In Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Atlus brought us these dungeons that had switches and triggers to unlock paths to new areas. Now that Persona 5 is here, it feels like that Nintendo Wii U JRPG was a means of testing a concept for this game. Rather than randomized dungeons where all you need to do is dash through them to complete an objective, like the ones we saw in Persona 3 and Persona 4, Persona 5 offers a more purposeful experience with an actual path and puzzles along the way. This enhances dungeon-crawling as a whole and really makes players feel as though they’re Phantom Thieves.
It all starts with stealthy elements. Every dungeon has an awareness rate which, when it rises, results in more aggressive shadows and an increased chance of being booted out of a person’s palace for the night. Ideally, you’re supposed to preemptively jump every Shadow and get the upper hand. In practice, Persona 5 is designed so this works rather well. Almost every corridor and room in a palace has multiple walls and objects to hide behind, allowing the player to crouch and ambush an enemy when it approaches. Those that don’t have some sort of area where you can view an enemy’s walking pattern before rushing in to attack it from behind. While there were a few instances where I couldn’t get the exact right view to dash into another cover area or I accidentally went out of cover and was caught, this is a game where being seen isn’t that big of a fear. There are always places to go and hide and, even if you are spotted a few times, the gauge quickly cools as you engage in additional battles.
What’s even more important is that each of the Persona 5 primary dungeons has a gimmick. There’s a series of concepts introduced to make the affair feel more like a heist. In the very first dungeon, we’re introduced to the idea of using our senses to reveal objects we can interact with for much of the dungeon and tasked with using this ability to find switches. Most noticeable of which are ones of a man’s bust that have a jaw that can be pulled and act as a lever. This dungeon also encourages us to think vertically, rather than horizontally, as the way to get through some locations with no obvious exit is to head upward into the ceiling. It actually feels like a castle, which is critical to the experience.
The museum behaves in a similar fashion. There are barricades with lasers across them, preventing our entry. If we use our special skill, we can determine whether we can jump over or slide under the lasers and proceed. There’s a need to collect security passwords to remove laser barricades and allow entry into different areas. Most interesting is a series of puzzles where we actually have to enter paintings, all of which are magically connected, to forge forward and hit buttons to create a new path.
I believe the bank was the most thematically consistent palace of them all. (Though honestly, every one of the story dungeons is well thought through.) The bank involves keeping track of cameras, being aware of dog Shadows that were more aware than ordinary roaming enemies, and collecting pieces of a code that could be used to decipher PINs in a vault. To properly proceed, you have to keep a constant eye on the range of security cameras, as well as if they’re always on or on a cycle. You also need to explore every nook and cranny to find how numbers correspond to clues above each PIN input station.
Each one of these dungeons is making Persona 5 players think. You have to approach puzzles in the right way. Brute force and rushing through isn’t going to get you from point A to point B. Especially since each palace involves some sort of break between infiltrations for story purposes. Forcing people to take a step back makes them feel more substantial than they are. It makes the experience feel like a heist where reconnaissance is just as important as the actual theft. By forcing us to make these jumps in and out, it adds an improved sense of ambiance. Especially after the calling card is sent and that final run for the boss takes place.
All of this means that Persona 5 stays in character and keeps players engaged. We’re actually skulking and darting around like thieves, attempting to find our way past guards and sneaking through serious situations. There’s always a chance of being discovered and setting off an alarm. We’re always forced to think before we run through halls, checking the map and peering around corners. There’s always this sense of ambiance that permeates through every part of the experience in the best possible way.
Persona 5 is available for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.