I remember when Persona 5 first came out, it seemed like everyone I knew lost their minds over it. It always seemed like a game I would enjoy, but finding time to play a 100 hour+ game I’m not writing about is a tall order. As a result of this, I was able to play Persona 5 Royal as if it was a brand-new game and having minimal expectations outside of being reasonably sure I’d enjoy it. What I’ve found is so much more than I expected. After playing through the game, reading walkthroughs of the original version, and conferring with colleagues, is the new additions have been integrated seamlessly into what was there, and everything flows smoothly. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a brand-new game released for the first time this year.
I am thou…
From the first moments in P5R, I felt a bond with the main character Joker, who is shown to have caught a raw deal from the adults in his life. Not only was he accused of doing something he didn’t do, merely because he tried to help someone in danger, but also his parents seemed to have failed to back him up at all. They sent him off to stay with a family friend, who at first seems not only to be a total hardass, but also a real creeper. For example, one of the first things Sakura Sojiro says is it’s weird to save a man’s number on his phone. He seemed angry and resentful he now had a man’s number saved on his phone… which is all-around weird and set a bit of an odd tone in the beginning.
The theme of being unfairly labeled by adults in society is one that repeats itself throughout Persona 5 Royal. Nearly all of the main cast have had to deal with this issue specifically. The ones who don’t exactly fall into this vein find their motivation in rebellion against the adults who are trying to force them to do various things. Rebellion is also one of the central themes of P5R, and it’s a common one in JRPGs in general. What sets P5R apart from the rest is it doesn’t just stop at the “woo rebel against authority” message. It also delves into the drawbacks of such actions, and how nefarious people can seize onto noble causes to further their agendas.
For each of the main characters who join Joker on this adventure, the way they awaken their persona is by deciding they would rather fight back against the forces seeking to control them instead of just accepting their situation. In doing this, they awaken their Persona, which is, in essence, the part of themselves which they had been pushing down and hiding. However, in their moment of rebellion decided to embrace that part of themselves. It’s a concept that particularly resonated with me because I struggled for years to come to terms with who I am and to accept what I didn’t like about myself. This is a struggle which most people can probably relate to as well, even if their struggles weren’t as pointed.
Playing into this concept, all of the characters who I interacted with throughout the game proved to be far more in-depth and complicated than they seemed at first. Through talking with them and getting to know them better, they all opened up and let me understand their personal lives and struggles on a deeper level. Even Sojiro, whom I had a bit unfairly labeled early due to an offensive comment, turned out to be far more interesting and complex of a character than I expected. There were more than a few points where his choices and reactions surprised me, but they all felt like honest expressions of who he was. Even Ann, who at first seemed like she’s pretty one-note and stereotypical, proved to be complex and exciting as well. Honestly, all of the characters felt worth getting to know and spend time with.
It’s also interesting to me that the default viewpoint of Persona 5 Royal does seem to be people aren’t bad, or even evil from the get-go. While the various targets are all “bad” people, some seemingly beyond any redemption, P5R also presents all of them as people who, for various reasons, have let their desires become distorted, and this has, in turn, affected how they interact with the world. By going into the “metaverse,” which is a version of the world that only exists in people’s minds and stealing the target’s treasure, the Phantom Thieves can trigger what is called a change of heart in the target.
It might strike you as being potentially problematic for some random group of people to traipse into a person’s psyche and force what amounts to a personality change on them, all of this against the target’s will. The Phantom Thieves might have good intentions, but it’s still an immense power to wield. Also, what if someone with less than good intentions could make use of the metaverse? Thankfully P5R doesn’t shy away from these questions. In fact, it is a topic brought up repeatedly, and it was excellent seeing how each member of the team dealt with this question in their own way.
… Thou art I
The gameplay of Persona 5 Royal is just as layered as the characters are. I was a little more than halfway through P5R before I felt like the tutorial was complete. The first layer is Joker’s daily life as a generally regular 2nd-year high school student. First, there’s the normal taking the train to school every day and trying, but mostly failing to pay attention in class. Secondly, I also had to deal with the social aspects of high school life throughout the game. I don’t know about anyone else, but the social side of high school was not great for me, so it felt weird and yet oddly familiar to step into Joker’s shoes on this one. The social requirements are mostly filled through the confidant system, which helped with providing more structure to my game time.
Nineteen confidants can be obtained in P5R, some of which happened automatically no matter what choices I made. Others had to be sought out and are easily missed. I didn’t get one solely because I decided to ignore getting a job for a long time, which made one of the confidants think I wasn’t worth their time. You see, every confidant has a reason to want to be around you, and part of the deal with them offering me help was I also had to help them with their thing. Confidants are the main reason why I often felt like I never had enough time because spending time with each one takes up at least one time segment of the day. Occasionally some of them would take the whole day up. Nonetheless, aside from offering a multitude of bonuses throughout P5R, they are also interesting and worth your time.
One of the things which makes Joker unique is, unlike everyone else, he can acquire many different personas. This offers a variety of advantages. The first is in keeping a wide array of personas available on Joker I nearly always could hit an opponent’s weakness regardless of who I had in my active party. Additionally, every confidant and every persona is part of a specific arcana, and having the right ones helped immensely. For example, Ann has the Lovers arcana, so as long as I also had a persona of that arcana when I spent time with her, I’d get a bonus on rep gains with her. These rep gains can make a huge difference, especially when working on the last few confidant ranks.
There are also five skills that need to be leveled up throughout the game: charm, kindness, proficiency, guts, and knowledge. At first, I had a hard time with both guts and charm, as it seemed like there weren’t many ways to level those up. However, once I got most of the way through P5R, I found there were a plethora of ways to level those skills, and they were the two I capped out first. I do wish the progress image for the skills was more helpful as there is no way to tell how close I was to finishing a skill tier.
The other side of gameplay is time spent in mementos and palaces, otherwise known as the metaverse. Specifically, a palace is a place constructed in the mind of whomever our target was to protect their treasure. Momentoes, on the other hand, are a shared cognition of the general public, so it doesn’t belong to any one person. The metaverse starts reasonably limited in scope, but as I progressed through P5R, there was more and more to do there. One of my favorite aspects of mementos is the ability to augment them to give extra XP, items, and money. Being able to augment them in this way made spending time there feel even more rewarding.
Combat is also layered and complex, but P5R does an outstanding job of teaching the basics and even some of the advanced tactics. By learning what each shadow is weak to, I could often come out of fights without ever being attacked directly. Additionally, the holdup mechanic, which happens when all of the opposing force has been knocked down, is a delight as well. During a holdup, I could have everyone attack and deal a ton of extra damage, or I could try to talk the mob into joining me, giving me money, or handing over an item. Not all shadows would talk, but the ones who were willing to were interesting, and figuring out the right things to say to each was fun.
As the story progressed, I also unlocked special attacks where two of my party would team up to deal significant damage to whomever we were fighting. I’m not sure of all the requirements to unlock all of these, but showtimes were highly entertaining and extremely helpful in some of the harder fights. Showtimes will also become available even if only one of the pair is in the active party. For example, the first showtime which was unlocked was for Ann and Mona. I only needed to have Ann or Mona in the active party to have their showtime activate. All of the pairings I saw were great, and the cutscene which played fit both characters perfectly. Additionally, it was helpful that each of these scenes could be skipped if I was bored of seeing them or, for any reason, was in a hurry to finish a fight.
There’s only one aspect of the combat that rubbed me wrong, and it concerns a particular fight nearing the end of P5R. It’s a long fight with a lot of rules and restrictions which worked together to make it a challenging fight. One issue I have with this fight is there is a pretty significant element of luck to it. For example, each wave had to be defeated at the same time, or at least if one was killed, they all needed to be killed before their turn came up again. One of the waves near the end was pretty beefy and would take me two rounds to defeat. However, on a few of my attempts, the boss would order one of them to explode on the first round they were up (rather than second), which effectively meant I had one round to kill them. This made the whole thing more frustrating than needed.
The more significant issue with this fight, however, is it was easier when I bumped the game up to merciless difficulty. To be clear merciless is the hardest difficulty, but it makes this particular fight easier to finish, which is counterintuitive as hell. I first tried the logical thing, which was reducing the difficulty down to easy. Unfortunately, changing the gameplay to easy made this fight significantly harder. The reason for this disparity is in easy mode, the mobs become damage sponges. Whereas on merciless, the damage done with weakness attacks and technicals went up substantially, but they didn’t seem to do more damage to me. It feels like a design flaw to have the hardest mode be the easiest way to beat a fight.
Thou hast acquired a new vow
One of the best aspects of Persona 5 Royal is how seamlessly all of the new content was integrated. Coming from the perspective of someone who hadn’t played the original release, there wasn’t any content that stuck out as obviously added in later. One of my favorite additions is the grappling hook, but I was convinced it had always been in Persona 5 originally. It’s used as one of the primary ways to traverse tricky areas in palaces, but in reality, the grappling hook was added in P5R, and some of the palace layouts were slightly changed to accommodate it. Comparing layouts between both game versions, the palaces in P5R are more intricate and less straight forward, which is a massive bonus because figuring how to get around each palace was one of my favorite parts of P5R.
Three new characters are also seamlessly woven into the narrative. I briefly referred to Jose earlier; he is who I needed to interact with to augment mementos. He’s also unique in that it’s heavily implied he’s not human, but it’s also not clear precisely what he is. Yoshizawa Kasumi and Maruki Takuro are also new characters and new confidants. Out of all of them, I’d say Maruki feels a bit shoehorned. Still, I think that’s just because the concept of a school recognizing it’s students have been through traumatic experiences and hiring someone to help them with that feels unrealistic to me.
The city of Kichijoji is also a new addition, but it’s seamlessly introduced. At first, there wasn’t much I could do there, but eventually, the darts/billiards room and Jazz club opened up. Both of those activities were a lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed playing darts with my teammates. It’s a cool mini-game which was simple to get the hang of, but mastering it took some practice. Plus, playing darts with my teammates allowed me to level up our baton pass ranks, which offered all kinds of cool bonuses and made a difference when I got near the end of P5R.
Those are just the main differences that felt like they had the most significant impact on my gameplay. There are tons of other additions and changes, all of which made it feel like P5R is the definitive version of Persona 5. The extra semester was good, and that’s one of the few apparent additions to the game, but at the same time, it still felt like it could have always been there. However, even with the increased amount of free time, I still often didn’t have the time to do everything I wanted to do.
It shall become the wings of rebellion
I’m honestly happy I waited until Persona 5 Royal came out to play Persona 5. It is well polished and feels like a game that could have come out for the first time this year. This is absolutely an excellent example of how to rerelease a game and make paying full price for it worthwhile. For me to only have minor complaints about a game, which is easily well over 100 hours of gameplay, even if you don’t do everything is rare. If you loved original Persona 5, Royal is worth your time. If you’ve never played the original or any other Persona game, Persona 5 Royal is a perfect game to pick-up and get into the series.