PlayStation 4
Game Info:

Persona 5
Developed By: Atlus
Published By: Atlus
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Available On: PS4, PS3
ESRB Rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
Genre: Role Playing Game
Mode: Single Player
MSRP: $59.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

The Persona series is over twenty years old now, and is part of the larger Megami Tensei series that dates even farther back, to the Famicom in Japan. These games, by both design and setting, are incredibly Japanese. Fans of deeply Japanese games have long loved this series, having really taken off in the West in the Playstation/PS2 era. Persona 5, like many of the games that came before it, takes place in modern day Japan. In this case, it's Tokyo. Much has been said about how accurate its portrayal of Japan really is; much of Shibuya and Shinjuku is said to be so accurate, that natives do not even need a map to know where to go.

In Persona 5 (I have not played previous entries), the Metaverse is a cognitive world that exists because of the existence of various desires of the many inhabitants of Tokyo. Each of these desires or cognitions takes on the form of a shadow. These shadows can have a human form, or some kind of monster/Persona, or a further distortion, depending on the strength of the unnatural desire behind them.

Personas are aspects of a personality taken form. Some Personas are a part of the character they represent; for example, your teammates each have one Persona they use basically the whole game, and it grows as they do. The protagonist, our unnamed and nearly silent hero, has the special ability where he can equip one of many Personas. (You get to name him, and he does gain the nickname 'Joker'.) There are over two hundred different kinds of Personas available to be discovered, most of which have to be earned through convincing them to join you during battle. Others must be unlocked or discovered through Persona fusion, which is a somewhat gruesome process where Personas are executed in order to have them fuse to make a new, hopefully more powerful one.

Some distortions are so severe, that they create what is called a Palace inside of the Metaverse. Much of the game revolves around these Palaces. By entering them, you and your team of Phantom Thieves, which is what your gang calls themselves, can determine what aspect of the person behind the Palace is distorted, and you can even work to heal them of it. Major crimes and long held conspiracies are exposed, and sick and twisted desires are shown for what they truly are. The many forms of depravity explored by Persona 5 include sexual objectification, excessive greed, devaluing human life, and the unending pursuit of power. They each also take place in unique fantastical locales, with an environment that reflects how the Palace owner views each distortion.

Persona 5

Strong Points: Incredible art direction; great music and sound; fantastic voice acting; very engaging storyline; very lovable characters; deep and enjoyable game play mechanics; incredibly long adventure that never gets boring
Weak Points: Might be too long for some
Moral Warnings: Every common curse word, including God's name in vain, 'sh*t', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', 'd*ck', and 'f*ck'; some blood and violence; lots of sexual content, as both serious and light-hearted subject matter, including talk about rape or other forced sexual encounters; optional pre-marital sex, including with adults in authority over you, despite your character being 16 years old; some homosexual characters and jokes; women sometimes wear very form fitting clothes, including bathing suits; some monsters/Personas wear practically nothing, with fully exposed breasts (with no nipples); some other monsters/Personas are clearly shaped like male genitalia; game world areas are sometimes extremely dark, with twisted and distorted desires on display; all Personas and enemies (which can also be Personas) are aspects of personality, and run the gamut from angelic to demonic, and everything in between, including names like Gabriel, Michael, Satan, Lucifer, and a false god; Persona types based on tarot cards, and a fortune teller uses them

This process is called 'stealing hearts', because the Palace owner has a change of heart once the process is complete. That is why the group's full name is 'Phantom Thieves of Hearts'. Once the Treasure inside a Palace is found and identified, this Treasure is stolen, which then triggers the change.

What makes the Phantom Thieves unique, other than access to the Metaverse, which is pretty unique in itself, is that the characters exhibit a powerful will of rebellion against the status quo. By manifesting that rebellion in the Metaverse, they release their shadows and instead gain a Persona, which is a manifestation of that will, and some aspect of their personality takes over. For each, it's some exaggerated form of a dominant aspect of their rebellion. For example, for Ann, a very attractive model, it's a dominatrix Persona; for Ryuji, a rowdy former track team member, it's a pirate.

For our unnamed silent protagonist, he has a unique power. He can manifest, erase, and replace aspects of his personality at will. Therefore, as mentioned before, he can gain more Personas, most of which are unlocked or discovered through battles. Since Personas are aspects of personality, they each has a human will to survive. As such, you can sometimes, when you are able to 'Hold up' (or threaten) the enemy you are fighting, negotiate with them, and they can join your cause. While being held up, you can also extort money or items from them as well. The easiest way to do this is to hit their elemental weak points, so it's good to have as many skills available as possible.

Like many other games where magic is a major attack method, there are elemental strengths and weaknesses for each Persona. Some really powerful ones have no weaknesses; in order to trigger a 'Hold up', you will need to hit them with a critical hit, which can be a real challenge sometimes. The types of attacks are many; these include physical, gun, fire, ice, electric, wind, psy, nuclear, bless, and curse. Each Persona can be weak to, strong against, or repel attacks of that element. Of course, this also means that you can equip Personas like this, making you nigh invulnerable if you do it correctly.

Battles are turn based, with most enemies visible in the game world around you. You can try to avoid them, and sometimes it works, but they are aware of their surroundings, so it's usually best to just sneak up on them and try to get the upper hand that way. Ambushes give you the first turn unopposed, which can really help. Of course try to avoid being ambushed yourself... that can hurt. With physical and gun attacks, various Personas with a limited number of skill slots each, and tactical commands like switching out party members, battles remain varied and interesting throughout the game.

Outside of the palaces, there is a lot to do in this game. Tokyo is a huge place, and you have the opportunity to go to school, meet lots of people, get part time jobs, and deepen your relationships. You will spend at least half of the game deciding what to do each day. As you meet key people who help you on your quest, you then gain Confidants that not only have interesting character arcs, but also can help you indirectly in battle. For example, one Confidant gives you the ability to negotiate better during 'Hold up' situations. Another grants you the power to switch out to any other character with any character – very powerful, indeed.

And each Confidant grants additional experience when fusing Personas of their arcana, which makes a huge difference, especially late in the game. There are over twenty arcana, and a Confidant for each. Each is based on a tarot card. A significant amount of time will be likely spent in the Velvet room fusing Personas, and trying to unlock new ones.

Spending time with your Confidants isn't just for battle uses, but also there is a romantic subplot with each of the female characters. You can choose to date any woman who is above a certain rank. You can also choose to be faithful to one girlfriend, or be a jerk and date several (or all) at once. This can't possibly end well... There is premarital sex with your girlfriend(s), though it is not always explicitly obvious. Some of the women you can date are much older than you, and at least one indulges in a common male high school fantasy, with someone who is in authority over you. I don't know about Japan, but things like this often result in jail time here in the U.S.A.

And that brings us to perhaps the most difficult part of Persona 5 – the many, many, moral issues to be aware of. It must be said up front that this game is for adults only. The M rating is there for a reason – despite the fantastic anime art style, this game deals with many mature themes and is not for children of any age.

Persona 5
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 98%
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 31%
Violence - 3/10
Language - 2/10
Sexual Content - 3/10
Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

The reasons for this are many. The spiritual aspects are legion (not to be confused with the Legion Persona). People's shadows take many forms, and the Personas even more. These include angelic ones like Michael and Gabriel, and demonic ones like Satan, Lucifer, and 'Satanael', which is supposed to be Satan before the fall (and God's second son) and is the game's highest level Persona. The symbolism is obvious, as he kills a false god with the seven deadly sins. There are others based on pagan gods, like Anubis, Thor, Baal, and many more that I have likely forgotten. One of a character's skills resembles a pentagram. Persona types are based on tarot cards, and there is a fortune teller that uses them.

When the main character receives his Persona at the beginning of the game, it is said that you make a pact with a dark power that is chained to Hell. These Personas are the rebel's soul that resides in each person. It is unleashed by detesting the enemies, and using that animosity to unleash the power within you. Rebellion against society and wrongdoing is a common theme. Like many other games of this kind, it uses the 'use darkness to defeat greater darkness' concept.

Of course moral issues surrounding Personas extend beyond just their spiritual implications. There are many males and females wearing practically nothing (though all private parts and breasts are Barbie smooth or covered). Several are sexually themed, like a dominatrix Persona, and some are clearly phallic, with one that is clearly a male body part with little left to the imagination. Some descriptions of Personas are also sexual or otherwise mature in their details.

The circumstances our human friends find themselves in are rather shocking and mature. There are threats of violence, sexual and otherwise. Prostitution as a societal sin is discussed and dealt with. A teacher is abusing students, both physically and sexually. These topics are all addressed in a mature manner, and mostly appropriately, but still not for children. Murder, suicide, the mafia, blackmail, animal abuse, and other difficult and mature topics are also addressed. There are also many examples of abuse of power and using relationships for personal gain, with often disastrous results to those being abused.

Human girls wear very revealing bikinis, and some jokes are made about the male gaze, including a desire of one to paint a nude model 'for art'. An attractive girl is noted to hold down her skirt or point out guys trying to look down her shirt. One girl is seen wearing a tight leather outfit and carries a whip. As mentioned before, the main character can have one or many girlfriends (with consequences if he takes more than one), and has sex with them, including with grown women. A maid service exists in the game, and sexual services being available is implied, though you are too young for those services.

Language is also fully in the adult camp, with every common curse word uttered, including God's name in vain, 'sh*t', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', 'd*ck', and 'f*ck'. At least one character uses foul language fairly regularly, with 'd*mn' and 'sh*t' heard in battle. There are times when you need to lie to proceed.

There is some violence, including mostly RPG violence, but there are bloody scenes, mostly in the prerendered anime cutscenes. There is a scene where a bullet kills another and blood splats, and whenever a Persona is unlocked, they pull a mask off of their face, and blood sprays when this happens. Also, when Personas are combined, the process is called Execution and you see the gruesome task performed as a bag is put over their heads and a guillotine is used to execute them. Thankfully, the guillotine execution can be skipped, as you have to perform it often whenever fusing Personas.

Despite all of this, there are some positive references to Christianity, as well as references to Shintoism. There is a Shinto temple and a church, and at the church you even learn about Jesus' Passion and it describes the Crucifixion. A priest explains the anguish, forgiveness, and resurrection of Jesus, and how he bore the sins of mankind. There are other references to the Bible, like the Parable of the Talents. Phrases like 'thank God' and 'oh my God' are also used.

Despite all of this, Persona 5 in an incredibly memorable game. It took me over one hundred and fifty hours to complete, and there is still a new game plus available if one is so inclined. The voice acting and music is phenomenal. The art style is so incredible that hundreds (thousands?) of memes have sprung up all over the internet celebrating it. The characters are wonderful, and you come to love each and every one of them. As a game, it is a solid game of the year contender for sure. Like the very best games, you feel sad when it's finally over, despite it sucking up months of your life. The many and numerous appropriateness issues must be considered carefully before any purchasing decisions are made. This game is for adults only, and I can understand why many may decide to avoid it altogether. But if you do decide to play it, it is an experience you won't soon forget.

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Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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