It’s been a long, long time since the last main entry in Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series hit US shores (over eight years, not that we’re counting). Despite its niche appeal, Persona games have developed a cult-like following that’s only grown stronger thanks to various rereleases of older games on new platforms. We’ve put hundreds of hours into the series over the last decade, so needless to say, we had high hopes for Persona 5. And after 50 hours, it’s safe to say that Atlus has delivered.

As fans know, 50 hours is maybe the halfway point in Persona, so we’re not quite done yet. In the meantime, here are five things we’re absolutely loving about Persona 5.

Battle Tweaks

It’s tough trying to improve a system that’s already fantastic --- too much tinkering and you’ll mess up a good thing. But the improvements to turn-based combat in Persona 5 are so organic, they feel like they’ve been there all along (or at least should have been). Persona 5 still uses an element-based magic system that takes advantages of strengths and weaknesses, but now there are more options when you’ve downed all your enemies after finding their weak spots. You could go for an all-out battle, or you can negotiate with them for cash, items, or a spot in your Persona roster. That’s right --- you’ll be recruiting new Personas straight from battle, a throwback to the series’ start. There are new kinds of magic, and your comrades have more battle options than ever… assuming you’ve built up your friendship with them. And backup party members continue to gain experience, so there’s more reason than ever to switch between them at will.

Mementos, aka Tartarus in the Subway

The main dungeons in Persona 5 are separate and individualized based on the warped desires of people with twisted hearts, not unlike the memorable arenas of Persona 4 (who could forget that bathhouse?). But P5 has a second dungeon as well --- it’s called Mementos, and it’s an alternate reality version of Tokyo’s subway system. Here you’ll find lesser targets and plenty of space for grinding as you explore floor after floor to find out just how deep the thing goes. It’s reminiscent of Persona 3’s Tartarus, except instead of climbing up, you’re delving deeper and deeper.

The Real-World Location

All of the Persona games take place in modern(ish)-day Japan, but Persona 5’s Tokyo is really something special. Using the subway, your protagonist can zip from school to the bustling streets of Shibuya to the Harajuku district before heading back to the sleepy café you call home. To earn some cash and increase your skills, you can get a job at a convenience store, or a flower shop, or even a bar. Looking for a fun activity to boost your relationship with your confidantes? Take them to the beach or a giant electronics warehouse to buy rare video games. A big part of Persona is managing your time wisely, and that’s never been tougher than in P5 because of the sheer number of things there are to do. On top of all the activities, the city streets are crowded with people, and there’s always some good gossip to be gained by eavesdropping.

It’s Oozing With Style

With a bold red background and a catchy theme song, the opening cinematic of Persona 5 sets the stage for the best-looking Persona game yet. And we don’t just mean because it’s finally on a high-def console; the art direction is simply a tremendous achievement. Every single frame looks great, with even the menus and victory screens providing an ongoing wow factor. And that’s not even touching on the anime cutscenes, which are always a joy to watch.

Making Friendships Work For You

We admit, we were a little nervous when we heard the game-changing Social Link system of the previous two games was now being called Confidantes --- again, why fix what’s not broken? Turns out there was no reason to be wary. Confidantes works basically the same way as Social Links did. You’ll form relationships with your fellow dungeon crawlers, as well as key figures around the city, and leveling up those friendships allows for more experience when fusing Personas of the same arcana. In the past, you’d also get some battle boosts from Social Links within your party, but now all of your connections offer benefits. Befriending a disgraced politician might help your negotiation tactics in battle, for example, while getting close to the café owner allows you to make your own SP-boosting coffee and curry. The Confidantes system takes what was already great about the series and elevates it --- which, quite honestly, could be said about most aspects of Persona 5.

With 50 hours down and dozens more to go, it’s too early for a final verdict on Persona 5. But based on what we’ve seen so far, JRPG fans are in for a real treat.

Persona 5 will be out on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 on April 4.

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