If you’re interested in Persona 5 Royal, chances are you’ve already played Persona 5. And if you’ve already played Persona 5, chances are you loved it.
The Japanese RPG received upon its 2017 English release, exciting players with a satisfying blend of school life and dungeon crawling. If that wasn’t enough, the engaging turn-based battles came wrapped in striking style and a funky acid jazz soundtrack, making Persona 5 one of the most memorable games of the year.
Releasing Mar. 31, Persona 5 Royal is essentially the same game with a few tweaks and additions. The biggest change is the inclusion of several new characters, most notably gymnast Kasumi Yoshizawa. There are more activities, new areas, revamped battles, expanded dungeons, and a couple of new mechanics. However, like piling sweets atop an iced cake, none of this alters the game’s delicious base.
Whether that’s good or bad depends upon your point of view.
Both Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal place you in the shoes of a high school student whose undeservedly bad reputation has followed them to their new school. Adults think you’re a problem, and other kids believe you’re dangerous. It’s shaping up to be a miserable and lonely year. That is, until you awaken the supernatural power that allows you to enter people’s psyches (known as “Palaces”) and steal their evil desires.
Much like our own world, Persona 5 is full of exploitative adults inflicting suffering upon others for their own gain. It’s a cruel, unjust society driven by greed and apathy. However, by fighting their subconscious selves in a Pokémon-like battle and stealing their desires, you can induce a “change of heart” and prompt them to repent.
You also have to maintain a normal high school life while doing so, keeping up with your studies, making friends, and even working a part-time job. Fortunately, Persona 5 makes hanging out with friends just as engaging as dungeon-crawling with them. Regardless of whether you’re levelling up relationships or yourself, there’s a constant sense of accomplishment and progress.
If you haven’t played Persona 5, discovering the joys of optimising your schedule is a ton of fun even if you aren’t a big bullet-journaling nerd. Persona 5 Royal’s new additions may be lost on you, but that doesn’t matter when the base game is already terrific. If you did play Persona 5, the tweaks are a great excuse to replay the 100-hour game. Royal feels as though it’s aimed at fans, with revamped character portraits and familiar faces appearing earlier than expected like in-jokes. However, you will be more sensitive to the changes, and not all of them are improvements.
The differences start from Persona 5 Royal’s brand new cinematic opening, which feels busier and not quite as catchy as Persona 5’s slick opening. This immediately signposts Royal‘s new, alternate universe — it’s still Persona 5, but not quite as you remember.
At least one of Royal’s alterations address fan gripes from Persona 5. Rather than not-a-cat Morgana enforcing your bedtime with an iron paw, you can now do stat-boosting activities during the evening such as cleaning the cafe for Kindness or studying for Knowledge. It feels less like you’re wasting time, which is great considering how much of the game is time management.
However, most changes aren’t so much improvements as optional additions. Palaces have a few extra rooms, as well as Will Seeds which coalesce into equipment once all are collected. The new grappling hook looks and feels cool, though it can only be used at certain allocated points, much like jumping. Some enemies, or Shadows, have been upgraded to Disaster Shadows which damage other enemies upon defeat.
Boss battles have been tweaked, some Shadows’ weaknesses changed, and endless dungeon Mementos now have a new shop. Relatively minor alterations are also found in student life, including new areas to visit with friends. None of this drastically changes the game, but together it’s just enough to make fans curious for a replay.
There are a few bigger changes, such as the Thieves’ Hideout. However I’m not a big fan of virtual trophy rooms, so this didn’t thrill me. It’s nice to be able to rewatch cutscenes or play some of the game’s jazzy musical tracks, but this could just have easily been achieved by a menu. Running between platforms to access this content is just annoying.
Further, you have to buy this content with P Medals. These are earned by fulfilling objectives during general gameplay, or by playing new mini-game Tycoon. Though the card game is mildly entertaining for a few rounds, it’s completely separate from the main game and doesn’t affect in-game progress. As a result, it ends up feeling like that waste of time you’re trying to avoid.
Arguably the biggest change is the introduction of Kasumi Yoshizawa. There are three new characters in Persona 5 Royal, one of them the owner of Mementos’ new shop, but most promotion has focused on Kasumi.
The concept of an entirely new playable character is exciting. A fresh addition to your party, Kasumi is a talented gymnast and student who transfers to your school around the same time as you. Unfortunately, Persona 5 Royal incorporates Kasumi rather clumsily at the outset. The new girl doesn’t so much as slide quietly in like a phantom thief as loudly declare her presence, practically crowing about how awesome she is.
Kasumi’s insertion in the opening sequence causes it to lose focus, interrupting the flow and diluting the player character’s introduction as the cool, competent leader. I found myself resenting her a bit — it was my hero moment, not hers. She then proceeds to pop up randomly during the early game without contributing to the main narrative, feeling more like a distraction than anything.
While other characters such as Ann and Ryuji naturally join the plot as their storylines dovetail with the protagonist’s, Kasumi feels tacked on, appearing just to remind the player she’s there. It’s unsurprising in a way, since she wasn’t in Persona 5 at all, but it would have been less jarring were she was introduced later and more naturally.
Kasumi hasn’t joined my party yet, so I can’t speak as to her abilities. Most of the truly new content is deeper into the game, including her storyline. At 16 hours in, having just finished the first Palace and unlocked Mementos, I’m far from seeing Persona 5 Royal’s new Palace or meeting the last new character — a Confidant you can build a relationship with to gain new abilities.
Still, I don’t begrudge the wait. It’s been long enough since Persona 5 was released that the replay feels exciting, particularly with the changes. And if it means the new characters and stories are better integrated into the main narrative, I’m all for it.
If you enjoyed Persona 5 you’ll enjoy Persona 5 Royal, though it’s hard to say it’s necessarily better. It’s just slightly different. As such, the $60 price tag may feel steep to all those but die-hard fans and total newbies, as anyone hoping for a completely new experience will be disappointed — particularly as Persona 5 is available for $20.
Personally, having played over 200 hours of Persona 5, I’ve been able to enjoy Royal‘s changes and largely gloss over aspects that don’t quite work. I do however miss popular exploits such as Confusion farming, the removal of which has made it harder to max out your bank balance.
Please, Royal. You gave me the fantasy of righting injustice with a close group of supernaturally-powered friends. Leave me my fantasy of unlimited wealth.
Persona 5 Royal launches Mar. 31 on PlayStation 4.
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