Persona 5’s Biggest Frustration Is Also Its Greatest Strength
You might’ve heard of Persona 5. Released to rave reviews in Japan at the end of 2016, Atlus’ story of teenage Phantom Thieves has been stealing hearts in the west since the start of April, becoming the first JRPG to top the territory’s sales charts since Ni No Kuni in 2013 – which, coincidentally, was just about the time this Persona hype-train started to gather steam.
Originally on PS2, Persona 4’s Golden Vita re-release not only added new characters, costumes, and cut-scenes to the latest entry in the veteran Japanese franchise, but new audiences as well, capitalizing on the positive ground-swell created by the well-received portable port of Persona 3 on Sony’s previous handheld, the PSP.
Now hooked on Persona’s signature brand of supernatural turn-based, dungeon-crawling and uniquely charming characters, these new devotees would go on to evangelize the series, turning Persona 5’s agonizingly delayed release into a special event, making what was already Atlus’ best-selling game in Japan an unparalleled commercial success for the company.
And while the suits-and-ties were happy, so were gamers, with this newest installment pushing all the right buttons and delivering just what fans had come to expect.
The best bit of Persona is daily life. The social links, the part-time jobs, the weekly activities and stat-building side-quests – all combine to create a deeply immersive and involved experience which, if you buy into that sort of thing, is seriously easy to get heavily invested in. The thing is though, on most days in the game’s calendar you get two time-slots to fill your boots with anything fun you can find: after-school and the evening. But I want MOAR.
More time to hit the arcade with my friends, more time to read fashion magazines “for girls with unique tastes,” more time to stuff my face full of a giant cheeseburger squeezed into a bun the size of an hippo’s cranium. This is only exacerbated by the fact that marauding out on Phantom Thief adventures leaves your player-character mentally and physically drained, filling up all of their free time for that day.
So if there’s one thing that frustrates me about Persona 5 it’s that there’s never enough time to do what you want, and that choosing to prioritize something fills me with the feeling that I’m leaving something just as good on the table or worse – missing out on it all together. But really, it’s this feeling that makes almost every interaction in Persona feel organic and spontaneous.
By forcing you to spend precious, finite resources on building your relationships and growing your character, Persona 5 makes all of these actions feel valuable, presenting every stat raise as a fist-pumping achievement and pushing you to choose who you spend time with wisely. It’s astonishingly like real life, in that you can plan out your time to eek the most out of every spare minute, but unexpected things come up, people change like the weather, and it never quite turns out how you thought.
By limiting your time to explore, Atlus have made it so when you’re finally let off the leash, you’re positively chomping at the bit to see everything Persona 5 has to offer – and that, in the long run, is a beautiful thing.