This review is the last part of My 2023 in Gaming retrospective, with Persona 5 Royal earning the distinction of my favorite game of last year.
In terms of video games, 2023 was the year of Persona for me. If you are following my retrospective series, you may have already come to that conclusion. But my obsession with the franchise started back in 2022 when I decided to finally give a chance to a game that so many people talked wonders about. The game in question? In case you didn’t read the title of this review, it’s Persona 5 Royal. To give you a bit of context, I never had much interest in JRPGs (Japanese role-playing games) before. My only experience worth noting with the genre was a couple of hours in Final Fantasy VII before I dropped it for whatever reason (I intend to replay it properly in the near future, though). But there was something about Persona 5 that always drew my attention. It was not the detailed anime-like aesthetic, nor the captivating gameplay. It was actually its sense of style, present in all clips and trailers I saw from it. The impulse to play Persona 5 once and for all came when ports of it were announced for Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PC. The marketing surrounding them put the game again on my radar, and so, I snagged a cheap second-handed copy for the PS4, just to try it. To my surprise, I got immediately hooked.
Persona 5, being a Persona game, follows for the most part the classic Persona formula. If you don’t know what any of this means, I vividly recommend you to read my review of Persona 4 Golden, where I explain briefly how this unique franchise works. While the previous games opted for smaller or lesser-known settings around Japan, this one went for the iconic capital city, Tokyo. During the many hours of gameplay, you can explore many well-known locations, such as Shibuya crossing and its surroundings. While I can’t say how faithful the in-game recreations of these places are, since I’ve never been to Japan, I can tell there is a feeling of authenticity in them. One place in particular that I want to highlight is actually the humble neighborhood of Yongen-Jaya, where the game’s protagonist lives during its events.
Into the Metaverse
Our protagonist, in classic Persona fashion, is a teenager who is forced to get away from his hometown and spend an entire year in a new city. This time around, the reason is probation imposed on him, due to a crime he was wrongly accused of. For some reason, a family friend who lives in Tokyo accepted to welcome him during that period, keeping him under a watchful eye. While still adapting to his new life by getting to know his classmates and teachers at his new school, he accidentally ends up in a parallel reality, known as the “Metaverse” (no, it’s not the one that you are thinking of). In this Metaverse, the protagonist finds distorted (and deeply disturbing) versions of people he met in the real world, including the one responsible for his crime accusation. Those versions consist of the personification of their twisted desires, and it’s our job, by incarnating this protagonist, to defeat them with our Persona abilities.
One of the many questionable people we meet during the game’s narrative is the school’s PE teacher and volleyball team coach, who abuses physically and sexually his trainees. In the Metaverse, he takes the form of a king, living in a castle guarded by tokenized versions of those same trainees. This castle is actually the first of many dungeons present in the game. As in the case I just mentioned, every dungeon is carefully designed around the person we must defeat, as are the real-world events surrounding it, making them a spectacular part of the full experience.
Of course, the spectacularity of these dungeons, and the entire game, is severely amplified by its incredible art direction. Character and scenario designs aside, the real star of the show, in my opinion, is the user interface. Persona 5, like any RPG, relies a lot on many different menus for all kinds of actions, and every single one of them here has unique layouts and animations presented in a punk aesthetic, fitting the game’s theme of breaking society’s moral corruption. If that wasn’t enough, such visual galore is scored by one of the best soundtracks I ever had the pleasure to hear in a video game, composed in a jazzy style (in lack of a more technical term). Any words I write here won’t do justice to it, so the best I can do is to recommend you to listen to it for yourself.
While Persona 5 is undeniably fantastic, it’s worth noticing its biggest issue: its longevity. Depending on the person, this can be either a problem or a benefit. It took me 132 hours to finish the game, and I still missed several things during my playtime. The case is ‘aggravated’ in its Royal version (the one I played), which expands significantly the length of the story. It’s a great bang for your buck for sure, but if you are someone like me, who likes to play several different games in many different styles, being stuck in a single one for months can be just a bit tiresome. Even so, on the day after I finally ended my lengthy journey with Persona 5 Royal, I was already missing it.
- Unique and impactful art style
- Amazing, explorable dungeons
- Story full of deep and morally dark themes
- One of the best original soundtracks ever created for a game
- It requires a significant time investment just to finish it
Even considering it’s not a game for everyone, Persona 5 Royal is without a doubt one of the very best ever made. Its incredible sense of style and attention to detail brought many new fans to this fantastic series, with me being one of them.
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