Persona 5: A Married Couple Bickers over one of the Best Games of 2017

After nearly a decade of anticipation, Atlus finally unleashed the long-awaited Persona 5 to a large and appreciative audience in April of this year. Over a month and 100 hours played later, how does the Japanese RPG stand up to the withering winds of criticism? Keyes and her maxed-out Social Link/Confidant/Husband Howard discuss the game, how it compares to its acclaimed predecessor Persona 4, its memorable cast of characters, its almost overpowering sense of style, and how much of the color Red you can stuff into a single game (quite a lot, it turns out).

Warning: This Conversation Contains Major Spoilers for Persona 4 and 5 and Minor Spoilers for Persona 3


Keyes: So at this point you and I have both spent substantial time being Phantom Thieves. You’ve spent more time than I have, as you’ve actually beaten the game, but I’m most of the way through it, and I watched you finish it. This has been a pretty glutted year so far for strong RPGs. Where does Persona 5 rank for you?

Howard: Well, not glutted for turn-based RPGs, which is kind of key. It’s sort of unique. I mean, Nier: Automata is great and Mass Effect: Andromeda was horribly underrated, even if it was flawed, but Persona 5 stands out for its old-school mechanics. It’s fantastic, but it doesn’t compare easily to other RPGs.

Keyes: Except for its predecessors. It had a fairly high bar to clear, given how deservedly beloved Persona 4 is.

Howard: Right. And I’m not 100% sure it cleared that bar. It needs to marinate. I mean, the core gameplay was better, but I don’t think I like the cast as much, which, in a character-driven game like Persona 4 or 5, is a big, big deal.

Keyes: There’s some great cast members, but I don’t think the core team is as strong as Persona 4‘s was overall. It’s not a bad party. But Ryuji is such a pain in the ass that when I read another reviewer comment that he didn’t understand why the party didn’t ditch him in May, I had to agree. And that’s all I could think about the entire in-game month of May: I wish I could fire Ryuji.

Howard: Ryuji is Leeroy Jenkins.

Keyes: Whereas Ann is the inverse of Persona 4‘s Rise Kujikawa.

Howard: Ann was bland.

Keyes: I couldn’t date her. To the extent her story is interesting, it’s that your little group are the friends who don’t constantly sexualize her, so sexualizing her seemed kinda icky. Plus as we both noted, Morgana would never, ever forgive you.

Howard: There’s a lot of issues with age gaps and sexualization of teens that wouldn’t fly in the USA. There’s definitely some cross-cultural issues in the game that simply don’t translate. It was worse in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE where an American Expat was obsessed with a 13-year-old girl’s “purity.” I get the feeling he didn’t leave the USA by choice.

Keyes: I will totally grant that I didn’t want to run screaming out of the room with most of the cast. I notoriously hated Yuikiko in 4, so that’s saying something. She was so…furtive about everything. Blech. The only character I had that strong a negative reaction to was Law Boy the Sequel and thankfully he’s only in the party for a hot minute. Which is good. Because he sounds like he’s secretly sleeping with your little sister.

Howard: You mean Akechi? Yeah. I hated that smug jerk. But while Yukiko was far from my favorite Persona 4 character, she didn’t bother me nearly as much as she bothered you.

Keyes: On the side of positive characters, Futaba and Yusuke are both amazing, and I totally want them to date.

Howard: The characters who joined after the Initial group were all much better.

Keyes: And Morgana is a great character when he isn’t constantly making me go to bed.

Howard: Morgana was generally less annoying than Teddy at his worst, but Teddy had much more character development. Morgana not being a human wasn’t a shocker.

Keyes: Morgana being a human would have been the shocker. Though Teddy — who I understand is a bit of a scrappy in the fanbase but I liked him — has the fantastic bonus of being a total mindscrew insomuch as that he is a shadow of a human who became a human with a shadow. He’s like a Möbius strip!

Futaba Sakura: The horribly traumatized super-hacker younger sister you never knew you always wanted.

Howard: Yeah. But going off Teddy, I just had stronger emotions for the cast of Persona 4 than I did for Persona 5 in general. When Teddy ditched the group after Nanako (who has no analog in P5) appeared to die, I was really crushed. I didn’t have many moments like that in P5. The closest would be Futaba’s plot line with her mother. Which, to be fair, would’ve been the dramatic high point of most other games. The way the adults gaslit poor Futaba into blaming herself for her mother’s death was just COLD. Speaking of which, despite it being a Japanese product, I think P5 speaks pretty well to American Millennial generational agita.

Keyes: I agree, though I also think it speaks broadly to that moment we all experience when we grow up and go, “Oh my god, adults are incompetent, self-centered assholes.”

Howard: True. But that’s an inherent part of EVERY Persona game. I think P5 goes further.

Keyes: Well yes, because we all know the world can only be saved by a high school junior.

Howard: Makoto and Haru were seniors! But I digress.

Keyes: If you have spent any particular amount of time shaking your fist at the fact that it feels like the generation before you spent an awful lot of energy pulling the rug out from under you so that they could have fifteen extra rugs, and then blaming you for falling flat on your face, this game has a message for you.

Howard: Yep. “This is truly an unjust game.”

Keyes: I quite like that what creates a Palace (the main dungeons in-game) are someone’s distorted desires. It’s not desire itself that’s bad. It’s what happens when you lose sight of what it’s costing you and who you’re hurting when you chase them too far.

Howard: Yeah. It’s especially true with the non-evil palaces. Like Futaba’s and Sae’s. I wish they had gone further with that idea.

Keyes: The fact that Futaba’s distorted desire was the desire to LIVE made both of us go “DUDE THAT IS FUCKED UP” as I recall. On that end, I want the Sun Social Link Politician Guy to run for President. Somebody figure out how to make that happen

Howard: Taro Yoshida for president! Futaba’s storyline was probably the strongest of any individual character’s.

Keyes: I’m inclined to agree. I mean, I love Yusuke best, because he comes across as very together and very mature, and he’s such an oblivious cukoolander, and the game doesn’t tell you that. It shows you that. By the time the characters start remarking on it, you’ve already gone, “Yep. He’s weird.”

Howard: Yusuke, Makoto, Futaba and Haru were all more interesting than your initial squad. P4 had Chie up front and, as you know, I love Chie.

Yusuke Kitagawa – Because every band of rebellious teens could use a brooding artist to design their calling cards.

Keyes: But Futaba’s storyline is hard to go through if you’ve ever dealt with clinical depression, I think. That inward turning self-destructive urge was hard to watch.

Howard: Yeah. Futaba’s plot was wrenching stuff.

Keyes: Makes it almost a pity that dating her isn’t an option. I mean, its an option, but wow, yuck.

Howard: She relies on you too much. It reads as abusive to me. I’d feel like I’m taking advantage of her. Regardless, Makoto is the easy choice. Make mine post-apocalyptic death biker.

Keyes: We both went with her, though on another playthrough I’d probably go with Shogi Girl in a Church. She’s also nuts. And as I recall she goes to the same school as Yusuke, so perhaps that’s their hat. It’s a school full of creative lunatics.

Howard: I’m pretty sure she was intended to be a party member and then was cut. But honestly, I found her to be very one note. Shogi, shogi, shogi. Makoto is more well-rounded. Haru is too, for that matter. She was actually surprisingly hilarious. She made me laugh out loud several times.

BEAUTY THIEF!!!!

Keyes: Yes. There were many days of one of us randomly yelling BEAUTY THIEF after she was introduced.

Howard: My favorite is still “give us back our tears!” It makes sense in context.

Keyes: Such a Haru thing to say, too. In terms of gameplay, though, this was definitely a cut above P4. The game is crazy fun.

Howard: For sure. The second to last dungeon was WAY TOO LONG, but other than that, I have few gameplay complaints. Polished to near perfection.

Keyes: I remember kind of wanting to gouge my eyes out in some of the dungeons in P4, but the ambush mechanic and the DART AROUND LOOKING AWESOME aspect of it kept the palaces from feeling too much like a chore.

Howard: Persona 5 is “looking awesome” the game. So much style.

This unplayable title screen by itself has more excitement than most games you’ll ever play.

Keyes: The design end of the team that made this game are clearly insane geniuses. They probably went to school with Yusuke.

Howard: They probably WERE Yusuke. Think about it.

Keyes: That did lead to the one good joke, too, with Akechi. “This is what he thinks a rebel looks like.”

Howard: Yeah. Akechi’s “thief” outfit was absurd.

Keyes: If I have one complaint it’s that social stat grinding takes way too freaking long, and you get walled out of social links because of it.

Howard: That’s part of the formula for now, for better or worse. It encourages New Game Plus. And anyway, without boosting Social Links, we never would’ve seen “The Cake Knight Rises.”

Igor. He’s your friend! Probably. Maybe.

Keyes: I get that this is in keeping with the big theme of these games. Igor — when he is not being OH GOD WHAT IS WRONG WITH IGOR Igor — always tells you something along the lines that all he asks of you is that you abide by the choices you make.

Howard: One of the big tip-offs that Igor is wrong is that he doesn’t make that request this time. Also creepy voice.

Keyes: So forcing you to choose what stats to grind and what social links to pursue and which to ignore makes sense in a way, because life is like that. You can’t do everything. Spending time with your friend means you don’t study. Keeping doors open sometimes really does mean closing others.

Howard: Yeah. Part of the formula since P3. At least in P4 they stopped forcing you to date and dump all the female characters.

Keyes: I am glad that OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH IGOR is, well…the point of the plot. Because we both spent the entire game going WHY ARE YOU CREEPY, IGOR WHY?!?!

Howard: The Igor reveal was ultimately kind of disappointing. P4‘s endgame was anticlimactic too after the mystery was solved. But at least P4‘s ending played into that game’s “never stop looking for the truth” theme. P5‘s endgame was fun, but it wasn’t satisfying.

Keyes: It’s a little weird to think that’s an entire layer to the game you’d miss if you didn’t play P3 or P4, though. Because Igor is this very supportive character. He looks creepy as hell, but he really is only there to support you. He will always have your back and he wants what is best for you, but he lets you define that. And to have him basically torture you through the game was deeply unsettling. You’d miss all that if you didn’t know what Igor was like in the other games.

Question: Is stealing peoples’ metaphysical hearts actually a crime? Philosophical minds want to know.

Howard: Yeah. I mean, it fits the game’s themes about being a prisoner to an unfair fate/society pretty well. But I just feel like Shido was just SO MUCH MORE a villain that the Igor reveal just felt a bit anticlimactic. I mean, Shido RUINED YOUR LIFE. Fake Igor just… felt detached.

Keyes: Do want to note that Fake!Igor does prank you good at the very, very start of the game. If you haven’t had the gag spoiled for you, I highly recommend selecting “no” when he asks you to accept this is a work of fiction at least once.

Howard: Right. Before we go, I definitely want to mention the soundtrack. Because it was fantastic.

Keyes: Oh it’s an amazing soundtrack. And very evocative.

Howard: The right blend of epic and moody and cool.

Keyes: The acid jazz works very well both for theme and setting.

Howard: Yeah. “Last Surprise” is just an amazing theme for the Phantom Thieves.  Some days I just played it in the car on loop because it made me feel awesome. I did the same with “Life Will Change.”  Especially “Life Will Change.”

Keyes: I particularly like the theme that plays on your final run through a Palace, when you go to steal the heart.

Howard: Yeah, that’s “Life Will Change.” Probably my favorite song in the game. Maybe the best song in the series.

Keyes: It’s hard to describe but it really SOUNDS like you are going to pull of this epic magic trick. Which is what your Thieves are doing, to the outside world — it just really works.

Howard: It’s rebellious and cool. It really encapsulates what the game is about. It’s to P5 what “Someday the Dream Will End” was to Final Fantasy X. It’s just that KEY to making the game work. Although that song was super melancholy.

This game’s promotional campaign is brought to you by the color RED!

Keyes: Now the most pressing question is that if Persona 3 is blue and black, and Persona 4 is yellow and black, and Persona 5 is red and black…what color scheme do you think they’ll go with with Persona 6? Because they just ran through all the primary colors.

Howard: Green. No Purple. Let the Drazi fight it out.

Keyes: Orange. Definitely orange.

 

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