Roughly three years ago, Atlus and P-Studio released Persona 5, the long awaited JRPG in the highly revered series. It went on to gain critical acclaim and fan praise alike, but it seems P-Studio wasn’t satisfied with stopping there. In comes Persona 5 Royal, their enhancement of the original game, adding hours of extra content and changes. It’s pretty much like how they did Catherine: Full Body or Persona 4 Golden. Unlike the other titles, this is the first time it’s released on the same platform. That being said, after spending well over 100 hours in the game, I can say without a doubt that this is the definitive experience.
Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There
For those that haven’t played the game before, Persona 5 is an RPG that takes place in Japan. Our protagonist is a seemingly normal high school kid, but after a selfless act, he’s wrongfully incriminated for an assault charge. Instead of spending time in prison, he instead transfers schools and gets taken into the care of a cafe owner. On his first day of school, his fate is forever changed as he slips into the Metaverse, a cognitive reality set by the perceptions of those with twisted desires. After meeting up with a mysterious talking cat creature, he gets recruited the leader of the newly formed Phantom Thieves.
If you’ve played a Persona game before, you’ll likely be familiar with the dark tones the game tackles. Perversion, corruption, extortion, murder and more await those that play Persona 5 Royal. As a new Phantom Thief, your job is to take the hearts of the criminal minds that control society. To do this, you simply enter their cognition, their “Palace,” and steal the treasure they value most. Over time, the Phantom Thieves grow in numbers, gaining notoriety and support from the citizens of Japan. Without spoiling too much more, the game crafts a smart and riveting story that really amplifies the rebellious spirit.
In true RPG fashion, the player has a lot of control on how they play the story. You’ll live your life as a student at Shujin Academy, work part-time jobs, spend time with friends and more. Each day will pass with limited options of what to do, but each activity will take some time. This simulates the real life aspect of the game, and most actions will determine the who the protagonist will be by the time the game ends. There are many characters to meet in your expedition as a Phantom Thief, so make your time count. Your choices will determine how strong your bonds are with everyone, and that plays a part in the gameplay as well.
I am Thou, Thou Art I…
This game features the Confidant system, which utilizes those bonds formed with those you meet in the game. Each confidant will have a rank that will rise the more you spend time with them. Spending more time with them will unlock more skills, abilities, and freedoms in the game, both inside and outside the Metaverse. This is especially useful with your fellow Phantom Thieves, as this will unlock more skills in battle too. While the Confidant system isn’t anything new to Persona 5, there is still new content relating to regarding it in Royal.
Two new confidants are available in Persona 5 Royal. One of these is with the new ally, Kasumi Yoshizawa, enabling the Faith confidant. Kasumi isn’t exactly prominent in the main story, but she makes appearances throughout the game regardless. She has a much bigger role in the new school semester story, though that won’t happen without the right choices. The other new confidant is Takuto Maruki, a school counselor that unsurprisingly represents the Councillor confidant. He is perhaps the most important confidant, for he’s the key to accessing a lot of the additional story content. He adds a relaxing element to the story and helps to dig further into the personalities of the main characters.
Aside from the new confidants, there are also additional scenes to each of the original ones. Each confidant now offers follow-up scenes, giving the player an additional chance to improve their relationships. This mostly involves a phone call after spending time with them, but it’s a nice addition to the game. The best thing about the confidants is just how deep and complex the characters are. They all have relatable problems that you tend to feel empathy for, and adding to each scene really helps to further that bond. There’s even the additional sequences with Goro Akechi, which deepens the connection with him in the game.
Take Your Heart
While there’s plenty of game with your social activities, the main portion lies in infiltrating palaces. Each palace utilizes a theme relating to the owner’s cognition, which gives a bit of variety in the aesthetic. It also adds unique gameplay mechanics that make each palace feel a bit different from the last. New to Royal is the new grappling hook, which allows players to explore new areas and reach new heights. The grappling hook gets a lot of use in normal areas too, but it mainly allows access to the new Will Seeds. These new items, when collected, will form into a new accessory that allows you to use abilities of the palace owner. It adds a cool new type of accessory that has a little visual fun in combat as well.
When entering palaces and the Metaverse, there are many dangers lurking in the form of Shadows. Taking on these foes will take place in turn-based combat, which can be initiated by striking them outside of battle. This utilizes a slight stealth feature, where players can hide behind objects and ambush their enemies. You have the chance to go in without stealth, but you’ll gain the advantage using it. Eventually, players can even use the grappling hook to tether foes into an ambush, assuming you make the right choices.
The overall combat puts up to four characters on your team, using various different techniques to fight. Players will be able to attack with their melee weapons, guns, and spells, many of which enabled by their Persona. Enemies will have various strengths and weaknesses, and it’s pretty engaging to figure out all the different stats. What makes Persona 5 more interesting is the ability to capture Shadows for the protagonist to use as his own. This gives him great versatility and allows for players to come up with some great strategies.
Looking Cool Joker!
Of course, turn-based combat and social life simulation wouldn’t be much to talk about if it didn’t look good doing it. Persona 5 Royal, like the original, has an amazingly stylish art design. Characters are still designed by series vet Shigenori Soejima, and they have a great aesthetic that fits their personalities. Using cel-shaded graphics, the game makes certain details pop with life and color. It also helps that it has one of the slickest user interfaces in gaming, with eye catching movement and pleasing design. There are even anime cutscenes from Production I.G. and Domerica, with the latter returning to produce new ones for Royal. This includes a brand new intro sequence that looks fantastic.
When it comes to Persona 5 Royal, the game finds new ways to show off its fantastic style. First of all, the game makes full use of the PlayStation 4 Pro, improving the graphical quality to 4K. This helps to make the visuals look as sharp as ever, making a beautiful game look even better. Another new feature comes with the Showtimes, new special moves that combine the strengths of two characters in a wondrous spectacle. Over the course of the story, players will gain new Showtimes, showcasing cool and fun animations from the charming cast. It feels like the team learned a bit from Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE, as they feel reminiscent of the Duo Arts from that game.
The game also now offers the all new Thieves Den, which is like an interactive gallery. Players can walk around and check out artwork, cutscenes, music, and more. They’ll even be able to enjoy a new card game called Tycoon. It’s a nice addition to the presentation, though it’s probably the least necessary one. At least it’s the thought that counts, and some fans will surely appreciate it. It’s also worth mentioning, while not at the time of this review, that all the previous game’s DLC is also to be accessible in Royal for free. This means players can make their Phantom Thieves fit the style they like most. It also means they should be able to have access to DLC Personas for Joker.
Take Your Time
As mentioned before, the game adds a lot of new content. It’s best to decide things carefully, as it’s easy to make choices with consequences. This can range from incorrect exam questions, missed points with confidants, and even smart use of time in the Metaverse. This is especially important in Mementos, which is a large, multi-floored dungeon that has procedurally generated floors. Mementos will feel very similar, though now it includes a new face with Jose. This mysterious little boy adds extra tasks for players, including the collection of stamps and flowers. Of course, completing this comes with rewards too, making it very worthwhile.
The game offers over 100 hours of content easily, and it can still be worth visiting for players of the original. New music helps to make for a fresher experience, and all the voice actors return for new scenes as well. Some events may also transpire differently than you remember, as many things have been remixed. This includes quizzes, some dialogue choices and even the bosses of the palaces. The bosses especially increase the challenge of the game, as some of their new phases can make things especially tough. It’s also worth noting that one particular enemy in Mementos no longer has an exploit that many have utilized.
There really is a lot to take in with Persona 5 Royal, and while you can get the Platinum trophy in one playthrough, you can’t experience everything. It makes it a replayable, albeit arduous JRPG, though some will likely enjoy that aspect. Having so much content isn’t a bad thing, especially given how much choice players will have. The game even offers a new city to explore with minigames like darts and billiards, as well as new social areas. Fans can even have more interactions with fan favorite characters like Caroline and Justine. Of course, the new Fusion Alarm mechanic also gives plenty of reasons to visit them in the Velvet Room. There’s even two additional endings to discover, bringing the total amount to seven.
Overall, while it hasn’t been that long since we had the original Persona 5, there is enough reason to jump into Persona 5 Royal for longtime fans. There’s tons of additional content to keep you engaged and the game maintains a consistent pace all throughout. If you’re looking for a long JRPG experience to satisfy a gaming itch, especially during times of isolation, Persona 5 Royal is the definitive version of an amazing experience. Unleash your rebellious spirit, form your bonds, and take the hearts of the unjust. Your calling awaits.