Persona 5 Royal Review — This Palace’s Treasure Gleams Even Brighter
The long-awaited Persona 5 Royal is finally upon us, with tons of new content and gameplay overhauls to create a more robust experience.
Persona 5 Royal is the upgraded version of the immensely popular JRPG that originally released in Japan back in 2016. With this definitive edition of the game comes a variety of new changes which include two new characters and Confidants, a brand new semester and Palace that culminates in two new endings, new gameplay mechanics, and reworked dungeons and boss battles.
There are also a variety of new minigames, gameplay balance fixes, expanded character scenes, and so much more. While it might still share much of the same DNA as the original Persona 5, Atlus has packed P5R full of new content that is sure to delight newcomers and veterans of the original with a far more robust experience.
Royal starts off with a bang as it brandishes two of its biggest additions in the prologue. The protagonist, codenamed Joker, ends up using his grappling hook to reach a new area of the stairwell during his chase scene. Afterward, he encounters a mysterious and masked young woman, who wields a Persona, and aids him in battle. She departs just as abruptly as she arrived — with parting words hinting at her relationship to him — and Joker continues on his way.
Following this opening, we delve into the story proper: a tale of high school students who band together with the help of a cat-like ally named Morgana to dive into the hearts of rotten adults. Known as the “Phantom Thieves,” they slowly become infamous both online and in the real world and are soon pulled into a much greater and more sinister plot.
While the main premise from the original Persona 5 remains intact, it soon becomes apparent that the story has been tangibly altered due to the added presence of the two new characters. First is the mysterious girl, Kasumi, whom we met in the opening. The second is the psychologist Maruki, brought in by Shujin Academy after the infamous events of Kamoshida occur. Both newcomers are as interesting and nuanced as the rest of the main cast and it’s clear that plenty of effort went into reworking both the general writing and the spoken dialogue to ensure that they fit in with the plot seamlessly.
Both characters even receive their own Confidants (Faith and Councillor respectively), giving the protagonist time to cozy up and learn more about their backstories and motivations. I found their Confidants to be engaging, funny, and well-written, particularly Maruki’s, as his methods of counseling mirror how real-world psychologists and psychiatrists’ sessions run. There’s even a tangible perk for ranking up their Confidants. For each level, Kasumi awards the hero with a 5 HP increase while Maruki provides him with a 5 SP increase. But even ignoring these benefits, the quality of writing alone places them as two of my favorite Confidants, only beaten out by Toranosuke Yoshida.
Just as Kasumi and Maruki are intertwined with the protagonist, they’re also deeply connected with each other. This all comes to a head during the new semester and final Palace, which spirals into an emotional reveal and conclusion that contrasts well with the beautiful aesthetics of both the dungeon itself and the true final boss designs. Without going into spoiler territory, I found the resolution between Kasumi, Maruki, and Joker to be wholly satisfying, if not somewhat predictable.
Receiving some much-needed love is the ever divisive Akechi, as his entire Confidant route has been completely overhauled. As a result, his route is slotted in at a different point in the story to go along with more screen time and importance in the bonus sections of the new endgame content. While my opinion of him is still rather lukewarm, I found myself appreciating his character more due to these improvements.
The main cast also shares in the glow of additional screen time. Throughout the game, there are new holidays featuring brand new cutscenes and voiced dialogue, new conversations that lead to special team-up moves being unlocked, new portrait artwork giving each character a more dynamic range of expressions, and a third tier of Personae that are unlocked during the new semester (similar to Persona 4 Golden), among other features. Even the last party member, Haru, receives slightly better treatment, though her late introduction to the Phantom Thieves still hurts her overall development.
The infamous scene at the end of the drug trade investigation in Shinjuku has also been altered in the English version of the game. The two gay men, who in the original attempted to sexually harass and assault a teenager (AKA Ryuji), have had their dialogue changed to instead mistakenly believe that he’s into the drag scene because he’s been standing around their club and attempt to help him out. While not perfect in its execution, it’s a far more genuinely funny scene than the one in the original Persona 5 and is much less painful to watch in action. Not to mention, it’s a very natural change that fits much more nicely; if you weren’t aware of the original scene, you would be hard-pressed to notice any difference.
Gameplay gets plenty of fixing as well. Each dungeon has been reworked to incorporate the grappling hook mechanic, which at first feels limited due to its fixed uses. Players will find that the hook not only serves as a far better way for Joker to traverse through each Palace but also lets you access brand new areas where Will Seeds can be found. Each Palace contains three seeds and finding them all unlocks a special accessory that, when equipped, allows that party member to permanently access a certain useful skill.
Then there’s Showtime, the brand new super moves that are unlocked throughout the main story via conversations between two teammates. This allows for two party members, whether in the active or backup party, to team up and unleash a Showtime attack that deals massive damage to the enemy. Though incredibly fun to watch and even more useful, they’re extremely powerful and destroy the balance of each battle as they’re much stronger than All Out Attacks. Luckily, they’re optional, so you can simply ignore them when they crop up.
Boss battles have also been revamped to either provide more of a challenge or to better connect them with their respective Palace. For instance, Kamoshida’s battle now involves two new “slaves” that help him set up his special attack. Madarame’s battle features a new stage, and Kaneshiro’s fight now requires that you toss away an item to avoid his most powerful attack. While small changes, they make each boss feel more fleshed out and memorable from a gameplay perspective. Though, my one complaint is that the connection between the Palace boss and their corresponding story arc could have been stronger and made more personal, resulting in a more compelling conclusion.
The side quest dungeon, Mementos, sees its fair share of upgrades as well. The dungeon portions have been expanded and the randomized floors are often much larger in size, lending itself to more exploration. That said, why couldn’t they change the music sooner? Only the later sections of Mementos play an excellent remix of the main theme. Most of the dungeon is still filled with that unfortunate, bland track that’s stuck on an infinite repeat, which is personally disappointing to me, especially considering all the enhancements to the dungeon design itself. The brightest spot in the host of changes comes in the form of a strange young boy named Jose who appears before your party the first time they venture into Mementos. This is the same boy from the Thieves’ Den.
Jose opens up a special shop that sells battle items based on the number of flowers you collect for him within the dungeon. And if you located special stickers scattered around platforms, you can use them to change gameplay properties inside Mementos which can lead to more rewards from battle, higher encounter rates, and so on. It doesn’t hurt that Jose is adorable and his shop UI is literally the most gorgeous thing you will see in the game (considering how polished the UI is in general, this is extremely high praise).
Even the Velvet Room hasn’t been spared from improvements. One of the major new features is called Challenge Battles. By speaking to the wardens, you can fight foes using your current party to aim for the highest score by dealing as much damage as possible. You’ll receive a reward from the wardens based on your score and because you won’t get a game over if you lose, it’s a fun and low-risk challenge.
Another added mechanic is the fusion alarm status, which occurs randomly after defeating enemies in a Palace. When fusing during this time, any resulting Persona will have greatly boosted stats and a chance to pass on new special skills. The downside is that fusion accidents are much more likely, which can result in wildly different and sometimes disappointing results. Despite the clear drawback, it’s a great mechanic that injects some much-needed excitement and vibrance in the otherwise monotonous grind of fusing.
Personae themselves — both with Joker and the other playable characters — have been upgraded with a brand new feature called Skill Traits. In Royal, each Persona possesses a unique trait that grants certain abilities, such as decreased SP cost for skills under a certain element or increased potency for spells that have a single target. These special traits can also be passed on just like regular skills and can also be passed on during fusion, allowing for even more customization options. Their general existence, especially skills that cut down on SP cost, are so useful during dungeon runs that I found myself wondering how I managed to traverse Palaces in vanilla P5.
It’s also worth mentioning here that another major change to Royal sees Morgana cutting back on the number of times they make Joker go to bed early, which has a tremendous effect on how quickly players can rank up their parameters. Even on days in which venturing outside isn’t possible, you can still engage in a multitude of tasks that raise your social stats. For instance, in my own playthrough, by the middle of July, three of my stats were already rank three and the other two were rank four.
More minigames make their debut in Persona 5 Royal and not only are they a welcome break from the intensity of the main story, but they also provide players with gameplay advantages.
The Thieves Den is an example of the former as it lets players use collected P Medals, the currency of this base, in order to purchase artwork for your gallery, soundtracks, and trophies depicting major story events to decorate said base with. You win P Medals either by obtaining awards or by playing the card game Tycoon with your party members. I’ve spent so much time playing Tycoon that it often feels like its own separate (albeit much smaller) game and the enthusiast voice work and expressions from the characters really immerses you in the experience of sitting back and playing a fun round of cards with your friends.
The last minigame comes from a new district that Ryuji opens up, called Kichijoji. The area itself, bustling with tons of eateries and shops selling unique wares, is the largest explorable location in the game. It’s also home to the Darts and Billiards lounge, which features a darts game reminiscent of the one from the Yakuza series in that it utilizes the motion controls built into the DualShock 4. The darts minigame is fun, fairly easy to master, and best of all, it can be used to rank up a team member’s Baton Pass. The higher the rank, the more benefits that party members will receive whenever Baton Pass is used in a turn, which includes dealing more damage and HP/SP recovery.
Graphics have been noticeably upgraded in Persona 5 Royal as they’ve been optimized for the PS4, resulting in a crisper look to the character models and 3D environments. PS4 Pro owners haven’t been left in the dust either, as there’s a 4K setting to choose from.
There are also several new music tracks in Royal and for the most part, they’re quite enjoyable, particularly the new battle theme. That being said, I wasn’t too impressed with the true boss theme; while a great track on its own, it lacked the weighty presence and punch that a final boss theme should have.
If you never got around to playing vanilla Persona 5, then Persona 5 Royal is now the perfect starting point. Filled with a plethora of new story and gameplay content to go along with all of the DLC from the original, this is without a doubt the definitive edition.
However, what if you did sink over 100 hours into the original? Then the question becomes, how much did you enjoy Persona 5? Because make no mistake, even with all the shiny new things included here with Royal, this is still Persona 5. That means you will absolutely be playing through the same 100 hours of the base game since no effort has been made to fix one of the most egregious issues of the original: its pacing. First time players discovering each twist and turn will most decidedly find Persona 5 Royal exciting and fresh. However, veterans may have a difficult time staying engaged the whole way through, even with all the bells and whistles.
Regardless, for an updated re-release, Persona 5 Royal is certainly worth the price of admission for newcomers. And if you enjoyed the original and are eager to jump back into the fray, then there’s certainly more than enough new content and improvements to justify a second purchase.