Persona 5 is finally here! Atlus’s big, weird, wonderful high-school Inception thievery adventure with dating and part-time jobs has arrived, and we can at last leave the horrible real world behind to spend a year as tourists in Tokyo (and several surreal, distorted dreamscapes).
But a Persona game can be intimidating: Dating and dungeon-crawling? Stealing hearts and studying for exams? Where to begin?
So much of the joy in Persona 5 is in discovery, both in terms of its twisty plot and its surprising systems, and I recommend going into the experience as fresh as possible. There are, however, a few pieces of advice that I can give to everyone that are almost entirely spoiler-free. If you want a leg up on your year as a transfer student and Phantom Thief, consider the following:
Let’s get this one out of the way: while it is technically possible to max out every social stat and confidant relationship, read every book, beat every retro game, and complete every request in a single playthrough of Persona 5, doing so requires following a strict schedule for the entire year and not a little bit of save-scumming. If that’s how you want to experience the game, take a hard look at your life choices and then scurry along to GameFAQs.
It’s much more worthwhile, in my opinion, to accept upfront that your time in Tokyo is going to be limited, and you’re going to have to prioritize spending it with the people that matter (and, you know, hitting up the batting cages, if that’s what you’re into). Besides, seeing everything is what New Game Plus is for.
Note that I don’t say you should play on the easiest difficulties, just that you should consider it. I found Persona 5 only modestly challenging on Normal, and if you crank the difficulty down, you might be robbing yourself of the thrill of the game’s (delightful!) battle system.
However, the easiest difficulty setting showers you with experience and money, allowing you to complete dungeons more expediently and thus buying you time and resources to put into the socialization and exploration that makes up the other half of the game. If that’s really why you’re here, and you’re just looking for an excuse to hang out with pretty anime teens and the JRPG dungeon crawling is ancillary to the whole exercise, then playing on Safety might let you squeeze in a few more dates, a few more trips to the maid cafe or a few more nights working at the bar in the red-light district.
Located on the third floor of Shujin High, the school library is a little easy to miss. However, as soon as the first dungeon properly opens up, you’ll be able to borrow one book at a time from the library—and those books can net you some excellent gains to your social stats early on in the game. Better to go and check them out early!
Almost every method of improving your social stats in Persona 5 costs precious time. Whether it’s soaking in the sauna to improve your Charm or studying in the diner to improve your Knowledge, you can expect to give up many afternoons and evenings in the pursuit of bettering yourself.
There’s one sneaky little tidbit, however, that takes no time at all—and it’s one that the game absolutely doesn’t advertise. A week or two after moving to Yongen-Jaya, you’ll finally get around to cleaning up that dusty room of yours and discover a houseplant which is in rather poor health.
If you buy Plant Nutrients (first at the flower shop in Shibuya’s Underground Mall, and then at the store in the Shinjuku Red-Light District), you can give them to your plant for a significant boost to your character’s Kindness stat—without wasting an afternoon or an evening doing it. The catch is that you can only do this every two weeks or so, but if you get started in April and always keep some Plant Nutrients in your inventory, you’ll go a long way toward maxing out your Kindness just by taking care of your plant alone!
A lot of the time in Persona 5, it will seem as though you’re choosing between working on your social stats and hanging out with your friends—but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Most of the non-party Confidant relationships will frequently bestow improvements to your character. However, if you’re trying to work on a particular attribute, it’s helpful to know which Confidants boost which skills. So, without spoilers:
The Hierophant and Tower arcana will boost your Kindness. (A lot!)
The Devil and Sun arcana will boost your Charm. (A lot!)
The Hanged Man arcana will boost your Proficiency. (A fair bit.)
The Death arcana will boost your Guts. (A little.)
The Star arcana will boost your Knowledge. (A little.)
These won’t happen every single time you spend time with a Confidant, so they’re not as reliable as other methods of improving your skills, but it’s absolutely worth keeping in mind.
This is old hat for long-time Persona fans, but if you mean to spend time with one of your friends, you should always make sure that you have a Persona of the matching arcana in your inventory (it doesn’t have to be equipped, and its level doesn’t matter). If you don’t happen to have one on you, pop into the Velvet Room and pull the cheapest matching Persona out of the Compendium—which is expensive, sometimes, but it’s worth it.
There is an exception to this rule: You needn’t worry about matching Personas for Confidant relationships that update automatically as the story progresses: The Fool, Magician, Justice, Strength and Judgment arcana.
Persona 5 inherits a feature from Persona 4 Golden that lets you pull up, at any point, a list of what everybody else playing the game did on a given afternoon. This is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, it’s lovely to have a sort-of menu. There are at least a dozen ways to spend any given day in Persona 5, and sometimes it helps to be able to look at what somebody else chose in order to validate your own itinerary. It’s an easy way to remember that the cute fortune teller is available this afternoon, or that you can work your job at the beef bowl joint later in the evening. It’s also nice to be able to know for certain that you have no option but to go straight to bed.
However, it’s easy to lean into this menu as a list of what you should be doing, and that’s a one-way trip to anxiety town. “Wait, they’re studying? Should I be studying? They already sent the calling card?! Am I waiting too long?!” Don’t let yourself get caught up in it. Everybody’s going to be proceeding at their own pace and with their own priorities. If the Thieves’ Guild is stressing you out, stop checking it. You don’t need FOMO within the game you’re playing.
One of the best bits of Persona 5 is the way in which Confidant abilities allow you to perform better in battle, accumulate resources more quickly, or make new items. Every Confidant ability is worthwhile, but there are a handful that can give you more of the game’s most precious resource: Time.
The Temperance arcana is the cream of the crop. At various levels, your Confidant will get you pockets of free time during the school day, take care of evening chores like laundry and food prep, and ultimately earn your evenings back after trips to the Metaverse.
The Death arcana, when raised about halfway, will sell accessories that allow you to restore SP every turn in battle, making it much easier to clear a dungeon in a single afternoon. The Fortune Confidant will let you spend some money to boost your affinity with fellow Confidants, letting you reach the next stage of your relationship a little bit more quickly. Both strategies can be used to snag yourself a couple more free afternoons.
There are lots of different factors that will decide what kinds of Personas you keep in your inventory—which Confidant relationships you’re nurturing, what your current level is, what elemental affinities you’re being attacked with, luck—but one helpful thing I found was to always keep handy a Persona that was strong against physical attacks.
There are some early ones that fit the bill, like Obariyon, Slime, and Shiisaa, but I picked up Shiki-Ouji around level 20 and carried it all the way through the middle of the game. Shiki-Ouji completely nullifies both physical and gun attacks, and it isn’t saddled with a bunch of elemental weaknesses. Having your main character completely immune to physical damage is deeply unfair, and I can’t recommend it enough.
You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Just trust me on this one. A true gentleman thief doesn’t sell out his accomplices. Honor among Phantom Thieves and all that.
Nate Ewert-Krocker is a writer and a Montessori teacher who lives in Atlanta. His first book, an adventure novel for teens, is available here. You can find him on Twitter at @NEwertKrocker, where he mostly gushes about final boss themes from JRPGs.