I’m about forty hours into Persona 5 and I wanted to share some scattered thoughts on the combat system now that I’ve had a lot of time with it. No story spoilers below, but I do refer to some mechanics that aren’t revealed until later in the game.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get my wish and the Main Character’s death is still an immediate game over. This mechanic wasn’t ever great and in 2017 it feels completely out of place. All the other trappings of Persona 3’s clumsy conceit that you are only in control of the MC have long since been stripped away. Let the other party members revive him already!
Baton Pass is the best new idea in P5, a brilliant addition to the staple “One More” mechanic; after hitting an enemy elemental weakness, the active character gets another turn, but can pass it to another character instead, granting them a big power boost for their next action. Being able to trade the extra turn makes it much easier to set up Hold Ups since you often need different sets of elemental attacks to cover all enemies.
Speaking of Hold Ups, expanding the previous games’ All-Out Attacks to reintroduce demon negotation, the signature MegaTen system which has been absent from this branch of the franchise since Persona 2, is an elegant move. Making negotation more reliable while requiring some investment in combat to access it is a good tradeoff. I really like the role reversal enabled by the negotiation abilities you get from one of your Confidants, which let you repeatedly ask for money/items like MegaTen demons usually get to do.
Guns are another MegaTen standard brought back after a prolonged absence from Persona. It’s implemented well, as being able to do many small hits on different targets at once has its utility, but it hasn’t made all that much of an impression on me. (I almost forgot to mention it, in fact.)
I really don’t like how the turn order resets after the first round of an Ambush. More than once this has ended up giving the enemy two turns in a row, which is a huge disadvantage even if the whole party got a turn in first; enemies hit hard in MegaTen, and not having any opportunity to heal between enemy turns is worse than having them go first in my opinion. Even this late into the game, it still takes me by surprise when the turn order changes, because it’s so unintuitive (and you don’t get a lot of insight into the upcoming turn order anyway – you can see one move ahead at most).
Overall I’m a big fan of the new Nuclear and Psy elements, as well as the expanded Curse and Bless elements which used to only consist of all-or-nothing instant kill spells. The extra detail that Nuclear and Psy deal extra damage not only based on elemental weaknesses, but also any status effects the target is suffering, adds a lot of situational utility to those spells. Inflicting status effects is more worthwhile in this game overall, between the Nuclear/Psy bonuses and the introduction of Technical hits: physical attacks deal a lot more damage to enemies with certain status effects while also removing them. (Aesthetically, I love the name Technical for a mechanic like this – it feels like the attention I’m paying to the details of the combat is being acknowledged.)
The downside to the new elemental additions is having that many more options to exhaust when trying to pinpoint a new enemy’s weakness. It’s only a minor annoyance, though, and there’s still plenty of time in my playthrough for a character to join the party who speeds up the analysis.
On the whole P5 is mechanically the strongest game in the series and I’m looking forward to the remaining dozens and dozens of hours of it I have ahead of me. I’m still hard at work on my own game, though, and I’m hoping to formally announce it very soon. Keep an eye on this space and my Twitter for updates!