Persona 5 Royal is Already Taking My Heart

Persona 5 Royal is Already Taking My Heart

The upcoming re-release for Atlus's wildly popular Persona 5 is shaping up to be a unique experience featuring tons of bonus content.

Persona 5, a title many JRPG fans are familiar with, took the gaming world by storm when it first launched back in 2016 and 2017. Now with the Western launch of its re-release, Persona 5 Royalon the horizon, how is this new version looking to stack up? So far so good, as I discovered playing through a preview build of the game at a recent event. The preview was separated into four sections: discovery of new features in the game, brand new gameplay sections to the Kamoshida Palace boss battle, the new area Kichijoji during your first visit, and Kichijoji at night during free time.

It was exciting, delving into Royal for the first time. The redone start screen animation features Joker swinging in using his grappling hook, one of the new features that will play an important role in dungeon exploration. The graphics themselves, I noticed, were also much cleaner and crisper. This is surely because, unlike vanilla Persona 5 which was developed originally for and still catered to the PS3, Persona 5 Royal is completely optimized for the PS4.

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Voice acting is still absolutely solid and the returning cast nails the new dialogue. Every added scene sounds completely natural and in character, as if they were part of vanilla P5 from the start. This is no mean feat considering there’s a three-year gap in between the original game and its updated re-release.

Naturally, when it came to exploring the first dungeon, I decided to meander around before getting to the point, but it made discovering the new mechanics that much more satisfying. Admittedly it was also nice to stretch my proverbial P5 muscles and get reacquainted with both the combat system and dungeon exploration in general.

In those avenues, it plays just as I remembered. You can avoid encounters by paying attention to enemy locations on the mini-map while hiding behind objects as foes pass by. This is also the best way to sneak up on and ambush enemies and gain the advantage once a battle is initiated. During any given encounter, you can weaponize the One More system to take advantage of enemy weaknesses and gain extra turns.

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Something else I was pleasantly reminded of is P5’s excellent UI as it allows players to instantly choose between several options without wasting time cycling through them, making fights far more efficient. I appreciate these quality of life changes as an avid JRPG player who’s more than impatient when sorting through options takes too long solely because of sluggish UI and sloppy menu design.

Persona Negotiations are naturally back, a resurrection of the Demon Negotiations system used in both mainline Shin Megami Tensei titles and the first and second Persona games. Negotiating with a persona is fun and an excellent way to recruit new Personae to your party (versus doing so with cards in Persona 3 and 4) but as someone coming from more hardcore Megaten titles, it’s much easier to gain their favor in comparison. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it takes out a lot of the RNG induced frustration of negotiations, knowing that if you make the right choices, you’ll be rewarded the vast majority of the time.

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Guns also make a comeback although they work a bit differently here. Unlike in Persona Revelations and both Persona 2 titles, you can fire off multiple rounds in a single turn but at the cost of a hard ammo limit per dungeon run. It’s an interesting give and take of dealing stacked damage with a limited resource.

Then there’s the Baton Pass mechanic. When the currently active character has gained One More turn by scoring a critical hit or exploiting the enemy’s weakness, the player can choose another party member who also has Baton Pass to pass the turn to them. The one receiving the turn has his/her attack and recovery power boosted for that turn. And if they score another One More, they can then pass on their turn to another ally, further increasing the power of the boost. It’s a great way to increase the damage output in a single turn and allows for more strategic depth and maneuvering.

One mechanic brand new to Persona 5 Royal that I was able to try out is the grappling hook. It’s been integrated into dungeon exploration, which opens up brand new areas to explore. The controls are surprisingly tight and simple as players only need to approach specially designed hooks and then press L1 to activate the hook. In my demo, Joker was immediately pulled up and then landed on a balcony like section with little issue.

While I enjoyed having a new exploration mechanic available to me (it’s very sleek and suits the aesthetic of the game well), it would have been an even more solid addition if players had more freedom in its use. Although it technically opened up new areas, they’re still predetermined areas. I would have killed to have freer exploration that opened up alternative routes to traverse dungeons, such as being able to swing around barriers and above enemies.

Using the grappling hook, I came across a secluded balcony and room. Inside this room is another new feature of Royal: Will Seeds, a term Morgana coined for these mysterious items. According to his explanation, distortions that occur in Palaces due to their rulers’ cognitions gather and coalesce into the form of a Will Seed. Each Palace has three seeds scattered throughout. You can view the ones collected so far through the map menu. Each one is named after the vice that the particular Palace is fashioned after. For instance, Kamoshida’s Will Seeds are known as Lust Seeds. When you find a seed, your party’s health is partially recovered.

After the dungeon, I was able to try out the new inclusions to Kamoshida’s infamous boss battle. The original P5 fight involved a cognitive that took the form of a cartoonishly sexualized Ann, representing how he views her. In Royal, we have the addition of two more cognitives: Yuuki Mishima and Ann’s friend, Shiho Suzui. Their involvement makes perfect sense and flows well, turning what was previously a somewhat generic attack setup (his special spike attack) into a genuinely horrifying experience.

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In both cases, the player must make a decision whether to keep attacking Kamoshida and stop his special attack by dealing enough damage to him, or to switch targets and rush down Mishima and Shiho to prevent the attack that way. I chose the latter option, which is much more manageable, and defeated them both. It was by far the more emotionally taxing path, especially hearing Ann’s anguish at having to fight and hurt an image of her best friend.

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Playing through vanilla Persona 5, the concept of adding in two more cognitives was one that didn’t cross my mind. Royal showed me what avenues can be explored in these boss battles and how these additions tied in much closer to each bosses’ arc. It also made me aware of how more intimate and gripping each battle can become as a result.

My only gripe is that I wish Shiho’s segment was longer and more interwoven in the boss battle’s mechanics, considering how important a role she plays in the story proper. However, Mishima’s short segment is a more than accurate representation since Kamoshida sees him as so completely insignificant that he wouldn’t have much of an impact in his Palace.

My time with Persona 5 Royal also introduced me to Kichijoji and its new features. In real life, Kichijoji is a compact but very popular commercial area in Tokyo with a full range of shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee houses. This means that this area is the perfect fit for Persona 5 Royal, as it makes for a great spot for the party members to hang out.

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When Kichijoji opens up, the protagonist, Ryuji, and Morgana explore the area for the first time. It’s a nice bonding moment between the two and Ryuji fans will be pleased with the extra scenes starring the dim-witted yet lovable friend and comrade. As a little bonus, there are a few scenes with Makoto tailing the three as they walk around the neighborhood, a nice detail that tied in this segment to the main story well.

You can choose to speak to the information attendant to learn more about the area, shops, and hangout spots. Speaking with her gives the protagonist a bonus in his Knowledge stat, which is nice. There’s also ample time to wander around and explore the vendors and items unique to this area until you reach the Darts Lounge that Ryuji has been raving about the whole time.

The Darts Longue is a place home to two mini-games: darts and billiards. Upon your first visit, you automatically play darts with Ryuji, netting even more scenes with him. This ends with a boost to his Baton Pass rank, giving bonuses to damage output and HP recovery. Morgana then points out that while the first visit to Kichijoji is free, any subsequent visits after will cost train fare.

Kichijoji is also one of the few areas explorable during nighttime, making it a very useful resource for boosting Baton ranks. The train fare is 200 yen, which is more than reasonable at this point in the game. You also need an additional 800 yen to choose between a session of darts or billiards, a slightly steeper asking price.

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For this next session, I went with billiards and chose to invite my teammates to play with me. Once the game is finished you receive a boost to Charm. If you invited your comrades, it gives boosts to their Confidant ranking as well. The first time you play billiards, a man approaches and recommends a book called Expert Billiards that’s found in a specialty shop versus a normal bookstore.

However, choosing darts again reveals the playable mini-game in which you start by choosing between the 301, 501, or 701 ruleset. The controls are interesting yet work surprisingly well once you get the hang of them. You aim with R2 in the general direction you want the dart to go in. A white dot appears and automatically moves in the section that you designated and once it’s in the exact spot you want, you flick the controller forward — taking advantage of the motion controls — to fire off the dart. Depending on whether you called in teammates or are playing alone, you either switch between them (with that character being AI controlled) or continue to play each round on your own until you bring your score to 0.

Kichijoji is overall a great addition to the game, adding in new items, shops, events, opportunities for stat bonuses, and more. It’s integrated well, feeling like a natural extension of the after school activities available to the main character. Not to mention, it being available as a night activity makes the new area an even more desirable choice.

While I wasn’t able to play through the full assortment of new content that Persona 5 Royal has to offer, what I got my hands on is so far quite promising. Despite its minor drawbacks, the developers clearly worked hard integrating these enhancements and I look forward to seeing the full range of surprises that this remaster game has to offer.

Persona 5 Royal will release later this spring on March 31, 2020, exclusively for PS4.