeling like a real part of their life brought me such joy and I just kept wondering when we will meet again.
Is this how everyone felt playing Final Fantasy 7 for the first time? Is this why people were actually crying when it was revealed it would get remade? How have I been neglecting the JRPG genre my whole life?
I wrote this article not only to gush about a game I adore but to tell you, the reader, to take a chance on something new. There is no better time to be a gamer and there is no reason to limit ourselves in the experiences we take part in. Take a chance, you might get burned and stumble upon a turd like Rascal for the PSOne (readers of my Skullmonkeys article know what’s up) or, you might just find one of your new favorite games that will change your perspective entirely.