Persona 5 Royal
It’s hard to believe it’s already been three years since the world-wide release of Persona 5, but here we are. It’s easier to believe that we’re getting an updated version of Persona 5 since Atlus tends to – for better or for worse – milk the Persona series for all it’s worth. I don’t say this as a condemnation of the series, because I’ve been taken in by several of the more out-there spin-offs and side projects, I’m just saying that the release of Persona 5 Royal was more or less an inevitability.
If you’re familiar with the premise feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph, but if you are only vaguely aware of the Persona series, here’s a quick rundown: Each installment has you playing a different and unrelated Japanese high schooler who stumbles their way into a fantastical world of demons and monsters that arise from the collective subconscious of humanity. The protagonists, along with a small but plucky group of other youngsters, gain the ability to summon creatures called personas, which are the manifestations of their own psyche within the other world. The protagonist is always unique in that they have the ability to gain multiple personas by either acquiring them through battle or fusing the ones they already have, kind of like if Pokémon was darker and based around Jungian psychoanalysis. In addition, each game has a daily life component where you can build relationships with the people in your life, work part-time jobs, or just go fishing every day for a year. To be more specific about Persona 5, you inhabit the role of the Phantom Thieves, who go around using the Metaverse to steal the hearts of corrupt individuals to force them into confessing their crimes.
Persona 5 is a great game, but it’s not one without flaws, and Royal is mostly the same experience with a few additions. The things which grated about the initial release still grate, but the things which worked shine brighter than ever. The dumb, annoying “fanservice” elements of the game are still around… not that I would expect or ask the developers to put in so much work as to take them out since that would mean crunch, but it’s still disappointing to see a character whose early arc revolves around not wanting to be objectified be the butt of many sexualizing jokes for the other 90 hours.
But I’m not here to talk about that (this time). Instead, I want to talk about what makes Persona 5 Royal such a joy to play through, which is almost everything else about it. A wide range of quality of life improvements makes the Metaverse exploration aspects of the game go much smoother. Ammunition for guns is refilled at the start of every battle rather than being limited to two clips per character per trip. Status ailments seemed to have a higher success rate for both party members and enemies, which led to me switching up my tactics to more than “hit good” and made the sustained play a lot more interesting. This also has the effect of making the game somewhat easier, but not in a way that trivializes everything – think of it as a balance update. Additionally, baton passing is unlocked for all characters from the get-go, which further smooths out the experience of fighting battle after battle, and shadow negotiation has been improved too.
Beyond the combat, it’s mostly a lot of little details that really enamored me to the Persona 5 experience all over again. Shoji Meguro, the Persona series’ longtime composer, continues to outdo himself (somehow) with the additions to a soundtrack which was already filled to the gills with absolute bangers. Dialogue options for the protagonist have been expanded slightly in certain places, usually to give the player more options to be a snarky little shit, and it’s great. There’s a new kind of special attack called showtime finishers, which manage to ramp up the stylish nature of combat even more and are just really fun to watch. The player has slightly more free time slots thanks to the added ability to do things after a day of exploring the Metaverse, and I also weirdly noticed that there are some new and more dynamic camera angles in certain scenes. This, obviously, is a very small touch but it’s one that filled me with an unreasonable amount of glee nonetheless. It’s the little things.
There’s also the addition of something called the Thieves’ Den, where you can customize your own weird little club/base with various dioramas as well as view cinematics and art and run around as people besides the protagonist. This didn’t appeal to me so much, but it doesn’t detract either, so whatever.
Now, because of the hundred-hour nature of the game, I was only able to get to roughly the halfway point before writing this, which is mostly fine because I’ve beaten it before and largely know how the rest of it goes. The problem is that Royal adds new story content and even a whole new party member/friendship to explore in the form of one Kasumi Yoshizawa. I was excited and intrigued to get to know her, but by the point, in the game, I’ve reached at writing I haven’t had much opportunity to do so. Apparently, most of the new stories happens towards the end of the game. What I did encounter was fine, but I can’t say much else because of how long it takes to reach the rest – make of that what you will.
Persona 5 got its rave reviews three years ago for a reason, and for the most part Persona 5, Royal is the same game. The combat and dungeon exploration are still slick, stylish, and satisfying, the writing is still (mostly) top-notch, the characters still (mostly) likable, and everything else that was good is either still good or improved upon. Whether you love the series already or are looking to see what all the fuss is about for the first time, this is the best way to experience it, and so I can wholeheartedly recommend this re-release-slash-update.
Persona 5 Royal
Despite my gripes with it, Persona 5 Royal remains a fantastic game.