As South Africa enters its 21-day lockdown in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, it has left many civilians in the isolation of their homes. Many see this as a great opportunity to spend quality time with some family and loved ones, while others cherish diving into forms of entertainment to occupy their time and pass the weeks (when not working remotely, in that case). To cushion some of the tedium, Nexus has decided to create a daily feature in which we recommend games of varying lengths and content that could pass the time. Our second recommendation in Lockdown Gaming has us stealing hearts with The Phantom Thieves in Persona 5.
Shifting gears from the high fantasy orc-bashing of Skyrim to a much simpler game (in theory), let's dive into my personal Game of the Year of 2017 - and I'm sorry, Breath of the Wild, but another game stole my heart that year. Atlus' Persona series had mostly been seen as a niche franchise up until this point. While it still amassed a large fan base and its fair share of critical acclaim, I believe it wasn't until Persona 5 did the series really catapult itself into the limelight and bring in a wave of new fans.
This was possible due to Persona 5's superb marketability. The art style was unique, featured vivid, eye-popping colours, and a soundtrack that has pretty much been etched into the halls of video game's greatest scores. We'll get back to all of this in more detail, but as far as RPGs went around 2017, the turn-based mechanic was sadly losing steam in the mainstream. Once an extremely popular (and one could argue quintessential) mechanic in RPG games, turn-based combat slowly got pushed further and further back into indie realms as time went on, with most RPG franchises favouring real-time combat (who could blame them?). Persona 5 then came along and completely rejuvenated the turn-based formula in what is, in my opinion, the best of its kind.
Taking place in Tokyo, Japan, Persona 5 follows our nameless protagonist, Joker, as he transfers to the bustling city on probation following a wrongful assault. Here, he quickly befriends a handful of people who all seem to notice something rather strange happening in the various districts. Joker soon figures out that him, along with a handful of students, can enter the subconscious realms of individuals called the Metaverse, and explore their psyche like fortresses or castles. Together with the newly formed Phantom Thieves, he uses this sudden power to tap into the hearts of certain bad people in order to, quite literally, change their minds and hearts.
Persona 5 set a very high bar for JRPGs of its kind. When not raiding various subconscious palaces and castles - with all of the Phantom Thieves dashingly dressed in leather - players must abide by a daily timeline for Joker to follow. There are times during the day where it's possible for players to enter the Metaverse, but for the most part, daily activities such as studying, working a job, socializing with friends, dating, playing sports, and commuting to school must all be upheld. Now that might sound boring at face value, but trust me, they make up some of the most interesting and addictive aspects of Persona 5 - and are the very reasons why the game is so lovingly embraced as one of the best JRPGs of our time.
Let's talk about the Metaverse and combat. Like previous entries, each character is given a number of personas to choose from. While the rule of many only really applies to Joker, other character's personas (think of them as spiritual manifestations that take the forms of creatures) are a perfect reflection of their personalities and these traits shine through in their abilities as well. Using them in combat is essential to victory, but thanks to the complex yet easy to learn turn-based system, Persona 5 presents a number of ways to engage each fight. While exploring the subconscious castles of the Metaverse trying to take down some evil wrong-doer, the Phantom Thieves engage in constant battles, not only with the owner of that Metaverse, but with their various defense mechanisms that take the form of foot soldiers and other creatures.
Combat is fairly straight-forward if you're familiar with turn-based combat (select attacks, healing, etc), but bolstered by Persona 5's striking visuals and art style. Colours burst on screen with each command and attack, much like an energetic anime or comic book. It's ultra-stylish and simply oozes "cool", further emphasized by the upbeat jazz-pop tunes of the infectious soundtrack. All of this culminates in battles that are visual and audio bliss, and I really can't stress enough how unique and stylish they are. Persona 5's identity is purely defined by its aesthetic, and with the right amount of heart (no pun intended) in its gripping multi-narrative and layered characters, it ends up working on every level.
So why should you play Persona 5 during the lockdown? On top of being one of the best games of the decade (there's your reason enough there), Persona 5 is, by far, the most inviting entry in the series to date. And no, you don't have to have played the previous games to get into this one. It's a self-contained story with a delightful beginning and a heart-pounding climax. How long will this journey take you, you might ask? Remember how in yesterday's lockdown gaming piece, I said Skyrim's story will take you 30-40 hours to beat? Persona 5 makes it look like a cake walk. Atlus' gargantuan JRPG's story alone will take you anywhere between 90-100 hours to complete, and this is excluding the various side missions. On top of that, thanks to the extremely flexible moment-to-moment gameplay of the social aspect of the game, there's plenty of replay value (and if you're the dating kind of gamer, trust me, there are A LOT of options).
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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