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Review: Persona 5 Royal (PS4)

Retake Your Heart

April 2017. That was when years of waiting for “Winter 2014” finally ended, and Persona 5 finally arrived. Immediately upon arriving, it was showered with high praise. The flash and flair, the best turn-based gameplay in years, the incredible characters and hard hitting story. It wasn’t just “game of the year” level talk, many were putting it in “greatest of all time” talks, myself included.

In spite of such high praise though, the game wasn’t entirely perfect in a few small ways. That, coupled with Atlus’ usual trend of releasing definitive editions of mainline Persona titles, made talk and wishes of a “Golden” version of Persona 5 pop up rather quickly.

Nearly three years later, those wishes have been granted with Persona 5 Royal. The Phantom Thieves are set to infiltrate our palaces and take our hearts once again, this time armed with tons of new story content and gameplay mechanics. Does Royal make the final push to turn near perfection into actual perfection? Step inside the Metaverse with me and find out.

(Before we begin, please be aware there might be some small spoilers below. Nothing massive and certainly not from the endgame, but do take care if you’re planning to go in blind!)

More Than Meets The (Third) Eye

When Royal first released in Japan, the few rumblings I’d allowed myself to hear (gotta dodge them spoilers after all) were rather mixed, quite a few saying that the expansions were nowhere near the level of what Persona 4 Golden added to the base Persona 4 package. It was kind of a bummer to hear, but also a relief to find out upon booting P5R up that it wasn’t true at all. 

P5R may not look like a big leap at first glance, but it’s packing a lot of changes under the hood. First and foremost, in addition to packing an entirely brand new palace, Royal also extends the original game’s palaces by a fair amount. There’s new paths to take, mostly courtesy of Joker’s new grappling hook. There’s also a new gimmick, called Will Seeds, that gives you more reason to explore, and also restore your SP, a huge help for those that like to clear palaces in as few trips as possible. 

The palaces’ owners have also gotten buffed up, with brand new attacks to keep seasoned vets on their toes. While I won’t go into too much detail here, a couple of the more disliked bosses from the original have been made far more interesting and fun this time around, so definitely be excited. Also, a couple of the bonus bosses in the new Special Battle feature are a sight to behold, and may even jerk a couple tears loose.

On top of palaces being expanded, the always available Mementos dungeon has been built upon as well. There are more encounters with more frequent respawn rates for those who like to spend hours grinding. There’s a few brand new requests and bosses for the dungeon, and also a new character named Jose that can add Experience and Item Drop buffs to the labyrinth. Overall, these changes make grinding less of a, well, grind, and are all very welcome additions.

Who’s the TRAITor?

The titular Personas have also had some changes, in regards to both fighting with and against them. Normal battles can now include Disaster Shadows, which are more powerful versions of your usual fare. They’re tough, but taking them out also causes a devastating explosion, damaging the rest of your enemies. They’re far more of a help than a hindrance at the end of the day. 

Another helpful change is the addition of combat traits to your Personas. Similar to how traits work in some mobile games, P5R‘s trait system adds an additional passive skill to each demon, usually in the vein of additional damage on certain attacks, or reducing skill costs. It’s not a huge addition by any means, but it does add a little more strategy to the mix. For example, if you know you’re heading into an area with a lot of enemies weak to fire, considering taking a Persona with the trait that halves SP costs on fire attacks is an option now.

One of the more frustrating things about the original release was locking the Baton Pass feature behind a party member’s level 2 Confidant event. Having a chain going, and then having it dropped due to a freshly unlocked character like Makoto or Haru not even having a Confidant event happen yet was always a bummer. Not anymore though, as the feature is unlocked from the jump this time around. This is honestly one of the best gameplay changes they could’ve made. Baton Passes can also be buffed up by certain Confidant events, adding in the ability to use them for healing both HP and SP. 

This also ties into the new, incredibly stylish Showtime Attacks, where two characters unite after a Baton Pass to do their own signature All Out Attack. Whether you’re looking for something funny, badass, or even just something to give your favorite duo more screentime together, you won’t be let down.

Living the Royal Life

Outside of combat, there’s quite a few quality of life improvements and new features as well. The Thieves Guild feature is expanded upon further. While the original game only showed a percentage chart of what other players did in their free time, P5R offers up Thief Assist, which gives live suggestions on how to spend your free time and ensure you’re not wasting a prime opportunity for ranking up a Confidant or a social stat. It’s even kind enough to give you a direct shortcut to your activity or Confidant without having to cycle through the rail map.

Speaking of wasting free time, one of the biggest complaints, and memes, from the original game was Morgana’s insistence that you sleep after anything considered important happened. That, thankfully, has been toned down. While you’re not able to fully go out on the town after exploring a palace still until you unlock a certain Confidant, you’re at least allowed to perform certain tasks around the Leblanc Cafe to raise your social stats. Only rarely will you be forced to bed, and it makes less nights feel like a wasted opportunity. A VERY welcome change indeed, especially if you’re trying for an all Confidants run.

Confidants have also been expanded, with several Rank Up scenes adding a post-scene phone call. These can often give you that last little point needed to progress a relationship quicker. On top of that, an entire additional semester is tacked on at the end. Those who were just a day away from maxing out a Confidant in the original can finally rejoice.

Finally, one of the cooler elements added to the game is the Thieves Den. Thieves Den is an interactive gallery mode where you can partake in cutscenes, music, and images you unlock throughout your time in P5R, as well as build your own custom museum with models of friends and foes you’ve met along the way. It’s a much more engaging way of revisiting your favorite things in the game than just another menu. 

Smokin’ Sexy Style

One area of the game that didn’t need much improvement at all, but got some anyways, was the aesthetics. Breaking news, one of the most stylistically breathtaking games of all time still looks and sounds pretty okay. Shocker, right? That said, the changes they did make are outstanding. From the brand new theme songs like “Take Over” and “Colors Flying High,” to even the Atlus signature upon booting up the game, which I seriously hope they keep even for non-Persona games. Everything is simply stunning, and I really can’t see how they’ll be able to top this with the inevitable Persona 6 down the road. For those with the benefit of having a PS4 Pro, there are also some additional graphical tweaks to look forward to.

If I have to complain about anything aesthetically, it’s the new font they’ve chosen for text boxes. It’s not particularly bad, but after years of being used to OG P5’s font, it’s just a tad bit jarring. Also, one final thing I have to mention is the improvement of the localization. From fixing previously odd lines (“He was a scum,” changing to “He is scum.”) to taking care to remove some more problematic content, it’s all very much appreciated.

If I have any other real nitpicks, it’s that the flashier additions, like the new city and characters, don’t really make as big of a splash as expected. They’re absolutely fine additions though. The new city does contain some cool shops, as well as an arcade that allows for entire team stat boosts, as well as the aforementioned Baton Pass buffs. While I won’t go into detail about either of the two new major characters, both were very enjoyable presences, and everyone should look forward to meeting them.

Basically, at the end of the day, Persona 5 Royal is still Persona 5. One of the finest games made still, but with far more of the Phantom Thieves we’ve grown to love. Seriously, when the only real complaint I can muster is that the font is different and off-putting, that’s saying something. Whether this is your first Persona experience, or you’ve been on board since Mark danced crazy in 1996, you owe it to yourself to at least give Persona 5 Royal a chance to take your heart. It gets the highest recommendation I could ever possibly give.

Pros:

  • Still an aesthetics dream, and one of the most stylish games ever made.
  • Tons of new content, spread evenly throughout the game as well instead of being backloaded.
  • New quality of life improvements both in and out of battle make P5R a far more streamlined experience
  • Expanded palaces and Mementos, as well as Special Battles add a bit more challenge to the mix. 

Cons:

  • Please give us back the original Persona 5 font, that’s all I ask.

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Brett Hatfield

Former showrunner at Sega Addicts, current writer for MegaVisions. Semi-competitive Tekken player and lore nerd. World Record holding Final Fantasy Type-0 speedrunner. Hockey and Japanese pro-wrestling nerd.

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