I really want to be committed to Persona 5. I want to throw all my spare time into its 100+ hour story and lose myself in its characters and world. For the past month or so I’ve been trying, playing it on an off and whilst I am totally ready for things to get serious, it doesn’t feel like Persona 5 is as keen on the idea.
My core issue with the game has been its total lack of ability to have any faith in me to be a competent part of our relationship. Whenever I feel like it’s my turn to pick the restaurant, suddenly I’m told that actually it doesn’t fancy ramen, or I have to go to the doctors.
Okay I think I’m done with that metaphor but hopefully you understand where I’m going with this. Persona 5 is a great game. It is funny, has clear depth to its mechanics but not so much so that it’s impenetrable, it has villains that really make you want them dead (or at least emotionally destroyed) and is unbelievably stylish in its presentation, but all of this means little when it doesn’t let you actually get stuck into these things.
I’m 17 hours into Persona 5 and, despite me having proven several times that I have got to grips with the combat and that I can organise my simulated social life, it still feels like it’s forcing me to play the game how it wants me to. More times than I can count I have looked into what I’d like to spent my time doing after school and made a decision, only for the game to tell me that on that day I’m doing something else and then that I must go straight to sleep afterwards, and then the story moves on and I never get chance to spend some time with the characters.
The worst thing about this aspect of the game is that it never warns you when you’re going to lose the afternoon, or occasionally the whole day, to a story point, and that makes it impossible to plan you strategy. The game’s core is based around levelling up your relationships with various people in the world, and by doing so you increase the power of the various persona you use in combat. It’s a good system, one that makes you put time into getting to know the characters, and that makes it all the more frustrating when the game consistently steps in front of you trying to do that.
Persona 5 also lacks in its mystery department. Each of the dungeons is based around a specific villain and for both of the dungeons I’ve played (haven’t finished the second yet) it seems to get 90% of the exposition out of the way before you even start. Going into the second dungeon I felt very little desire to explore or make an effort to talk to the characters involved and learn more, I know exactly what is going on and what I need to do to stop it. Going and stopping it is still a lot of fun but, in comparison to something like Nier: Automata which keeps you hooked with an ever evolving plot, Persona 5 feels static and dated.
A final problem I have with Persona also relates to the way it expects commitment without giving anything back. At many points I’ve felt like I was making a choice that mattered when choosing what to say to one of my friends in conversation, but unlike many games that employ this system (from Telltale’s “… will remember that” to Mass Effect: Andromeda just giving up and labelling each option in a conversation with that it will lead to) you are given no indication how this will pan out in the long term or if it will even matter at all. Asking you to make solid commitments without explaining if they will matter in the future, what could be several real world days worth of game later feels unfair. There are also several occasions where it gives false decisions, where your cat companion basically tells you that was the wrong choice and that you’re going to do the other thing instead.
If you can’t tell, I’m frustrated at Persona 5. As I said at the top, there is so much to love about this game and I would love to be able to dive in but on so many occasions it has felt like is holding me at arms length that I’m starting to wondering if it would rather just play with itself. Maybe we should take the summer off and come back each other when the nights are drawing in if the spark is still there.
So, Persona 5: I’m am really sorry to say it’s not me, it’s you. I’m stealing my heart back and giving it to somebody better.