I have to talk about Persona 5. No spoilers.
What is most amazing to me about P5 is not its dazzling visual style, full of color and personality like few games before it. It is also not its soundtrack (oh, dat soundtrack). It is simply that P5 is, at its core, an RPG that doesn’t deviate much from the genre’s and its name’s roots to bring that sense of pureness that I was missing for so long.
P5 has its systems. Some are returning staples from old Persona games. Negotiation, Confidants, the time/activity system, deadlines for dungeons. But any RPG fan can also feel this as, at its core, P5 is an old school game with a learning curve and a deep system to enjoy once you master it, all coiled around a gripping story (and a very good soundtrack). Together with nomenclature that is familiar to fans (such as the names of the spells) it will make any Persona fan feel right at home, and genre fans can learn a few new keywords and join in (such as learning that ‘Zio’ is the name of the thunder spell).
It’s hard to explain but one of the reasons that motivated me to write this is P5’s combat. It’s flashy, quick, simple yet complex. But it’s simply an old-school turn-based combat system. Having started playing P4 a bit before P5 made things feel familiar, with the obvious resolution and style injection. And while I have not played Persona 3, videos show it’s very similar to P4. And this system is very much the same turn-based combat system that we had back since the golden age of RPGs, also known as the “SNES era”. RPGs have changed a lot in the past two decades – production values, technology, capacity – but they were familiar to any fan of the genre.
P5 is a game that doesn’t care much for evolving into something it’s not. It’s very much happy with giving you the exact same experience people have loved for decades, with superficial differences, retaining the franchise and saga’s ‘systems’ I mentioned earlier, and making it look good in its own style-orgy sense. This inevitably made me think of other RPG franchises. I am ill-fitted to talk about Dragon Quest as I’ve played only two games in that franchise: 1 and 8. Nevertheless, 8 is very much like 1 but with the obvious differences one would expect from almost 20 years of technology: 3D world, voice acting, orchestra music, etc. I cannot talk much about these series, to be fair.
The other is, of course, Final Fantasy. FF is a series that has embraced evolution in their main numbered entries, sometimes in drastic steps. They all share many things in common, from spell names to Chocobos and a guy named ‘Cid’. Besides this, they also like experimenting a lot with changing systems for every installment, such as the job system in 3, the Esper system in 6, or the GF system in 8. But speaking of combat, there are very clear eras in FF:
- 1 to 3 were turn based.
- 4 to 9 used the ATB system, which determined the turn order thanks to a speed/agility stat.
- 10 returned to turn based, but the order was determined by stats.
- 11 went MMO.
- 12 was a single-player MMO-like combat system.
- 13 returned to a faster version of the ATB.
- 14 is another MMO but its combat is more dynamic than XI’s.
- 15 is a real-time action RPG.
While the game’s retain all the things that make them FF, each era plays differently. Some call this evolution, which is fine. P5 doesn’t care about this evolution. It refines what exists and makes it look good. In that sense, P5 is like a very good looking SNES/PSX era FF.
The sense of familiarity that comes from a game like P5 is a wonderful thing. Familiarity born from being just what it always has been, just making it look good. And this is why P5 is such a fun game to play: it doesn’t want to be something else, it wants to be a Persona game, and a fine looking one at that.
Persona 5 is a flashy donut. It’s similar to the donut you have always loved, but with a new delicious and very attractive topping. It’s not – nor does it try to be – a slice of pizza.