We’re rolling deep into your underground crib
Thought I sent a prior notice card for you
We wanna make this a party you don’t want to skip
Gonna be a show to remember!
The original Persona 5 was one of the best traditional JRPGs in recent memory, nailing top scores in every department and becoming one of the best RPGs of the 2010s. You might be wondering if it can get any better, and as it turns out, the answer is yes, it can. Introducing Persona 5 Royal, an RPG that immediately shows how much a game can improve, even when the original isn’t that old. Royal is by far the best way to experience Persona 5. If you haven’t played it yet, what are you waiting for? Phantom thievery awaits!
You play as Joker (an alias; your character’s real name is up to you), on your way to the heart of Tokyo to restart your life. A few months ago, you were convicted on a false assault charge and expelled from school. Your parents chose to send you off to live with a family friend and attend the only school that was willing to take you, Shujin Academy. When you enter school the next day, you end up in a mysterious castle along with a fellow student, Ryuji Sakamoto, and are arrested by the castle guards. As the ruler of the castle, who resembles the school’s PE teacher, orders your executions, you suddenly awaken to a power that allows you to break out of your prison. Upon learning what the castle really is from a mysterious cat named Morgana, you decide to join him in his quest to shut it down.
Persona 5 is about your adventures with your friends as the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, who steal the corrupted hearts of society’s biggest names to get them to change their evil ways and confess their crimes to the world. However, there’s something going on behind the scenes that gets alluded to early on, and it’s this mystery that forms the basis of the original game’s story. Said story was told well, but sometimes there were big breaks in between Palaces that slowed down the pace a bit. After each Palace is conquered, you slowly begin to uncover more about the mysterious psychotic breakdowns that have been occurring throughout the city. Around the halfway point is when the story begins to move faster, as you figure out the secret behind these bizarre afflictions.
I’m sure you’re wondering about the new content and how it mixes in with the original game’s story. Royal introduces two new characters: Kasumi Yoshizawa, and Takuto Maruki. Kasumi is a first-year honours student who is an expert gymnast, and Maruki is the school’s new counselor who was brought in to help students in the aftermath of the story’s first arc. The game incorporates these two in fairly clever ways, usually inserting their scenes at specific parts of the story, sometimes even when you are supposed to be infiltrating a Palace. This helps pace the story a bit better for those who like to clear Palaces as soon as they’re available. However, it’s clear that these characters are new to this version of the game, since most of the cast doesn’t interact with them outside of certain scenes, especially when it comes to Kasumi. The vast majority of Kasumi’s scenes over the course of the original game’s story just involve you and Morgana, with Maruki occasionally making an appearance.
In my opinion, the new endgame of P5R rewards you with the redemption arc of Goro Akechi. He is one of the more interesting characters from Persona 5, but the original game didn’t give him the time in the spotlight I was hoping for. He takes center stage at the start of the final arc of Royal, which makes the new content that much better. Kasumi dominates the middle portion of the new arc, and she’s got an interesting story to her too. I can’t go into detail on either of them due to spoilers, but know that the new arc is worth it for these two. However, while the new arc is great, it lacks the impact the original game’s final arc had; this got me thinking that Royal should have put this new arc somewhere in the middle of the game and then preserved the original game’s ending.
While the hangouts with your friends and allies remain the same, Royal puts more effort into showing the Phantom Thieves outside of dungeon exploration more. There are more cameos of future party members earlier in the game, friends come and visit you at your part-time job, and the new area, Kichijoji, allows you to invite multiple party members to hangouts outside of dates. One of the more fun new hangouts is with the twin Wardens, Caroline and Justine. They ask you to take them to various places in the city they’ve heard interesting rumours about, and once there, they give their innocent and, oftentimes, hilarious opinions on the various locales you visit. Taking them to the church yields a chuckle-inducing confession as they struggle to understand the point of humans following religion. A visit to the maid cafe had me rolling on the floor as the twins reprimanded the “clumsy” maid excessively, causing her personality to morph into that of a “dominatrix,” which frightened the twins. These hangouts exist mainly to get skill cards, which assist you in finishing their confidant, but I was way more interested in the scenes than the cards.
One thing I alluded to in my review-in-progress was that you have much more freedom to do what you want. Dungeon exploration, Mementos expeditions, and some story events no longer cause Morgana to become your nagging parent who constantly tells you to go to bed. Instead, Morgana will allow you to perform nighttime activities in your home, which is a godsend (especially early on). Being able to boost social stats much earlier than in the original helps set you up for more confidants, and the increased freedom alone makes me never want to go back to the original game.
There’s also plenty of new distractions to pull you away from your thieving activities. Kichijoji features a place to play pool and darts with your friends, which levels up their Baton Pass skill with the team. It also has a jazz club, which you can visit to increase your teammates’ stats or learn new abilities. The Thieves Den is a separate area in the game where you can hang out. It’s kind of like a base, filled with bonus extras like a cutscene viewer, artwork collection, and a card game called “Tycoon,” which is a variation of the Japanese game daifugo (similar to the Western card game “President”). I personally know this game as “Big Two,” which I loved playing in high school, so I may or may not have spent a disproportionate amount of time playing Tycoon over the course of my playthrough. Playing Tycoon and earning “awards” (in-game achievements) nets you currency to buy decorations for the base. Your teammates can come by the Thieves Den to comment on your decorations and recount their memories relating to your adventures.
Atlus RPGs are about exploiting your enemy’s weaknesses to give your team an advantage. Hitting an enemy’s weakness grants you another turn, and you can also pass your turn to another party member, which boosts the power of their attack. Various status conditions can also be inflicted, and when you hit an enemy with an attack that is effective against that status conditions, you can do extra damage. Each of your party members has a specific purpose: Ryuji is your main physical attacker, Morgana is the primary support, Ann is the magic user, etc. Ensuring you have the right teammates in your party as you explore is essential for success in battle. Thankfully, Joker has the ability to take on multiple Personas, which means you can alter your own role on the fly. Crafting a balanced team will help a ton for any situation you find yourself in.
Royal introduces some new battle mechanics that were not in the original game. Enemies can now come in three different types: standard, Disaster, and Savage. Disaster Shadows glow in a rainbow colour upon entering battle. They do not attack unless provoked by an attack from you, and then they could potentially attack twice in one turn. They also explode upon death, damaging nearby Shadows, so defeating them quickly gives you an advantage in battle. Savage Shadows are new Shadows that are discernable by their red aura on the overworld. These are powerful enemies that are much stronger than other Shadows in the area, even when compared to their forms in the original Persona 5. Fights against Savage Shadows are more like mini-boss battles that grant you a lot of experience, money, and items if you win. These new types of Shadows help add some variety to the combat system. In addition, new attacks called “Showtimes” have been added that act as finishing blows for powerful enemies and bosses. Characters can pair up with each other to unleash a super attack on an enemy of your choice, and they’re awesome to watch.
One cool new feature in Royal is the addition of “traits” for Personas. Traits give various effects like improving damage, using less SP, or increasing the length of buffs. There are plenty of traits to mess around with, which gets you critically thinking about what eight skills you want your Personas to have to accomplish a specific task. Your teammates also have Persona traits, so you need to consider who is in your party at a given time to bring out everyone’s best in battles.
The sound department is as amazing as ever. I don’t know how much more praise I can shower on Shoji Meguro’s work that hasn’t been mentioned already. Video games with jazz-inspired music are few and far between, but it works exceptionally well in Persona 5. The music helps give Persona 5 its unique feel and sets it apart from other RPGs. I initially lamented the change of the ambush battle music from “Last Surprise” to “Take Over,” but it grew on me fast. There are plenty of new tracks in the final arc of the game, and they’re all pretty good. My personal new favourite is “Gentle Madman,” which plays during the final Palace of the game. It fits so well with the theme of the final arc of the story and beautifully reflects the ruler of the Palace. The original Persona 5 soundtrack is still amazing, of course; it’s easily one of the best video game soundtracks of the last few years.
When this game was first announced in Japan, I did a double take when I saw the voice acting cast. I couldn’t believe the huge wealth of talent they had managed to get for one game. They brought on some of the biggest names possible at the time, all of them instantly recognizable to any anime fan. Jun Fukuyama (Joker/Lelouch from Code Geass), Mamoru Miyano (Ryuji/Light from Death Note), Nana Mizuki (Ann/Hinata from Naruto), Ikue Otani (Morgana/Pikachu), Tomokazu Sugita (Yusuke/Gintoki from Gintama), Rina Satou (Makoto/Mikoto Misaka from the A Certain Magical Index/A Certain Scientific Railgun), Aoi Yuuki (Futaba/Tsuyu Asui from My Hero Academia), and Haruka Tomatsu (Haru/Asuna from Sword Art Online), all in one game? I don’t know if it would have even been possible to assemble a bigger dream team of voice actors. Atlus even brought on Sora Amamiya (Kasumi/Aqua from KonoSuba) to help round out the all-star cast for the Phantom Thieves in Royal. The game itself includes the original Japanese language track this time, instead of adding it as DLC like the original release. Of course, you have the choice of selecting the English or Japanese language track, whichever you prefer. There’s new voiced dialogue for some scenes from the original game, and some for the new content as well. There are also a couple of changes in voice actors in both English and Japanese. In English, Kirsten Potter has been replaced by Abby Trott as Takemi, and in Japanese, Miyu Matsuki has been replaced by Haruka Terui as Chihaya due to Matsuki’s tragic death in 2015. Both voice tracks are great, though my frustration with the English dub is due to the incorrect pronunciation of some of the Japanese names; it always drives me nuts and prevents me from truly enjoying the English voice track. Robbie Daymond as Akechi is the highlight for me of the English dub. He’s able to play a relatively complex character very well.
The Persona series is well known for its flashy graphics, but Persona 5 goes for a more subtle approach. Its graphics match the sultry jazz soundtrack, sense of style, and the overall rebellious theme of the game. The menus all exude their own unique style too, from Joker swinging around to slashing the screen for a transition, and even opening the menu has Joker slap the options on the screen. The game’s dungeons are also sights to behold, and they’re all very well crafted. The new grappling hook Joker gets also leads to some great cinematic shots of him swinging over various obstacles. In terms of pure style, Royal towers over most other games out there.
Persona 5 Royal serves to enhance an already amazing game, addressing the original’s most frustrating issues. While the original game has been called out for its uneven pacing and lack of freedom, Royal expertly fixes these problems with its new additions and enhancements to the overall experience. Persona 5 Royal is one of the most complete video games I have played in a very long time, and the retread through P5’s world for another 100+ hours is worth the time invested.