As the weeks it’s been since I last played Persona 5 creep on by, more and more flaws with the game stand prominently in my mind. The dungeons drag on longer than they need to and their design feels less cool and more tedious as I think about them. These aren’t dungeons where every room has some sort of meaning and thought behind it– these are dungeons where the rooms are largely a funneling mechanism to get the player from point A to B. I liked the way that Kamoshida’s dungeon mirrored the school’s layout, but that felt like one of the last times that the game was doing anything massively interesting with its design. The closest Madarame’s dungeon got to being interesting from a level design point of view was when you were asked to pay attention to which texture was correct, and that’s not especially interesting, and not really level design. The forgettable gang man’s bank dungeon had the sort of visually interesting lock bit, but that just added tedium and busywork to a middling dungeon. Nothing was especially interesting in Futaba’s Palace, and the spaceship went from the game’s standard of middling to competent dungeon design to the unceasing tedium of getting keycards to get more keycards to get yet more keycards. Maybe that was the point, and further commenting on the horrible workplace behaviors that Haru’s dad was engaging in, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still uninteresting and tedious. Succeeding at communicating boring tedium doesn’t make it less boring or less tedious.
Now, I won’t deny that the game is visually stylish and great fun to play through in some parts — the game was an absolute blast up to early October — but when I try to think back on the game, I find ever less and less to really sink my teeth into. As the style fades away as an echo in time, there becomes ever less to dig into. I’m struggling to remember details about the Confidants, and I think other people will start running into this too, in time. Perhaps it’s just the groups I listen to and spend time around, but I can’t help but notice a trend of people talking about the game’s Confidants more by arcana than by name. If they’re good characters, shouldn’t it be easier to remember them by name than by their grouping in a deck?
When I look at Persona 5, I don’t notice the sorts of really weird parallels that I noticed with Nier Automata (for example the quest line where the girlfriend is revealed at the end to keep resetting her boyfriend’s memories directly dovetails and foreshadows what happens with 9S and 2B), nor do I notice the sorts of fun terrain usage that Chrono Cross has. I want to be clear here: I’m not criticizing Persona 5 for not having those aspects specifically, I’m criticizing it for not having anything especially uniquely well-executed to it beyond the superficial style of the menus and general presentation. And, let’s be clear, those are really cool and make for an experience that’s really enjoyable! However, it’s a fleeting experience. I don’t hate Persona 5, nor do I hate the Persona series — Persona 3’s ending was fantastic! — but I feel like the individual parts of Persona 5 end up being mediocre and lacking in substance, which makes the game just feel like popcorn on the whole. I’d name specifics, but to name any one specific aspect would necessitate that any one aspect stick out, which none of them do, and that’s the problem.
I guess in conclusion, I worry a bit about Persona 5’s staying power overall. It’s really enjoyable while it’s happening, but the experience fades fast, and none of the individual aspects stick out in anything much more than a superficial way. The game ends up being as ephemeral as the group it depicts, and just as dependent on social media.