From its initial teaser trailer years ago leading up to its delayed launch and the debacle I went through to obtain my copy, everything had me excited for this brand new cycle of ruin and hope. I’ve been invested in the Persona series since the third entry and have found that each game has been a staggering improvement on the last. However, Persona 5 pushed the limits of the series substantially and did some great and not so great things that you could really only realize while playing on Hard mode.
As a comparison, my girlfriend fell in love with the title and began playing it at the same time on the Normal difficulty. While she had points that challenged her, she never encountered the hardcore instant kills that met me during my first 10 – 20 hours of the game. Grinding became fatal as the longer I spent within the Metaverse (the dungeon areas of the game) the worst the conditions became for me. Not to mention the chance that after ten battles going smoothly, I would mess up a combat initiation and that would send me spiraling to a game over screen. The difficulty found in Hard mode did, however, help me appreciate every single thing the game had to offer me.
The battles on Hard mode feel almost like a perfect game of rock, paper, scissors as finding the enemy’s weakness became tantamount to victory. In fact, making it through a whole dungeon in the first two days (I did this often) would only be possible after figuring these out. Compared to Normal mode, I felt like my group was up against the world but we used our feeble power the best way we could to fight back. To rebel. It almost makes me feel like Hard mode was the way the developer wanted us to play it.
Persona 5’s Hard mode does have a distinct drawback however that comes in the form of not gaining as much money as you would normally. You also don’t accrue as much as EXP however not gaining equal money effectively cut down the number of supplies and options I had outside of battle. During the course of the narrative, there are many situations that require a good bit of cash to do; in fact, one of the social links requires 5.000 yen every time they come over. Talk about a poor high school student.
While the money thing didn’t bother me as much during the first part of the game, near the final hours, I found myself against a wall as summoning personas cost a lot of dough and I had to choose between increasing my individual power or buying items from the store which were extremely expensive. I chose the power however as if I could at least overwhelm a foe, those items may not be needed. But that brings up the most important part of Persona 5 which is prevalent on any difficulty but felt more significant on Hard Mode.
Persona 5 doesn’t baby you by giving a way to do everything on your first playthrough. Each day, when you are “free”, you’re actually trapped in a time loop that asks you to choose how to spend your time wisely. Will you go straight from school and study and then at night play video games to increase your social stats? Or perhaps you’ll hang out with someone at school then someone after school to increase your social links? Or maybe you’ll go ahead and grind in the dungeon and raise everyone’s levels so you’re more combat ready? During the first playthrough, you won’t ever be able to max every single one of these so prioritizing one over the other is the only way to play. However, where things get messy, are when they begin to crossover.
The reason I say choice is the most important part of Persona 5 is at some points in the game, it just rips it away from you. You may have planned to max out your favorite social link the next day but the game decided to throw a random social encounter in the form of a phone call from another friend the night before. Saying no to them would be rude but saying yes would mean your day gets gobbled up. So you say yes because you want to see this special, exclusive event and while it was cool, your time got stolen and instead you’re left to wait a full week to max that link finally.
Better yet, some links require godly amounts of social stats. At one point, some of the social links (specifically those of your lady friends) will require a rank 5 in courage, kindness, or knowledge to proceed forward. If like me, you thought maxing social links was viable without stats, you’re in for a nasty surprise. This forces you yet again to forgo choice and instead focus on grinding and getting your stats higher with every free moment, meaning you’re missing out on valuable social link building time.
Choice is an illusion.
A lot of the themes within Persona 5 actually revolve around choice (or a lack thereof) and I think the gameplay itself, as brilliant as Atlus is, has found a way to make you, the player, feel like you’re really forced to adhere to your fate. It’s one of those pinnacles of game design that give you the same feeling of hopelessness that the characters encounter during the adventure. However, once you reach the end of the game, I can say that the game is more a metaphor for how to live life in our modern age than anything else.
Playing on Hard mode forced me to struggle against my own self and pushed me to think beyond the next step to plan out each and every turn methodically. As I tried to maintain different relationships and keep up with my studies, I could feel the metaverse nagging at me to explore it more. A place that is only real because the people who live in this world make it so. Similar to how the internet continues to sing its siren song drawing millions into its grasp and keeping them glued to their phones and pcs as they are captivated by the latest dumb thing that Trump has done.
While Persona 5 has gotten universal praise as a game, I want to add to that. It’s not just a game but a piece of art crafted with such care that someone trapped by today’s modern society can actually find enough inspiration to escape its clutches. While many won’t see it that way, I truly believe that Atlus has once again proven that games can be true works of art without trying to tote itself as an indie or artsy title. The word magnum opus comes to mind but…. there will probably be a Persona 6.
Andron (or Ace as he likes to call himself) is the so called "Head Honcho" of Bombchu.com. He has a deep passion for video games primarily RPGs, Fighting or Adventure. When not gaming, he's furiously typing on his keyboard or coming up with new schemes.