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Veteran Member - Level 12
Persona 5 won't be out until next year, and even then only in Japan. To stave off a current bout of crushing boredom, and continue being active here on GIO, I'm going to share what I'd like to see from Persona's fifth installment.
Bring Back Old Combat Mechanics, But Not Old Combat Aesthetics
The earlier Persona games were dense with information during battle, arguably too dense. Persona 2 had three separate categories for enemy weakness, along with a rather convoluted Persona leveling system, a spell fusion system and downright odd in-battle conversation mechanics. A lack of information about how those systems operated, what abbreviations in the "Analyze" menu meant and how to approach battle situations made the meaty combat scenarios difficult to understand. Persona 3 and 4 did away with their predecessor's information overload, choosing to keep just a handful of systems, weaknesses, and elements. The resulting games were considerably more accessible, but also prone to growing stale in the gameplay department. Now that the formula has been refined, it's time to reintroduce some of the depth that was removed.
Persona 2's problem wasn't bloated battle mechanics, but that it didn't present the related information well. There's no reason Persona's now older, wiser developers would have trouble bringing back the depth stripped away in pursuit of simplification. The "Fusion Spells" Persona 4 ditched in favor of unique or "autocast" special abilities, and a few randomly triggered combo attacks, were legitimately awesome. They encouraged experimentation in combat, even when fighting up against enemies whose weaknesses were already known. The implementation of a single Physical weakness stat meant battles against enemies weak to physical attacks were suddenly best dealt with using the "Rush" command, turning those fights into a passive waste of the player's time. The return of weapon specific weaknesses and Fusion Spells would present an added layer of strategy and experimentation, while also allowing for more unique combinations between fights or dungeons.
Persona 3 and 4 weren't lacking in strategic combat, but there's potential for those systems to be even deeper and no reason for them not to be.
Present More Information "At a Glance" During Battle
If there is one glaring hole in Persona's battle system it's how little information is surfaced about enemies without digging into a menu. In the less detailed, sprite-based days of Persona 2 that was acceptable, maybe even charmingly representative of the RPG genre's tabletop roots. Two games and almost 15 years later it's starting to wear thin, especially when half-steps are clearly visible. Persona 4's ring based targeting is mysteriously missing some of the game's most important information. While it shows if an enemy will block or reflect an attack by changing to a shield icon, learned strengths and weaknesses can only be checked by delving into a menu. The last thing a turn-based RPG needs is something that slows it down; keeping the "Analyze" menu as a necessity instead of an extra tool would do exactly that.
Switch Up The Presentation
Persona 3 and 4 have aged astoundingly well, but unfortunately they're almost identical in their presentation. Although Persona 4, especially the PS Vita's Persona 4 Golden, plays host to a more vivid color pallet, it would be easy for those unfamiliar with the series to mistake the games for one another. Many of the menus share common designs and themes, as do the layouts of the battle screens. That might not sound like a deal-breaker, but a good portion of Persona games are spent in those menus, checking progress, gearing up and studying stats. Familiarity in function is a good thing to have though, and something the game has no reason to alter. A significant change to the series' more recent presentation would help keep players from feeling like they've already spent 40 hours or more digging through Persona 5's menus though.
Make Side-Quests More Interesting, and Record Quest Details
Side-quests in the Persona games have been unforgivably bad, and the series has been woefully inadequate at providing players with information about what they're supposed to be doing and how to do it. Persona 2 was so bad at directing players that simply missing a sentence could mean losing a grasp on the entire plot. Although a more straight and narrow approach to the narrative path fixed that particular issue in Persona 3 and 4, the side-quests which accompanied the change were boring, nonsensical fetch quests. Offering little in reward beyond a check on a list, the quests frequently contradict core thematic elements like Persona 4's TV world by granting knowledge of those elements to people who logically shouldn't have it.
Persona's quest tracking has been even worse, only giving a short summary and forcing players to consult the often cryptic quest givers for information. The resulting trips back to the source and blind fumbling through dungeons are mind numbing. All of this is made more frustrating by the fact that there is a genuinely interesting world surrounding each of the games, and plenty of room to tell more about it. Persona is a series about people though, and it could be argued that the worlds need not be explored. If the side-quests are to remain simple delivery missions then they need to be tracked and rewarded properly, otherwise there's no reason for them to exist without adding to the narrative.
Ditch Player Knockout Fail States
There's not much to say about Persona's more recent handling of what happens when the player's character is knocked out in battle. Getting a "Game Over" screen in that situation is completely unnecessary. Making that same "Game Over" screen a long, impassable cutscene is even worse. There is nothing more frustrating than whittling down a tough boss, only to have a random number generator spit out a critical hit that forces you to go through the whole fight again. It also has a negative impact on strategy, changing the focus from efficient management of a fight to ensuring a single character survives at all cost.
Bring Back Persona 3's Random Dungeon Layouts
Persona 4 claimed to have the same randomly generated dungeons as Persona 3, but if it was present in the PS2 version I didn't notice it and it definitely didn't return for Persona 4 Golden. After spending almost 200 hours running through Golden's dungeons during downtime between classes, I can say with some confidence that they aren't even the slightest bit random. While that hasn't bothered me much, it's definitely not a good thing for a game that is asking players to revisit previous areas in search of personas they might have missed. Random dungeons, and maybe enemies that scale after it's cleared, would make for a game that's more fun to go back to. Making the randomly generated areas more interesting than Persona 3's "Tartarus" would probably be a good idea too.
Make It a Save Anywhere Game
One of the best parts about playing Persona 4 Golden on the Vita was the ability to suspend play, stuff the system into a case or backpack, and pick up where I left off. It lent itself quite well to being played during moments of free time, with the game's form naturally dividing it into bite-sized chunks. Persona 5 won't be coming to Vita though, and PS3 almost certainly won't be gaining the ability to suspend gameplay. Atlus isn't the world's largest publisher either, so it's also a safe bet the decision to release Persona 5 for PS3 was financially motivated - and that the game won't see release on PS4. They could make things easier on everyone though and go back to the ways of Persona 2, allowing players to save wherever and whenever they want. The methodical format of a turn based RPG is already at odds enough with modern gaming habits, the last thing Persona 5 needs is a mechanic that will inevitably lock players into a segment they don't have time to complete.
What are you excited about seeing Persona 5 do differently or better than it's predecessors?