Persona 5 is without a doubt the most successful entry in the Persona series and now, like the previous titles, has now been treated to a new extended edition. Not to be confused with a DLC pack, Persona 5 Royal is a whole new game which feels strange in this day and age. This creates a big question for a lot of fans about whether it is worth picking up again and others whether it is worth picking up for the first time.
In case you slept on the original, Persona 5 follows Ren Amamiya (the protagonist but you can choose his name) who has moved to Tokyo after being involved in an altercation. Despite trying to do the right thing, saving a woman from an abusive man, Ren becomes the ultimate victim and ends up with a criminal record. If a new life in the big city wasn’t confusing enough, on the way to his first day of school Ren comes across a Palace, a distorted world born from a person’s twisted desire. This is whether the story truly begins as Ren and his new friends learn more about this other cognitive world, forming the Phantom Thieves who aim to save the weak from those with these twisted desires.
As you can imagine from a JRPG, the plot is the drive of the game and in Persona 5 it is incredibly written. With various levels of complexity added with a set of compelling characters, it is only too easy to become enthralled within this fictional world. The characters have so much substance to them and even the way society reacts to the Phantom Thieves feels natural, it’s almost as if it is happening in the real world. For those of you who are eagle-eyed and observant, there are even hints to the bigger plot right at the beginning of the game so you can piece together theories, adding further to the mystery element of the plot. Royal does add to the plot with some new animated and in-game cutscenes to extend the story further. Most of which involve the two new characters and an extra school semester which has an extra palace for the Phantom Thieves to conquer. Of course for some, there may be too many text cutscenes but the main ones are voiced (unlike some of the sub-plots) which lessens the burden, particularly as the English dub is high quality.
With a deep and complex plot, Persona matches it with deep and complex gameplay to the extent it feels like two games rolled into one. Let us start with the main part, exploring palaces. As a Phantom Thief, you need to sneak around to find the treasure that is causing the person’s distorted desire. It’s no easy task as shadows are patrolling trying to catch you, giving you the choice to sneak past or ambush them. A new feature for Royal is the grappling hook, allowing you to access extra areas and certain parts of the palace have been reworked to use it, although these tend to be just creating a shortcut, which is a bit needless as it doesn’t even avoid enemies. Still, it works well to create new areas to leave places for new items called Will Seeds which create special accessories to help in battle.
There is also Mementos, a general cognitive world shared among the general populace. As the story progresses so does your ability to go deeper into this general dungeon. Here you fulfil requests to change more small-time distorted people and can be a space for you to do some grinding between palaces. If there haven’t been enough new features, Royal introduces Jose, a mysterious being who will trade items for flowers and more usefully changes Mementos to give more experience, items or money for stamps. As the floors change each time you visit, there is a greater variation and some special ones to boot, which makes it more worthwhile going to and exploring compared to the original version.
Exploring the cognitive world will lead you to battle shadows to progress further. The combat is turn-based, with an elemental strength and weaknesses system. Despite being turned-based, it feels fast-paced and the number of elements makes it challenging enough to keep you on your toes but not overwhelming at the same time. Added with the Persona classic knockdown mechanics, prompting a hold-up or, if there are more enemies, an extra turn that you can tag another character to get a buff. There is a lot of tactics to play around with, that once you are used to, create multiple ways of having the upper hand. Royal has added a new battle feature called Showtime, a combo attack by 2 characters that deals an incredible amount of damage and a stylish finish to enemies. These are filled with charm, humour and ridiculousness, adding even more style to the game. It all comes together to create a good level of challenge and a great amount of fun.
When you’re not dealing with the cognitive world, the game turns to be more of a life-simulator revolving around a calendar system. Not only do you have to complete Palaces by a certain date, but you also have to balance your school-life and relationships as well. On the first play-through particularly this can be overwhelming but as long as you prioritise the Palaces and Mementos you’ll be fine. The relationships with party members work to improve their fighting ability, however, there are also relationships with other characters outside of the Phantom Thieves. These relationships are just as important as they either unlock features directly involved in the battle, such as gun techniques, or indirectly such as increasing the range of medical items you can buy. All relationships have their own sub-plot, making depth to each character and makes the game even more immersive. Particularly as Royal has added a new area with some useful shops but the main event is a place to play darts and billiards with friends. The ability to have such a deep social life is very surreal, particularly when the other side of the game is very action/adventure driven.
Persona 5 Royal is not just an extended edition, it is also a bit of a remaster. Despite originally being released on PS4, now it is Pro Enhanced giving a visual upgrade to the textures as they are sharper, making the game cel-shaded anime style look even more incredible. As it is based in Tokyo there is a lot of familiar sights and places you can visit that are surprisingly realistic-looking despite the anime-style graphics. Indeed, style is at the heart of this game, particularly as the menus are the best looking in any game before it, particularly as they are dynamic as you navigate them making them the furthest thing from dull. Plus, the soundtrack that has a more jazzy and suave feeling to it, making it unique in its feeling to other JRPGs. This is rounded off by the newly added Thieves Den, a welcomed bonus area, that acts as a gallery for artwork, cutscenes, etc. Filled with style and customisable, it avoids a bunch of text menus to make it another interesting place for players to explore. It is without a doubt that Persona 5 Royal is the most stylish game in existence.
In this day and age of technology, it may seem strange for a remaster so close to the original release. Really the big question for a lot of people is could these features just be a DLC pack? Well sure, it probably could’ve been paid DLC but at this point, you can gather there have been so many new features added, and parts of the original game changed, that it probably would mean the price of the DLC would be equal to the price of a new game. My only real criticism, that is easily overlooked, is the inability to use a Persona 5 save as a new game plus file, although you do get some bonus items so there is a perk of having an original save. Personally, as someone who was originally sceptical about Royal being a new game, after playing it feels like a good value for money.
Persona 5 was already an incredibly complex game but now with Royal adding a range of new features and tweaks have managed to perfect it further. If anything there may be too many features but hey none are pointless and work to further the gameplay. Plot, visual, and gameplay are pretty much flawless. There is so much to this game, this review doesn’t really even cover half of it. This is not a game to sleep on, Persona 5 Royal is sure to steal your heart.
Persona 5 Royal is out now on PS4.