Persona 5 is a damn impressive RPG, one that, for 120 hours, kept me hooked with a combination of dungeons designed to fit interestingly into the plot and social life management sections that taxed my ability to balance multiple interwoven lifestyle pathways.
While Persona 5 is probably the most polished entry to date, and made several key improvements to the formula which are undoubtedly improvements, it is not a perfect game by far. There are several design choices in Persona 5, many of which have been aspects of the series since its inception, which need updating and modernising as the series goes forward.
These are not complaints directly about Persona 5, but ongoing issues that really should have been fixed in the time between the release of P4 and P5.
Poor Stat Menu UI Design
This is an issue that was present in Persona 4 and persists into Persona 5, with the exact same outcome for a lot of new players. In the early game of both P4 and P5 you have midterm exams to prepare for, and in order to get a good score you need to bump your Knowledge stat up to level 2, or ‘Learned’. No matter how many correct answers you get in class in the run up to exams, that stat is the key deciding factor.
The problem here is the way Persona signals to new players in the early game their progression from Knowledge level 1 to 2, or really any stat you pick to level up first. When you do an action that raises your knowledge slightly, like studying or getting a correct answer on a test, that point on the Stats Star begins to pulse slightly, getting a little larger and smaller. For many new players, myself included when I first started playing Persona 4, this small increase during the pulsing animation appears to be the increase in stats gained by that action.
Persona’s design, particularly that of P5, makes it look like players are still miles away from successfully levelling up a stat, regardless of how close they actually are. This can cause players to not push ahead with actions like studying before the first set of school exams.
It’s incredibly annoying when you suddenly jump up a whole level studying once the day after exams end.
The narrative pacing in the Persona series is, at times, unacceptably inconsistent. Sometimes days at a time will go by with nothing of importance happening, and at times so much will be going on that you’ll barely have any ability to affect progression beyond reading through the events of ten or more days on a scripted path without any room for variance.
Both pacing structures have value when employed correctly. A section of the game where you’re able to catch up on activities you have been putting off can provide needed consolidation space, and a narrative rich section can provide a well-needed motivator and reminder of where the plot is heading. But Persona often whiplashes between these two paces so unpredictably that it’s impossible to plan for on a first playthrough without prior knowledge.
If you’ve almost got enough money to buy a new weapon and then get stuck for two in-game weeks without a chance to purchase it, that’s not good game design. That’s a player having to try and remember what they wanted to do until they’re allowed to get back to the game as they were trying to play it.
If you want to crack on with building tools for a mission, but spend two weeks not permitted to spend that 15 seconds to create that tool, the story sections begin feel like a barrier to enjoyment.
Conflicting Narrative Tone
Ann Takamaki in Persona 5 is a character whose initial character arc is about overcoming the lecherous advances of a creepy and sexually aggressive older man. Her outfit inside Persona’s magical worlds is a sexualised catsuit, and when knocked over her butt is stuck out in the air, presented to the camera. This juxtaposition is never explored or commented upon in any meaningful way.
This is just one example of a long running issue with the Persona series. While individual plot concepts are usually interesting, wider implications of those plots are often not considered properly, leading to uncomfortably conflicting narrative tones.
Being Forced to Sleep
While Persona 5 is the biggest culprit yet of this in the series, they’ve always had an issue with forcing players to rest in ways that are transparent and hamfisted.
I need a couple of lockpicks for a Palace (dungeon), but Morgana the cat tells me I’m too tired and need to go to sleep instead. Why can’t I just make them anyway? Maybe have the process have a lower success rate because I was sleepy? Why not have a consequence the next day for my staying up late? Why can’t I just tidy my room or make some deodorant or brew a cup of coffee to take with me? Why am I routinely being told my character is too tired to do even basic, small actions?
Worst of all for Persona 5, a huge amount of early game days are listed as “you’re too tired to do anything but sleep” days, which makes the start of the game feel incredibly limited in regards to agency and player choices.
Seriously, unplanned spells of run on days where you have no ability to chose what you do
I stopped renting in Persona 5 very quickly. The first time I rented something, the day before I planned to return it I got stuck in an unannounced, eight day string of days where I didn’t have a single moment where I was allowed to make a player choice about how my day was spent.
I had no warning, and my rental ended up being returned over a week late. Thankfully, the game waived the exorbitant late fee as it was my first time returning something late. I never rented anything else out of fear of this repeating.
Seriously, at least one of these days involved going to the area where I had rented from. I did not have the option to return it while I there.
This idea that it’s okay to simultaneously have punishments for certain late actions alongside unexpected spells of time where you have no option to blow something off and prioritise not getting in trouble is infuriating.
STOP THIS PLEASE ATLUS
And that’s my list of things the Persona series really needs to fix. Persona 5 was still a great game, but it really did infuriate me at times. I really want to see the series grow past these particular annoyances.