Persona 5 Royal is the ultimate take on the powerful Persona 5. It builds upon the original in every way and brings one of the best JRPG stories of this generation.
I always knew that the Persona is a series I’d like. With an authentic portrayal of Japanese life, fun characters, detailed animation, and beaming with style – it’s a perfect fit. Persona 5 Royal is the ideal opportunity to join the hype, and I had no idea I’ll fall so hard for it.
Persona 5 Royal builds on the original by adding new elements to the battle system, new activities to do in your daily life, and a brand new semester to the game. We also get two new characters and a new, true ending. Like other games in the series, you don’t need to play Persona 5 or previous titles in the series to enjoy it.
Wake up, Get up, Get Out There
In Persona 5 Royal, we play a high school student that moves to Tokyo. After a fated series of events, he obtains the power to use a Persona – the awakening of the teenage spirit of rebellion. Alongside school friends with similar abilities and a talking cat named Morgana, the teens form a group of vigilantes called the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.
With their new powers, the Phantom Thieves can enter the secret subconscious Metaverse of those whose minds were corrupted so severely that they become a menace to the people around them. To stop them, the Phantom Thieves have to “Steal Their Hearts” – enter their subconscious minds and find the inner desire and the source of that deviation, their treasure. This way, they can make these people have a “change of heart” and help them atone for their wrongdoings.
The process of invading someone’s mind is straightforward, but Persona 5 Royal tells it in a way that feels like there’s always a chance for something to go wrong. While the general outlines of the story sound almost whimsical (and maybe even remind you of the excellent Psychonauts), it quickly becomes clear that the world of Persona 5 Royal is dark, unfair, and painful.
The people whose cognition has twisted in a variety of ways include teachers that physically abuse their students and parents that force their daughter to dress up, so they can sell her racy photographs to pay off their gambling addiction. The game also deals with tough subjects such as rape and suicide. But this is just one way the game can move and sway you emotionally.
The other way, and perhaps the more powerful one, is winning you over with its characters. Throughout the story, you form relationships with a variety of people and slowly build them up. These include such colorful and delightful characters as a doctor that uses you as her guinea pig for her unauthorized and possibly dangerous medication. By developing these relationships, you gain new abilities, but most importantly, you learn about the emotional backstories of all the tragic heroes. These stories make the side characters feel meaningful, exciting, and deep, primarily due to their focus on their emotional and mental state. The contest for the best boy and the best girl is fiercer than ever.
Persona 5 Royal also includes some of my favorite plot twists in video games. With a metaphorical sleight of hand, the game tricks you every time without actually hiding anything from you. I was left stunned by its plot twists each and every time, and had to pause for a while just to recover from the shock. Some of these moments are going to stay with you for a long time.
With its characters and story, Persona 5 is one of the most exciting and emotional games of this generation. Fortunately, Persona 5 Royal takes these to the next level.
Life Will Change
If you can meet some specific conditions, the story of Persona 5 Royal advances beyond the point where the original ended, and into a new chapter. This additional segment of the story packs plenty of unexpected twists and a villain of the best kind – the one that makes you consider they might be right.
Persona 5 Royal introduces two new characters to the story. Early on, you meet Kasumi Yoshizawa, a first-year honor student and an athlete on a national level. We get to meet her many times throughout the story, but Kasumi only becomes playable in the third semester, the new chapter of the story. It is only then that her fascinating backstory, which outshines those of every other cast member, is revealed.
In addition to Kasumi, you also get to meet Takuto Maruki, a clumsy student councilor who is hired by your school. Maruki quickly turns into one of the most interesting characters of the game, gives his commentary on Persona 5’s fictional rules, and raises intriguing philosophical questions.
Unfortunately, the conditions to unlock the new playable character, Kasumi, and the new chapter aren’t made clear at any point during the game. I had to look up game guides online to understand just what I had to do. In a long and emotionally exhausting game such as this, it can be extremely disappointing to arrive at a different ending than the one you wanted or miss out on the exciting new character.
Persona 5 Royal includes more additions to the core game, including the option to spend time with some characters that you couldn’t spend time with in the original. These characters include the original game’s more intriguing characters, Goro Akechi, and the twin wardens Justine and Caroline. The otherworldly twins will demand that you take them to various places to learn about humanity, often leading to some of the funniest moments in the game.
There are also many new conversations with the game’s characters. They will call you on your mobile phone at the end of a social link meeting, and you’ll get to talk with them for a bit more, which is a fun addition.
The story portion that Persona 5 Royal adds to the original isn’t very long compared to the overall experience and adds roughly around 20 hours. But the new chapter is one I could not imagine the game without and surpasses all the moments the precede it.
Time Takes Over
Persona 5 Royal is a role-playing game where your most valuable resource is time. The game follows a routine with almost every day starting in school, where we have to answer a series of questions. At the end of each day, you can use your free time to progress in the story, spend time with the various side characters, or live your daily life in Tokyo.
You can explore the city of Tokyo to your heart’s content, whether it’s the detailed Shibuya subway or lesser-known areas like Kichijoji. You can pass the time by taking part in different activities, such as reading, studying, working in a part-time job, brewing coffee, and many more. With the new additions in Persona 5 Royal, you can also go to a jazz club and play darts or pool.
Exploring and taking part in the various activities create a fantastic feel of immersion. There’s nothing quite like studying well into the night while a rainstorm rages outside, both in real life and in-game. In a time when traveling to Japan isn’t an option, Persona 5 Royal makes for an excellent virtual trip.
With so many activities, you might suffer from a slight decision paralysis when starting your journey. There were many days when I had to choose between spending time with my favorite characters in unique events or doing an activity that raises one of my social stats. Once you get into the flow of things, however, the FOMO dissipates and the real game begins.
Beneath the Mask
Throughout the story, our heroes decide to steal the hearts of different people with distorted desires. Every time that happens, you get a deadline until which you need to complete the heist. You can choose to pass the time in the variety of ways we’ve mentioned, or invade the Cognitive Palace of these targets and work on the heist.
These heists usually split into two phases. In the first phase, you invade your target’s palace and map your way to the treasure. The palaces pack puzzles, obstacles, and secrets to find. In Persona 5 Royal, you have a grappling hook that can take you to new areas or simply help you travel in style. Furthermore, the grappling hook allows you to reach new areas with unique new collectibles called Will Seeds.
As a thief, you’ll usually explore palaces stealthily, but at times, you won’t have a choice but to ambush evil shadows that lurk and battle them. Combat in Persona 5 Royal is turn-based, with strengths, weaknesses, and an arsenal of cool mechanics that make the fighting feel cinematic and unique.
Persona 5 Royal introduces a new combat mechanic called Showtime Attacks. Every so often, a pair of characters can launch a cinematic combination attack. These Showtime Attacks are some of the best moments that can happen in battle.
Shadows you encounter during combat can also be recruited as your Persona. It doesn’t stop there; you can fuse different Persona to create a more powerful one, by executing them. You quickly fall into a loop of collecting and combining Persona with very few limitations, creating game-breaking weapons in the best way possible.
However, it takes a lot of time to learn all these mechanics. At the beginning of the game, a lot of things just kind of happen without you understanding how or why they do. Even 10 hours into the game, you continue to open up new gameplay mechanics. Persona 5 Royal doesn’t explain them too well, and it’s easy to confuse them, but after a few palaces, you’ll eventually get a grasp of them all.
In the second phase of your heist, you send a calling card to your target to let them know that you’re coming to steal their heart before diving right back into their Cognitive Palace. In this phase, you spend very little time exploring the palace itself; it mostly consists of an epic boss battle. Bosses in Persona 5 Royal are challenging, exciting, and combine multiple stages while requiring you to adapt to new attacks and other dangerous situations.
Apart from the major story targets, you will also invade the Metaverse and explore a unique palace called Mementos. This unique palace plays like a rogue-lite where you open up additional floors as you advance in the story. Unfortunately, this is the least exciting part of the game: it’s unnecessarily long, and it doesn’t help at all that it has the most repetitively-annoying background music.
Colors Flying High
Fortunately, the rest of the soundtrack is beyond exceptional. The music that accompanies every moment in the game ranges from rock to jazz and includes some fantastic and quite catchy vocal tracks. One of the new tracks in Persona 5 Royal is “Take Over,” which plays during ambush battles that make up most of the battles in the game. Surprisingly, it’s even better than the fantastic combat music used in the original game, “Last Surprise” (that song also appears in the game). The rest of the background music sets the mood perfectly, making it as emotional as it is.
Persona 5 Royal features polished graphics and looks much better than the original, but there are still plenty of textures that don’t look all that good, mainly sand and skies. Most other areas are detailed and look great, even though many other current Japanese games look much better than Persona 5 Royal does.
But whereas the game’s visuals aren’t technically impressive, they do have style. The menus, transitions, and user interface all take the calling card, comic-book-like theme, and turn it to the max. The animated cutscenes, which make up a large portion of the game, add more color to the fantastic characters, bringing them to life.
You can view all the significant cutscenes in the game as many times as you want in the new lobby called The Thieves Den. There, you can enjoy short new dialogues with the characters and collect concept art and music tracks. The Thieves Den also features challenges that you can complete, which encourage you to go back for a second run through the game, even after completing it.
Persona 5 Royal is a long, long game, but almost every moment of it is fascinating. Once you get into the core gameplay loop and learn how to pass the time and with whom, it becomes an addicting experience that will keep you hooked until the very end.
Its story is one of the best I have experienced and full of mind-blowing twists and cute characters that you’ll want to spend as much time with as possible. I’ve grown so attached to them that in the final moments of the story, I couldn’t help but tear up – we are talking about a very emotional game here.
The slower and less exciting moments are easily outshined by the countless hours of pristine content, whether it’s the game’s unique style or compelling story. Persona 5 Royal is a true Japanese role-playing masterpiece that I urge everyone who isn’t shy of the genre to play.
Release Date: March 31, 2020
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Available On: PS4
Reviewed On: PS4