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WARNING: BEWARE MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR BOTH GAMES!
The fact that you’re reading this feature tells us that in all likelihood, you are a JRPG fan who has played one or both of the games in question and you either completely agree with with us and are glad to see you’re not alone, or you’re firmly in Camp Persona and are here to tell us how wrong we are (either way – welcome!). So – ladies and gentleman of the jury – before you let us know where you stand, we submit the following for your consideration:
In April 2017 Persona 5 was released on PlayStation 4 to universal acclaim, receiving five star (or close to it) reviews across the board, largely wowing audiences with its slick visual and sound design. However, Persona 5 also contains a wealth of glaring flaws that are far too easily overlooked and masked by its sleek, colourful coat. By no means are we saying that Persona 5 is a bad game, merely that it’s not worthy of all its praise – it’s an eight out of ten at best.
Final Fantasy XV was released in November 2016 to generally good reviews and favourable reception from players, with its average fan and critic review scores sitting at around eight out of ten. In reality, even if it had been the perfect game it still wouldn’t have been given the acclaim that Persona 5 received.
The reason for this? Final Fantasy is one of gaming’s most successful franchises. It’s been at the forefront of the industry for decades – it’s very much the New York Yankees or New England Patriots of role-playing games – many long-time fans will passionately sing its praises and accomplishments and those who left it too late are so tired of hearing about it that they’ve developed an antithesis toward the series. Much like how someone who has spent years being told “You have to watch Game of Thrones, it’s amazing” will adamantly refuse to watch it and roll their eyes whenever it comes up in conversation, it just becomes something that some people don’t want to like.
Conversely, it’s also easy for long-time fans to romanticise the by-gone days of Final Fantasy and feel like new entries can’t quite measure up to the magic of their favourites in entries VI-X. Again, we’re not saying that Final Fantasy XV is a perfect game, but it’s a lot closer to a perfect 10 than Persona 5.
Need more proof? Then please direct your attention to the following evidence:
Exhibit A – Combat
Let’s start with an easy one, Final Fantasy XV‘s combat is, appropriately enough, majestic. Fast-paced, fluid action drenched in sheer spectacle. Not only does it look and play great but it allows for creativity in the way players utilise teleportation, enemy specific counters, team attacks, magic when needed and summons when desperate. This variety means that players were kept on their toes and given enough options to keep encounters both exciting and fresh.
Persona 5 adheres to a traditional JRPG turn-based system, but unfortunately keeps things a little too simplistic. The combat essentially boils down to elemental rock-paper-scissors meaning that the majority of battles played out as follows: Hit each enemy with their elemental weakness, press triangle. This is how every non-boss battle plays out for the first 20-30 hours of the game, at which point the game will mix things up a little and throw in some random encounters that push players a little more, but most battles, even after that point, are still just a case of weakness/triangle.
Exhibit B – Story
It’s always good to see a series branch out, experiment and try to grow, rather than just rehashing the same formula that brought success in the past, and Final Fantasy XV is a prime example of this pioneering spirit. Square-Enix created a brave an beautiful new world in Eos, one that blends magic, modern technology and science-fiction to produce something truly unique. What makes FFXV stand out all the more so from its predecessors is that despite all the war, lore and political intrigue, it’s all just a backdrop for a story about four friends on a road trip. A well-written, immersive journey that can lift and break a player’s heart in equal measure.
On the other side of the coin, Persona 5‘s story… PLEASE SKIP AHEAD TO EXHIBIT C NOW IF YOU HAVE ANY INTENTION OF PLAYING PERSONA 4…
…is almost exactly the same as Persona 4‘s! Or to go into specifics: New guy in town meets dumb but nice jock who accidentally enter a weird mind palace together where they meet the game’s mascot – protagonist awakens persona and they escape – They go back into the mind palace where jock friend awakens his persona – they go to the next mind palace with plucky, athletic female classmate who awakens her persona – rinse and repeat with additional team members that include intelligent girl under pressure to be the best from her accomplished family and hotshot detective who shows up at the school to investigate your party, but then ends up joining (yes, we can be that specific).
We won’t go into detail about the endings of both games but if you’ve finished them, then you can probably see that they both follow the same template too.
Exhibit C – Characters
Noctis, Prompto, Gladiolus and Ignis – four central characters that together become so much more than the sum of their parts. Unlike most JRPGs that feature a ragtag band of unlikely misfits thrown together to save the world, Final Fantasy XV‘s party have known each other for a very long time and know each other pretty well. This gives Noctis and his retinue a sort of family dynamic, meaning that as likeable as each character is individually, it’s the familiar (and sometimes hilarious) exchanges between them that really draws the player in and nurtures a connection between them and the characters. There are few games that so successfully attune the player emotionally to the party’s highs and lows.
OK sure, Persona 5‘s party has some standout characters like Makoto and… well, just Makoto. Most of the other characters are fine, workable enough but nothing special… and then there’s Yusuke, an obnoxious, creepy, thoroughly unlikeable addition to your team destined to sit on the bench in any playthrough. The story arc that brings Yusuke to your attention is uncomfortable and can be a chore to sit through, then once it’s all over, you’re stuck with this guy for the rest of the game. Knowing this guy shares the protagonist’s success made us want to just give in and let the bad guy have his way immediately.
Exhibit D – Visuals
Here’s where things could get controversial. Make no bones about it, Persona 5 looks great. The comic book style menus, colourful anime cutscenes and character design come together to create a well presented, stylish product, (here comes that B-word again) BUT the question is, were Persona 5‘s visuals ever actually jaw-dropping? Did you ever find yourself openly gawking or making sudden exclamations of amazement at what you were seeing? Because for us, nothing springs to mind.
Final Fantasy XV on the other hand is chock full of jaw-droppers: The hunt for Deadeye, the Leviathan battle, the confrontation between Bahamut and Ifrit followed by that of Ifrit and Shiva, driving toward a mountain range in the post-game only to see it rise out of the ground and reveal itself to be the Adamantoise. Add this to the wondrous settings, the care that went into including small but impressive details like how using fire magic will scorch the ground beneath it and how using ice magic in a marsh will cause your characters to be stuck in place and try to frantically bash through the ice around their feet with their weapons, and then there’s the summons! Yeah, we’re definitely going to have to go with Final Fantasy XV.
Exhibit E – Soundtrack
This is a tough one because Persona 5’s original soundtrack has some fantasic and incredibly catchy songs – Rivers in the Desert, Life Will Change, Last Surprise – all great, well placed pieces that you’ll want to hear over and over again (and you certainly will hear Last Surprise in abundance). So you’d think Persona 5 would win out in this category, except that for every great song, there seems to be a poorly chosen piece of background music bringing the soundtrack down as a whole. For example, the grating jazz track playing in the first section of the bank level, or the repetitive and weirdly out of place track that plays throughout the pyramid stage.
Then there’s that car stereo in Final Fantasy XV – an inspired idea that allows players to listen to the soundtrack from past Final Fantasy titles as they cruise from one destination to the next, washing long-time fans in nostalgic bliss. The OST itself is strong throughout, with the final battle theme and Florence and the Machine‘s excellent cover of Ben E. King‘s Stand By Me used to terrific effect. It’s pretty tight, but Final Fantasy XV takes the edge on this one, too.
So there you have it, we’ve made our case and hope we’ve convinced you that Persona 5, solid though it is overall, is noticeably flawed and perhaps not deserving of the acclaim it received, whereas Final Fantasy XV deserves quite a bit more.