Looking back on the past decade, 2017 was arguably one of the best years for video games. Aside from the launch of the Nintendo Switch, we got ground-breaking games like Horizon Zero Dawn, PlayerUnknowns Battlegrounds, and Nioh. There was a bunch of outstanding indies, such as Cuphead, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Hollow Knight, and amazing additions to long-running franchises, like Nier: Automata, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, and Super Mario: Odyssey. Oh, and a little game that featured a boy who could finally jump. You might have heard of it.
Arguably, you could make a ‘Top Ten Best Videogames of the Past Decade’ list out of only releases from 2017. Which means that, more likely than not, there’s at least one release that may have fallen by the wayside in the three years since. Enter Persona 5 Royal – the half-remake, half-expansion to the 2017 JRPG Persona 5 that was featured heavily in many 2017 end-of-year lists, but may have been lost in the noise of the dozens of stunning games that came out then and have come out since.
There are two questions that are posed by Persona 5 Royal: one by newcomers to the franchise (or even to turn-based JRPGs as a whole), and another by those familiar to the game already.
For newcomers, that question is “Is Persona 5 Royal good?” The answer is an emphatic “Yes”. Persona 5 is a deep, engrossing game, that revels in all the weirdest aspects and tropes of not only turn-based RPGs, but arguably anime in general, whilst never ostracising its audience
In Persona 5 Royal, you play as Joker, a protagonist in the mould of many a teen high school drama. Half your time is spent in the real world, doing things a regular teenager would do in metropolitan Tokyo: playing video games, hanging with your friends, studying for exams, making questionable fast food choices, as well as some things a regular teenager doesn’t do, like getting involved with the yakuza or flirting with your homeroom teacher.
This is balanced out with the second half of your time in-game, where you go on dungeon-crawling adventures with your friends (plus a talking cat) to ‘steal the hearts’ of evil people in the real world. How do you do that? By venturing into their psyche (called palaces) and fighting them using your Pokémon-style Personas. And you do all of this in stylish costumes that include leather coats, skull masks, a hot-red dominatrix get-up and a floating spaceship.
Yeah, it’s a lot. But, trust me, it’s a lot in the best possible way. Where most other turn-based RPGs fail to balance their wide-scoping story and intricate mechanics, Persona 5, and subsequently Persona 5 Royal, reels you in with stylish design choices, dynamic gameplay, nuanced storytelling, and a soundtrack that frankly slaps. Not to mention that the game has been graphically polished from the ground-up, including optimisation for the PS4 Pro (finally). It’s an absolute delight to look at and hear, if nothing else.
The second question, the one asked by those familiar to Persona 5 already, is simply “Is this necessary?” And the answer again is “Yes, but it takes a while to get there.”
For the first half of the game, Persona 5 Royal is a rehash of the original with extra gameplay mechanics and quality of life fixes. This means that everything from dungeon-crawling, to persona abilities, to everyday activities have been fixed to make the game smoother and as stress-free as possible. Most of these are welcome, even if it sometimes feels like you’re cheating your past self. That said, the ability to at least do some tasks after leaving a palace, even if they’re confined to your home, is easily the most welcome addition.
There’s also extra tidbits that long-time fans will appreciate, like the Thieves Den, which aside from being a glorified special features section, also includes the number one time-sink of any modern RPG: the playing-card-based gambling game.
It’s in the latter half of the game that Persona 5 Royal takes a sharp turn into new territory. The new end-game plot leans heavily on the two newly introduced characters: Takuto Maruki, the dapper school councillor, and Kasumi, the red-headed first-year student who’s featured prominently in much of the promotional images for Persona 5 Royal. Both characters aren’t exactly who they seem, and a whole new mystery unravels over the course of a new school semester.
To some, these additions might be superfluous, or even contradictory to the story originally told in the vanilla Persona 5. The additional story beats of more than a few of the existing characters are sure to be controversial amongst sections of the Persona fandom that’s for sure. But for the most part, the extra content plays out as an elegant addition to not only Persona 5, but Persona as a whole.
For those going into Persona 5, the Persona franchise, or just JRPGs for the first time, there is no better introduction than Persona 5 Royal. Is it the quintessential version of the game, and an outstanding example of what this genre can do at its very best. For those returning, there’s more than enough in both new additions and fixes to bring you back into the world of the Phantom Thieves, even if it takes a while to get there.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher