Bottom Line: This is a fantastic pick for RPG fans looking for deep gameplay, an engaging plot, and compelling characters. The new elements are well integrated with the old, making it a perfect way to get into the series or give it a fresh playthrough.
- Jazzy soundtrack
- Anime-style cutscenes
- Complex combat system
- Lots of ways to spend downtime
- Compelling characters
- Accessible stealth system
- Slow start
- Navigation is tricky
Persona games are typically about contrast. Atlus' long running RPG series follows high schoolers who must balance the mundane tasks of studying, keeping in touch with friends, and working part-time jobs with otherworldly adventures where they wield strange powers to fight terrible monsters. In the time of social distancing, the chance to hang out in a café or hit the mall feels as impossibly thrilling as sneaking around a palace to try to steal an evil king's heart.
Persona 5 was first released outside of Japan in April 2017, receiving rave reviews for advancing the series with its tight mechanics, an intense story, and gorgeous visual style. The Persona 5 Royal edition available on March 31 expands on the story and revamps aspects of the gameplay to refresh the experience for hardcore fans looking for an excuse to replay it.
Changes in this edition include an additional playable character, larger dungeons (called Palaces in the game) with bonus objectives that restore resources and give you gear, a grappling hook traversal system, dangerous new enemies that can give you a big edge in fights if defeated properly, more downtime to improve your skills, and improvements to the combat system that further emphasize synergies within your team. The updates are integrated fairly seemlessly so while they might seem obvious if you've already played Persona 5, you don't need any previous experience with the game to enjoy Royal.
Since each game's story stands alone, you don't have to have played anything in the series to appreciate the 100-plus hour game about the power of building connections with other people, which feels especially relevant in a time of isolation and loneliness.
Persona 5 Royal What I like
You play as Joker, leader of the Phantom Thieves, a group of masked vigilantes that fight injustice by journeying into the Metaverse and steeling dark desires from the hearts of corrupt adults. Deep and strange cosmology is par for the course in Atlus' games, and it manifests here in your characters' abilities to harness parts of their personality, dubbed Personas, to tap into magical abilities that allow them to fight in the Metaverse.
The Metaverse is filled with Palaces that represent real world places that specific terrible people are strongly associated with, like a school or a casino. The plot is a little like the movie Inception in that the Phantom Thieves must infiltrate these mindscapes and steal their most closely guarded treasures in order to chance their victim's hearts and inspire them to confess to their crimes in the real world.
When you're not dungeon crawling through the Metaverse's twisted palaces, you're living a relatively normal life as a student who had to change schools after getting into legal trouble at home. Each Palace has a timer on it, which ticks down through the game's calendar, and you have to carefully consider whether to press forward as your resources dwindle or call it a day and spend some time in the real world resting, upgrading your gear, and forging relationships with your allies that will help you in battle.
Sneaking around Ambush your enemies
I am not normally a fan of stealth games. I just don't have the patience to plot out the rhythms of a patrol, search for cover, and wait for my perfect moment. But Persona 5 Royal nails the vibe of being a sneaky thief without the frustration.
As Joker and his crew move around Palaces, the game will prompt you to press X when you can hide behind something, and then you can just press X again to dart to the next place of cover. When an enemy comes into range while you're hiding, you can just press X again to ambush them and give your team an edge in combat. You can also ambush enemies from above by climbing things or using Joker's grappling hook, a new tool introduced in Royal. Again, these feats of athletics are undertaken with simple prompts, often incorporating Joker's Third Eye ability, which is similar to Detective Mode in the Arkham games.
These systems deliver all of the flavor of a stealth game. Timing is still important for ambushing enemies as they walk by but you don't need to spend nearly as much time trying and failing to get patterns right. I also appreciated that I didn't have to worry about accidentally falling to my death when swinging from the rafters and could just focus on figuring out where to go next. Instead of being an annoying requirement, stealth in Persona 5 is a useful tool you should take advantage of since being spotted by an enemy before a fight raises the alarm in the palace and makes your future encounters harder.
If you get the jump on an enemy you ambush them and act first, but your party can also be ambushed if you're caught unaware. Combat is turn-based and you can either control Joker and set some tactics for your allies to obey or take everyone's turn individually if you're a control freak like me. As in other Atlus games, the key is to figure out each enemy's weaknesses in order to hit them with attacks that will both do more damage and let you attack again.
Capitalizing on weaknesses is especially important in Persona 5 Royal thanks to the version's two main changes to combat. Some fights will feature a Disaster Shadow, an upgraded version of a regular enemy. If you hit it with an attack it's not weak against, you'll face a nasty counterattack. Your best bet is take it out quickly by chaining attacks that take advantage of its weaknesses and ideally getting to act first due to an ambush. If you do that, the Shadow will blow up and reward you with a bonus loot item while also significantly damaging other enemies.
The other big change in Royal involves Persona 5's Baton Pass system, which lets you give your bonus attack to an ally instead of taking it yourself. They'll do bonus damage and can keep the chain going if they also trigger an enemy's weakness. In Persona 5 Royal, if you can get all four of your allies in on the action, the final special attack won't have a cost, making it an excellent way to conserve resources in dangerous dungeons.
Dramatic story Like playing through a movie
Persona 5 Royal's narrative structure is reminiscent of The Usual Suspects, kicking off with a daring casino heist that goes wrong and lands Joker in jail. The game flashes backwards and forwards, slowly unveiling how and why he got into this terrible situation.
This is a dark tale about teens rebelling against a system run by corrupt and apathetic adults. The plot involves child abuse, sexual assault, and suicide, yet it avoids being depressing or exploitative thanks to a strong cast of characters who slowly reveal their inner workings as you spend time with them in the real world.
Going jogging with the bad boy former track star Ryuji Sakamoto or learning to make coffee with your cantankerous guardian Sojiro Sakura not only help flesh out the characters but reward with combat relevant benefits like strengthening your Personas or making stimulating drinks for your friends. An excellent voice cast, anime-style cutscenes, and an all new jazzy soundtrack added for Persona 5 Royal just add to the cinematic feel. The difficulty level is also highly flexible, so if you're mostly interested in enjoying the plot you won't have to stress about playing perfectly.
There's so much to do Use your time wisely
This is as much a time management game as it is a dungeon crawler, and there's a ton of fun to be had exploring all the ways you can wile away the hours. Morgana, your adorable feline advisor who adamantly insists he's not a cat, strictly enforces your bedtime when you came home from a long day of Palace exploring in Persona 5, but he's more lenient in Royal, letting you spend time upping your skills by working in Sojiro's café, doing homework, or crafting lockpicks and other thieving tools while he patiently grooms himself nearby. You can even do fun crossword puzzles to challenge your real mind while making Joker smarter.
There are a wide variety of places to explore like a shady doctor's office, arcade, and a laundromat, which all have impacts on the gameplay. For instance, the doctor will sell you better healing items if you do favors for her while some protective items you pick up in palaces are only useable once you've given them a thorough wash. Personal 5 Royal also adds a Thieves Den where you can hang out with your buddies and play games, teambuilding activites that pay off with upgraded kicker effects during Baton Pass. While there's some stress involved when weighing what relationships or skills you need to focus on, the laid-back activities provide a nice alternative to the challenge of the dungeons.
Persona 5 Royal What I don't like
One of the biggest selling points of Persona 5 Royal is its length, but that also can be a problem. The game starts slowly, not unlocking key elements until hours in. Once you have the freedom to spend your after-school time as you please with only the countdown on your active Palace keeping you on task, which happens after about eight hours of play, the game feels a lot more flexible.
Tutorials are also doled out slowly, which is meant to avoid overwhelming you with the game's dizzying amount of options. Sometimes, however, this means that you'll discover an ability before you're told what it does. That was the case for me with technical attacks, which let you exploit an enemy being debuffed. Luckily, they're easy enough to figure out without an explanation, though it was still weird when I finally got one officially after using them for hours.
Get lost An inflexible camera can make navigation difficult
Confusing maps and a largely fixed camera make it easy to get lost in both the real world and the Metaverse. While the real world gives you a chance to wander vibrant spaces and eavesdrop on conversations, potentially picking up some plot clues, losing track of your surroundings in a Palace is a lot more dangerous and frustrating.
You need to find maps to dungeons by exploring around and the fact that enemies respawn when you reenter a section can make it difficult to remember where you've been, considering large sections of each palace look fairly similar. Third Eye helps, but the game doesn't give you a lot of leeway when it comes to figuring out where exactly you need to stand to get the prompt to climb or jump. The views of elevated areas like rafters are particularly narrow, making it tricky to spot the next spot you're supposed to shimmy to.
Persona 5 Royal Bottom Line
If you like the steady sense of progress and community building of Animal Crossing: New Horizons but want something more intense and mature, Persona 5 Royal could be the perfect game to help you pass the time. It provides a powerful mix of fiddly combat to satisfy serious RPG fans, along with social elements that add humor and let you get deeply attached to its excellent cast.
4.5 out of 5
This game looks, sounds, and plays great and will keep you busy for more than 100 hours. It would be worth that investment any time, but right now its depth and contrast between mundane activity and apocalyptic conflict is particularly valuable. The added elements make this a must-buy for long-time fans who want to replay it or newcomers alike.
Honor among thieves
Persona 5 Royal
Make friends and influence people
This is a fantastic pick for RPG fans looking for deep gameplay, an engaging plot, and compelling characters. The new elements are well integrated, making it a perfect way to get into the series or give it a fresh playthrough.
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