The recent Persona 5 trailer that was shown a few weeks ago has left me in utter awe of what’s to come. The trailer is beautifully presented. The fantastic jazzy soundtrack, the striking art style, the small snippets of gameplay; even the menu screens look exciting. If you have watched the trailer, you will know that the theme is red and follows the trend of previous Persona games. Persona 3 was blue and had a heavy emphasis on the colour throughout the game. The same goes for Persona 4, which heavily used the colour yellow for everything from the clock in the corner to the borders of dialogue boxes, location names… you get the picture. Persona 5 , then, will be red and according to developer Atlus the story will have a theme of ‘freedom’ and freeing people who ‘are bored and discontent with their lives’.
Having finished Persona 4: Golden recently, here are my favourite parts of the game and why you should not hesitate in buying the next installment of the series on release (tbc 2015). I will try my best not to spoil any parts of the story of Persona 4, and will certainly not dwell on any story elements or character arcs. However, if you want it to be a complete mystery until you play it, do not read any further because of potential minor spoilers. I will also be commenting on the trailer for Persona 5 that can be found at the bottom of the article, so if you don’t want to know anything about it you may also want to avoid reading any further.
By far the greatest aspect of Persona 4. By the end of the game, you will grow to love every single character. Even the more villainous characters are impossible not to love. In case you are not familiar with Persona games, the character ‘bonding’ mechanic plays a central role in both the game’s story and gameplay. In Persona 4, the game is divided loosely into two sections of gameplay; Social Links building (I will revisit that in a moment) and traditional dungeon crawling. Both are just as central as each other, and you will spend hours squeezing the best out of both.
If you want to play the game for the dungeon crawling alone, this is not the game for you. You need to be able to enjoy lengthy character building and progression. For starters, it takes a couple of hours before the first dungeon, introducing the scene, story and the heroes. All of the dialogue, bar a small handful of stunning anime style cut scenes, is text based. Every single word that is directly story related is voice acted, and frankly, I have never heard better voice acting in a game. You have to consider the amount of words each actor has to say, coupled with the fact that it had to be translated from Japanese. It is a remarkable achievement and makes the characters feel genuinely authentic. There are no blips in dialogue in the 80-hour journey. These characters are not robots; they are real people, with emotions.
Let me just re-iterate this- 80 hours. That’s not 80 hours if played three times to play the game differently each time, this is a solid 80 hours of story. I was playing the game at a reasonably average pace, and although some may be able to beat dungeons quicker (perhaps from skill or of course several lucky critical hits) you will not be skipping that dialogue. The last game I remember having a main story that was anywhere close to that long was the excellent Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky. I played the Golden version of the game, exclusive to Vita. This is by far the best version of the game, improving the resolution of the game and adding many new elements to the game including a completely new dungeon and adding a brand new main character to the game. This added several more hours to the game, so if you pick up the original PS2 release you will clock in less hours than I did.
I mentioned Social Links earlier. Social Links are the main mechanic for building relationships with characters. Throughout the game, you are given opportunities to walk around the Inaba region (where the game is set) and talk to several intractable characters. Part of the fun of the game is discovering whom you can build Social Links with; each character has 10 social links levels that increase every so often. The more you talk to a person, the higher their Social Link level will increase. The higher the level, the higher your friendship, and you will start to learn more about each character’s backstory and true feelings which adds another layer to character dynamic. Each level also grants various bonuses throughout the game.
From the trailer for Persona 5, it already shows you the main protagonist and his friends (or accomplices?) You can bet that Atlus will take these templates and turn them into living, breathing people who will be among the most memorable characters in video games. They are also carrying on the trend of an animal character to join alongside the team- the new addition looks purrfect (I am really sorry).
This seems like an odd part of a game to rave about but the very adult themes came as a huge surprise to me. The game may come across as cute and cuddly at times, but innocent it is not. Persona 4 tackles very large topics that centre around teenage ‘issues’ and each dungeon is themed around an aspect of these ‘issues’. It is up to you to explore the dungeons and discover what’s in there yourself, but the traditional backdrops for dungeons are gone. The dungeon backdrops have deep meaning, even the monsters (called Shadows) in the game link to the topic of the dungeon.
The overall theme of the story can be condensed into teenagers ‘growing up’ but there are lots of other sub-stories. Whilst the game’s Big Bad has quite standard motives, it is presented with a unique and shocking twist in a very satisfying and surprising way. I have decided not to include a ‘story’ section to this article. It is better not to know anything about the game’s very entertaining story. I would argue that the characters are actually better than the story itself, but you will no doubt be wrapped up in its twists and turns in the way I did.
It seems, based on several parts of the trailer and concept art, that theft, freedom and crime will be central to both the characters and the plot of the story. The friends are seen devising plans to raid a manor- possibly the same one that the protagonist has entered at the beginning of the trailer. We also see the protagonist behind bars, and numerous references to prison and prison guards are present, particularly in the battle gameplay snippet, which shows the characters dressed in unusual thief-like clothing.
Persona 4’s turn based combat system has been refined after each game. The actual turn-based combat is traditional affair, familiar to anyone who has played Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. There are a decent selection of moves to choose from as you level up the protagonist and his persona, but hardly any if you compare it to the likes of the most recent Pokémon games. The moves you use divide into a standard melee attack (armour and your weapons are upgradeable) and special moves. The combat system itself is not particularly revolutionary; the Persona system on the other hand is intriguing.
Each of your teammates have their own unique Persona, and aspect of their true personality transformed into physical form. The Protagonist’s persona can be changed as frequently as you like. After a battle, there is a chance to activate ‘Shuffle time’, which allows you to choose a card from a random number of cards. These cards range from temporarily allowing you to be invisible to the enemy walking around dungeons, to unlocking brand new Personas. The Personas you earn build up in your inventory and can be equipped before a battle or switched at any time mid-battle for tactical advantages. When you exit a dungeon, you then have the opportunity to fuse Personas to create more powerful of unique persona only available through fusion. It’s novel, and keeps the game fresh by constantly changing the hero’s battle tactics and ultimately which of you party members you will decided to bring along on your dungeon crawling. I dearly hope that Shuffle Time returns for Persona 5 as they were a great lucky reward at the end of the battle, keeping things fresh when grinding up levels.
The bosses are also suitably epic. Often, the bosses represent the theme of the dungeon you are in inspiring extremely weird and sometimes hilarious boss fights. These boss fights are hard, by the way. They are long and tiring battles where you will likely fist pump the air after every victory. I love that. Persona 4’s dungeons are designed in a way that makes them relatively easy to reach the boss room where you would proceed to be destroyed very quickly by it. When you finally have the strength to face the boss, you can feel the strength you have gained.
Persona 5 shows that the battle system is still very similar, except now the characters have two weapons instead of one- a type of gun and a melee weapon. It is also worth noting that fans of the series may find it unusual that the heroes are not fighting the usual Shadows but in fact Personas. Considering the hero usually uses Personas, are things set to change? As of yet, there is no gameplay of a Persona being used in battle but the end of the trailer does show the protagonist transforming into… something.
I often fall in love with video game music; some of the best music comes from RPGs. Persona is a different breed altogether. A lot of its tracks have vocals in, and although entirely in Japanese I found myself actually singing these words that I couldn’t even pronounce. The scores are uplifting in battle. Some others bought genuine emotions of friendships, reunion, and after I had heard these themes used in different circumstances, I began to relate these songs to these emotions. It’s like the game was forming it’s own Social Links with me as I played it. Other songs are chilling and although simple, still make me feel uneasy.The main composer, Shōji Meguro, has crafted every song to make the player feel exactly what the characters feel. Based on the Persona 5 trailer, it looks like the music is set to be of the same quality; if not higher (That trailer tune is damn catchy).
There is so much more to love about Persona 4, and indeed the rest of the Persona series, I could go on forever. No other game has left this much of an impact on me. Even the likes of Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption and Fallout 3– games with a technically greater scope, are no match for the emotions seeping out of Persona. This is why I am begging you to be excited for the next instalment in this beloved series. It could not be a better time to be starting either. Persona 4: Golden on the Vita is frequently on sale on the PSN store, and Persona 3 (The PSP version) is available for Vita. Of course, Persona 3 and 4 also were originally PS2 games, so you are bound to be able to get them cheaply, if you can find them- that is. On top of this, Persona 4: Dancing all Night is due a Vita release this year in Japan; a bizarre, crazy but fun looking spin-off dance game.
Check out the most recent gameplay trailer below:
Persona 5 is due to release on PS4 and PS3 in 2015