"Is it possible to play Persona 5 'wrong'?" reads a Twitter message someone sent me this weekend. "I'm about to start and have this fear of doing it wrong that keeps me from starting. Is this normal?" You're not alone, buddy. I'm 15 hours into Persona 5, my first experience with the series, and I can't remember being this stressed out playing a game since Dark Souls had me fight two gargoyles at once.
It can be nerve-wracking to jump into a series that's been around for a long time. It often means the public conversation about a game goes over a layman's head, and good lord do people who love Persona also love to talk about how much they love Persona. Persona 5 people talk about Persona 5 as though everyone knows what's up with Persona 5. (I'm guilty of this with games like Dark Souls.) For someone who's interested in Persona 5, who tried to get around to Persona 4 but eventually didn't, but desperately wants to know what the fuss is about, it's a little much.
Before I walk you through my frazzled nerves, let me be clear: if you've never played Persona before, you can hop into Persona 5. You might not understand why everyone is so obsessed with Chie, but it's a great entryway into the series.
If it was possible to play one-handed, though, I would; most of the time, I'm juggling the controller, nudging my character in one direction or another, while thumbing my phone through GameFAQs threads and tips posts about how best to play effectively. Though conservative estimates suggest it takes at least 70-to-80 hours to beat Persona 5—if you're rushing, if you know exactly what you're doing, if you skip over all of the neat side stuff—it's a game that still manages to feel suffocating on a moment-to-moment basis, especially for a newcomer.
This is partially by design, as nearly all of your choices in Persona 5 are constantly pushing time forward. There are finite number of days for you to experience everything in the game. If you hang out at the batting cages, time moves forward. If you study for a test, time moves forward. In an era of games that often let players do whatever they want at their own pace, Persona 5 forcefully says "No, choose." But this stress is compounded by inexperience with Persona's quirks, and feeling overwhelmed at trying to juggle a bunch of interconnected systems.
(This is why Persona fans told me to keep multiple saves. If you make an error, at least you can go back a few in-game days and course correct. I have two.)
It's not that Persona 5 is obtuse. Each time a new mechanic is revealed, the game carefully explains what it does and why it's important. There's just so much to keep track of at first, and it doesn't tell you what to prioritize. Persona 5 is, above all else, about priorities. It's what the player has the most control over. The plot is predestined, but everything else is up to you, and that "everything else" is a lot.
What cutie to try to make out with? (You will have ample time to make that decision. Breathe!) Which stat to focus on, even if you're not sure which ones are important or what they do? (The game will communicate what to focus on when. Books and DVDs help.) Is it worth fusing two personas with one another to get a more powerful one, even if you lose the ability to deploy a certain attack? (It's fine. You can spend a little bit of money to get that old persona back.)
Even as you're getting your feet wet, the game doesn't just provide you with one or two options with how to spend your time—it gives you a dozen, and you're always finding more. Not every option provides something fruitful, like deepening a relationship and a new ability. Sometimes it's just lines of dialogue. But when you're not moving forward, you can't help but wonder if you made the wrong choice, especially when, say, a character decides they no longer want to hang out.
And you know what? Don't be afraid to spoil the shit out of the game for yourself. I'm not talking about plot summaries, I'm talking about guides and tips on how you should be playing the game. Even 15 hours in, as the game is widening the amount of options available to me, I'm constantly consulting various guides on the Internet to provide guidance on what I should do next. Kirk Hamilton tips post at Kotaku has been invaluable, especially when I took this part to heart:
Don't sweat your schedule TOO much…
Your daily schedule in Persona 5 eventually gets complicated, though it does ease you in. Six or seven hours into the game, however, you'll already be worrying about what to do on a given afternoon, and how best to optimize your schedule. My advice is not to worry too much, and to let go of any dreams of getting things perfect on your first go. That being said…
…but do sweat it a little bit.
Don't fully believe the "take your time" text at the corner of the screen, either. If you're not advancing a confidant relationship, you should be raising a stat or making progress in a story palace. Never go to bed early, or otherwise waste too much time. Keep in mind that you really do only have a finite number of days to see and do everything in the game.
I've also taken to searching Google for extremely specific queries about the game—"How many kindness points do I need to start hanging out with Ann?"—and don't feel any guilt about it. What matters is the choices I make, not whether I've got too much information to make 'em.
This comes with the territory of playing new games. When I wrapped up Breath of the Wild a week ago, my initial thought was "Ah, yes, time for Andromeda." But putting aside whether you think BioWare's latest space opera RPG is any good, diving into Andromeda would have been walking down a familiar road. The more difficult one, but one with the potential to be more satisfying, was the harder one—hence this article. I'm not trying to equate learning a new game with mastering astrophysics, but it's not easy, either. So far, Persona 5 seems worth the struggle.