[Review] Persona 5 Royal Steals the Same Hearts As The Original

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Persona 5 Royal (P5R) is a confusing game. It is the definitive version of Persona 5 (2016) and does add new characters and story elements. However, it’s releasing on the same console (read: to the same audience) as an original while not departing too far from its predecessor. In a 2020 filled with remakes and re-releases, does Persona 5 Royal deserve a look?

The answer is complicated. For the most part, I loved Persona 5, logging in over 100 hours and waiting expectedly for the release of P5R. And the wait was well worth it! P5R definitely didn’t disappoint. For the most part, the things I loved about the original – the music, the story, the character interactions and development, the combat, the art style – were enhanced or developed further in P5R.

For example, the lovable characters of the Persona series (and JRPGs in general) are foundational to the experience. The interaction and growth between the members of the Phantom Thieves grounds the otherwise otherworldly experience in the lives and struggles of these high school students.

P5R adds to the already expansive character development moments of Persona 5 by making the world feel a little more lived in. Characters who appear later, like Makoto and Haru, are seen wandering the halls of Shujin Academy in the first few chapters. New locations and events occur as well, giving players new settings to see the Phantom Thieves interact. Finally, there are completely new story developments particularly around the new characters, the Phantom Thief Kasumi Yoshizawa and school counselor Takuto Maruki. The additional semester certainly adds more hours and events to socialize with the Phantom Thieves, but the plethora of content added to the original semester could support the weight of the character development on its own.

If the high school simulator was one highly regarded aspect of Persona 5, the travels into the cognitive world (or the “Metaverse”) and the battles that ensured were the other. This is where most the changes were tangibly felt, as the battle system became dramatically upgraded from its previous iteration. Quality of life changes – gun ammo refilled after every battle, baton pass automatic, more technical (‘critical hit”) options, easier way to get exp/money, and easier way to get higher level Persona thanks to some changes in confidant skills – all made battles more multi-dimensional. It’s less “find the enemy weakness and exploit it” and more team-oriented combo attacks to weaken the enemy. In my time, most the battles became more tactile and a test of my skill rather than just rote button presses. Certain dungeon changes, like Will Seeds which, when found, heal some HP and SP, made dungeons less of a slog and more manageable with one run. Less time dungeon crawling (which was made more fun anyways because it was less of a grind) means more relationship building time with the Phantom Thieves!

While these changes are welcome and flesh out the game experience in positive and meaningful ways, P5R still remains squarely Persona 5… with some additional features. That is, it functionally is the same turn-based 100hr long JRPG game fans have been playing since its release in 2016. 

These qualities that turned off some gamers to the Persona 5 experience still exist in the game and new features don’t feel like they were implemented with new fans in mind. Instead, these additional features act like a breath of fresh air to the fans of the series, ones who have likely put in hundreds of hours into the original game. But even for this population (like myself), the experience is so similar at times that it feels like playing the original, for better or worse. For example, the tutorial portion (up to when your party expands to 4) was long and almost shot-for-shot the original game. It’s easy to see how someone who has played this portion multiple times might lose patience. 

Perhaps because I enjoyed the vanilla Persona 5, I truly enjoyed P5R and think it’s still one of the best games on the markets. There are certainly ways it could have been better – allowing relationships with all Phantom Thieves, skipping the tutorials, or introducing Kasumi and Akechi into the party earlier, among others – but regardless, I was excited to jump back into the world of the Phantom Thieves.

Again, it’s not a game for everyone. It’s certainly the most definitive Persona 5 experience you’ll get, so if you’ll looking to get in or come back to the series, you’ll find a great experience ahead.

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