Atlus’ anthem to the spirit of youthful rebellion and change has never been better.
Persona 5 was already one of the best games ever made, so the challenge of making it even better seems insurmountable. And yet, that’s exactly what Atlus set out to do with Persona 5 Royal. In the vein of Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden, which served to enhance and expand upon Persona 3 and 4 respectively, Royal sets out to deliver the definitive version of Persona 5.
The surprising thing here isn’t that Atlus and P-Studio succeed. That they were going to succeed was a given to anyone who played Persona 4 Golden, which elevated a very good game to being an all-time great one. The truly incredible thing here is the extent to which Atlus has succeeded. Persona 5 Royal comes off the press as an idealized version of Persona 5, cleaning up the base game’s litany of minor grievances, brushing off niggling flaws, and adding and changing things, always for the better. The end result feels like a work of creative genius at the top of its game, delivering a masterful title that engages you on a narrative and mechanical level equally and entirely.
A lot of Persona 5 Royal’s merits are those that it owes to the base game. The central gameplay loop, of living out the life of a high school student over the course of one year, and managing his time, makes the transition wholesale into Royal. You still have to balance being a regular student, going to classes, studying for exams, doing homework, hanging out with friends, having a job, playing games, watching movies, reading, having a girlfriend – everything – on a day to day basis, making for a potently enamoring social sim that itself is worth the price of admission.
"Persona 5 Royal comes off the press as an idealized version of Persona 5, cleaning up the base game’s litany of minor grievances, brushing off niggling flaws, and adding and changing things, always for the better."
But as is always the case with Persona, the student life side of things is only half the story told, and Persona 5 presents a particularly unique take on the series’ tradition of paranormal twists. The protagonist and his friends find themselves able to enter a dimension where the collective unconscious materializes in substantial form, and they decide to use this ability to alter the consciences of criminals and evil and corrupt people who are shackling society’s progress and potential. This core loop at the heart of the Persona series is present in Persona 5 Royal in its best incarnation yet, with a whole spate of other major and minor improvements that polish the formula to a sheen.
These improvements permeate quite literally every part of the game. The slice of life side of things gets more activities to take up your spare time, more locations to visit, more things to do with your friends, more date spots, the ability to gift all your friends gifts, new Confidantes, and entirely new ways for you to spend your all too precious time. The changes here all take the form of additions to what we already had, not rocking the delicate balance of perfection that Persona 5 had already achieved, and only giving us a whole lot more of it.
Changes made to the dungeons and battling side of things, however, are far more dramatic, and can lead to the game having a completely refreshed pace and flow. These include redesigned dungeons (often to a substantial degree). In a lot of cases, these changes are very dramatic, in some cases completely altering the layout of several dungeon locations, and removing a lot of existing mechanics and puzzles that slowed things down, and adding new, better, quicker ones in their stead. Dungeons have also been redesigned around the enhanced mobility and stealth abilities of the protagonist, who can now not only grapple with a grappling hook, but also has far more useful stealth abilities that can help him keep the upper hand. These changes to the form of the dungeons, as well as how you navigate them, serve to make them feel far more engaging and fun than they did in the base game, where a fair few of them went on for what felt like an eternity.
"Changes to the form of the dungeons, as well as how you navigate them, serve to make them feel far more engaging and fun than they did in the base game, where a fair few of them went on for what felt like an eternity."
Similarly far-reaching changes have also been made to Mementos, the procedurally generated dungeon in the Tokyo subway that you enter, which represents the broader public’s subconsciousness in Persona 5. Since Mementos is randomly generated, its design can’t be improved, per se, but P-Studio has added a bunch of hooks and mechanics to make traversing Mementos, and exploring its depths, feel actually fun, including new collectibles that you can either exchange for rare items, or use to alter Mementos itself, in the guise of multipliers for loot, money, or EXP.
On the other hand, the battle system doesn’t see as many alterations. What it does get, instead, is a smaller number of additions, but with far wider-reaching impact and consequences. Changes to the battle system range from minor (such as the ammo for your guns recharging between battles) to extremely major, such as “Traits” for your Personas that activate latent abilities in battle, and a redesigned Baton Pass system, that adds more payoff to engaging with it, and makes battles feel even more dynamic and exciting – with the latter quality also emphasized by the entirely new tag-team “showtime” finisher moves Royal adds to the package.
The butterfly effect of the network of changes and additions in Persona 5 Royal is immense. This isn’t simply a case of taking an existing game and addressing its flaws – it’s doing that, but then also doing more, while getting all that extra stuff perfect the first time around. Persona 5 Royal is mechanically absolutely flawless, with no down time whatsoever, and no part in the game that loses your interest. Everything just flows organically – from the dungeons to the traversal and stealth mechanics to the battles to the social sim slice of life stuff, Persona 5 delivers pitch perfection when it comes to its mechanics, and delivers a unique combination entirely unlike anything else in gaming.
That uniqueness bleeds over into the game’s setup and story as well, which is an unusual blend of slice of life, paranormal urban fantasy, and a superhero story, with its central themes of a world getting worse by the day, and a group of youths who take charge to change things for the better, feeling particularly pertinent given the relentless negativity we see in the news cycle on a daily basis.
That story, which felt a bit too ambitious in Persona 5, with several contrivances, and scenes that undermined its own themes, has been cleaned up substantially in Royal. This is not only in the form of a new localization, which fixes numerous mistakes that peppered the dialog of the base game, but also entirely new additions to the story – some, which are ancillary to existing content, serve mostly to smooth out some of its issues (the most notable of these being making a certain character whose introduction felt abrupt in the original game more prominent in earlier chapters of the story). These new scenes, which mostly append to existing ones, serve to help improve the original game’s pacing, by spacing out similar dialog, and also introducing some fun events and light hearted breaks from the almost dour and single minded obsession the original game’s characters have with the Phantom Thieves’ exploits.
"Persona 5 Royal manages to stick the landing almost entirely with the new stuff it brings to the table, including a scene that is bound to go down as one of the best and most hype-inducing in the franchise’s history. "
Other story additions are far more dramatic, including new characters (who start participating in the story pretty early on), changed stories for some of the existing ones, and a new chapter that adds heightened stakes and an entirely new conflict for the Phantom Thieves. The new content is resoundingly excellent, with literally all of it not just standing out on its own due to how great it is, but also greatly enhancing what we already got in the base story.
It’s very rare that appendices, additions, and alterations to an already complete story go well – just ask George Lucas how his changes to the original Star Wars trilogy were received by the fanbase, for example. It’s something even Persona fans are familiar with, with a lot of the new content in Persona 3 FES or Persona 4 Golden having been met with a decidedly more mixed reception than the base game (such as The Answer in Persona 3 FES, or Marie’s entire character in Persona 4 Golden). Persona 5 Royal, however, manages to stick the landing almost entirely with the new stuff it brings to the table, including a scene that is bound to go down as one of the best and most hype-inducing in the franchise’s history. The exact range of impressions of the new content will, obviously, vary from person to person, but I feel very confident in saying that almost everyone will at the very least find the new content great, which only serves as additive to what we already had.
In general, that appears to be the approach that Royal has taken on everything: take, for example, the game’s overwhelming sense of style, which is something that Persona 5 became particularly well known for. Persona 5 Royal makes it even more impossibly stylish, adding little flairs and flourishes that make this game achieve its singular sense of aesthetic. Or consider the soundtrack. Persona 5’s acid jazz rocking music was already in the pantheon of the all time great video game soundtracks. Persona 5 Royal adds to that with a bunch of new songs, which range from very good to quite possibly the best song in the series – which, again, when your series is so accomplished at delivering great music, is saying something.
"That’s what Persona 5 Royal does – where possible to improve things, it does, and makes a great thing better. Where making something better is not possible – mostly because Persona 5 already struck perfection with those things to begin with – Persona 5 Royal just gives us more of it."
And that’s what Persona 5 Royal does – where possible to improve things, it does, and makes a great thing better. Where making something better is not possible – mostly because Persona 5 already struck perfection with those things to begin with – Persona 5 Royal just gives us more of it. There is no single change or addition in Persona 5 Royal that doesn’t at least improve the experience in some way or the other, and we come away with a game that is very literally the culmination of JRPGs as a genre. It is hard to imagine we will get a JRPG or turn based game that will be better than Royal. So overwhelmingly great it is, in fact, that it is easy to see it winning over converts from people who otherwise stay away from those types of games.
Persona 5 was very near greatness and perfection when it came out. It had a list of flaws and shortcomings, but what it did well, it did so well that those flaws mattered far less. Persona 5 Royal has finally delivered on the full potential that Persona 5 hinted at. By sanding out its rough edges by addressing its shortcomings, and delivering a bunch of additions and changes that elevate the quality of an already sublime experience even further, we get a game that is just about perfect – there are no flaws that bog the experience, or if there are, they are so minuscule that they don’t even register as you are playing the game.
And so, delivering a genre- and generation-defining experience, Persona 5 Royal ends up being a home run in every regard. With its substantial spate of new improvements and additions to an already fantastic core package, this is the definitive way of playing one of the greatest games ever made.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Takes the base Persona 5 package and makes it better all around - an extremely compelling and addictive gameplay loop with no downtime; extremely dynamic and stylish battle system that will appeal even to people who avoid turn-based games; excellent characters; am incredible soundtrack; immense, overwhelming sense of style; singular sense of aesthetic; a very ambitious story with themes that are especially pertinent today; every single new addition to the base game is for the better
A somewhat slow start
Taking a great game and making it even better, Persona 5 Royal is near perfect, and the definitive way of playing one of the greatest games ever made.