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Persona 5 Review: Stylin’ on ‘Em

/ May 9th, 2017 No Comments

Persona 5 review

The future is rotten and the system is broken. Corrupt adults manipulate the world around them to their own twisted desires and the youth suffers. We’ve all felt crushed by the weight of injustice, but we couldn’t do anything about it. But what if you could? What if you could steal people’s hearts?

Persona 5 is the perfect evolution of the Persona series. It fires on all cylinders in terms of gameplay, presentation, style, and story. Whether you’re a series veteran or a newbie, you’ll fall in love with the game and its characters.

Git Up, Git Out

If you saw someone being sexually assaulted in the streets, what would you do? Would you ignore it or would you stand up and do what’s right? What if that one act of being a Good Samaritan ruined your life?

In Persona 5, the main protagonist, a seemingly milquetoast young man, is sent from his quiet life in the country to live in the city with a café owner after running into some trouble with the law. Besides having to transfer to a new school, he is on probation, making his life more complicated.

Before he even starts school, a rumor spreads about his criminal record. Now, everyone from his peers to his teachers treat him like he’s John Gotti.

Persona 5

The Phantom Thieves start from humble beginnings but don’t stay that way for long.

Life gets better for him as he makes a few friends early in the year. Oh, and he finds a cat! However, the circumstances for their friendship are extremely bizarre.

Not only are they all targets of a corrupt and lecherous volleyball coach, but it turns out they have the ability to enter the metaverse via an app on their phones and summon powerful supernatural creatures called personas.

It is thanks to this power they are able to enter “Palaces,” which are monuments to a person’s distorted desires in the metaverse. The twisted desires that give rise to these “Palaces” turn a person in real life into a monster and a criminal. The protagonist and his friends decide to use their power to destroy the evil adults’ “Palace” and change their hearts, forcing them to confess to their crimes.

What starts off as a small crew taking on the “Palace” of their a-hole volleyball coach quickly evolves into them becoming the Phantom Thieves and taking on the corrupt system.

Persona 5

Ryuji is your first friend in Persona 5 and one of the standout characters.

The story in Persona 5 is incredible. It sucks you in right off the bat with its brilliant in-medias-res structure where the protagonist recounts the events leading up to his arrest. It keeps you constantly wondering where everything is heading since we begin with the downfall of the protagonist and the Phantom Thieves. Turns out all the stuff leading up to it is compelling, funny, and at times, heart breaking.

Persona 5’s story combines aspects of pulp, detective novels, mystery, and heist flicks to create a narrative that constantly zags when you think it’s going to zig. Even when some of the twists are easy to spot, the story pivots against your expectations to provide some surprising moments. Persona 5 combines excellent characterization with a surprising and compelling plot, resulting in one damn fine narrative.

A League of Extraordinary Gentlethieves

Nothing about Persona 5’s gameplay is shocking if you’ve played a Shin Megami Tensei or Persona game before. It is still split between dungeon crawling and social sim. The turn-based combat leverages the deep, addictive Shin Megami Tensei “1 More” weakness system beautifully, and the social sim requires a lot of strategy when it comes to balancing school, friendships, work, recreation, and dungeon crawling.

It just so happens that Persona 5 is the best Persona game there has ever been. The presentation is near perfect.

Combat doesn’t re-invent the conventions of the series, but it refines it with some cool new elements. The “1 More” weakness system returns and defines combat, except this time it is expanded with more elements to keep track of and use to your advantage — like psychic moves and gun attacks. This system is what makes combat such a blast because it opens up a lot of depth while never being impenetrable.

Persona 5

Combat is a blast thanks to the game’s “1 More” system.

Dungeon crawling received an overhaul too. Palaces, the game’s main dungeons, are remarkably extravagant monuments to the owner’s twisted desires. These palaces manifest in novel, super cool-looking dungeons. Exploration remains the same, with multiple floors to clear before getting to the final boss, but Palaces are more complex with more varied designs, making each locale feel unique.

One major change from prior games is the ability to utilize stealth to sneak up on enemies. Now, you can hide behind objects and corners while waiting for an opportune time to ambush an enemy. Even how you ambush enemies is filled with panache as you sneak up behind and rip their masks right off their faces in a spray of blood. It is so damn cool.

Persona 5

The streamlined UI helps make battles move quickly and cuts down on grind fatigue.

A huge part of the Persona series is fusing different personas together to create stronger, better personas. Persona 5 overhauls the Velvet Room in the motif of a prison to help reinforce the rehabilitation messaging. The look of fusion similarly follows this theme, with all the different fusion options modeled after various executions. Style-wise, it results in some stark and memorable imagery. There are also plenty of new methods of fusion too, which give the fusion system even more depth.

The smooth presentation makes navigating every different battle option a breeze. A streamlined UI helps keep battles moving. The “Quick Weakness” option allows players to go straight to a move, taking advantage of an enemy’s known weakness. This makes battles quick and easy.

Every bit of refinement to the system has helped prevent the game from ever feeling too grind heavy, which is one of the game’s biggest strengths. You never feel bored in the 80-100+ hours of gameplay.

Friends All Over Town

On the social sim side of things, Persona 5 continues the proud tradition of social links. Social links have 10 rankings and measure how much you’ve nurtured the relationships between you and your friends, guardian, fortune teller, shogi mentor, small town doctor, underpaid teacher, disgraced politician, and middle school gamer.

While combat is a joy, the social sim side of the game is where you get deep into the role-playing. Playing out the different character arcs as you max out social links gives you beautiful character moments, catharsis, and some laughs. Very few games handle building characters and your relationship with them as well as Persona 5 does.

Persona 5

Nurturing social links with an eclectic group of confidants is important in Persona 5.

You’re not only hanging out with buds on the social sim side. It is also about improving yourself in five key categories: knowledge, charm, guts, kindness, and proficiency.

Maxing out these stats out is important because you must reach a certain level for some social links before you can continue with them. This makes the social sim mirror real life pretty well because you have to manage your time efficiently.

Whether you’re exploring mementos, tackling a palace, hanging with confidants to improve social links, working part time to increase your kindness, eating a giant burger to prove how charming you are, or simply studying in the library, everything costs time.

Like in real life, time management is a key component of managing your social life in Persona 5. There is a level of strategy and trade-off you need to keep in mind when approaching each day.


Everything Persona 5 can do to win you over, it does. Even if you’re not a huge JRPG fan, the depth and accessibility of the turn-based combat system will captivate you. It’s story is riveting and the social sim keeps you engaged in the action throughout the games 80+ hour.

Persona 5 is brilliant, and it is a must buy.

Persona 5 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a code for the game provided by the publisher.

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Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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Gaming Illustrated RATING



Whether you're tracking down treasure in palaces and fighting personas or cultivating your personal relationships with confidants, Persona 5's gameplay is highly compelling and hard to pull away.


Simply put, Persona 5 is one of the stylish games ever made from its menus to its animations to the character design, it is a hell of a game to look at.


Persona 5's score is infectious and the voice acting is superb. It gives a ton of personality to the characters and helps sell some of the clunkier dialogue.


Persona 5's narrative examines societal corruption and what it feels like to be placed into a box due to looks, background, or circumstance. There is a huge catharsis when breaking out of that box and awakening your Persona to fight against a rigged system. There are a ton of twists along the way that will surprise and delight you.

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