It’s taken many days of intensely playing this alluring masterpiece, but I’ve conquered it. Persona  5 has fallen after 85 hours – and it was one of the single most rewarding experiences in my gaming career so far. This PlayStation 3/ PlayStation 4 exclusive title effortlessly qualifies for Game Of The Year – rushing past all expectations and indeed stealing your heart forever. Find out below why the phantom thieves have forever captured my interest!

While it won’t wow you on a strictly power and technical level, Persona 5 is an artistic nirvana with a wide-ranging colour palette. Charisma oozes and bleeds from every corner and every pore – the environments lovingly detailed with so much attention put into them. Characters, items, menus and attacks all look stylish and fresh, almost popping off the screen as you gaze upon them.

The motion of movement and attacks has a certain smoothness to it too, a very aesthetically pleasing flow that will leave you satisfied just from beholding it – though you might be out of combat and doing something mundane, like shopping or cruising the main street marketplace. Persona 5 adopts a primarily red color scheme to go with the theme of ‘danger’ – an exciting color that serves the game quite well! Complemented by a smattering of blacks where appropriate, you do not in fact drown in red as characters come in all colors and sizes, fresh with life. This is truly an achievement and earns its praise wholeheartedly.

There isn’t much to say simply about the sound design – you have a nice, varied set of noises to accompany you on your journey and none manage to grate on the ears. For Voice Acting however, I’d have to say the fresh and often unknown newcomers in the English side of things aren’t that good. Some, like Morgana, sound very bored and phoned in places. There is both charm and effort missing from some performances, missing or ignoring a character’s traits entirely to better fit with more “Western” tropes. Morgana, once again, sounds pretty awful due to his english VA.

It just sounds like a young, annoying ten-year old that got a hold of a microphone. Contrast the outstanding VA on the JP side that brings both experience and emotion to the table, and Persona 5 can quickly become a whole new game. The free Japanese VA pack you can download isn’t only worth it – it substantially enhanced the game experience.

On the English side of things, I’d come up to a heartfelt scene that the VAs would *try* to convey in a meaningful manner, but often stumble within seconds. However, the people on the JP side have no such problems. While some might say it’s overacting instead, I’d rather have to slightly tone down a performance mentally than look for it with a magnifying glass – in particular, Ryuji Sakamoto’s VA did a VERY good job, as I’d only realized who he was a solid ten hours into the game. (Yagami Light of Death Note fame). The first time I downloaded the JP voice pack , it did corrupt itself on the way down, leading to bugs – but deleting and reinstalling the DLC fixed it. An overwhelming percentage of my Persona 5 experience was accompanied by the talented Japanese voice cast, and I have 0 regrets over that decision.

The soundtrack is gorgeous as ever – the overall feel tends to lean more towards Jazz and smooth tones, though situational and battle tracks bring on the swing as needed. Shoji Meguro is still on form – the hauntingly beautiful ‘Beneath The Mask’ is made even more beautiful by a slightly different version playing on somber, rainy days.  Unless you own DLC, your default battle theme will be Last Surprise – a delicious ear-pleaser that I did not find myself growing bored with, even 80~ hours in. Emotions are either correctly conveyed or enhanced through music put in appropriate situations, with some truly heart-breaking melodies to accompany the crumbling of one’s mind and the soaring  flight of hope in equal measure.

In terms of story, the game offers up an interesting approach. The protagonist arrives to a new location, taken in by a family friend, and on probation, for doing the right thing. As he goes to school, he finds the information about his probation is out and speculation on what he did is rampant. Kids and adults both seem to cast a very mean eye at you – and not is all as it seems. One of your first days, you accidentally enter another world, shaped by the twisted desires of one of your new teachers. It is in there that you come to access your Persona, an inner self that wishes to rebel, manifesting as a demon, god, or famous person from history – as power. This particular teacher is treating his students very harshly and is an out-and-out sexual molester of the females. This is deliciously dark for Persona and while I naturally do not approve of the act itself, I’m delighted that the story has a slightly more serious edge this time around. However…as you call those to you with similar powers and realize the potential lying within, you can overturn their hearts and make them repent in the real world – “stealing their hearts” as it were.

Soon enough however, you decide that if you can reform dangerous people like this, then it’s worth becoming the Phantom Thieves! As more and more atrocious people come into suspicion, and then your crosshairs, you will be rallied to. As you save people and avenge victims, allies and partners will offer various bits of assistance – and as a greater enemy is slowly uncovered, you will be drawn into a ridiculously epic battle to determine the fate of the world.  As someone who has experienced the True ending route, the calls and nods to prior series, and even the insane subversions were all very welcome – in particular, a reveal roughly 75 hours into the game will throw you hard.

On a personal level, the game is of  course rife with individual struggles. All your teammates are somehow looked down on or mistreated by society. A band of rogues indeed – one particular mid game party member is heart-breaking to explore the heart of, culminating in a well-written, emotional, and satisfying wake to power. In an incredibly dark twist, one of the bad endings outright has this character commit suicide – and it isn’t impossible to see this happen at all! Portrayals are sharp and deep, with a whirlwind of personal conflict bubbling in everyone. You are given no proper ‘clues’ to an important decision that happens 4\5th of the way through the game, but reacting well and remembering small problems from as much as *thirty* hours ago will lead you to the True ending. Should you fail this, your protagonist will get butchered in cold blood – a first for the Persona series.

The setting of Persona 5 is Japan – Tokyo, specifically. While Persona 3 took place in a fantasy city and Persona 4 in fantasy small town, Persona 5 slaps you into one of the biggest cities on the planet. The dense concrete jungle manages not to be suffocating however – there is a LOT to see and a lot to do ! Lush and incredibly detailed, you are given much more freedom than in prior games, both to grow your protagonist, engage in leisure activities, and simply to explore. The densely packed subway will be a close friend of yours as you travel between regions  of Tokyo to undertake in anything from school to fishing to dating ! You can play the lottery – or go into a batting cage, or perhaps train at the gym, or rent some DVDs, read books about historical figures that may or may not end up being your Personae the amount of options are mind-blowing! Some venues have a second or alternate function or benefit. For instance, the Diner will gain you 1-2 knowledge points per use. On a Rainy day, you will get 2-3; and you can order a treat or meal while there that will give another social stat 1 point.

Thematically, all of the dungeons make sense – they strive from the warped desires, stormy internal conflicts, or crushing depression of the characters whose hearts you target, and venture inside of. There is great variety here, with the theming making sense and complementing the personality of your target in an appreciable way. The teacher mentioned earlier, in particular, has had many achievements and is treated with respect – so much so that his version of the school is a castle. HIS castle – where he can torture the students however he wants, because they don’t really matter. On successfully besting this person however, their change of heart is marvellous to witness, both inside AND outside of their heart.

The excellent writing also helps to establish the world and its inhabitants quite well. Again, this aforementioned teacher will – early on – cause so much suffering that a student will end up attempting to commit suicide. Naturally, the character doesn’t exist, but you will likely come to feel the anger and outrage our heroes feel at that point – and the satisfaction of knowing you stopped this will wash over you like a glorious, purifying shower. When the feelings of emotion aren’t in full rage, the turbulent seas of the self are explored – pitfalls, insecurities, issues from the past. Societal and family abuse is fairly common, ranging from the ‘mild’, old “Do what I never could” where a parent forces their offspring to follow in their footsteps, to the actually rather egregious forcing your kid to work so they can pay for YOUR adult gambling addiction!  There is a lot wrong with society, Persona 5 says – it is a long, hard look at some of the worst traits humanity has to offer, but with an infinitely positive and unique message. Embark on this journey and come away a more rounded person.

Persona 5 offers you several difficulty modes, with a punishingly hard one available as free DLC. This tweaks combat difficulty in a few key ways – Normal mode is…well, normal. On Easy, enemies deal half as much damage to you , but all else is retained. On the difficulty below that, you deal more damage, take way less damage with greatly increased exp and money payouts.  This allows you to play however you want – but it also feeds into New Game Plus. On completing your game, you will carry some stuff over into a fresh file – which is needed for some trophies to unlock, such as completing the Persona Compendium, and challenging the resident Superboss of the game. This is something you can only do on your second playthrough, but due to the intimate, story-driven nature of Persona 5, also allows you to pick up on more as you replay familiar segments. Little clues, hints, people who were there weeks before they became relevant. Heck, a major plot point early on is foreshadowed *months* in advance – it does not just come into existence when your party needs an evil to defeat!

As mentioned previously, there are also multiple endings to go for. If you have not gotten the True Ending before, a second playthrough will be more than helpful in doing so . there are layered truths in this game, and the ultimate one is the one you want to shoot for .

The game is very high-energy in combat and delightfully quirky otherwise, a vivid world of paint comes alive at you. Every little thing you do has style, if not an outright flourish to it! Talking to a shopkeeper, navigating his or her menus often causes a silhouette of them to dance around in accordance with your menus – attacks in combat have flare and life in them ! You are given a myriad of options for how to live your student life, as well as how to raid people’s hearts – or Palaces . You can construct thievery tools such as lockpicks to gain treasures locked within, items to help distract or evade enemies – there are so many options, it’s breath-taking, really. In combat directly, you use the familiar system from P4 with some minor alterations.  Hitting a critical attack or an enemy weakness  still grants you a bonus turn for the character who’s done it – except now, if your party members are close enough with you, you can perform a Baton Pass – a mechanic which passes the extra turn to a character of your choice, with slight attack and healing buffs! This can be highly critical to success in some fights, and opens up a slightly deeper can of variety – the one person who can stagger an enemy can point to the healer who then takes you out of the red to save your skin, for instance.

I enjoy story-driven, character-focused games. And when you aren’t neck-deep in twisted manifestations and combat, you will be helping navigate the difficult world of adults and problems in the revamped Social Link system – now called Confidant system. Everyone’s got problems, and the people in Persona 5 are no exception – troubled past and shocking truths yearning to come out, people seeking to cope with, or lose the weight on their shoulders will confide in our protagonist, furthering your friendship with them in an empowering way. Not just because you get various boosts and bonuses – you will feel for some of them and get involved in their problems, and want to see them come out of whatever hole life has put them in.

Actions in combat are almost always narrated in some form – if you hit a weakness, your navigator will let you know. If hit with a status effect, you will know. If you should heal, you will know – though all that is quite evident in the graphics and visuals themselves, having aural reinforcement does not go amiss. Appropriately excited cheers resound when you stagger or finish off enemies in a quick or stylish way, with slight dread setting in if you yourself get ambushed through mental non-focus.  A greater and much more satisfying feedback exists when you move the story on by stealing the hearts of the wicked. They truly repent and realize what monsters they have become – often breaking down and in tears, to apologize for their actions. Due to the sheer scope of their abuse often involved, the sense of satisfaction seeing this can give one can be quite powerful indeed.

Long-awaited and oft-delayed, this powerhouse slams unto the PlayStation 4 with style and grace. It smashed my expectations, going above and beyond – toying with series conventions in meaningful ways. There is a massive subversion for fans that will stare you in the face 70~ hours in that blossoms into an intensely epic situation.  All my raving prior to release, all my expectations and wishes – they were met. And now, at the end of my journey with the game, I not only do not regret all the raving, I’m proud of it. I can hold this game up as a stellar example of not only art and writing in video games, but that video games *are*, in fact art. At least, sometimes.  This was one of *THE* single best  games I have ever played, in my entire life so far. Without a doubt. I can not picture anything more amazing coming along and dethroning this, ‘my baby”, any time soon. This is my game of the year, even above the spectacular Horizon : Zero Dawn .