Apologies in advance for length - the Persona games (4 and 5 mostly, but also 3) are my favorite RPGs so I pretty much HAVE to comment. I'll try my best to keep my bias in-check, though. :PAlso curious... did you get the True Ending? It's not too hard to get but can be subtle if you aren't aware it exists.
Retsam wrote:The best aspect for me is probably the story and the characters. The urban fantasy mystery premise is pretty cool and drives the plot pretty well, but it's the characters that really shine: they did a really good job having a main cast that's just entertaining: even when the story is just slice-of-life stuff in between story beats, it's a lot of fun watching these characters interact. They've got great camaraderie, and it's a nice change of pace from the stereotypical RPG party that would just as soon fight each other as the enemy. (Bioware RPGs seem particularly prone to this)
Definitely. I don't think the game would actually work at all if it couldn't write them well, since so much depends on getting invested in them.
But then you take this cast of interesting and colorful characters, and you add the main character: Blankslate McBoringFace-senpai. While I think the pseudo-silent protagonist works well enough in a lot of games, I think it was a pretty bad choice in this game. It's always a bit jarring, as it creates a dissonance between how the main character is treated vs how they actually act, and in a heavily story-focused game, it's particularly noticeable. It makes sense in an open-ended RPG, but this is a railroad story straight through, despite the Virtual Novel staple three mostly meaningless dialogue choices
, (which feels like being asked whether you want your house to be painted beige, cream, or off-white).
I think the main idea is for it to be a player-insert, or at least as best of a player insert as you can manage with a more restricted story/character. It IS still a JRPG in the end, but at least you have plenty of options on how you handle each day, and while many of the dialog options are 'fake' (not all are, technically) they at least grant a level of interaction you otherwise wouldn't have. It's a way to apply your influence and personality into conversations that would otherwise be nigh-impossible to allow player freedom.
Maybe how well it works depends on how well you connect with the protag, though. He does tend to have some of his own personality quirks if you think about it - like the fact that he cooks, manages to have time to interact and listen to everyone (...sorta), can be great in school (or terrible), etc etc. There's at least a lot more freedom with how to take him than any other JRPG (not that that says a whole ton).
In my case I didn't have too much difficulty immersing myself in the character, but it's not hard to see that might not work for everyone. Can't deny he's crafted to be fairly non-descript.
And I guess the pseudo-silent main character can work as the "straight man" to everyone else's antics in group settings... but it's especially egregious in the one-on-one social links. I liked the idea of social links in theory, but in practice they always felt one-sided to the point of being uncanny and jarring. Like this other person is baring their heart and soul to me, and the protagonist basically replies "That's rough, buddy."
. And yet, I'm supposed to believe this emotionless rock of a protagonist is somehow forming deep (even potentially romantic) relationships via these one-sided conversations, even if I pick the "jerk" response (when it's occasionally offered). I'm told that some people have this thing called "imagination" in which they're able to pretend that the writing of these social-links is better than it actually is, but I think mine must be defective.
The responses DO have an impact, though, because certain responses will generate points towards the next rank (anytime you see the notes, those are the points). It's fairly forgiving, I suppose, since there are few if any ways to completely destroy a relationship (though one or two DO have a couple "reverse" options that basically act as such).
Personally, though, I liked to think the protagonist was just a good listener, and a lot of the stuff you actually DO with them is off-camera. Maybe much of this was my own mind filling in the blanks, though.
And getting into mechanics, social links feel pretty unrewarding, too, despite the emphasis the game puts on them. Other than the social links with your party, you just get a flat EXP bonus for 1/20th of the monster fusions. So a big aspect of the game is the managing your time in order to form as many social links as possible... but mechanically, it feels like you may as well not bother.
The extra levels can actually help a lot, since because of that bonus experience you can craft personas greater than your own level. Stats do have some significant impact in the long run.
That said, it's not the most tangible benefit and I can agree that it doesn't feel so amazing for each rank up. It's nice when you get the final fusions from them at the end (and the abilities for party members), but otherwise doesn't feel that impactful as you say.
Which is a shame, because I really like the whole time management system. It's IMO a fairly underused RPG element, but I'm a pretty big fan of a lot of the games that use it. There's a nice cadence to the game when you're just moving through the days, it's makes for a pretty chill game, while fitting pretty naturally into the game's narrative and giving the game's overall plot a clear sense of time passing. I actually found I enjoyed the "real world" time management stuff more than the actual RPG dungeons.
Good, considering it's half or more of the game anyways. :P
Though that might be because the actual RPG dungeons were fairly weak. They were fairly long and repetitive and combat just wasn't particularly fun or interesting. It didn't help that, mechanically, the game incentivizes you to binge them: on the time-management side, it's pretty "expensive" to travel to the dungeon, so it's in your best interest to go as few times as possible. That could have made for an interesting dynamic, with either some soft or hard limits on how long you could spend in a dungeon - e.g. making MP scarcer would be a good soft limit, while a max step count (e.g. Digimon World 2) or a "hunger" mechanic (e.g. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon) or just a floor limit could have been a hard limit - but in practice it wasn't difficult to knock the dungeons out in one shot... it was just time-consuming and tedious.
Definitely one of the weakest points of the game was the dungeon mechanics. I liked the combat, but it does tend to get a bit samey once you've seen the same enemies for a while and there's not enough variation or distinct visuals once you've gotten into the dungeon itself. It's so obviously a proc-gen maze.
They at least do a pretty good job with the design and themeing for them, so it's not completely terrible to look at for those long periods... but it does get old by the time you're in the mid/upper floors. Thankfully, something that was well-addressed in the sequel.
The other real "mixed bag" for me was the Persona system itself. I'm a huge fan of "Mons" games (Pokemon, Digimon, DQM, Jade Cocoon, etc), and the Persona system is basically a mons game... it's just not a particularly good one, sadly.
I... wouldn't really consider it a "mons" game, even though it has some aspects of it. You're not really meant to get attached to personas (not that that stopped me from liking a few in particular >.>), and your character's main strength is in having a variety of them at his disposal so he can make decisions about what skills he needs to have and use, what weaknesses/strengths to work with, etc.
Fusing higher level things is also your main form of strength, though there's a lot of leeway with levels there - you can feasibly use things significantly below your level provided they have a skill or two you find useful (like hitting certain weaknesses).
Mostly, it was too opaque: it just doesn't give the player enough information to make meaningful choices. Do the 20 different Arcanas mean anything mechanically, or are they just arbitrary labels? (I'd assume a "Strength" arcana would have most physical and a "Magician" would have stronger magic, but what does a "Empress", for example, imply?) There's a social link where you need to get specific skills on specific Personas... but there seems to be no way to know what Persona learns a particular skill, or how to get a particular Persona except blind chance or just looking it up.
The arcanas are what determine fusion results - a certain pair of arcanas will always produce a certain other arcana for the product, with the exact persona determined by the levels of the ingredients (so you get low level stuff with low level materials and such). It's something that can be learned, but it's much easier to manipulate if you just look up the fusion arcana tables.
Beyond that, the personas themselves are all unique in their own ways, so it's really more about experimenting and working with what you find useful from it all. Generally for me, that just means fusing up a bunch of higher level things of varying elements (fusion search helps on this... I think it was in Golden?) to have a variety of potential skills available.
You can really break the game if you know the ins and outs of fusion, though. It's entirely predictable (excluding fusion accidents, which are so rare I can count the number I've had on one hand, in ALL the Persona games I've played). Golden even made it easier by allowing you to choose skills you pass on (original it was random) and adding skill cards.
And there's a lot of mechanics where you can spend time and resources painstakingly managing a particular persona: e.g. to teach it specific moves or increasing its stats... but when it's a lot easier just to mash random Personas together to get a higher leveled one, why bother with those systems? I ended up switching Personas so quickly that it all ends up feeling a bit meaningless. Investing more time (both in-game and just literal playtime) into the system didn't actually seem to yield a significantly better result than just fusing random personas when I ran out of open slots.
Again, that's kind-of the point - you're meant to be fusing personas throughout the game as your main means for power. That's part of why the social links are important, because you get better results from fusion with ranks in them.
P4 didn't originally have the cards after battle that let you level up and boost the stats of personas - that's new for Golden. So you actually HAVE to fuse because leveling up a persona takes a lot longer than leveling yourself. Golden's additions actually made it possible to use any persona as long as you want - I actually ended up having a level 99 Yatsufusa because I liked the design and felt like it... but to some extent it kinda breaks the game a little.
Also, while I'm griping about combat mechanics, geez, the constant support character chatter was annoying: virtually every time you dodge an attack, kill an enemy, miss an enemy, critical hit an enemy, get hit with an element you're weak to, hit the enemy with a an element they're weak to, get KO'd, get hit by a status effect, hit the enemy with a status effect, check an enemies weakness, start your turn with a status effect, start your turn when a party member has low health, and after every battle, the NPC "support" character will shout a line like "Hang in there, senpai!" or "So-and-so needs healing!" or "Respool the line before it’s too late" (...okay, wrong game on the last one). It's a bad combination of annoying and patronizing, and I get that's it's a trivial thing to complain about... but it sure stopped feeling trivial after the first 5 hours or so of listening to it.
Yeah, P4 really went overboard with it. I like the idea of battle chatter a lot, but they didn't need to announce EVERY little thing... and I could have done without some of the more obvious ones ("X needs healing!" I KNOW).
I think 5 was better on this... maybe. At least, I didn't get the same level of "stop saying that" I did in P4.
Also, speaking of griping: ten-thousand curses on whoever decided to add agnsty-tsundere-poetry-chan to the Golden edition. I'm not even advancing her stupid social link, stop making me read her awful assaults on the English language, when I'm just trying to fuse monsters in peace. (I learned, after-the-fact, that there's an entire dungeon locked behind her social link, which is just insult to injury)
She's actually kind-of an interesting character once you get to know her, though she... uh... isn't the most approachable. I wouldn't say she's my favorite at all, but she gets a bit better once you have some ranks in her (though never completely loses her tsun).
The dungeon is... unique, and arguably interesting. But I wouldn't say you're missing too much by skipping it. A good chunk of its appeal depends on connecting with her in the first place anyways.
Incidentally, my wife played all of Persona 5, while I was still in the last quarter or so of Persona 4. I watched her play, up until through the first major "reveal", and so, while I'm at it, I guess I can knock my thoughts on the sequel out too:
Which one? What composes a 'major reveal' to me in that game could be a few things.
It looks like it improves a lot of the mechanical gripes I had about Persona 4: social links are more mechanically interesting and rewarding, dungeons look a ton better, combat looks somewhat better. (Couldn't tell if the Personas system is actually better. The support character is still obnoxious, but at least he's stopped no longer calling you "senpai!")
The confidants are definitely a huge improvement on the social link rewards - pretty much every one of them is useful, and it feels a bit more in-tune with the theme. They otherwise don't operate all that differently from P4 (or 3), though they do add some additional ways of gaining points to rank (like gifts).
Dungeons are miles better, not least of which because they're not proc-gen anymore (barring Mementos, but that's a notable exception
). Felt much more like actual RPG dungeons with distinct progression and interesting setpieces that were decidedly lacking in the prior games.
Combat is both very similar but with a few nice things added (GUNZ
). Definitely improved, but still a very familiar system underneath.
Can't... completely disagree on the support, though I thought it was better done overall.
On the other hand, I don't care for the story of P5 as much, from what I as. And overall it's just a lot darker than P4: the characters lack P4's camaraderie and they're just not as much fun as their P4 counterparts, and the plot is rather dark as well. That really says more about P4 than it does P5 (I've heard P4 described as "the happiest M rated game ever"), I'm sure a lot of people prefer the darker game, but it's not my cup of tea.
In the long run it's... surprisingly not that dark. I mean, it has its moments, but the only time it really feels actively more oppressive to me is the very beginning (when people are still rumoring about what you did). Beyond that, it plays out a lot like the prior games in terms of how you live life and interact with characters (with the exception of a period towards the end of the game, but for good reasons then...
). I actually think I got a better sense of camaraderie from the characters in 5 than I did in 4, and that's saying something given I long held 4 as having the best.
Granted, I'll also say it takes some real time and investment to get to that point in 5, whereas 4 I think it's a bit more immediately apparent.
Plus, Persona 5 also seems a lot edgier than Persona 4, and I'm allergic to edge. It's got this "anti-adults" vibe, where the game makes an oddly big deal about the villains being "adults", it goes beyond the usual Adults Are Useless
trope, practically to the point of "Adults are Evil". It's the sort of juvenile stuff that I've never been able to take seriously, even when I was a teen. And it doesn't help that the villains (I've seen) are all puppy-kicking, mustache-twirling, card-carrying members of the Bad Guy Association.
That's definitely one part that I was confused they focused on a lot, but in the long run it's more of a side thing that doesn't truly impact the plot I think... at least, the fact that they were adults and not children didn't factor in too much.
I won't speak too much of the villains because I'm not sure how much exposure you've gotten from them yet... but suffice to say their stories are a bit more complicated than it might look. Especially if you focus only on their shadows, which are by design very open and flagrant about their villainy because that is what shadows tend to do.
Also, depending on how far in you've seen... the game has some BIG twists in it, some you can see coming and a few that absolutely don't. They really impact the mid/lategame more than anything.
I'll probably get around to playing it eventually, but I'm not really eager to dive right into the sequel, since these games are so long.
As much as I heartly recommend 5, I would have to agree with you on this one. I love the games a lot, but they are REALLY long and dense. I always come out of one feeling like I need to wind down on less daunting things.
That and 5 is somehow LONGER than 4, which was an already 80+ hour game. Unless you're ready to binge 100+ hours of more JRPG, I recommend waiting a while... but do consider it someday. :)