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Number 3: Persona 5


Copyright P-Studios and Atlus

There were a lot of JRPGs that came out this year.  I didn’t like most of them, so I mostly played Final Fantasy games, and this.  I’ve always liked Persona games, but they’re also really hard, in grand Atlus tradition, so I’ve never quite finished one.  Truth be told, this is also the one game on my list I haven’t beaten (okay, I don’t have all of the moons in Mario, nor am I level 70 in Stormblood, but still), but I have played a great deal of it and I think I have a pretty good idea, and already, not only is the best JRPG I’ve played all year, I think it’s my favorite Persona game of all time.

Persona games have always been known for making their specific style work for the systems within the game, but they’ve never done it quite as well as they’ve done it here.  Narrative, mechanics, character design and level design all come together to form a level of cohesion the video game industry doesn’t see very often.  Every piece of the game bleeds into every other part, creating a whole so much more than the sum of its parts, and its parts are some of the best I’ve seen.

This game has the best art design of the year.  It’s a hard won victory, too, since it’s got to compete with Stormblood and Breath of the Wild in its use of colors and design, but this time, P-Studios just knocked it out of the park in terms of visuals.  Persona games always have a sense of style, but it’s always been a kind of modern, high fashion casual style, with characters who look great, but all look like they kind of shop at the same store.  Persona 5 not only gives each character the most unique appearances in the series to date, they do so multiple times.  Everyone always has a few outfits in a Persona game, sure, but here, they have multiple types of casual and school clothes, and their casual clothes aren’t just a variant on their school outfits.  Even more, they’ve managed to make the “persona” element of the series even more prominent by giving each character their own super hero-esque alter ego, complete with a costume that fits their personality and the themes that character will explore.

They’re also just some of the best super hero costumes I’ve ever seen.  Marvel and DC ain’t got shit on how good these look, and how well they match their characters.  Joker, the main character, has a really awesome black trench coat, sweet jester boots and some awesome gloves, which do a great job of comparing him to Arsene Lupin, and other master thieves from literature.  It’s not just Joker, either, but all of the characters get some sort of reference to history or literature as a means of exploring their personal identities.  From Catwoman to Goemon to Sherlock friggin’ Holmes, each character ties in with their persona both through their in game powers and their abilities and through how their alter ego looks.

Also cool about this version of Persona is how it explores how society, specifically Japanese society, but it also takes aim at American and European society too, manages to exclude or oppress those who don’t quite fit in or do something that makes them easy targets.  Each main character has been screwed over in the past, whether directly or indirectly, by people in power, whether they have been sexually abused, criminally threatened, literally assaulted, stolen from, cheated or cut out from society simply due to the fact that society allows people with power to act as predators instead of protectors.  Sure, the game really stumbles (again) when it comes to LGBTQ+ themes (and the unfortunate sexual harassment angle with Ann), but for the most part, it really gives us as players a good look into what society can do to good people because of one mistake, or just because a bad person with a lot of power can decide to ruin someone’s life for no real reason.  It certainly wasn’t intended to correspond with Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump, the game had been in development for 4 years before it finally came out, but both its successes and its failures really resonate this year, making the game much more relevant than it was ever intended to be.

Mechanically, this might be the smoothest Persona game ever made.  It’s well made, of course, and plays a lot like any other Persona game, but the game is much better with balance in terms of combat and difficulty, the exception being the first dungeon, which is ridiculously hard for some reason.  The game still has the series’s tactical depth and complex system of using Personas to maximize the use of skills and abilities, but it also makes sure that the player is more eased into the system, and probably does the best job of teaching the player how the system work of any game in the series.  Then, they went the extra mile and added a whole bunch of great subsystems to the game to reinforce the “phantom thief” angle, which are simple, sure, but I’m not expecting this to be Metal Gear Solid, either.  They service the idea that the PCs are thieves stealing the sins and darkness from within the hearts of predators and sociopaths, and it’s a lot of fun to get the drop on some monsters without having to run around them for six minutes (looking at you, Tales of Berseria).  The stealth reinforces the game’s focus on tactics and long term strategy.

Also, finally, one of the Personas in this game is a fucking motorcycle that shoots nukes ridden by a girl who fights for justice and dresses like a knight.  Much like with Thor Ragnarok, it’s like they wanted to make a game that appeals directly to me.


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