Welcome to the end of the decade; the end of the 2010s; Al at Decade’s End. This is a miniseries where I celebrate the past ten years in video games, starting by talking about my favourite games from each year, and ending with the end-of-year extravaganza for 2019! The games I talk about here might not necessarily be the best of the decade, but they sure left the best impressions on me for one reason or another. And so, without any more delay, we begin our look at 2017!
The year 2017 was probably the most eventful year in the past decade, mostly because of one thing: the Nintendo Switch. The innovative hybrid portable/home console launched in 2017 and in the same year I played some of the games I spent the most time with in the entire decade. I sank countless hours into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Heck, I even took to speedrunning Mario Kart for a while, and with some noticeable success too. Any of these four would have been my top game of 2017, until late this year I finally booted up a very special game. When this game was released I was determined not to play it due to some business practices from the publisher that I largely disagreed with. Eventually that blew over however, and when I popped in the disc I would eventually be treated to one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in a very long time. My top game of 2017 is Persona 5.
The Persona series is one that has always intrigued me. It has the rare privilege of being a spinoff series that has surpassed the parent; Shin Megami Tensei. Shin Megami Tensei is a series of Japanese role playing games that prides itself on being mechanically unforgiving, which is fitting since the series largely deals with demons, angels, and all the fun stuff in between. Persona sets itself apart in both setting, theme, and structure using a unique formula introduced in Persona 3 onwards. Modern Persona puts you in the role of a high school student who inevitably awakens to a special power called a Persona (go figure), a physical manifestation of a person’s psyche and subconscious that the persona has accepted as their own. Personas are capable of fighting against Shadows, which are monsters born from negative human emotions and desires. Sound a bit deep and complex? It is. The lore behind Persona is based heavily on various mythologies and psychological models like the concept of the collective unconscious. You really need to pay attention if you want to get it all, but it’s okay if you don’t.
Starting with the third entry, the Persona series has one of the more unique structures I’ve seen in a JRPG. These games are both a dungeon crawling RPG and a high school life simulator, which is a lot simpler than it sounds. You live out your days as the main protagonist (codenamed Joker in P5) as you go to school and decide what to do with your free time. Your usual choices are to hang out with a friend, do some kind of minigame like fishing, or enter into a dungeon. Almost every decision you make in Persona takes up a chunk of your day, so it’s necessary to plan your days out and accept what happens, or you could use a guide (I won’t judge). While the minigames aren’t super important to pay attention to, your friends are. In Persona 5 you have what are called Confidants, which are people that you have a bond with. Hanging out with these people will strengthen your bonds with them, which can provide you with bonuses both in and out of battle. These Confidants also include your main party, so pay attention to them. Each Confidant also has their own storyline that develops as you strengthen your relationships with them, and not only are they good by themselves, but they also eventually give you side quests. All of this is wrapped up in one of the most stylish packages I’ve ever seen, with character designs, UI design, and soundtrack all oozing with personality that gives the game a very distinct identity.
Dungeon crawling and combat take up the other half of this stuffed up pie, as this is what you’ll be doing when you’re not hanging out with your friends. In Persona 5 your hunting grounds are called Palaces, which are areas in an alternate world that model themselves after a person’s powerfully distorted desires. The first Palace you visit belongs to your high school PE teacher who believes that he is a king and the school is his castle. Therefore, his Palace is a large castle. The objective for each Palace is to delve into the deepest reaches and steal the person’s greatest Treasure, the object that is the source of that person’s desires, before a set date in the real world for some reason or another. In the case of the PE teacher, you’re fighting to prevent him from expelling you just because he doesn’t like you. You take the Treasure, and the person’s desires change. You win! Great job!
Combat in Persona happens through turn-based battles, with yourself and up to 3 other party members. Each party member has their own Persona to use in combat, while you yourself can use multiple and can change between them at will. With all of this, and Persona 5’s ability to use guns, the name of the game is exploiting weaknesses. Shadows each have their own set of weaknesses and resistances to play around, and exploiting a weakness reaps big rewards. When someone exploits a weakness, the shadow is knocked down and the character gets an extra turn. This keeps happening until either someone fails to get a hit on a weakness, or all Shadows are knocked down. When ever enemy is down you can then enter into negotiations with the Shadows as you hold them up or they beg for their life. You can usually get cash, items, or even new Personas from this. If none of that suits you, just trigger an All-Out Attack for massive damage. A lot of the fun in the combat is from pushing for those hold-up situations, but also from experimentation with Personas. A large part of team-building in Persona (the series) is fusing your Personas together to create stronger, more powerful Personas. There’s a lot more about Persona fusion that I could say, but this would probably become as long as a research paper from my undergrad if I kept going.
Persona 5 is a game that I sorely regret not playing sooner, because I have fallen so hard for this game that I can’t stop thinking about playing more, or even playing the rest of the series. At the time of writing this Persona 5 has a sort of extended edition released in Japan, called Persona 5 Royal, that’s set to release out here in the west in March of 2020, and you know I’m going to be all over it. Persona 5 is my top game of 2017, and I can’t wait to gush about it even further in 2020.