Persona 5 launches worldwide on 4 April for PS4 and PS3 after a delay of three agonising years. With expectations for the next instalment in Atlus' cult franchise raised to new heights following 2013's masterful Persona 4 Golden, the sequel – complete with an all-new ragtag gang of Toyko teenagers – has a lot to live up to.
IBTimes UK has dungeon-crawled its way through just under half of the whopping 80+ hours that it takes to finish Persona 5, and while our full review will have to wait until our heart-stealing skills are truly worthy of the game's Phantom Thieves, we can say it is easily capable of snatching a Game of the Year spot.
For newcomers, Persona's offbeat amalgamation of RPG battles, Pokémon-like 'monster' collecting, school life sim tropes and unabashed reverence for J-culture can be daunting. With that in mind, below are five essential things to know before setting foot into the Metaverse:
"Take your time"
Persona 5 begins with an almighty bang, blasting past its 'in medias res' opening, expository cutscenes, and character introductions in a fashion that may surprise series veterans used to its usual opening act slow burns.
The pace slows somewhat as the plethora of RPG battle and stat-building mechanics begin to unwind, but each passing in-game day brings you closer to either a time-sensitive climactic boss fight or a quirky social event.
With the pressure of deadlines permanently dialled up to eleven and a multitude of possible actions to fill your after school and nighttime activity slots, it's always worth listening to the loading screen's message of advice: "Take your time".
Making a snap decision about what to do, where to go and who to speak to is often a bad idea. Step back, relax, take in the neon, cosmopolitan buzz of Persona 5's Tokyo and pick your activities wisely. It is also nigh-on impossible to do everything in one playthrough, so play at your own pace and savour the dialogue and jazzy soundtrack instead of focusing on a 100% completion goal.
Become best buddies with your Confidants
While the above point still stands, there is no 'best' option for how to spend time in Persona 5, especially as almost every activity will gift main character Joker with trait boosts, money or experience points.
But there is one type of activity that offers an entirely different kind of helping hand both in battle and in the game's social segments: Confidants.
Confidants are ostensibly Persona 5's interpretation of Social Link system in Persona 3 and 4, with each anointed character – which are either party members or NPCs – representing one of the many Arcana types.
Spending time with these characters will slowly increase your Arcana rank, although some, like Morgana's "Magician" or Igor's "Fool", will rise as you progress through the story, while others have stranger prerequisites that I do not want to spoil.
Increasing Arcana ranks and establishing bonds with party members is an excellent starting point if you are unsure how to fill your day, with each new rank adding vital abilities such as follow-up attacks, the chance to survive a fatal blow, a second chance at negotiation with a shadow and, eventually, a huge power increase.
Doing so also opens up new cutscenes with key characters and romance options, but there's another key reason you will want to focus on Arcana ranks...
Never rely on a single Persona
After a few rounds in the Metaverse, you will be introduced to "Hold Up" negotiations. Here you can reason with enemy shadows and obtain new Personas for Joker to wield. Each Persona you capture belongs to a particular Arcana and has its own elemental strengths, weaknesses and access to different attacks once levelled up.
Monitoring enemy weaknesses and attacks and switching Joker's Persona on the fly is the best way to avoid a humiliating defeat and lose valuable progress in the game's Palace dungeons. The game forces you into this way of thinking early on by prompting you to sacrifice Joker's de facto Persona, Arsene. In truth, sticking to one Persona is both a terrible idea and a bit dull considering the wealth of outlandish fantasy beasts Joker can command.
Higher Arcana ranks will also grant larger stat bonuses if you fuse two Personas together in the Velvet Room, so it is always worth checking to see if you can do better than your current crop of collectible companions.
Quick additional tip: If you are trying to rank up with a Confidant, have a Persona with a corresponding Arcana type with you. This will add bonus points to each bonding session.
Brush up on Japanese culture... or have Google on hand
Whether studying, working at a beef bowl restaurant, reading a book or taking a medicinal bath, there are plenty of way to increase Joker's five key traits: Knowledge, Guts, Proficiency, Kindness and Charm.
Most of these activities do not require any additional legwork and organically improve as you progress. However, transforming Joker from a brainless dunce into a teen prodigy via the Knowledge trait largely depends on your own smarts.
During classroom quizzes you will have to answer multiple choice questions, which give a minor, but essential, boost to Joker's Knowledge. These are based on a variety of topics such as optical illusions, general trivia, and Plato's tripartite theory of soul... no, really.
Classical Greek philosophy aside, the trickiest questions are those rooted in Japanese culture. If you do not happen to be an aficionado for Japanese food, art, architecture, etc., then we suggest you keep a Google search tab open.
Spend your money wisely
Cold hard cash comes from a variety of sources in Persona 5, but the best place to bank a payday is inside the Metaverse. Selling treasures (which have no other purpose) and defeating shadows will rapidly fill your coffers, but do not take your newfound wealth for granted.
Buying new weapons, armour and items comes with a lot of expense in Persona 5, and that is without considering any money you might need for summoning registered Personas, social trips and making progress with the Temperance Arcana bond – possibly the game's most vital Confidant branch.
Without wanting to spoil who represents the Arcana and how it is introduced (it is quite something), attempting to increase the bond will set you back ¥5,000 for every meeting until you reach rank eight – at which point it is free.
Despite the cost, the Temperance Confidant is worth every penny as it eventually gives you extra activity slots during class for crafting items, reading books or having a quick nap. The real bonus is the maximum rank bonus, though, which stops Joker from needing to go to bed immediately after navigating the Metaverse. This reopens a redundant evening slot for any side activity you wish.