My year abroad in Japan in 2016-2017 was a pretty magical experience. Living so far away from my family was tough at times, but living in a dormitory with such a tight-knit group of fellow exchange students meant that it’s a time I look back on as one of the best of my life. Exploring Shibuya on weekends, shopping around Shinjuku, heading over to Akihabara every now and again, these things quickly became my normal. When it came to its inevitable end, I was very sad to say goodbye to my time in Japan. I would end up coming back to live and work here later on, but at that time, it really did feel like leaving somewhere that I had made my home. There’s a magic to those memories that holds a special place in my heart. It is going to sound like such an exchange student cliche, but I really found it hard to settle back into my UK life immediately after returning from Tokyo – I kept on comparing the two places, feeling out of place in my own town. There was one small balm however to ease the transition, and it came in the form of a PS4 game – Persona 5.
Persona 5 released in Japan on September 15th 2016, at the very beginning of my stay. I remember clearly going to the Tsutaya at Shibuya crossing and seeing the billboard and the character displays in the basement. Having fallen in love with the Persona series through the Vita release Persona 4 Golden before going back to play Persona 3, the release of Persona 5 had been one of my most anticipated gaming moments ever since its reveal in 2013. Those pre-release trailers were so stylish, and the blending of what seemed like the darker themes of Persona 3 and the lighter, more modern character designs of Persona 4 was tantalising. I was desperate to play, but I was about 9000 kilometres away from my PS4 with no intention of buying a new one for my time in Japan. Persona 5 would have to wait. I watched the Western release in April 2017 come and go, the praise and adoration heaped upon the game by fans and critics alike, and had to hold back, knowing I was still a good few months from getting to play it for myself. When it came time to head home, I was obviously feeling more than a little sad to be saying goodbye to this exciting, life-changing year. To give myself something to look forward to (other than seeing my family), I ordered Persona 5 on Amazon to be waiting for me when I got back to the UK. It turned out to be everything I wanted and more.
Persona 5 definitely stands as a masterpiece of the eighth generation for its story, for its game mechanics, for its presentation. These things are all undoubtedly excellent. It is hands down the most stylish game ever released, oozing style from its every pore. The character designs were brilliant – talk to a group of Persona fans, and it’s more than likely that they’ll name a different cast member as their favourite. I was particularly fond of Ryuji and Makoto. For me however, Persona 5 played an even bigger role. This was a return to the city for the series after the small-town countryside vibe of Persona 4 – Tokyo to be precise. Yes, the city that I had spent the last year exploring and loving was now here, all rose-tinted and consumable through my television screen. I distinctly remember wanting to eat gyuudon after playing Persona 5, even though it wasn’t a dish I had eaten that much during my time in Japan. For someone who was desperately missing their time in Japan, Persona 5 was the perfect opportunity for me to extend that experience just a little bit longer. The close bonds forged between the lovable cast even felt somewhat reminiscent of my year abroad – a group of people thrown together for an experience they’ll never forget. On a purely technical level, Persona 5 was the best game of the generation, but for me it was even more than that.
A few years later, in October 2019, Atlus rereleased the game as Persona 5 Royal, an expanded version of the game featuring a third school term and an extra dungeon as well as new areas of Tokyo to explore and new characters to meet. By this time I was living in Japan and picked up the Japanese edition. Playing Persona in Japanese for the first time really felt like I was achieving one of my language goals, and I relished the chance to revisit these characters in this world I loved so much. The game itself was given an extra sheen of polish as some quality of life improvements were introduced, making an already well-designed game even slicker to play. With the release of Persona 5 Royal, there isn’t much reason to go back and limit yourself to the original version of the game (unless you are playing it for free thanks to the base game being included in Sony’s Playstation Plus Collection on PS5), but whatever way you play Persona 5, be it royal or not, you are in for one of gaming’s best experiences – one I can’t recommend enough.