When people talk about Persona 4, it’s pretty much always about the stat boosting social links, or the distinctive art style, or even the incredible soundtrack. What doesn’t get brought up much is the dungeon design because…well, it’s not really that big a deal. Each dungeon’s overall theme is unique, but the layout itself is randomized and unimportant. You run around, looking for the stairs, and when a shadow shows up, you wallop it. Lather, rinse, repeat. The grind is the foundation upon which the game’s combat is built, but it’s not all that spectacular. Persona 5 is changing that completely.
The dungeons of Persona 5 aren’t random. You can’t run willy nilly through the halls, dodging or attacking as you see fit. You’re a cat burglar, after all, so you must stealth your way around, sneaking up on enemies and catching them unawares. Successfully launching a sneak attack will begin the familiar persona-based combat that you mastered in Persona 4, but blow it and you’ll get caught. What happens if you run afoul of security too many times? Good question. Given that you and your pals are criminals, though, it’s probably something you’d prefer to avoid.
The bones of Persona 4 can be seen throughout Persona 5, but they’ve been built upon in smart ways. You’ll still do things like engaging in side activities to boost your charm and intelligence stats, but now those activities are more than just a jumped up menu option. Match customers up with the perfect bouquet during your part-time job at the flower stand, for example, and you’ll earn yourself some bonus cash. The streets and shops you’ll visit are stuffed with detail that makes them feel like they’re busy whether you choose to visit them to buy health items or not. The world of Persona 5 feels like a real place your character lives in, as opposed to one that exists to serve him.
Time is still an important factor, as days click by and day turns into night, but while Persona 4 was fairly generous with time, Persona 5 is more strict. Get your ass in gear, it seems to say, this is the big leagues. The deadline is clear; if you can’t meet it, that’s your problem. In the demo I saw, the lead character had 10 days to avoid being expelled from school, which is to say 10 days to complete the dungeon that represented his irate teacher. Tricky enough when it was just running to climb a randomized collection of floors, but even more demanding in a predefined layout designed to trip you up.
Unfortunately, the demo was hands off, so I didn’t get to fiddle around with persona fusion or combat social links, but what I did see is that Persona 5 has style for miles. From the way Morgana rides around in your bag or perches on your shoulder when she’s in her cat form to the splash screens that reward you when you finish a fight, Persona 5’s got swag. It’s bold and striking, but not obnoxious. It’s Persona’s distinct visual magic turned up to 11, and it is just so. Damn. Cool.
If you’re a Persona junkie, the question you want answered is "Is this going to be everything I want it to be?" Yep. Your obsession will be very satisfied. Oh, as for your other question... Koromaru is really cute, but Morgana can talk, so... maybe it’s a draw.