A couple weeks back, Atlus launched a curious little website that definitely suggests some reveal or announcement will be made on November 24th. The most curious part about this site is that, alongside the Atlus logo, there is also the logo used by the Persona team. In light of building anticipation and a recent domain registration, I feel it’s a pretty decent bet to believe that this will be the long-awaited Persona 5 announcement. As a pretty fervent fan of this Shin Megami Tensei spin-off series, I’m stupidly excited about the game and have way too many ideas about what I’d like to see. Today, I’ve decided to share some of these ideas with you all, and I’m really hoping you will indulge me in my fanaticism.
Persona 3 hit great critical marks and changed the series enough to put it on the map. But it wasn’t until Persona 4 that the series became more widely-known among gamers, making it more of a “mainstream” JRPG title. I would wager that much of this success was the result of a lighter, more friendly tone, and all the bright yellows that the game spewed. The game definitely got dark sometimes, but it always went back to its cheery, happy-go-lucky foundation. I definitely enjoyed the tones of both games, even if they went into extremes at times. For that reason, I think Persona 5 would do very well to combine these two tones: make the next installment dark and serious, but make sure it holds on to the lighthearted charm that made Persona 4 the wild success that it was. I assume Persona 5 will involve the potential destruction of the world in its plot, and if there’s one thing that felt out of place in P4, it’s how it sometimes seemed to lose sight of how serious the stakes at hand were: did they remember that the fate of the world hung in the balance of the mist? I hope Persona 5 takes itself back to darker tones, as I feel JRPGs lend themselves better to darkness, but I don’t want it to be so dark as to be depressing to play. I want it to feel serious and high-ante, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to fall in love with fun and fully-realized characters, especially given that the demographic of Persona characters seems to be centered around late-teenage school kids.
Coming off of that idea of tone, I want something of a shift in who these characters combating Shadows are. As somebody who generally preferred, P3 to P4, I was overwhelmed when I found out Mitsuru, Akihiko, Aigis (and Yukari and Junpei, soon!) were making their return in Persona 4 Arena. But I think what really made it feel so cool is that their characters took an evolution. No longer were they amateur S.E.E.S. (Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad) members, they became Shadow Operatives, an elite group dedicated to going about and dealing with all Shadow-related incidents. They just felt so much more official, so much more skilled, and so much more badass–definitely a marked improvement from the low-key, after-school club that S.E.E.S. was. Being so stricken by the official, secret police roles they assumed made me think about how cool it would be to have Persona 5 feature a cast of its own Shadow Operatives, people who didn’t just actualize the potential, but built a life and a career around it. Having such an agent-styled cast would likely lend itself to a darker tone, and if they could combine that with some Rush Hour-esque lightheartedness, I’d be a fully satisfied man.
As would be expected with traveling operatives, and contrary to how past games have handled their worldly apocalypse, I would love for the next game to be larger and more exploratory–get me out of the city! Persona titles, to date, have focused on relatively small geographical locations like a town or city and have featured something of an auxiliary world hosted within the characters’ hometowns (like Tartarus in P3). In light of the world-at-stake plots going on, it was a little disheartening to be so restraint to such a small part of the entire world that was in danger. As part of this elite task force of characters, I would want to be able to respond to incidents all over the world, be it in foreign cities, mountains, bottom of the ocean, whatever. If the Shadows were to extend their threat all over the world, the game would feel so much larger, and I would feel so much more satisfied in knowing that I took part in saving the world, not just some small Japanese locale. With the stronger abilities of the PS3, or maybe even next-gen consoles, I feel like increasing the scope of the world would be a total possibility, even if it wouldn’t quite be in keeping with how Shin Megami Tensei games tend to go about their post-apocalyptic Tokyo worlds.
Much of the success that Persona 3 and Persona 4 had over their earlier titles seemed to be the result of a really fun, innovative feature known as social links. Being part of a world-saving group is cool and commonplace, but how many games actively have you balance your superhero life and your regular school kid life? And what’s more, how many of them actually encourage you to integrate them? The system was astounding, and opened the floodgates for some incredible character development. It wasn’t without its flaws, however.
Often, Persona 3 and Persona 4 forced players to choose between saving the world one night or hanging out with friends, mostly due to time constraints. This was such a weird concept to me for obvious reasons–how could anyone in their right mind decide to go grab a burger one night versus stopping a worldly threat? I’m not sure how they got away with it, but they got away with it well considering that this idea didn’t even occur to me until well after I played through the games. I guess it just seemed to be a bit unrealistic (though I suppose a lack of realism is often the hallmark of a JRPG title). Piggybacking off of this, a root cause of why you had to choose between hanging with friends or saving the world boiled down to time. Simply going to grab a bite to eat with your friend after school took up your entire afternoon, so that by the time you were done, the sun had already gone down and it was dark enough to need to go home. And, in the case of P4, it was too late to save the world for the day. For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume this was from roughly 3pm to 7pm. It does not take four hours to chat and eat a burger!
My suggestion for the development team is to explore the possibility of real-time interactions, a trend that the gaming world seems to be capitalizing on (really, how many turn-based or time-chunk-based systems do you see for anything, anymore?). I envision something along the lines of being with a friend but then just suddenly turning around and going home at your own discretion for whatever reason. Something like this would obviously have consequences on your relationship, but would also allow the game to move at the pace that the player chooses, not at a predetermined, play-date pacing set by the developers.
Lastly, and plainly put, I want new Personas. Across all Shin Megami Tensei titles, Atlus seems to recycle all their creatures. Demons in one game are Personas in another. And while I don’t have a problem with that, it can get old seeing all the same entities when you play across the SMT series. SMT has been kind of quiet since Persona 4, so it feels like a good chance to develop at least some new Personas in the lull. At the very least, it would help veteran fans in enjoying a fresh, yet familiar, experience.
Admittedly, I’m not too sure on how well the social link system would jive with traveling, top-secret agents. But I stress that these are just some ideas I’d enjoy seeing in some way, shape, or form. The Persona Team is one development team I certainly trust to get it right anyway and is one of the many reasons I am proud to be an Atlus Faithful.
What do you all think? Whether you like some of my ideas or you hate them, I’m all for hearing what everyone else wants to see from Persona 5. Let us know!