Three years ago, the world fell in love with the Phantom Thieves in what has arguably become one of the best RPGs of all time. Now in 2020, Joker and the Phantom Thieves return one last time for Persona 5 Royal. Featuring tons of new features, a restructured and expanded storyline, new confidants and a new party member, upgraded and streamlined battles and grinding, there’s been a lot of love pumped into this game to make it the best it can be. And it certainly shows, as some of the worst parts of what The Outerhaven already considered a 5/5 game have been overhauled and improved, crafting a truly remarkable RPG experience worthy of spending too much time in.
Especially during such uncertain times, Persona 5 Royal crafts an incredibly engrossing world for players to get lost in, even if the game does stick around a lot longer than expected. New players who’ve been holding out on their playthrough until Royal was out, existing fans who want the most definitive Persona 5 experience, or JRPG fans who just want to get lost in an over 100-hour engrossing adventure, it’s clear Atlus has designed and perfected Royal to be the definitive Persona 5 experience. Note: This review will be spoiler-free for Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal.
What’s new, Joker?
It’s important to begin with what specifically is new to Persona 5 Royal, to answer the question “Why pay more for the same game?” Well, truth be told, players would miss out on a lot of beneficial gameplay changes between Persona 5 and Royal. There’s a host of new features listed in short-form here that make Royal distinctly better than its original counterpart:
- Improved/Expanded Confidants: Each existing Confidant in Persona 5 has expanded dialogue for each Confidant session. Along with an additional conversation tree at the end of each hangout session, some new and existing confidant bonuses have been balanced.
- New Character and Confidants: Along with expanded Confidant interactions with existing Persona 5 characters, Kasumi and Maruki are two new Confidants coming to Royal. Kasumi specifically is also a new party member that can join the Phantom Thieves towards the end of the game (along with the new story content). Maruki is also a new Confidant from the school who, among other benefits, increases Joker’s total SP every time the player visits him.
- Added School Semester and Metaverse Palace: A brand new semester has been added to Shujin Academy as well as a new antagonist and Metaverse Palace added to the story, around the same time Kasumi joins the story.
- Reworked Existing Palaces: Thanks to the inclusion of Joker’s grappling hook, existing Palaces have been restructured to include more exploration elements. Joker’s grappling gun adds a unique element of verticality to Palace exploration not present in the original game.
- Additional City Area to Explore: The Phantom Thieves also have a new real-world area in Tokyo to explore called Kichijoji. This area includes a slew of new hangout places, activities, shops, etc.
- Expanded Battle Mechanics: Battles have more strategic elements introduced early like Baton Pass and Persona affinities. Guns have also been adjusted to reload after every battle with less total ammo, rather than per infiltration.
- New Showtime Team Attacks: Fantastic new team attacks, called “Showtime” attacks, pair two party members together in synergy to create a very powerful, flashy attack. Unlike the standard All-Out Attacks, Showtime Attacks have their own distinctive animation based on the two characters working together.
- Thieves Den: Persona 5 Royal also introduces a new area called the Thieves Den, essentially a museum for all of the player’s accomplishments throughout the game. Players can listen to the game’s amazing soundtrack, view all compendium Personas, revel in statues of Palace accomplishments, as well as play a new Tycoon cards mini-game.
- Other Miscellaneous Changes: Outside of the aforementioned elements, there are tons of smaller incremental changes (New music, rewritten dialogue, etc.) that make the experience much better.
Though there’s plenty of other smaller and more specific changes throughout Royal, some of the best and most important improvements come through the gameplay changes. Quality-of-life throughout Persona 5 Royal is vastly enhanced in ways both big and small. These incremental improvements alone are very helpful for another Persona 5 playthrough, but that’s not everything Royal has to offer.
The Phantom Thieves Rise Again
As mentioned previously, this review won’t dive into specific spoilers for Persona 5 Royal‘s story. Per usual fanfare for Persona games, the plot of Persona 5 Royal is all about battling the physical manifestations of a person’s distorted desires.
Unpacking that, basically the game is all about exploring the psyche of criminals and evil people of the real world. The goal of the Phantom Thieves is convincing evildoers to change their ways, repent for their actions, and face the consequences. A change of heart, so to speak. The protagonists, Joker, and the Phantom Thieves use special powers to enter a metaphysical world created by the emotions and desires of such evil people. Players infiltrate these “Palaces” and battle the literal psyche of a criminal into submission until they learn the error of their ways and repent in the real world. Much of Persona 5‘s story follows similar motifs and themes from past entries, and Royal certainly adds to that.
With an entirely new Palace dungeon introduced with an entire additional school semester, Persona 5‘s already extended 100+ hours runtime goes even further with Royal. As a result, that means Persona 5 Royal requires a huge dedication of time, even more so than the original game. That’s not a knock on the content itself, but altogether it means Persona 5 Royal sticks around even longer than the already stuffed-to-the-brim story of its predecessor. Without going too far into detail, Persona 5‘s story is expanded in purposeful and interesting ways whilst not sacrificing what made the original plot so great. It’s worth it to play through Persona 5 Royal for the expanded story, but it does mean the game does bloat the main story well beyond its already extended runtime, especially for completionists.
Exploring the Inner Psyche
All of Persona 5‘s unique environmental design elements still remains fantastic in Royal, but are expanded in meaningful ways. Most importantly, Royal introduces Joker’s grappling hook as a core traversal mechanic in Palaces. If ever there was a nitpick criticism of Persona 5‘s Palaces, it was how the thematically stylized dungeons were beautiful but didn’t have very many challenging or intriguing puzzle aspects. Joker’s grappling hook surprisingly does a lot to make exploring dungeons more interesting, from creating different routes to the Palace treasure to creating entirely new areas with new things to steal.
Palaces also include additional Will Seeds, which are extra items that when combined together create a very useful accessory slot for the party to use. Will Seeds are hidden throughout the existing Persona 5 dungeons in mostly new areas, that either require some additional puzzle solving not present in the base game, or have a higher level mini-boss the party needs to defeat in order to access the Will Seed. Will Seeds combine together to create powerful accessories that either grant a unique spell to use, a powerful stat buff for a party member, or an even better bonus for any party member to equip and use. Seeds aid in encouraging exploration for Palaces in a way that the extra loot in the base game never significantly made players want to explore outside of necessity.
Along with exploration, Mementos receives a much-needed overhaul in Royal this time around. T0o many fans of Persona 5, despite high praise for the game overall, believed Mementos often felt tedious or boring for much of the game. Royal adds a lot of different changes that streamline Mementos in a way that makes exploring the procedurally-generated dungeon less grindy and more enjoyable.
Mementos add a mysterious new character Jose, who adds an additional collectible in Mementos players can redeem with Jose to get exclusive items and bonuses from him. Jose can also upgrade and shift Mementos, which can improve the drop rate of items, increase the experience gain from defeating enemies, and generate more money from defeating enemies as well. Jose also upgrades any accessories gained from Will Seeds, making Mementos worth the visit after Palace infiltrations as well. Lastly, Mementos also has a quick-kill-styled mechanic that allows players to skip a battle entirely and defeat an enemy immediately, while still receiving the full rewards for the battle. All of these features culminate in a Mementos that feels like an obligation and more like a worthwhile explore.
Tackling Society’s Demons
The streamlining treatment also applies to Persona 5 Royal‘s already great combat as well. Many of the powerful strategic elements found in Persona 5‘s combat are introduced much earlier in Royal, giving almost immediate access to the Baton Pass ability and other even more powerful team attacks. Royal introduces “Showtime” group attacks, where certain party members that have synergy with one another can perform stronger two-person team attacks paired with a flashy animation. Along with that, the use of guns has been reworked into a more prominent and useful form, making ammo capacity much smaller but allowing guns to reload after every fight rather than per infiltration.
Personas that Joker can use have also been expanded a few extra ways. Each Persona now has special traits that can be edited and change through fusion, giving edges to things like Baton Pass bonuses or boosts to magic strength. These traits can also be used for exploiting elemental weaknesses on enemies, which becomes vastly more important as the game goes on. Some of the bosses in Royal also have new phases during their battles, some of which involve the abuse of elemental weaknesses. Combat depth is only improved in Persona 5 Royal, with all of the new additions and tweaks only making the turn-based combat more engaging for players.
Live an Honest Student Life
Outside of the Metaverse content in Persona 5, the social simulator aspect of the game in the real world also has some great additions. For one thing, there are tons of new opportunities to acquire social link bonuses to upgrade the real-world personality skills for Joker. Each Confidant activity has been rewritten and expanded, with each activity ending with an additional dialogue tree that awards additional social link points. These bonuses can reward even more experience assuming Joker has a Persona with the same arcana as the Confidant they’re interacting with.
There’s also an entirely new area of Tokyo players can access after the beginning Palaces called Kichijoji. Within this new region are tons of extra shops and places to go, including the Penguin Sniper nightclub players can frequent with their Phantom Thieves crew. Players can play pool/billiards with Confidants, or they can participate in the darts mini-game which can be used to power up individual Baton Pass stat increases for the Metaverse. At the risk of touching on any story spoilers, there won’t be any detailed effects on how any of the new story content affects the real-world parts of Persona 5 Royal. Overall the new region and expanded social links just feel like improvements to an already fleshed-out system of character relationships and interactions within Persona 5.
Take Your Heart Again
Persona 5 Royal, as a complete package, is a very worthwhile enhancement over the original Persona 5. Tons of expanded features mean Royal is the definitive version of the game to play, even for fans who’ve already played an absurd amount of the original game. None of the additions take away from the spirit of the original Persona 5 in a way that’s detrimental to the game. Many of the grindy or annoying aspects of Persona 5, like Mementos, have been drastically improved to make the functional gameplay experience that much more enticing. The only downside of playing Royal is that the added story details, despite being worthwhile additions on their own, altogether make the runtime of an already packed-in 100+ hour RPG even longer.
As long as players are willing to make that dedication of time (and they should), or existing fans want to dive in again for another hundred hours, Persona 5 Royal is the true evolution of a must-play JRPG and role-playing game in general that deserves a playthrough.
Persona 5 Royal is available now for PS4.
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Persona 5 Royal
Persona 5 Royal is easily the definitive version of the fifth Persona game. Other than the obscenely high runtime, every single enhancement made to the original Persona 5 game adds to the experience in purposeful and fantastic ways.
- Surprising amount of new content
- Justified story additions
- Expanded and improved exploration of Palaces
- Less grindy/boring in Mementos
- Streamlined and refined combat
- Worthwhile new Confidants and expanded dialogue for existing Confidants
- Fun new real-world region and Palace
- Longer runtime for an already content-rich story, slightly overstaying its welcome