Today is the day where I bump a several month dead topic because I want to make sense of Persona 5. So all the spectors, ghosts, and phantoms that are still logged into this board can have something to read.
Persona 5 is a pretty sharp game. I have no fucking idea how this idea didn't come to anybody sooner, but it finally occurred to somebody that RPGs are generally all about just flipping through menus, so why not make the menus part of the game's thematic presentation? Virtually every menu in the game manages to be visually striking in some way. I mean, just going to the item shop and buying a bunch of curatives manages to be cool, and exciting, and provocative. It was clear that somebody sat down and really put a lot of thought into how the menus worked and felt. The voice acting helped here too, as there's parts when the shopkeep laughs at you for making a mistake in the menus, or for navigating the menus so quickly that it cuts them off, commenting on your rudeness. Ultimately, yeah, this is a somewhat superficial touch, but the menus here do as much heavy lifting as any part of the game, so they should get points for finding a different way to further the game's overall presentation.
The way the game plays is pretty predictably good, as Atlus has been copy/pasting what is essentially the same battle system for over ten years. It's somewhat guilty of being flashy for the sake of being flashy, but it blends well with the way the menus work, so it's hard to hold it against them. They've also gotten a little bit further away from the randomly generated dungeon nonsense that they've stuck with in the last two Persona games, which was nice to finally see. The dungeons even positively contribute to the story in this game, even if most of them do usually devolve into something somewhat mindlessly grueling at points. Most of them are in the range of being tiresomely long(particularly if you try to make it through them in one shot), and I personally think it would have helped the game out to shorten all of them in order to add an extra dungeon. But they're all responsible for some interesting moments, which is more than I can say for the last two Persona games. There is still one randomly generated dungeon(with a fucking terrible 30-second song that plays on repeat for all 70 or so floors[the one overtly terrible production decision in the entire game]), but the game rarely forces you into it, and generally lets you crawl through it at your leisure. So while it is pretty innately tiresome, and the game does force you to make your way through all of it, you can elect to go through it in such small doses that it probably will fail to ever be a true nuisance.
The story is where I'm torn, though. There's some genuinely interesting stuff in the story, hamstrung by some dull, uneventful turns in the story, and a depressing amount of characters that fail to ever be particularly compelling.
What I think works best in the story is how the game's depiction of Tokyo, coupled with your suggested place in it, manages to tell the game's story more powerfully than the characters or cutscenes usually do. Whenever games have cities, the effort is usually made to make it interactive in some way. People know you, stuff happens there, you have the capacity to change it, some degree of interactivity. That does not really happen in Persona 5. Tokyo is static and unchanging, and it really doesn't give a shit about you. It's all populated with a near-infinite amount of formless, almost shapeless NPCs, only a fraction of which you can talk to or interact with, and even fewer can you interact with meaningfully. This, along with the almost always effective music, really can go a long way in making you feel very cold and alone when you're just out in the middle of a rainy night buying groceries and showing up to your soul-crushing convenience store job. You'll probably end up in pretty subjective territory when it comes to forming an opinion about Tokyo in the game, as they really do a rather good job of duplicating the actual real-life feel of a major metropolitan area. The words "cold" and "alone" would be two words I'd choose to best summarize my experiences just aimlessly wandering around large cities, which might be one of the reasons why I describe this game's Tokyo with such terms. I'd expect others might describe the game's portrayal of Tokyo in different terms depending on what they bring to the game themselves. It's this large, labyrinthine entity that's simply THERE, looming over everything in the game, constantly abuzz with every new stupid piece of rumor and gossip. It's neat and beautiful and horrifying and disgusting, and you could really just piece together everything going on in the story by the wonderfully inane bullshit you hear people whispering and shrieking to each other in the street. You could consider Tokyo itself one of the game's main characters, if not the true main character, and I'd argue it is the strongest designed of all of them.
But I went into Persona 5 excited about the individuals I'd be spending my time in the game with, particularly after playing something like Persona 4. I fucking loved Persona 4, to a point that I'm slightly embarrassed how much I liked Persona 4. None of the characters in it were all that unique, and hardly any of them are all that interesting, but they really tried to give almost everybody an interesting character arc(and very often succeeded), and they invested a remarkable amount of time in the game just trying to make an interesting dynamic between all these characters. And the game really endeavors to be about introspection, with virtually every named character in the game presented with some personal obstacle they need to overcome, some innate personality quirk or shitty way of looking at the world. I found it pretty easy to get behind a story that tried to do that, to depict these somewhat dynamic people who actively desire to be better, more functioning human beings.
So I went into Persona 5 with similar expectations and found myself somewhat disappointed. Fundamentally, there is an easy explanation for this: In Persona 4, the antagonist of every individual character's story is themselves, while the antagonist of every character's story in Persona 5 is almost always some other shitty person. From a purely logistical standpoint, this is going to really get in the way of interesting developmental arcs for the characters, as they themselves usually do not need to address their own faults. The blame in Persona 5 is almost always cast on somebody else, so when that somebody else is removed from the equation, everything almost magically turns out all right for that character. Not to say that character arcs don't happen, as there are a couple characters that change and become more interesting the more time you spend with them, but this overarching theme often does a disservice in leaving characters static and unchallenged.
Though probably more damning than this even is that the dynamic within the main game party is dull and uninteresting. They invest a genuine amount of time with them all just hanging out, chatting about various things, but it rarely manages to be fun or interesting. These people are just not particularly good company, the ice goes through the whole game entirely unbroken, and, as a result, I found it a bit difficult to really relate to these sleepy, humorless people. Probably the tone had something to do with it, as the story maintains this level of gloom the entire game that it never adequately diverts from, and that the individual problems of the characters are almost exclusively kept within their confidant story virtually forces the party dynamic to talk exclusively about the main story for 100 hours. It all just gets a bit boring after a while.
I blame the fucking cat. What a goddamn awful character. It's neat at first; this cute little cat that hides in your backpack and your desk at school. But the cat is arrogant, stupid, and ferociously humorless, managing never to really contribute positively to the party dynamic or anything interesting going on in the story, and its only function in the overall narrative is to be a tutorial dispenser. Most notoriously, the game elects to have the cat substitute in for interior monologue events, such as when you're too tired to go out partying in the middle of the night and the game needs to tell you when you're too tired and should go to bed. That would have been a neat idea to put in a game had this not been a game about personal liberation. The unintended end result of getting continuously bossed around by this little shit for 125 hours is that you feel imprisoned by your fucking cat, which is something that they needed to be a lot more fucking careful about, as this idea has absolutely no thematic place in a story with this kind of end goal. Regardless, the cat fucks off at various points in the story, only to return, expecting you to actually give a shit. But I did not give a shit. There's a billion cats out there that aren't going to fucking sass me and tell me when I should go to bed. I guess I couldn't help but compare Morgana's presence to Teddie's presence in Persona 4, specifically the part in Persona 4 Golden when he lives with you. Rather than just bossing you around when he moves in, or continuously pummel you with smarmy one-liners, when Teddie moves in he breaks all your shit, nurses you back to health when you get sick, leaves clumps of hair in the refrigerator, helps you dig for bugs in the garden, and very innocently attempts to have a gay encounter with you. Teddie is a goddamn party, Morgana is a fucking prison. That's why this isn't a better game. Full stop.
I kinda jest, as it all does work to an extent, just not quite as good as it could have. Like the game really bets the farm on their PLOT TWISTS, which I guess can be cool, but plot twists are always more interesting when they're more a matter of interesting characterization rather than a surprising turn of events. The game has some of these later on(two or three in particular), and they're so enormous that nobody is allowed to stream the game or take pictures using the playstation's integrated sharing tools. To be fair, they are actually pretty neat plot twists, almost makes the game feel like one big Mission: Impossible episode, but, for me, the most stunning plot twists are what happens when you and your idiot friends decide to call a sexy maid service, and the fact that the oppressively obedient character that does little but bother you for what felt like a fifth of the game is actually really cool once you get to know her. I think it's somewhat discouraging that Atlus was off-the-mark about this, but they were on the mark enough times that I'm probably nit-picking at this point.
This wasn't supposed to be so meandering. Persona 5 is a really insanely good game. I guess my beef is that it could have been THE BEST game. The thing's got a really interesting, distinct style, a tremendous soundtrack, handles well, and a good story. But the structure of these Persona games are such that they're really made or broken by their characters, and I felt as though they lost sight of that to an extent.