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Persona 5

Persona 5

Too cool for school?

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Do you know when people started to dream in colour? When colour started to appear on our televisions. Before that, people dreamt in black and white. How do we know this? We've been paying attention in class, and taking notes, of course.

Taken at face value, things like homework, exams, and classes are all hallmarks of the Persona series, and on paper, it shouldn't really work. Why would you, after a long and arduous day, choose to turn on your console at home, only to have to answer the teacher's questions in video game form? Why would you skip homework, only to do your homework in a video game? It may seem deeply irrational, but put all these notions aside. Persona 5 is the best year at school that you'll ever have.

Persona is a series that likes to take its sweet time, both in terms of pace and in letting you get to grips with how the various systems function and interlink. After all, for any film or play, the stage must be properly set before anything of dramatic value can occur. The characters and school setting must be introduced, and the weird and wonderful metaverse has to be explained. Rushing anything rarely makes for a good story, and more so than anything else, that's what Persona 5 wants to accomplish: telling a good story.

In many ways, the story of the game maintains many of the expectations that fans consider standard for the series; you're the new kid on the block, whom, for reasons we'll refrain from disclosing here, must spend a year away from your parents, living in the capital of Japan. Previous games in the series have been more interested in sending the player away from the madness of the city and out to a more rural setting, where the mystery had more space to develop around the locals. This time around the developers have aimed for something bigger. Yes, you're wandering around Tokyo, but that doesn't mean that there's no intimacy to be found amidst the more urban feel. The crisis is anything but local, as people all over Japan are involved, but the story never scales out of proportion. Even though the stakes are higher, the story never falters in its undivided attention on the main character, Joker, and the friends with which he surrounds himself. The goal is never to save the world. The goal is to save a friend in trouble, and if that means making the world a bit safer for innocents in the process, well then that's a secondary objective. It's in the personal relationships where you'll find the strength and the motivation to fight on, as Persona is a very personal series, and that's both in terms of your relationship to your friends and your enemies.

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At the same time, Persona 5 also manages to turn a lot of expectations completely upside down. In previous installments, for instance, the characters have been "forced" to act, because their existence or well-being was threatened. In Persona 4, each and every one of your friends was in grave danger, and only by entering the mysterious parallel dimension could you save their lives. In Persona 5, you're the opposite of a passive observer who's being forced to act. The group decides to act proactively, fighting the criminals who manage to escape the law at every turn. They choose to challenge those who have clearly risen above the justice system, and so they take the law into their own hands.

All of a sudden deep and very relevant questions arise; is the group - The Phantom Thieves - righteous in circumventing the law? Are they just in their actions? These are questions that the game doesn't try to avoid, but instead it actively uses them as the foundation for its storytelling. It's amazingly refreshing and brave that they dare ask tough questions to the audience, where other games might have a tendency to have a one dimensional depiction of good and evil, and this bravery permeates the entire experience. The game doesn't steer around unpleasant subject matters, but tackles them head-on, and does so without ever undermining the importance of taking a stance on difficult subjects. Like Catherine before it, it never denies its responsibility of approaching these subjects in a faceted, careful, and mature way. It's truly refreshing to find something like Persona 5 that dares to do more. We see teachers do both physical and mental harm to students, mentors that abuse their authority over their pupils for personal gain, sex with minors, executives that pressure their employees to suicide, and so on. It's tough to say the least, but it's never included to get cheap mentions in the press; Persona 5 deals with everything with style and maturity.

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