FULL SPOILERS FOR PERSONA 4 AND PERSONA 5
A few months ago, I ended up with a PS Vita and a copy of Persona 4: Golden. What followed was an extended love affair. I could not put my Vita down for weeks. When I wasn’t busy with family, or work, I was hanging out in Inaba.
Living alongside Rise Kujikawa, the J-idol on a break, and Yosuke Hanamura, the troubled son of a large department store owner, was blissful. Walking the streets of the shopping district, or along the flood
plains, there was always some to spend time with, and delve into their fascinating backstories. The Scooby-Doo like whodunnit mystery was the pièce de résistance. It motivated you to keep moving forward, to find the killer before he struck again.
I’d never been much of a JRPG fan but Persona 4 and I bonded. I can’t remember a game in twenty plus years of playing where I was that invested into it. Maybe Pokemon Red in 1997, where the sense of adventure, venturing out boldly into the unknown was mind-blowing for a small child. Spending time with the cast of Persona 4 was always a pleasure – amusing, witty conversation and genuinely likeable personalities.
When it finally wrapped up, and the train whisked me away from my family back to the city, I sat quietly on the sofa for several minutes. Knowing it was over left me following hollow. It sounds borderline psychotic to be so emotionally attached to pixels, but I can’t deny those feelings. As the credits rolled, the mixture of emotions – sadness it was over, joy at having experienced such a wonderful journey, depression that I would never be able to experience it all for the first time again – was overwhelming.
I take solace in the fact that Persona 5 had released just a few weeks prior. After taking a break in order to mull over the odyssey I’d gone through, I bought a copy of P5, and started it up.
20 hours in, and there’s nothing I want to do more than leave Tokyo and get back to Inaba. I just can’t engage with this game. This is an extremely unpopular opinion, seeing as how lavished with praise it has been. Almost every media outlet has given it a 9 or higher.
Every Persona game has an extremely loyal following – some of my friends believe 3 is the best, others 4, and the rest 5. Each game has such a unique personality, I feel it’s pointless to argue which one is best. Every game will have some meaning to each person, and every one of those people has an entitlement to their opinion.
My opinion is that 5 is not a bad game, and indeed, it is the opposite – it’s a very good game. But, it doesn’t have the innocence, the passion, the naivety and freedom and coming-of-age that 4 has. It doesn’t have the compelling characters, the twisting, bending mystery, or the family ties. It has no soul.
I’m nowhere near finishing the game, which I intend to do, but after 20 hours, I feel I’ve seen enough to give some early game impressions.
1. Yusuke, the artist you recruit while doing the second palace, is a scumbag and no one even bats an eye. This guy tries to blackmail a high school girl into posing as a nude muse. Not only is she in high school, she was a founding member of your gang of thieves. Everyone seems cool with this, even pushing her into doing it as a distraction. Subsequently, he is welcomed into your crew with no questions asked. It is extremely jarring to watch the characters be such assholes.
2. The definition of a bad person is fairly loose. In the first dungeon, you are going after a teacher named Kamoshida who is physically assaulting students, and blackmailing female students in sleeping with him. This is the definition of a shitty person, and going after him completely justified. The second dungeon is an artist who is plagiarising his students work. Ethically wrong, but not exactly sexual and physical assault bad. It’s not until the end of the dungeon it’s revealed the artist allowed shitty guy Yusuke’s mom to die of a seizure. It seems tacked on to prove that Maradame, the copying artist, really is a bad guy and deserved this. I’m fairly sure the developers felt it was a weak palace, so they ham-fistedly shoved this in to make sure you know he’s a bad guy. “LOOK HE LET THAT GUY’S MOM DIE! YOU’RE TOTALLY RIGHT DOING THIS TO HIM”.
3. Morgana, the cat guide that follows your everywhere – literally everywhere – can turn into a bus. You read that sentence right. This cat can, somehow, turn into a bus you can climb into and drive, steering wheel, pedals, and all. In Persona games, lots of weird things happen, way too much to explain in one column. Yet this is the first time I’ve ever looked at my baby son in bemusement playing a Persona game. I can handle a lot of things – but a cat bus that people drive around is just too much. There is no explanation as to how this happens – you just need to accept it. I would much rather just run around a smaller area than have to drive this monstrosity around a large area.
4. This criticism is a deeper one and has two facets – the first being you come to Tokyo with baggage and a history, and secondly, the whole game so far has been a flashback from a police interview room.
I call this the Fallout 4 Conundrum. In that game, you are a man with a family, whose son has been kidnapped. Having this baggage means you can’t effectively role play in a role playing game. As the father of a baby son, if he was kidnapped, I would not rest until I had found him.
Yet, you can spend fifty hours building your settlement and farming for garbage. These two paths cannot realistically coexist – which father wouldn’t track down his child immediately? If you were truly roleplaying, you’d would have to go after your child. Contrast this to New Vegas – your backstory is you got shot in the head and you want revenge. It means you are free to do however you wish because you have no anchor around your character.
This is similar in P5 – you start the game as a police captive. This subsequently means every choice you make until that investigation scene is void. Inevitably, you will end up in that room, unless I’ve yet to reach some plot twist that means the whole police aspect isn’t real. In that sense, I’ve come to Tokyo because I’ve been found guilty of a crime – all my classmates consider me some kind of psycho ne’er-do-well. Both of these points mean I can’t role play my character like I want to. In P4, I was a blank slate, tabula rasa, and I could do anything I wanted. My future was my own to seize. In Persona 4, I had to decide carefully what I wanted to do, as I didn’t know what the consequences would be. In P5, it seems likely I’m going to end up in custody. No point being invested in the future if I know what’s going to happen!
ME GO OUT AT NIGHT, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. The damn cat is always in my room telling me I’m tired and that I should sleep. Just fuck off and stop being such a damn buzzkill, Morgana. I want to go out at night and hang out with people like I did in P4. I whiled away so many pleasant summer evenings with Rise and Yukiko and Chie and Marie and Yosuke. Now, i’m being caged in like a damn animal by, ironically, an animal.
Although this sounds like an extremely negative review of the game thus far, I really don’t hate it, or even dislike it. I think the style and the visuals ooze cool, like Steve McQueen wearing a Submariner. The palaces are aesthetically pleasing, and well designed. The enemies are bizarre as always, and the combat has so many improvements over P4. Being able to ‘Baton Pass’- passing your turn over to an ally – always looks wonderful. Being able to immediately scan an enemy for a weakness, and having the game choose a Persona you control to take advantage of that frailty is extremely convenient. But herein lies the issue – I am apathetic to this game.
Apathy is never something you should feel toward something, which is my major conflict with this game. I loved Persona 4, and it ranks near the top of my all time favorite experiences in any form of media. I had such high expectations of Persona 5, that may be affecting my judgement. From a gameplay standpoint, there is nothing wrong with 5, but from a storytelling and character view, it pales in comparison to 4.