Persona 5 Royal (PS4) - ReviewThomas Froehlicher , posted on 23 March 2020 / 1,894 Views
To be fair, I seldom play remasters or upgraded versions of games I already played through. I consider that there are too many new games releasing every month to replay something I already experienced. But Persona 5 is different. It made such a fantastic impression on me in 2016 that I just couldn't help but want more of this incredible turn-based JRPG. My increasing curiosity about Persona 5 Royal made me import it for the usual silly price and spend a good three months playing it.
The main character in Persona 5 Royal is a quiet young man who gets involved in a criminal assault case and finds the blame pinned on him. Released on bail, he must pursue his studies at Shujin high school without crossing the lines again in order to clear his record. He lives in resentment, until being magically warped at night in the Velvet Room, a supernatural place where a fishy character called Igor gives him superpowers. Joker can now jump in the subconscious of the most dangerous villains and force them to confess their crimes. Driven by hatred for the man who had him wrongly accused, Joker establishes - with his classmates Anne and Ryûji - the Phantom Thieves, a group of righteous heroes who steal hearts and minds to bring justice to criminals that the law cannot reach.
In Persona 5 Royal time is limited - the story lasts for one year or so in the game, and every dungeon will have to be cleared within two to three weeks, knowing that one day passes each time your enter a dungeon or perform certain side activities. Your target’s subconscious takes the form of themed dungeons, such as a casino, a museum, a castle, and so on. Through the awakening of "personas", which are a metarialisation of the will, Joker and his friends become able to use magic and defeat the numerous threats roaming in those criminal minds.
Your objective is to steal the treasure hidden at its core in order to make the criminal spill the beans. You progress through each dungeon little by little, one day after another, taking advantage of safe rooms which work as checkpoints. Skills points (SP), required to use magic or various capacities, are the limiting factor; when you run of SP you can’t attack efficiently, nor can you heal yourself. That's when you might want go back to reality and aim for a fresh start another day.
As SP management was quite tough in Persona 5, Persona 5 Royal gives you more ways to save or recover it. Joker now has, for example, a small chance to replenish his SP bar at the start of a turn. He can also raise his max SP when visiting the temple at Kichijoji, or meeting a certain person. A new locale in Persona 5 Royal, Kichijoji has, among various other useful distractions, a new activity linked to SP and the "Baton Touch" feature. Darts is a full mini-game in which Joker pairs with another team member and together they need to aim for a set score. When it's Joker's turn, the player grabs his dualshock and uses to motion controls to aim and throw a dart at the target. If you win, Joker's relationship with his partner grows stronger and both will recover HP and SP at each "Baton Touch".
The level design of the dungeons is extremely good, especially the museum where in one sector you need to find your way from painting to painting, or the casino which makes clever use of the gambling theme. Moreover, you’ll come across various puzzles, switches, and quizzes, so there are lots of original ways to keep interest high and exploring constantly enjoyable. But Persona 5 Royal is also a stealth game, as you can hide and take out enemies from behind. If you don’t, the alert level of the dungeon will rise and Shadows (as monsters are called in Persona) will become stronger and more numerous. Persona 5 Royal isn't Metal Gear Solid though, so this aspect is still fairly minor and Shadows aren't able to see very far.
Fights take the form of a classic turn-based system. The point is to make the best use of your skills and magic to strike the enemy’s weak point, and support magic is also key to victory. There are a dozen different elements to choose from and when you strike with the right one your opponent gets stunned and your character can play again immediately - that’s called the “One More” system. With that system you can end the fight more quickly and save some of your precious SP. "One More" also allows an ally to play immediately after with increased power - that's the "Baton Touch" I was talking about above. That can be performed up to four times if you do it well, and the fourth character then benefits from incredible attack power as well as no SP cost. It all comes together to create a strategic and complex battle system, the likes of which you don't come across very often.
Better still, when all enemies are stunned, your enter a “Negotiation” phase, in which you can actually talk your way out of the fight! One Shadow asks a series of hilarious questions (like “my girlfriend is waiting, can I go now?”), and if you select the correct series of answers it will either abandon the fight or join you as a new persona. In Persona 5 Royal, Atlus has also added a small help in every negotiation phase, which makes it easier to collect more personas - each time you enter the negotiation phase, Morgana or Futaba tells you the Shadow's mood and the adequate tone to respond with.
While Joker’s companions have a persona of their own, he actually has access to a range of personas. He can catch Shadows after successful negotiations, and those can then be merged to give birth to even more powerful personas later on. Personas have their own weaknesses though, so your characters can be the victim of a “One More” from an opponent too. You have to carefully choose the personas you equip Joker with, because it's game over if he gets defeated, but he needs a varied range of personas in order to strike every possible weakness and withstand difficult encounters. You can also strengthen an existing persona, which makes it possible to keep your favorite, or even merge them via the internet to get exclusive (and often very cool) personas. There are dozens of different personas in the game, and their management is a tactical choice that makes Persona 5 Royal astonishingly rich in terms of battle strategy. It almost feels like Atlus has developed an entire Pokemon-like game and put it into the game. In Royal also, the Velvet Room can enter "red alert" status, which dramatically boosts the experience gained by personas. In such cases you can also create or breed ever stronger personas, and get even better skills!
As for side activities, Persona 5 Royal is again insanely rich. There's baseball, fishing, retro gaming, small jobs, fitness, and even a series of crosswords (very hard in Japanese, trust me). That's not even the full list, and each one of them serves a purpose, increasing Joker’s human qualities - dexterousness, kindness, intelligence, charisma, and guts. Those statistics allow you to deepen your bonds with other characters, playable or otherwise. Persona 5 Royal also has you interacting with numerous NPCs with their own sub-stories. Elegantly represented by tarot cards, those partners bestow upon you powerful passive skills, such as pre-emptive gunfire, negotiation assist, cover, healing, and the ability to change characters during battle, so they're of critical importance.
Persona 5 Royal regularly features school sections, where Joker is unlucky enough to be tested by a teacher nearly every single day. These teachers are absolutely remarkable characters with exuberant designs and hilarious characteristics. In France, we have a famous comic called "Les Profs", full of gags involving eccentric teachers with strange habits, and it's amazing how close Persona 5 Royal comes to it. That’s also where Persona 5 Royal turns into a gold mine of general knowledge, because you’re asked cranky but at the same time very interesting questions. Where in Japan can you see the sun first rise? What's the density of stars in the universe? All of those are of course trick questions, but you’ll be amazed at the number of astonishing truths behind them. Geography, history, biology, technology, etymology… everything’s there, and Persona 5 Royal even tests your memory with the same topics coming back from a different angle. Yet another game within the game.
Unlike many JRPGs, which end up lacking polish, Persona 5 Royal takes great care to develop its characters and balance the narrative. The formation of your party is very progressive, with one new character being added every 10-15 hours or so. Each of the eight playable characters thus has ample time to be well introduced, getting a whole chapter so that you can become familiar with their pasts and personalities. The Phantom Thieves show strong cohesion and draw the player’s sympathy like few RPGs do. Multiple beautiful cutscenes (3D cutscenes and anime-style cutscenes) illustrate this. In particular, each scene of a character awakening his/her persona is impressive and unforgettable.
But Persona 5 Royal’s true genius is its ability to handle humor and suspense at the same high level of quality. Atlus has cooked up a real treasure of humor, with loads of hilarious cutscenes. Joker’s scathing answers during negotiations are particularly great. The dubbing, while far from being extensive, is also lively. Voice actors and actresses inspire an original personality for each character, from Morgana’s over-the-top tone, to Futaba's fast way of talking (which gives away her otaku background), to Joker rarely speaking but when he does so it marks out his strengths as a leader. Atlus did a wonderful job in choosing the Japanese voice cast.
Persona 5 Royal is also a master of suspense, thanks to ever increasing tension in its main story. The narrative keeps the pressure high at all times, so much so that I was completely hooked from start to finish. At the same time as the Phantom Thieves are growing famous, cases of dementia and suspicious deaths are becoming a major worry for the country. You come to understand fairly quickly that high-ranked individual are acting behind the scenes, plotting nasty stuff, and that Joker's team will only face tougher challenges as the story goes on. I felt a strong Death Note inspiration when experiencing Persona 5 Royal, especially the narrative strands that involve Akechi Goro, a young and brilliant detective who appears to have strong leads against you. So it's great to see that, in parts specific to the this Royal edition, Joker has a whole new set of interactions with Akechi (you can meet him in Kichijoji), including more cutscenes.
There are a couple of critical choices during the narrative, where wrong choices will send you straight to bad endings. This is especially important in this new edition, because you need to meet certain conditions to unlock Royal's extra chapter and the true ending, which is more than rewarding. Persona 5 Royal is also equally tricky and epic when it comes to boss fights. They're so unforgiving that they will drive you either to madness or ecstasy. The strategy to clear dungeons varies every time as well, which makes the fighting more interesting in the long run. In Royal, main bosses have been changed a bit to make them more dramatic. For example, the boss of the space station (the fifth dungeon), which was hard before, is now ultra-hard and requires a much more elaborate strategy to defeat. And the last boss in Persona 5 was already fantastic, but the master of Royal's extra dungeon is even more impressive and exciting. It's impossible to fully translate into words what came into my head when experiencing such memorable and perfectly designed challenges.
The main scenario in Persona 5 Royal also illustrates a generational gap, between those of the post-war economic boom and Japan’s Lost Generation, where wealthy adults, blinded by power and money, look down on the young and refuse to pass on the baton. The Phantom Thieves symbolize the will of young people to break outdated rules and build a fairer society. Between the lines there's a critique of a disillusioned society, of people unwilling to take a stand and instead hiding in the comfort of bestowing power upon unscrupulous elites. The heart of the problem raised by the story is about the capacity for mankind to fulfill its destiny… or not, and Persona 5 Royal has some brilliant allegories.
From a purely technical point of view, the game has not aged well. Persona 5 Royal is still a PS3-level game, with the character modeling for example being mediocre at best. A close look at the main characters clearly shows 3D models far below those seen in recent JRPGs. Animations on the other hand feel more detailed, thanks to things like critical blows and various funny gestures, so the battles still feel very lively. Persona 5 Royal adds a new feature called Showtime. These are dual attacks that are performed by a set pair of characters, like for example Haru and Morgana, and besides being very effective they're also quite fun to watch. The great thing about them is that you don't even need to have both characters in your front team, which means you have a lot of opportunities to use them.
On the artistic side of things, however, Persona 5 Royal is groundbreaking within the JRPG genre. The high-end menus are a pleasure just to open, the personas are super cool, and the character designs always find the right tone. Dungeons are also suitably stylish, such as the casino dungeon where cards literally flying around you. The music feels more uneven. The theme in Joker’s room is downright annoying to me, for example, but I liked the vigorous themes in dungeons and the fantastic battle music. Finally, Persona 5 Royal fixes what I considered to be the most annoying thing about Persona 5 - PS4share is now allowed, so players can now keep and share memories of their playthroughs. That said, the ban on sharing returns as soon as you enter Royal's exclusive chapter. Atlus has made all Persona 5 DLC available for free for Royal via the Playstation Store. This includes all former costumes and a couple of music tracks from the series.
As mentioned throughout this review, Persona 5 Royal features exclusive content, including a full new chapter, a new ending, and a new playable character. While Persona 5 concluded at around the end of December in the game's timeline, in Persona 5 Royal a new threat makes itself known to the Phantom Thieves just after the New Year. This involves one last big dungeon tackle, as well as a new storyline, which is centered around the idea of happiness and is at least as good as the rest of the game.
As for the new character - Kasumi - she's part of my biggest letdown in Persona 5 Royal. The character itself is great and so too are her combat moves and capabilities. The disappointing factor is the time it takes for her to actually join the team - she's not available before the last school term, although she awakens her powers much earlier than that. You do meet her from time to time, but waiting 100 hours to get the promised new character is plainly unsatisfactory. There's plenty of room for better integration of Kasumi, not least because she's teased in the introduction. To end this review on a more positive note, Kasumi isn't the only bonus character in Persona 5 Royal; another acquaintance joins Joker in January, in what's probably the most pleasant surprise of this new edition.
While I don't usually like replaying games, I had a fantastic time going through Persona 5 once more with Persona 5 Royal; it's an incredibly deep, well written, well designed, overwhelming JRPG. It took me roughly 130 hours to beat the game, of which over 30 hours was new content. Despite Kasumi's very late arrival and the outdated graphics, the changes in Persona 5 Royal are really compelling and I heartily recommend it if you liked Persona 5. For those who haven't played the original, Royal's release marks the perfect occasion to jump into the very best JRPG of this generation.
Review based on a Japanese version of the game.
After graduating from a French business school, Thomas felt an irresistible force drawing him to study Japanese, which eventually led him to Japanese Profeciency Test level 1 in 2012. During the day, Thomas is a normal account manager. But at night he becomes Ryuzaki57, an extreme otaku gamer hungry for Japanese games (preferably with pretty girls in the main role). His knowledge now allows him to import games at Japanese release for unthinkable prices, and then tell everyone about them. You may also find him on French video games media. Feel free to contact on twitter at @Ryuz4ki57
This review is based on a retail copy of Persona 5 Royal for the PS4