Atlus Needs A Better Way to Add New Story Elements to Their Re-Released Titles
Atlus is famous for re-releasing their beloved titles by introducing new characters and plot points, but recently it hasn't felt necessary.
Warning: This article contains major story spoilers for Persona 5 Royal and Catherine: Full Body by Atlus.
Over the past decade, Atlus has quickly become one of my favorite developers, to the point where several of their titles are some of my favorite games of all time. Persona 5 was my 2017 Game of the Year, Catherine (the original) is my favorite puzzle game, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is an incredible JRPG that didn’t get enough recognition, even with getting a second life on Switch earlier this year. Despite my love for these games, I have noticed a trend with Atlus’s recent titles like Catherine: Full Body and Persona 5 Royal, which expand on each game’s original release; the new story additions feel out of place.
Catherine: Full Body introduces a new love interest into the mix with Rin, adding five new story paths to the original’s eight. Playing through Rin’s true route, it seems natural to have the original romance options of Katherine and Catherine still being core parts of the overarching narrative (even with the narrative issues I think it brings). However, if you end up going down a path where you do not romance Rin, he is simply written off. Chief Producer Katsura Hashino said back in 2018 that “Catherine: Full Body is a complete version of the concept from the previous game, which can be delivered because the sense of values has been diversified since 7 years ago.” While this might be true, it doesn’t translate well from the original Catherine to Catherine: Full Body ten years later.
Persona 5 Royal has similar problems but to an even more significant degree. Outside of the great quality of life improvements that Persona 5 Royal brings, the game introduces two new characters into the story…kind of. Dr. Maruki and Kasumi are new Confidants that you can form relationships with, and while those do bring some great benefits in combat throughout the base story of Persona 5, they are more or less there for character development until the new semester at the end of the game.
Simply put, I do not like the new semester in Persona 5 Royal. It doesn’t work for me for a myriad of reasons, but the main point is that the new ending is a much weaker conclusion to an already perfect one. In the original Persona 5, after defeating Yaldabaoth everything goes back to normal and reality is restored. We say our goodbyes to Morgana (for a short time) and the Phantom Thieves go back to their regular lives. Everything is resolved and the game feels over until you wake up the next day, in a completely different reality, and have twenty more hours of the game to play. Why? Simply to focus on Dr. Maruki and Kasumi, the new characters who had very little significance in the original story. Akechi also returns after his assumed death, but there is no concrete evidence that he comes back permanently after fixing reality.
Granted, there are some unexpected character revelations throughout, but the stakes at hand feel smaller this time around. Also, Dr. Maruki did not make for a compelling villain. The cognitive reality he created was flawed at the base level because the Phantom Thieves still existed, despite the motivations that led its members to join never happening. He presents the same ideas to you numerous times, and each time he is surprised by your reaction as if he’s heard it for the first time. In short, these are all just unnecessary additions to an already masterful game. There are just too many issues to justify the new characters and story points that Royal introduces. If it weren’t for the quality of life improvements that were brought to the game, I would recommend newcomers to play Persona 5 over Persona 5 Royal.
The thing that fascinates me about this trend is that Atlus has found a better way of bringing new elements for the narrative in their re-releases before. In Persona 4 Golden, the updated version of Persona 4 added new characters and story elements, but it didn’t feel as jarring due to the true ending of Persona 4 being a different conclusion in Golden. In Golden, the true ending just adds an epilogue following the original’s conclusion. Persona 3 FES is a similar situation to Persona 3, having an epilogue following the main story known as The Answer. To me these are better ways of implementing new story points because mainly they don’t affect the vision of the original versions, and it doesn’t make them feel shoe-horned in.
Some could argue that the third semester in Royal is an epilogue in itself, but it feels more like a fourth act after the curtains have obviously closed. Every Atlus game I’ve played feels precise on the way it is built and executed, so when bringing new things into the fray, it feels polarizing. I don’t know why Atlus decided to stray away from its original format in applying story elements for the definitive versions of their games, and honestly, I think Persona 4 Golden and Persona 3 FES are great examples to look at. But if they continue going down the path they’re on, I would rather have them add nothing narrative-wise whatsoever to these updated releases.
To highlight another recent example, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE originally released on the Wii U and while very few played it at the time, I was ecstatic when it was announced to be getting a Switch port. My first thought at the time was “I hope Atlus adds new parts to the story,” and was saddened to hear that would not be the case. Even so, once I finished Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore earlier this year, I realized that it didn’t need it. There were new features and additions like costumes and party members to participate in Sessions, but its story was perfect the way it was.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is getting a remaster next year in the west and it seems that it will be in a similar situation as Tokyo Mirage Sessions, which is great to hear. After originally releasing on the PlayStation 2, it has been a long time (if not the first time) that many players will experience it, and I’m looking forward to not seeing any major narrative points being posthumously injected inside it.
Atlus doing these re-releases in general isn’t particularly bad, especially to give deserving games another chance to build success. But with Persona 5 being the already incredible JRPG it is, to me it never felt necessary to do a re-release with Persona 5 Royal, especially with it being only three years after the original’s release. Catherine: Full Body gets more of a pass because it was a decade since the release of Catherine, so it felt more welcome. But even then, Full Body still has some issues when it pertains to the new narrative aspects.
It is fair to say that I don’t know if I would feel the same way if I never played the original Catherine or Persona 5, but to me, these new story inclusions from Atlus’ updated releases stick out like a sore thumb. I think Catherine: Full Body and Persona 5 Royal are spectacular games that deserve the love that they get. I will also never argue against a game becoming more accessible for a bigger audience to play it, which both titles do. But from a story standpoint, I feel like they were better in their original forms.