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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Persona 5.

Transcript Edit

You know, Japan's a lovely country and all, but from what video games have taught me, I'm really glad I never went to high school there. I'm not sure I could have handled the overwhelming pressure to succeed academically, knowing that I might show up for final exams and find an enormous, radioactive footprint where the school building used to be. And then there's dating, having to use a vacuum pumper to protract and to spike your hair every morning, not knowing if you're satisfying your girlfriend as much as the tentacled alien sex demon she hangs out with on weekends. Still, at least Japanese high schools always seem to have an impressive range of extracurricular activities available; there's the track team, the newspaper club, the guys who travel to a magic netherworld after school to battle symbolic demons born from the dark desires of humanity, and-- ooh, volleyball sounds fun.

Which brings us to Persona 5. This is the first Persona game I've played, though I know the series by reputation: the games are half-high school life simulator and half-fantasy JRPG, which really goes to show the kinds of lengths Japanese culture will go to to bring tentacle demons and schoolgirls together. We are bog-standard mute-yet-paradoxically-good-at-making-friends JRPG protagonist, who is on probation for a crime he didn't commit, and is sent to a last-chance school where he discovers he has the ability to enter a strange otherworld formed from the minds and hearts of evil humans, and that he can then steal the source of those humans' malevolence and make them better people in the real world. Also, for some reason, he has to do this while dressed like he has to go straight from a wedding reception to an S&M party. He enlists an ever-growing Scooby gang of fellow outcasts, partly to aid him in his campaign against a string of tormentors, partly to see what kind of stupid outfits he can persuade them to wear.

It sounds complex, but it really isn't. "Ooh, the school turned into a castle and the evil teacher is its king, because that's how he thinks of himself." That's some sophisticated symbolism! "And if you haven't quite understood yet, we'll explain it another thirty or forty times before we're done." The morality is not terribly complex, either; as much as the heroes wibble endlessly back and forth about the righteousness of their actions, the baddies all turn out to be so cartoonishly monstrous that doubts rocket away like a New York motorist after the light turns green. But hey, if I like complexity so much, maybe I should stop playing games with cartoon cats and girls in skin-tight vinyl who won't stop thrusting their bum out even when they're dying or bathing elderly relatives.

Persona 5's story gets the basics down pat; we like the heroes and we hate the villains in the same uncomplicated way one likes McDonald's cheeseburgers and hates spiders that live in McDonald's cheeseburgers, but it does the job. I could even forgive the JRPG turn-based combat, because all the systems are infused with this almost musical rhythm that makes it viscerally satisfying, although having said that, if you're going to make a 60-hour RPG, have a speck of fucking mercy and have more than one music track for standard battles. Doesn't matter how good the track is; "Bohemian Rhapsody" is good, but if I had to listen to the first thirty seconds of it forty times an hour for three days, I'd end up wanting to travel back in time and skull-fuck the idea out of Freddie Mercury's living brain. But I digress.

The turn-based combat is less about standing around exchanging attritive skull clocks and more about figuring out elemental weaknesses so you can bully the monsters into giving up and take their lunch money; no, really, you can do that. You can also sit down and have a little heart-to-heart, which has a chance of convincing them to climb inside your Santa sack with your other stolen goods and lend you their power. Later, you can combine two Personas together to create a third by executing them violently in a startlingly bleak metaphor for child-rearing. And when this was all introduced, I smelled a little rat and fancied I heard the sound of a dinner gong being struck to summon the 100% completion nutters, because it turned into Persona Pokémon, and I ain't got no truck with all that tedious grinding up to maximize combat efficiency, not while the review's due on Tuesday, so I just dialed the difficulty down a notch every time the boss fights started getting too hard, which probably explains why my career as a football coach ended so disastrously.

But if I was the sort of player who gave a shit about fully optimizing myself, Persona 5 seemed like the kind of game that would give me a fully-optimized nervous breakdown, and not just because you have to prowl the dungeons like the fucking Child Catcher striking names off your list, not just because there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason behind what dialogue options convince the monsters to join you; you might as well push your cheeks towards your nose and communicate in wet farting noises. The secondary portion of the game, the high school life simulator bit, will also infuriate the psychotic completionists, because you've got five stats to keep digging over and you've got all these friends and party members you need to spend time with to improve your Personas in their combat skills. But the rub is that most of your limited number of days only have two time slots, daytime and evening, and you can only do one thing in each slot. Can't leave with more than one friend at a time or just for an hour at lunch, no, because apparently, we exclusively befriend insecure twerps who couldn't be any needier if they were in a permanent vegetative state.

And the game's also a little unintuitive about what constitutes time slot-filling activity; you can get the metro to the pawn shop, flog a bunch of loot from the last dungeon, take another metro to the bookshop in the red light district to buy a copy of Razzle, and no time will pass at all. But sit down at your desk to craft one fucking lockpick and there goes the fucking afternoon! And then sometimes the game goes into a prolonged story phase and several days and cutscenes will go by with no opportunity to do anything else, so if you've got rented DVDs due back, then you can piss up a chimney, Joe Titwank. Also, when it says you have 20 days to complete a dungeon, you actually have 18, because you have to take two days out to prepare for the final boss, it being very exhausting to stand in a circle yelling "Persona!" over and over again.

But despite occasionally feeling like a game that was designed by sloths that takes forever to get anywhere, I admit to finding Persona 5 quite absorbing. Not for the combat, not if I'm knocking the difficulty level down the moment it starts to even slightly annoy, like a jaded babysitter. I suppose Stardew Valley has shown me that I get easily absorbed by day-to-day life simulators because it lets me know what it's like to have a real job, but in truth, I kept playing because I wanted to see what happened next. There's a comparison to be made with Mass Effect here: both games are about forming a Scooby gang, but I like the Persona 5 Scooby gang members because they're underdogs, they don't open up to you straight away, and they're expressive. They're not alleged sci-fi super-soldiers with the combat skills of a dead salmon, they don't blurt their entire character and backstory at you because you asked them to pass the salt, and they don't emote like the same dead salmon experiencing PTSD flashbacks.

Addenda Edit

  • Person of interest: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • I guess the anime faces are a bit generic; there's one bit where a character turns around and we're supposed to be surprised by who it is but I couldn't tell who the fuck it was supposed to be because they changed their hairdo
  • Also Mass Effect never did a swimsuit episode
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells

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