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Review: Persona 5 Royal

17 Mar 2020

It’s time to get behind the mask and head back into the Metaverse with your favorite Shujin Academy students. Since its original worldwide release in 2017, fans of Persona 5 have been whispering of the day the Phantom Thieves would get their re-release treatment similar to Persona 4 Golden, a game that brought many new fans to the series. After a long wait Persona 5 Royal, published by SEGA and Atlus, will release on March 31, 2020, exclusively for PS4. But Persona 5 Royal is just as the name implies, with the game, developed by P Studio and Atlus, giving the royal treatment to the already beautiful Persona 5. Whether you’re a full-fledged member of the Phan-Site or brand new to the world of Persona, this is the game you need to pick up next. 

A Fresh Coat of Fine Details

The original title, Persona 5, was a story painted with broad strokes then gone over to fill in smaller details, flesh out characters, and tell a thorough story. Persona 5 Royal is a story painted in small strokes then gone over in even finer detail to bring to life a breathing world of a story you only thought you knew before. 

Persona 5 Royal starts similarly to its parent title with the protagonist, Joker, in a strange casino surrounded by enemies. As you guide Joker through this casino you overhear nameless and faceless allies assisting with an escape. Fans of the previous game will be familiar with this scene as it comes up a few times in the game and, admittedly, I found myself going into autopilot when faced with it. But just as you start to get comfortable with this familiar, repeated scene, Persona 5 Royal throws in a brand new mechanic and piece of the story. The game immediately introduces one of the newly added characters, Kasumi Yoshizawa, in a never-before-seen area of the casino. This sequence of the story takes place briefly before Joker heads out and resumes the familiar introduction to the game. 

It’s these moments of sameness between both Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal that are broken up by brand new story beats, changes in character arcs, and bonus content that make this new title better than its predecessor. In Persona 5 Royal Joker still meets friends like Ryuji, Ann, and Morgana. He still experiences the evil adults of the world with warped hearts that need changing and the Phantom Thieves still change those hearts. But the way these events unfold and how you experience them as a player just feels better than it ever has before.

So let’s take it back to April when the story begins and you are the unnamed protagonist, later known as Joker, transferring to Shujin Academy in Tokyo. After a run-in with a loud-mouthed blonde named Ryuji Sakamoto, you find yourself in a world unlike the one you were in mere seconds before. The Metaverse is a form of cognition, also known as the subconscious, and has the ability to display adaptations of the twisted desires of corrupted or evil people known as Palaces. Joker and the Phantom Thieves of Hearts explore their lives around Tokyo while also entering these Palaces to change the hearts of those corrupted by their desires. 

Of course, this is a role-playing game with over 100 hours of gameplay possible, even more when you consider the additional school semester in Persona 5 Royal, so the story is far more detailed and complex than this. Throughout the year at Shujin Academy, Joker makes connections with his Confidants that can be managed through Social Links, a Persona-series staple and story-based mechanic which involves excellent time management while opening up brand new storylines. And in Persona 5 Royal the Confidants have changed thanks to the addition of two new characters, Kasumi and Maruki, and their side stories that come along with them.

Some of the character’s stories from Persona 5 have changed as well, most notably Akechi and Mishima. These side story changes have been the most drastic, with entire character arcs changed or new locations being added, such as Kichijoji, to facilitate the activities you can participate in with these characters. However, a majority of the Confidants had some sort of change to their side story, allowing for a more enjoyable experience or just fixing up issues with them as characters.

The strength of Persona 5 Royal where Persona 5 previously fell short is in its ability to utilize storytelling in a variety of channels and ways, without relying on a few big moments to share the story. Between the upgraded texting conversations, phone calls after meeting up with social links, and other environmental storytelling pieces, it truly feels like the story of the Phantom Thieves is living and breathing with Persona 5 Royal. Each character feels more real and personable than they ever have before thanks to these changes. You’ll find yourself connecting with characters that it simply wasn’t possible with before because their writing was just too awkward or didn’t have the correct tone. In Persona 5 Royal, every character, moment, and scene has its place and there is nothing that feels unnecessarily included. It’s close enough to the already phenomenal story fans know from Persona 5 to keep them happy, but changes made throughout will leave you wondering what’s next and just as excited to get to the next Palace or Social Link Event whether it’s your first or fifth time living in the attic above Café Leblanc.

Rich in Upgrades

Character changes, story surprises, and additional content are certainly not all that Persona 5 Royal has to offer in the way of novel and exciting things. This new title takes nearly everything fans asked about in Persona 5, as far as quality of life improvements, and gives them to players ten times over. This can be as small as better menu screens and ease of access for gaining skill points. Or it can be as major as the ability to give gifts to Confidants regardless of gender and new Save Room healing mechanics. But overall, Persona 5 Royal is generous in quality of life upgrades. 

In fact, Persona 5 Royal even manages to make improvements on their already beloved battle mechanics to keep changing hearts challenging but attainable. The turn-based fighting that utilizes the skills of the Personas Joker and his allies use still has the same feel and flow of battle from before. But skills gained from Social Links can change the beginning of the battle and allow for advantages immediately.

The biggest change, however, comes in the Showtime attacks. These powerful, flashy takedowns are orchestrated in style by two party members and carefully schemed before entering a palace (which Persona 5 Royal lets us see) to plan the perfect attack. Sometimes the duo is obvious such as Morgana and Ann but other times it’s a not-so-obvious pairing like Yusuke and Ryuji. Regardless of who teams up for a Showtime attack, you’re in for a treat every time as each duo has its own beautifully designed cut-away sequence that ends with some serious damage to the opponent. 

Exploring Palaces got better too, thanks to the Grappling Hook and Will Seeds. This new Grappling Hook tool allows you to, in predetermined areas, fly up and above sections of the Palaces. At times this can gain you access to cool new areas, added bonuses, and even help you to escape some of the more tedious puzzles if you’d like. Other times, this will show you to a brand new room for Will Seeds, which are collected as a type of special treasure throughout the game. 

Mementos, arguably a Palace in its own right, got a huge upgrade as well thanks to a new character, Jose. This character wants you to collect flowers and stamps throughout the different levels of Mementos to turn in to him. When you do you’ll be greeted with a beautiful menu screen, some rare items, and the ability to manipulate Mementos to become more suited for your needs. This is something that’s helpful for all players as, at some point, you’ll need to grind even just a little bit in Mementos, but it is especially helpful for those that need to push forward for a Platinum trophy later on. Its also received even more changes through cognition and, at times, you can now enter a floor you truly never expected. From pitch black floors to levels covered in Treasure Personas, you never know what you’ll see in the depths of Mementos. 

Persona 5 Royal is truly rich in the sheer number of upgrades and additional content included, so much so that it’s impossible to fit everything in this review. For example, there’s also all of the original Persona 5‘s DLC, new Persona fusion mechanics, crossword puzzles, billiards and darts, a maid cafe, and more. If you think you know everything there is to the world of Persona 5 before experiencing what Persona 5 Royal has to offer, then these additional items alone will prove that there is still much for you to see.

Looking Cool, Joker

Perhaps the area with the least amount of change in Persona 5 Royal is the visuals. Regarded as one of the most beautiful games in the Persona series, it’s easy to understand why there aren’t many changes necessary for this title. However, the added menus and areas such as Kichijoji reinforce the idea that Persona 5 Royal understands exactly how to keep creating locations, characters, and more without any issues. 

Everything looks and feels just as flawless as before, with changes to overall character portrayal really helping with the overall feel of the story. Now, when characters are shown speaking they appear as far more animated and reactionary to their words, as compared to Persona 5 where it felt as if they were just filtering through the same three or four facial expressions during every conversation. These new animations really help build on the story and depth of new and old characters for the better.

Of course, who would I be to talk about a Persona game and not bring up the amazing soundtrack? Most of the musical choices remain the same and are just as powerful as they were the first time. However, there is the addition of some new music, most notably a new battle song that can be played in addition to “Last Surprise” that fans of the series will be familiar with. 

While these design changes are the smallest in comparison to the overall quality of life and story changes noted above, they are still so important to making Persona 5 Royal shine. These choices have helped make this game truly go above and beyond expectations and keep up the Persona series’ high standard for design and appearance.

Stealing Our Hearts Again

Persona 5 was a fantastic title that took fans and newcomers to the Persona series by storm. Many could argue that a game that fantastic didn’t need any changes or upgrades large enough to justify creating an entirely new game. And given the success of Persona 4 Golden in reference to Persona 4, it’s safe to say that Persona 5 Royal had some big shoes to fill. Not only did Persona 5 Royal step up to the plate, but they also hit a home run with a game that combines an already great story, brand new features, and beautifully integrated edits to create something that feels fresh. After experiencing it I truly cannot recommend it enough and, just as I did with Persona 4 Golden, will have to recommend that folks play this release over its parent version.

Persona 5 Royal allows players to experience the story they already love in a new way without losing any of the beauty from the original game. New and old characters get their chance to shine through and steal your heart, even the ones you never expected to. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and maybe you’ll even feel a sense of justice for the infamous Phantom Thieves in the end. But one thing you won’t feel is regret in picking up Persona 5 Royal, as it’s truly the best Persona title, if not one of the best video games, I’ve ever experienced to date.

~ Final Score: 10/10 ~

Review copy provided by SEGA for Playstation 4. Screenshots captured by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of SEGA.