In the wake of Breath of the Wild turning out to be one of the greatest video games ever made, I have some bad news for your time and wallet: Persona 5 might be up there, too.
For the past few weeks I’ve been playing an early copy of the fifth Persona, logging around 42 hours with Atlus’s latest gang of rowdy high school students, which means I’m probably not even halfway done yet. Kirk’s in-depth review will be up closer to launch (April 4), but for now, I’ve played enough to at least give you the short version: It’s fantastic.
Like previous Persona games, Persona 5 puts you in the snazzy shoes of a quiet transfer student who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. After discovering that he has the ability to change people’s emotional states from nasty to nice by fighting their shadowy alter-egos and “stealing their hearts,” he gets together with a group of other rowdy teens and forms a group called the Phantom Thieves. For a variety reasons, they decide to go around and steal the hearts of targets both big and small, helping save the world as they go.
There’s a rhythm to all this. The game unfolds over a calendar year. On weekdays, you’ll go to school and answer tough (sometimes unreasonable) quizzes from teachers. Then you can hang out with friends, build up your social links, study, work part-time jobs, fight minor shadow demons, and do all of the other activities you might expect from a Persona game. These non-combat chunks of the game are sleek, funny, and scored by a soundtrack too good to be real.
Doing all of these hobbies will help make your party stronger for the dungeon-crawling sections. Every month, you’ll have to steal the heart of a new target by infiltrating his or her “palace,” a shadow world fashioned out of that person’s desires and motivations. Each palace has its own theme, full of monsters, puzzles, and stealth sections. (It’s nice to play a Persona game with actual dungeon design rather than randomly generated corridors.)
As always, you can recruit the monsters you’ll find there, using their weaknesses to take them out, then combining them to make stronger Personas. And you can take on each palace at your own pace, stopping for a breather when your party runs out of MP with the assurance that you can fast-travel between any of a palace’s checkpoints. As long as you infiltrate the palace before the deadline (which is different every month and may result in one of several horrible things happening to your party), you’re golden.
Combined, this all makes for a package worth superlatives. Persona 5 is beautiful, tense, hilarious, stylish, and better than any of the previous games. Also, it’s the first Persona game where the talking animal mascot won’t make you want to put an Evoker to your head.