Our resident JRPG aficionado Sam Brooks submerged himself in Atlus’ Persona 5 and when he came up for air he had this happy, goofy look on his face. He reveals what made him bliss out.
I got into videogames when JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games) were huge. They were everywhere, thanks to the now inexplicable success of Final Fantasy 7. If there was a game with poorly translated dialogue, slow gameplay and 50 hours of incredibly structured and vaguely nonsensical storytelling, young Sam was there to eat it all up. Your Suikodens, your Legend of Legaias, your Alundras, I was there.
Cut to 20 years later and the JRPG is no longer really a thing. Final Fantasy XV, the game intended to save the once titanic Final Fantasy franchise, skewed so far towards the open world and side-quest driven tropes that litter Western RPGs that it was more Dynasty Warriors than it was Final Fantasy. The things that made JRPGs special, the things that made the genre stand out like the Lynchian design or the almost Korean soap opera tonal shifts, were nowhere to be seen. Final Fantasy XV seemed to announce that the JRPG was, if not dead, irreparably changed.
And then, much like that Big Brother gif favoured on Twitter, Persona 5 comes into the room.
Reader, Persona 5 is everything I want in a game.
From the moment the game begins, you feel like you’re settling into something iconic. It’s like Aerith walking out of the alleyway in Final Fantasy VII, the blitzball game in Final Fantasy X or hell, any Final Fantasy opening. You’re thrown into an anime cutscene, and then you’re escaping across chandeliers in casinos. The lighting wants to give you a seizure, the music is Engrish jazz and the design choices are insane. Persona 5 announces. I have arrived. I am important.
The game settles into a rhythm, as JRPGs must do. It’s not so much that Persona 5 defies description so much as it doesn’t help, but here it goes: In Persona 5, you play a high schooler forced into a pact with a demon, who then travels to an alternate universe populated by the evil desires of powerful people in the real world in order to defeat those desires and brainwash the real people into being good people. All this while doing normal high school things like studying and making friends.
There’s a lot of gameplay elements to cover in Persona 5, like the fact that hanging out with people in the game powers you up in battle or that you collect monsters (the titular Personas) like Pokemon and then cut off their heads in a guillotine in order to fuse them together into more powerful monsters. But honestly you guys, it’s a JRPG.
It’s an honest-to-God JRPG where you sit down and play for 50 hours. Where you get into random, turn-based battles. Where you walk three seconds from one cutscene into another. Where the characters talk in poetic and iffily translated Japanese. Where the boys are prettier than the girls. Where the plot, no matter what, is actually secretly about friendship.
And even better than that? It’s a great one. There’s a momentum to Persona 5, a drive to keep you playing, to make friends with that disgrace politician because he’ll teach you how to be better at speeches which will make you better at winning Personas over to your side. It’s a momentum that a lot of JRPGs lacked, and it’s probably part of what killed the genre. But Persona 5 makes you want to cancel meetings, cut friends out of your life, and stop eating.
And even better, and more shockingly? Persona 5 is about something. I’m only 15 hours in, and there’s already been a shockingly mature and developed plotline about systemic abuse that I never expected from a video game, let alone an RPG. The game, sometimes a bit too obviously, is about teenage rebellion and what place that has in society. It’s something that’s more relevant in Japan, but even if you don’t know a lot about Japanese society (and why would you), there’s an honesty to the way that these characters deal with trauma that’s rare in a videogame.
Look. If you like JRPGs, you’ve already pre-ordered this and have sacrificed your valuable hours you usually dedicate to reading the Spinoff to playing this game. You’re obsessed with JRPGs. And if you don’t like JRPGs, maybe this is the one to convert you, especially if you have a lot of other things you don’t want to be doing.
The JRPG is dead. Long live Persona 5.
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