Persona 5 Scramble (PS4) - ReviewThomas Froehlicher , posted on 04 November 2020 / 1,910 Views
With more than three millions of copies of Persona 5 shipped worldwide, it's not surprising to see Atlus attempt to milk the title in every possible way. Following Persona 5 Dancing Star Night and Persona 5 Royal, the publisher decided to go even further, with a direct sequel to its hit RPG. With the genre changing from turn-based RPG to a 'Warriors'-style action RPG, there was potential for an explosive reaction given the tremendous levels of anticipation for anything Persona-related.
Persona 5 Scramble starts off in beautiful Tokyo in July. Japanese society is at peace following the events of Persona 5 and Joker is able to have a well-earned rest in his hometown. But, as you can imagine, the peaceful days don't last for very long. Strange cases are shaking the political sphere again - forged public accounts have been uncovered, there are mass resignations in Sapporo's civil service, and a novelist has given up on his prize. The police are on edge, and what better suspect than the Phantom Thieves for such goings on? The cops believe that the group is fully active again and they clearly intend to settle the score.
Not even realizing the looming threat, Joker comes to Tokyo to visit his friends, but he soon finds out that something's wrong again. While watching a street event involving a local idol in Shibuya, he and Ryuji are suddenly warped into a strange parallel world called 'Jail'. Shadows were supposed to have completely disappeared, but they're back, with 'Jail' representing a disturbing version of daily life in Shibuya. With the help of Sophie (a strange girl dwelling in 'Jail'), the Phantom Thieves effectively decide to reassemble and bring about peace once more. Of course, this is only the starting point for far bigger schemes that Joker's group will end up getting involved in.
At first sight, 'Jails' are very similar to the 'Palaces' of Persona 5, but there are actually some clear differences. The first big change is that time isn't limited in Persona 5 Scramble. While you had to clear a dungeon within two or three weeks in Persona 5, here you can take your time by going in and out the 'Jail' as many times as you want. Calendar days change only when a main objective has been met. On top of that, 'Jails' don't vanish once you beat the local boss. That means you can access all of the dungeons at any time, and for example save side quests until later on in your playthrough.
Last but not least, you can control any character you want on the map, not just Joker. It's worth mentioning that every party member is playable right from the beginning too, except for one of the two newcomers who joins much later in the story. 'Jails' are all outdoor environments, which makes for a different type of exploration compared to Persona 5, and there are also cool new animations for all of the characters. The way you progress through dungeons is very pleasant and also less demanding (since time is no longer a factor), but that's doesn't mean Scramble will go easy on you!
That brings me onto the gameplay, which is also probably the biggest question mark people have about the game, given the shift in genre from high quality turn-based RPG to action RPG. Fortunately - and despite jumping into the 'Warriors' formula - Persona 5 Scramble retains the spirit and fun of the Persona 5 battle system. Surprisingly, this sequel also inherits the stealth feature from Persona 5. Shadows roam around the level and the player can use spots to hide and launch pre-emptive attacks. Once you engage a shadow's avatar it multiplies and you face dozens of opponents, just like in a traditional Warriors game.
Like many Warriors games, the square and triangle can be used to produce different types of attack combos. There are also various stances and finishing moves, called Master Arts, which you can acquire when using the same character for an extended period of time. Although it's probably obvious from the title, Persona 5 Scramble also features Personas, meaning that Joker and his comrades can use their traditional magic. As you need to strike an enemy's weakness as much as possible, magic is still widely used. R1 displays a drop-down list of all available spells and you just have to direct those towards the group of enemies you want to target. The battle system retains the principle of 'One More', granting you an extra blow when you use the right type of magic at the right time, or your current character can even call on others to sweep the entire area. Each member of the Phantom Thieves can also hit enemies with a Showtime of its own to cause massive damage.
Joker can bear several Personas at once, just like in Persona 5. While other characters have one pre-defined list of spells, you can browse through several spell lists of your own making when using Joker. Personas can be acquired after battles, where there's generally a slight chance a defeated Shadow will drop a mask that will give you the corresponding Persona. When you acquire enough Personas, you can merge them in order to create new ones and gain better spells, just like you do in Persona 5. That said, the Persona line-up isn't quite as large as before and the amount of choice is therefore somewhat limited.
So what has changed then? Pretty much everything, because the battle pace is insanely fast. Imagine that you're playing Persona 5 Royal but have to take every decision in less than one second. Persona 5 Scramble is exactly that; intense battles where the action is significantly faster than in most action RPGs, despite the numerous possibilities available for use in combat. R1 however does freeze time when you're using magic, since you need to aim at a particular target. The compromise is similar to what happens in Final Fantasy VII Remake, where there's a focus on speed and energy, but also accuracy when it's needed.
The challenge level here is quite high from the start; characters can be KO'd in two or three hits in normal mode, so your skills will definitely be tested. I was on the verge of considering it the "Dark Souls of Warriors games", but eventually this doesn't hold very true. That's because, curiously enough, Persona 5 Scramble is much harder at the beginning than at the end. Boss fights in the first half of the game (even random half-stage bosses), for example, are a nightmare. Persona 5 Scramble is faster, harder, and ultimately more rewarding than even the best Warriors games, like Fire Emblem Warriors or Samurai Warriors 4.
The slightest mistake leads to a game over. But with a bit of experience and practice you can use a few features to your advantage. Phantom Moves allow you to instantly jump on an object in the field, which makes you dodge most attacks, but you can also use most of those objects to attack. For instance, you can make a car explode, or cut a chandelier down, or throw sharp blades, and even fire a highly destructive beam. Atlus certainly hasn't run out of ideas to entertain players. The result is that battles as a whole feel far more diverse than in any Warriors game I've played; there a lot more possibilities than just performing combos on large groups of enemies.
The Band system is also a big help throughout the adventure. This represents the friendship level between the Phantom Thieves, which increases after major story events and also by fighting and completing side quests. Band levels grant you points that you can use in order to gain all sorts of advantages. You can increase that stats of the team, load more ammo into firearms, or benefit from discounts in Sophie's shop. Maximizing the Band board requires dozens of hours of dedication, if not two entire playthroughs.
But the best thing here is that Persona 5 Scramble isn't just your average Warriors game onto which developers have slapped a Persona 5 skin. It's a true Persona game, one that takes the Warriors gameplay for itself and improves upon it a lot. It's a genuine sequel, faithful to Persona 5 in terms of enjoyment and storytelling, but also lighter in tone. Each 'Jail' is ruled by a 'King', which are roughly comparable to the 'Palace' leaders in Persona 5. And yes, that means you'll witness the memorable confession scenes again. Still, there's no real 'bad guy' in Persona 5 Royal, because every antagonist has more or less legitimate reasons for his actions and you actually sympathize with them.
The story as a whole feels slightly weaker than the one in Persona 5, and the conclusion is surprisingly identical (that is to say the blame is put on today's superficial society). On the plus side, nearly every new character has a deeply interesting and sometimes moving personal story and personality. The humor is intact too; Joker and his gang borrow Sojiro's camper van to embark on an epic (and hilarious) journey across Japan. From Sendai to Osaka, the Phantom Thieves tour famous tourist spots, like Sapporo's TV tower, Osaka's Shinsekai Street, and Sendai's statue of Date Masamune. The cities aren't that big (just a couple of streets each), but it's really cool to travel around virtually and witness the character interaction that goes on. It's particularly fun if you love Japan, and especially if you've had the chance to visit these places in person. There are tons of ideas or little references that reflect the travel theme. For example, when in Osaka, Sophie says "ookini" instead of "arigato". In Tokyo (and indeed most of Japan), you would say "arigato", but locals in Osaka and the Kansai region use their own dialect and it's cool to see the game reflect that.
While it remains tremendously fun throughout, Persona 5 Scramble doesn't provide a game experience as large or as well-paced as Persona 5 Royal. The middle part of the game is a bit underwhelming, because the dungeons are smaller and the bosses less interesting. Kyoto turns out quite disappointing too, because you can't stroll around the city at all. That's a shame, because it probably would have been the coolest city to 'visit', with splendid places like Kiyomizudera or Kinkakuji to showcase. Why, Atlus, Why!? Finally, Scramble isn't even remotely as long as Persona 5 Royal - 30 to 40 hours are enough to clear the main story, and the side content is quite light too.
Graphically it's truly disappointing. The game engine is totally outdated, the character modelling is mediocre at best, and broadly it looks like an average PS3 game. Anyone who's played Final Fantasy VII Remake will frown. Even older games like NieR Automata or Yakuza 6 had much sharper graphics back in 2016/2017. Atlus is now a world-class publisher, it can't fall back on such low technical standards and get away with it anymore. If the company truly wants to stay ahead of the curve it needs to fully take advantage of the power of the PS4 in future, if not the PS5. The millions of faithful Persona fans deserve better.
Fans of Atlus' legendary JRPG will be thrilled to find in Persona 5 Scramble a true sequel. Even in a very different genre, the Koei Tecmo-developed title extends Persona 5's enjoyment in a remarkable way, and it represents much more than a simple milking of Persona 5's universe. Persona 5 Scramble makes clever use of the 'Warriors' gameplay while maintaining the spirit of the original title at all times, which includes rich mechanics and stellar storytelling. These numerous important, positive qualities fortunately make up for some outdated visuals. Let's just hope Atlus strives to improve on that aspect with its future releases.
Review based on a Japanese version of the game.
After graduating from a French business school, Thomas felt an irresistible force drawing him to study Japanese, which eventually led him to Japanese Profeciency Test level 1 in 2012. During the day, Thomas is a normal account manager. But at night he becomes Ryuzaki57, an extreme otaku gamer hungry for Japanese games (preferably with pretty girls in the main role). His knowledge now allows him to import games at Japanese release for unthinkable prices, and then tell everyone about them. You may also find him on French video games media. Feel free to contact on twitter at @Ryuz4ki57
This review is based on a retail copy of Persona 5 Scramble for the PS4