Persona 5 Review (PS4, 2016)

Where to even begin. I loved Persona 3 & 5 and naturally was looking forward to this game a lot. While I didn't outright dislike playing it, it's still hard for me to deny that it disappointed me. The series always had pacing issues that never sat well with me. The earlier games held it at more or less tolerable levels, while Persona 5 has so many narrative events disrupting the bits of gameplay that even more than a year later I still can't bring myself to even think of replaying the game. With its prequels on the other hand I always jumped right into NG+. The smartphone chat app parts are the worst, characters in those would always say the same things irrelevant to the plot - what a waste of time. Others praise the new dungeons designs, while I still prefer the procedurally generated random dungeons employed by previous games. Now there's narrative events even inside of dungeons, breaking the flow of gameplay even more, enemy encounters are ironically nearly unavoidable. Apparently the stealth mechanics are there for the player to get surprise attacks on enemies, because fighting enemies is almost always the better choice to clear hallways for later re-treating and to gain precious exp. Sneaking past enemies just makes the game even slower, while running away barely works since there are very few save zones and enemies have the tendency to follow you for a long time. The tl;dr here is that the manually designed dungeons are very streamlined, with poor pacing and little tactical value since fighting every enemy is the only real option in most cases. Dungeons in P3&4 always had me considering whether I'd fight or avoid an enemy so those presented much more engagement for me.
The graphics look pretty good thanks to a nice art style. The characters have very static faces though, since the game still uses art portraits to display emotions. People somehow praise the "stylish" menues, while I find them offensive to the eye. To each their own I guess.
The soundtrack is great, but leaves something to be desired. I'm not a fan of the standard combat theme, and the soundtrack while exploring the overworld didn't feel as diverse as was the case in Persona 3 and 4. The few tracks the game has for those parts get old rather quick.

The only screenshot I took because the game almost never allows for it

There's not much to say about the combat itself. They changed how putting enemies down and performing all-out attacks work in a way that leaves less room for abuse, but also makes combat somewhat less interesting. It plays a bit more like a traditional turn based game now. Commands are now mapped to certain buttons, for whatever reason. Personally I still prefer traditional menues for my turn based combat. It's like the game wants to pretend it's an action RPG - when it clearly isn't. Furthermore battle animations in this game are really quick by default. In a way that's good because individual encounters are over relatively quick, but I found it hard for me to be emotionally invested in the combat. In a way they might as well have removed combat animations altogether and it wouldn't have made a big difference as far as the experience goes.

Finally there's the story and writing. It's the worst part of the game, which is a real problem considering Persona 5 is all about its narrative. There's a lot of potential that's sadly never actualized. The player party's obviously supposed to be a bunch of anti heroes, considering they literally brain-wash their enemies for their own gain. The problem here is that said enemies are for the most part comically evil bad guys, so there's not much room to feel bad for them and have a conflicting opinion on the party's actions. There's a rival sort of character that's ultimately wasted on the author's inability to handle a plot that has the main characters in the wrong. Then there's the whole thing where the game's story is told by an unreliable narrator, a way of story telling that doesn't fit well with the kind of game established by Persona 3. When the twist comes up and the whole mystery is revealed it feels very forced. If you break things down the story's also really just the same it's been in Persona 3&4, which is fine for newcomers to the series, but for me it's getting old. Not to mention the individual events happening leading up to the last few months in-game barely add up. There's lots of hinting at things, but no real development. Persona 5 is probably one of the biggest messes of an attempt at a plot in video game, only outdone by games like Final Fantasy XIII...