Persona 5 Royal Review
The following is an updated version of my review-in-progress for Persona 5 Royal. It contains additional impressions, final thoughts, and the actual review score. Hence, the smooth blend of old words and new ones. In fact, it’s a little bit like Persona 5 Royal itself!
Persona 5 exploded onto the scene way back in 2016. While it was a gorgeous game in its own right, it was PS3 gorgeous. On top of that, there was DLC released for the game, and the developers had a thing or two they wanted to tune up. As such, Atlus is gifting us all with Persona 5 Royal. Better graphics, new content, new characters, and all that DLC you might have missed. It’s a fabulous version of a fantastic game.
If you’ve forgotten the gritty bits of the Persona 5 narrative, here’s a helpful primer! You play a troubled teenage high school student who is entrusted with terrifying powers and decides to use them for good. By entering the minds of various scummy losers, you can steal their hearts and force them to be better people. Or maybe they just suffer irreparable mental trauma. It’s a roll of the dice, really. You exercise this power through gods/delusions/monsters known as Persona. Like all enviable powers, yours is honed and elevated by forming stronger bonds with the people you meet. Going on dates, doing odd jobs, performing well in your exams, and seeing good movies also help build your best self. This is all stock and standard for the larger Persona/Shin Megami Tensei franchise. So what have I discovered that’s new and exciting?
Socialize To Save Lives
For the sensitive souls among you, here’s where I dig into spoiler-type content. You’ve been warned! Anyways, there’s a new feature introduced at the very beginning of the story. I was shocked when I learned this wasn’t in the base game. How did people get through Palaces before without a grappling hook? It doesn’t come up all that often, but it feels like certain parts of stages are designed around it. What did you all do before? Climb, like a peasant would? Preposterous. There are new characters as well, and it doesn’t take too long before you meet them. Jose gives you more to do while running around the Mementos, such as collecting flowers in exchange for items and bonuses. Kasumi is nothing less than a delight. The boss encounters have apparently been tweaked, but I’ll have to take their word for it. As someone who has Persona’d a time or two before, the fights felt very on par with previous entries in the series. Tough but fair, with a healthy dash of strategy thrown in. Another new feature is the Showtime attack.
Think of these as smaller, more nimble All-Out Attacks. Two party members team up and wreck shop with peerless grace, complete with a skippable cutscene. It’s lovely but the real reward comes beforehand. Each time you learn a new Showtime move, you’re treated to a delightful scene between the members in question. It’s a snappy reminder that small moments are the backbone of this game. Never mind the thrilling battles, show me more teenagers clumsily navigating interpersonal development. Better still is how seamless the integration of these new features feels. Maybe it’s my lack of experience with the original, but the Showtime moves, Kasumi, and Jose all fit perfectly into the existing narrative. It’s nigh-impossible to tell where old ends and the new begins.
As this is my first run through Persona 5, I’m struck by several things. First, they just keep getting better. Small improvements made from title to title have resulted in a final product that’s slick, shiny, and expertly crafted. Second, these are curated, bespoke game experiences. By that I mean you are locked into the game’s inherent pace. Events will proceed one day at a time, buttressed by casual social interaction and personal growth, and that’s the final word on the matter. Any delusions you entertain about breezing through this game will remain exactly that until you venture into New Game Plus territory. This wouldn’t be a problem, were I not playing this game for a review. Those kinds of conditions can easily turn a big game into an oppressive one. Without that very particular constraint, the size of Persona 5 Royal could be a major boon. Especially if you’re reading this right after it’s been published and you’re stuck inside for a non-specified amount of time.
Believe The Hype
I am a fool for keeping this game on the back burner for so long. Persona 5 Royal is everything I hoped it would be and more. The combat is slick and stylish, the writing hits hard and fast, and the music is hopelessly infectious. There’s a host of little quality of life upgrades, like the notifications built into the fast-travel map. Now, I know ahead of time what’s in store at every part of the neighborhood. On the one hand, the story goes from zero to sixty in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, I feel an unusual confidence in all my time-sensitive choices. One way or another, this madcap story will resolve. Unlike in previous Persona games, the intricate combat system has been laid out in perfect clarity. Every new mechanic fits neatly among the rest, until my battles are a dizzying dance, shadows crumbling to dust around me.
Scoring this game means holding the original in my head beside the new version. Keeping in mind that I’ve never played the original, how am I to judge with any fidelity the merits of the upgrade? The two ideas have dissolved into one, now. There was only ever Royal, only ever this crisp, scaled-up, post-montage assemblage. The gameplay pacing is a brutal slog at times, the narrative making a full meal out of every conflict and emotional development. Yet the execution is still masterful, still compelling. If you’ve played the original Persona 5, I can’t commit to the green light. I know there’s so much more to see on this second lap, but the first one was more or less a full marathon. If you’ve never played before however, that’s a different story. For first-timers, don’t hesitate for a moment. Persona 5 Royal is a fabulous RPG, one deserving the monarch’s spot atop the Atlus mountain of games.
***PS4 code was provided by the publisher***
- New content threaded through game
- Tons more to do and experience
- Game is still incredible
- Pace is rigidly enforced
- So bloody long