Stealing My Heart Once Again
It’s no secret that ATLUS has a knack for taking their already highly polished Persona games and, although I’m not always sure how, making them even better than they were initially. From remakes of classics—like Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, and Persona 2: Innocent Sin (which was technically the only version that we got)—to new-and-improved versions of modern Persona entries—like Persona 3 Portable, Persona 3 FES, and, of course, Persona 4 Golden—ATLUS’ “so nice you gotta buy ’em twice (or thrice!)” attitude has served both them, and their fans, very well. And, now, almost three years after its original (Western) debut, it’s finally Persona 5‘s turn for a makeover—and, man, did ATLUS ever knock it out of the park with this one.
Persona 5 Royal is, without a doubt, the best series remake that ATLUS has done to-date. I guess that that shouldn’t be too surprising, given how much of a step up Persona 5 was from its predecessors (from a technical standpoint, at least), but it goes beyond this game being better simply being better just because it’s got more stuff crammed into it. What makes this game so great is how seamlessly the old and the new have been stitched together. Sure, P5R is a remake of P5, but I genuinely feel as though ATLUS has done their best to make this experience feel as new and exciting as possible—and that hard work and effort very much pays off in the end.
Oh, and before I continue on any further, please be aware that there will be spoilers for the original Persona 5 in this review. You’ve been warned!
A Royal Rebellion
I’d love to sit down and dissect Persona 5 Royal‘s entire plotline, as it’s pretty phenomenal. For your sake, however, I won’t do that, only because much of what occurs during P5R mirrors the events of P5. Players once again take up the role of Ren Amamiya (or whatever you want to name him)—a student who was falsely convicted of assault, forced to move, and, ultimately, banded together with several other rowdy teenagers as the Phantom Thieves to change society, and the, as Ryuji would put it, “shitty adults” who populate it. The story is, unsurprisingly, phenomenal. But you probably already knew that.
What you may not be so familiar with is the new storyline stuff that they added in. While Persona 5 Royal does follow its predecessors’ events closely, it does take its fair share of narrative liberties. Many of these liberties come in the way of interactions between Ren and fellow new student Kasumi Yoshigawa. As an honor student, elite gymnast, and natural beauty, Kasumi seems to be the picture of overwhelming success and luck—and a situational polar opposite to Ren himself—but such isn’t the case. It appears that, despite everything that she has going for her, Kasumi can’t help but feel as though something is wrong—a feeling which eventually begins to affect her performances—and soon turns to the Phantom Thieves leader for help.
Upon Kamoshida’s defeat, Persona 5 Royal introduces players to its second new character, Takuto Maruki. Affable and empathetic with a charming demeanor, Maruki begins temporarily working at Shujin as a counselor to help students deal with their struggles—both big and small—to lessen their psychological burdens and promote positive mental health. And, as a student of Shujin, Ren soon finds himself talking to Maruki, just like everyone else.
So, I’ll be honest; there’s a lot that I’d like to say about how these characters affect the story—much more than I’ve already said. Unfortunately, I can’t do that, simply because it would very quickly dip into spoiler territory. What I can say, however, is that these two characters are done incredibly well, and are done so on multiple fronts. In terms of narrative nuance, P5R essentially drip-feeds players new content for the duration of the “normal” Persona 5 story, only to finally let players dig in after the 100+ hours it could potentially take to beat the game, making it a novel experience for players, whether they’ve played the original before or not. Additionally, the additional story elements present in P5R touch upon a subject which was strangely lacking within P5; mental health. Given the psychology-centric nature of the game, the increased focus on mental health provided by the story’s expansion feels not only natural but very welcome, taking the typically black-and-white outlook of the Phantom Thieves (something which I disagreed with, if I’m honest) and making things a touch greyer—a move which only adds to the allure of the ethical ambiguity surrounding the Phantom Thieves’ actions.
Phan-Tastic Sights and Sounds
It isn’t just the story that’s gotten an upgrade; just about every other part of Persona 5 Royal features fun, new improvements as well. You know how there was already a lot to do in the real world in Persona 5? Well, Persona 5 Royal gives you even more choices with the advent of Kichijoji. As far as explorable areas go, Kichijoji is jam-packed with things to do and people to see—rivaling even Shibuya’s main street shopping area. While there are a handful of normal stores in Kichijoji, the area’s real charm is the fact that it adds features that end up being so fun that it makes you wonder why they weren’t in the original game. At the top of the list is, of course, Penguin Sniper—a hangout spot that lets you play darts and billiards with your teammates to improve the effectiveness of baton passes and technical moves. There’s also the jazz cafe, which lets you hang out with a party member of your choice to deepen your relationship with them, permanently increase stats, level them up, and even teach them new skills. It’s really useful, and really easy to access. And, hey, the music there is catchy, too.
I’m also delighted to announce that P5R, following in the footsteps of previous Persona re-releases, gives players the chance to interact more with Justine and Caroline (but not Lavenza, sorry) by hanging out with them. Not to be confused with the Strength Confidant questline, which is still very much in-tact, these so-called “special assignments” will have players taking the twin wardens out to a variety of seemingly mundane locations with comically enjoyable results. I won’t spoil things for you outside of telling you that these (at least as far as I can tell) appear to be entirely optional, but they’re 100% worth investing some of your time into due to how fun it is to watch each scene play out.
Naturally, the tendrils of change have spread into the far corners of the Metaverse, too. While Mementos is basically still as dour as ever, players will notice a strange new denizen named Jose driving around. While Jose’s motives tend to remain nebulous throughout the entire game, his willingness to help the Phantom Thieves is crystal-clear. When traveling Mementos’ murky depths, players will now be able to find flowers and stamps. Although these flowers and stamps are both entirely optional, the rewards that they can be traded in for—rare items, and the ability to increase EXP, money, and item gain in Mementos respectively—are well worth it, and are great for preparing for especially difficult battles.
When it comes to Palaces, the most significant change is, quite obviously, the inclusion of a brand-new Palace. And, boy, is it pretty amazing. It also has some pretty neat puzzles! Unfortunately, I can’t say a whole lot more than that, though, so… let’s just move on to the other changes. While not quite as grandiose as the addition of a new Palace, P5R does make some exploration-based changes that can be seen and felt throughout the rest of the game. The first change—if the picture below and Joker’s inclusion in Smash Ultimate hasn’t made clear—is the addition of the grappling hook. Now, I’ll be honest about something; before actually playing P5R, I was under the assumption that the grappling hook was going to play a significant role in exploration. In reality, however, you only use it a handful of times per Palace. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think that over-reliance on it wouldn’t be right, and the way that it’s utilized makes sense. Still, I was a tad disappointed that I couldn’t swing around like crazy whenever I wanted to.
Remember the flowers and stamps that I talked about in Mementos? Well, those aren’t in Palaces. Instead, players can collect disturbing looking, glowing skull plants known as “Will Seeds”! Don’t let the fact that they’re creepy stop you from snagging them, though. By collecting a Palace’s Will Seeds (each Palace has 3), players will be able to obtain a special accessory which, when brought to Jose in Mementos and refined, will allow characters who have equipped them to utilize special boss-themed skills and abilities. Most of the skills acquired through these accessories are immensely helpful and maintain their usefulness throughout the entire game, so they’re definitely work picking up. Just don’t expect to find all of them to be easy! After all, what kind of thief would you be if you didn’t enjoy working for your loot now and then?
A True Takeover
Aside from the fact that your entire party can utilize baton passing early on in the game, the only real change in P5R‘s battles is the addition of some flashy new attacks. By advancing the story, and fulfilling certain conditions during battle, characters can team up with one another to pull off Showtime attacks. True to their name, each and every one of these moves is absolutely outlandish, both in how they’re carried out—with all but the very last one unlocked being at least somewhat silly—and in the large amount of damage they deal. Truth be told, they might be a bit overkill (I’ll admit that there were a few battles that I only won because of a Showtime), but that’s mostly overshadowed by how amazing they are to watch (and, you, know, the damage). Just be warned, however, that the Phantom Thieves aren’t the only ones with tricks up their sleeves. Most of the game’s bosses have been re-vamped, too (which is a brilliant decision on ATLUS’ part)!
Dazed and Con-Fused
Technically speaking, there aren’t any changes to fusion itself, unless you consider the addition of two new Arcana (Faith and Councilor), or the slight tweak in Network Fusion (they made it a little less random, yay!) to fall under that category. But that doesn’t mean that the world of fusion is without some interesting new twists! Well, I guess it’s only a singular twist, but rest assured that it’s a doozy! The Velvet Room now features an alarm function, which has a chance of triggering whenever the player finishes a battle (or OHKO’s an enemy with Ryuji’s Confidant skill). Along with turning the entire Velvet Room a deep red (which is honestly kind of weird), alarms do two primary things. First, they power up fusions, meaning that players will get stronger Personas, better items, or bigger EXP boosts depending upon which execution they perform. Secondly, they bump up the rate of a fusion accident occurring within one or two fusions to nearly 100%. As with Showtime skills, the Velvet Room’s alarm ultimately makes the game a tad easier—especially when it comes to farming for equipment—but, once again, the fact that it’s so satisfying and exciting that it mitigates anything bad.
Personas—both Ren’s and those of his fellow Phantom Thieves—also now come with traits! And before you start worrying, no, this isn’t anything terribly complex. Rather than stealing the spotlight away from the Personas themselves, Persona traits are essentially a “cherry on top” of the fusion sundae—granting bonuses such as reduced SP costs for specific elements, or mild-moderate boosts in effectiveness for specific attack types. At least, as far as Joker’s Personas go. Ironically, your party members’ traits end up having more oomph than your own—perhaps due to their inability to change Personas—and actually provide a neat new way to help players set their parties up.
Den of (Phantom) Thieves
Last, but not least, we’ve got a feature that was wasn’t in the original Persona 5 at all: the Thieves Den! Acting as a fully explorable gallery, the Thieves Den lets players listen to music, view artwork, watch videos, view in-game achievements (which are way harder to get than the PS4 Trophies), play a surprisingly addicting card game, and, best of all, set up what amounts to their own miniature Persona 5 Royal museum. While the addition of an “extras” menu is always appreciated, the fact that ATLUS, went above and beyond to turn the said menu into an actual place to explore is incredibly impressive. Not only is it fun to visit from time to time to catch up on everything, but your Den’s progress is shared across all files, allowing players to collect things at their own pace!
A Treasure to be Treasured
By this point, it’s fair to say that I’ve talked, ad nauseam, about Persona 5 Royal. But for those of you wanting a TL;DR, here it is: Persona 5 Royal is an absolutely, positively fantastic experience, and anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of the series would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t pick it up. I may not know what lies in the future for the Phantom Thieves, but if this game’s any indicator, things are looking very good.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed); Developer: ATLUS; Publisher: SEGA; Players: 1; Released: March 31, 2020; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy of Persona 5 Royal given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher