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Persona 5 Royal - Review


These last few weeks we've been covering video game sequels and what exactly makes a perfect one. Whether it's following up on the story or improving the gameplay. Now we're diving into a definitive version of a past game we reviewed of all things, but trust me, this is different. This is a game I actually want to talk about and explain how it ended up exceeding my expectations and improving upon the original despite being quite literally the same game expanded upon. You may be asking yourself what makes a good expansion, or a definitive version that stands out besides a graphical improvement or an FPS boost?


The goal of an expansion or definitive version of a video game is to improve upon the many problems the original version had. Either make the tedious sections of the game actually fun to play through, fix some of the mechanics or design choices so they actually work, or add a bunch of new content that wasn't in the original game and create a reason to purchase the new version. It's those ideas and also to port the game to other consoles and modern hardware, but that isn't the case here. This may sound like a corporate scheme to trick you into giving them more money for a product you already played, but there are definitive versions that have heart put into them. Like the definitive version of Original Sin 2 which not only made the game available on home consoles, but also added in voice acting and fixed the bugs the original version had.


A while back I reviewed a game named Persona 5, a JRPG released in 2017, developed by P-Studio, and published under Atlus. Before playing Persona 5, I had never been a big fan of JRPGs. They were weird, incomprehensible, and just didn’t fit my tastes. That wasn't until I played Octopath Traveler in 2018, my first ever JRPG and RPG in general. It was a magical experience that I poured dozens of hours into, and it was unlike anything I’ve played up until that point. I wanted more. Something that could remind me why I loved Octopath Traveler and feed the hunger left over when I started running out of content. A reason to look into a genre I'd normally avoid.


One year passes and I now own a Playstation 4 and a pretty good library of games. The big ones like God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Bloodborne being my favorite. One game that was recommended to me by numerous friends alike was Persona 5, and since it was summertime, and I had a free schedule, I decided to dive deep into it. It took a while for the game to open up, but once I got into the groove of things Persona 5 stole my heart. Pun intended. I spent more than three straight weeks playing the game hoping to get the most potential from it. Persona 5 was also one of few games I could play with my sister. She’s not really into video games, but she is a pretty big anime fan, and she loved the energetic feeling this game was providing us. I adored the gameplay, setting, characters, and I ate up the story like a starving tiger seeing a field full of things it loves to eat. Persona 5 is one of my favorite games in recent years. It may not be perfect or the most easily recommendable thing in the world, but it’s a game that’s worth playing through even if it takes almost one hundred hours to beat. It's one of those worlds where you wished you could stay longer even when the credits rolled.


When I heard that they were developing an expanded version of Persona 5, simply named Persona 5 Royal, I was pretty excited. Even though I had to buy the same game again for the full Triple A price of sixty dollars since Persona 5 Royal’s added content wasn’t sold as a standalone DLC or update, I was really excited to revisit a game and world I absolutely loved. It wasn’t my most anticipated game of 2020 though. My most anticipated game of 2020 was Doom Eternal which came out around the same time Persona 5 Royal released worldwide. However, after playing through the entirety of Persona 5 Royal and doing a majority of the content I missed during my first run, I can say it’s one of my favorite games of 2020 so far. I would even consider it one of my Game of The Year candidates which says a lot about the quality of the product. You can accuse me of playing favoritism and not being positive for anything that's been going on this year, but I just love Persona 5. I believe P-Studio and Atlus deserve the praise for spending so much time to improve a game that was already great to begin with.


If you're expecting an entirely new game made from the ground up then I must warn you it’s the exact same Persona 5 you remember, but the content they added makes it feel like an entirely new experience. You may even get the same amount of enjoyment and surprise as with the first playthrough of Persona 5. This review of Persona 5 Royal will contain quite a few spoilers of the opening hours, so if you're somebody who plans on playing the game then I recommend picking up Persona 5 Royal and playing through the first few ten hours before continuing through this review. Today we’ll be talking about why I personally believe Persona 5 Royal is so wonderful and why it not only deserves your attention but sets a benchmark for modern JRPGs and what is later to come. So put on the mask, set up the Nav, and prepare to steal the hearts of those with distorted desires. You can't lose with those colors flying high!


Story

We follow the role of a young teenager whose life has been turned upside down. One night he witnesses a man abusing a woman, and he steps in trying to defend her. He punches the man right in the face, and without knowing what would happen next, he is then arrested and falsely charged for physical assault. He is then expelled from his high school and his parents send him to Tokyo to attend Shujin Academy. He’s taken in by Sojiro Sakura, the owner of a humble cafe named Leblanc, and the old man knows that our main protagonist was falsely accused of assault. Sojiro tells them while he's there on probation to behave themselves and not stir up any more trouble, so that surrounding classmates and teachers won’t believe he actually committed assault.


The main protagonist then gets a strange vision during the night. A mystical pointed nose being named Igor tells him the world is unjust and that he is the only one who can set things right. The protagonist ignores what happens, and the next day on his way to Shujin Academy he makes friends with a vulgar boy named Ryuji Sakamoto. Both of them walk to Shujin together, but on the way, Ryuji talks about his abusive ex-coach named Kamoshida. Rumors are told that Kamoshida abuses the male athletic students and sexually harasses the female students, but no one is brave enough to go and report him to the school council. Without knowing a strange app activated on the main protagonist's phone, both Ryuji and the main protagonist are transported to a large ominous castle. There they are captured by a bunch of guards and a figure that heavily resembles Kamoshida, and quite in fact is Kamoshida, threatens to kill them both for trespassing. Before Ryuji gets his head chopped off, a voice begins to speak to the main protagonist. The voice and main protagonist make a deal, and at that moment the main protagonist summons his Persona dressed in a fancy tie and suit named Arsene.


Personas are beings who resemble their owner’s traits and beliefs. They take on a form to symbolize sad beliefs, and fight by their side till the end. He fends off the guards with Arsene and together Ryuji and him escape. They then meet a large talking cartoon cat named Morgana, who explains to them that they're inside Kamoshida’s Palace. A palace is a fictional place that forms within a person's heart and displays how they view the world and what they desire most. The main protagonist realizes Ryuji was right, Kamoshida is a bad man and after escaping the palace they arrive back in the real world. A few days later they try confronting Kamoshida about his sexual assault and abuse towards the students, but their then threatened to be expelled and reported to the police for false accusations. Meanwhile a female student named Ann Takamaki is seen spending time with her friend Shiho who is one of the volleyball students Kamoshida likes to pick on. Shiho is a witness to Kamoshida’s assault and after so much abuse she loses it and attempts to commit suicide. Ann is devastated by the tragic events, while Ryuji and the main protagonist discuss what they should do now that the stakes are lodged deep into their skin.


They meet up with Morgana outside of school who tells them if they traverse deeper into Kamoshida’s Palace, they can steal his treasure. By stealing his treasure, it will change his desires and force him to atone for his crimes. Ryuji and the protagonist agree to Morgana’s plan. They storm the palace and Ryuji unlocks his Persona who rides around on a lightning firing ship named Captain Kidd. Eventually Ann tails the three of them, realizes the powers they have, and decides to help them while unlocking her Persona who wears a luscious fiery dress named Carmen. They then come up with codenames for each other based on each other's masks. Ryuji is Skull, Ann is Panther, Morgana is Mona, and the main protagonist is given the name Joker for how he uses tricks to gain the upper hand. Together the four of them successfully steal Kamoshida’s treasure, change his heart, and in the real-world Kamoshida’s admits to his crimes and turns himself in for assault preventing our protagonist from being turned in.


The four characters realize the potential of their newfound powers and decide to form a team of underdogs known as The Phantom Thieves of Hearts. Together they’ll steal corrupted people’s treasure, change hearts, and bring justice to society. Joker will make a lot of friends along the way. Art student Yusuke Katigawa, student council president Makoto Nijima, and many more to come, including Kasumi Yoshizawa who is a transfer student like Joker who just came to Shunjin Academy. You relive the events which led to the formation of the Phantom Thieves, and why in the present-day Joker was finally caught. Being questioned about what happened these last few months. There is something happening behind the scenes, watching the Phantom Thieves from afar.


Gameplay

There are two main aspects to the gameplay. First there is spending time in the real world, and second is exploring the distorted world and fighting baddies. Let’s start with the distorted world first. There are two places to go in the distorted world, either a palace or the Mementos. Palaces are what you need to complete to progress with the main story. You are given a certain number of days to complete them, and if you don’t steal the ruler's treasure before the last day, you fail and have to start over from a previous save. There are plenty of enemies to encounter and some of them roam with tremendous power built up within them. You can sneak by them if you choose, but try not to get spotted. If you're spotted by an enemy an alarm will come up. Enemies will begin searching for you and more will sometimes be spawned to help search. An alarm meter also fills up and if you cause too much attention you’ll be booted out of the palace and forced to continue exploring the next day.


The Mementos is this endless tunnel you traverse to do side missions. The more you progress through the main story the deeper the Mementos get, and the deeper you go the stronger enemies you encounter. By the end of the game, you are required to reach the end, but early on you just go there to explore and complete side quests. Unlike palaces you can’t get booted out, but each floor of the Mementos is randomly generated. Think of it as the roguelike mode. You traverse each floor not knowing what to expect. The Mementos is also a good place to level up and obtain rare resources.


When an enemy decides to pick a fight with you or you start the fight yourself, you enter a good old fashioned JRPG turned based battle. Joker and up three companions take turns fighting off enemies until none remain. Your companions can fall during battles although they can be revived, but if Joker dies during a fight, it’s game over and you start back at a previous save point unless it’s a mini-boss or boss fight. Enemies have weaknesses, most of them elemental, so you may want to use abilities they are weak to. For example, Ryuji has lighting attacks, so using that against an enemy weak to lighting will stun them. It's an old game of rock, paper, and scissors.


Unlike the original version where you had to unlock it for each companion, now you can baton pass between each ally. When you hit an enemy with a weakness you can baton pass to another character and increase the damage they deal. What makes this mechanic unique is that it stacks, so you can hit one enemy with their weakness to then have the next character hit another enemy with their weakness and pass. Some battles you'll want to baton pass to a fourth character, so they unleash a wave of fury. If you weaken all the enemies then your entire party has the ability to perform a powerful All-Out-Attack, which deals massive amounts of damage to every foe.


Each of your allies have one Persona, but Joker has the ability to hold multiple Personas at once. By negotiating with enemies in the field you can gain their help and unlock new abilities. You can even visit a place known as the Velvet Room, where you can fuse two Personas together to make a stronger one. It's like Pokémon, but there's an actual incentive to hunt down and retrieve stronger Personas.


What’s new this time around are the Showtime Attacks. You unlock them around the time you get to the third palace, but unlike All-Out-Attacks you don’t have to weaken each enemy to use it. They randomly appear during battles or stressful scenarios. Two characters team up to deal incredible amounts of damage to one foe, and they may even have a chance to one shot them. However certain Showtime Attacks have to be unlocked by progressing through the story, but between them and the All-Out-Attacks, I prefer the Showtime Attacks. Sure, it's a randomized mechanic that removes the challenge of the fight, but they're fun to watch, have stylish animation, add more variety to battles, and make references to popular films and shows.


Well, I just spent half a paragraph talking about the distorted world, now it’s time to talk about what you do in the real world. What’s weird is that I loved spending time in the real world as much, maybe more than the distorted world, even though the distorted world had combat and exploration. In the real world you have loads of things to do. Go to school, read books, get a part time job, purchase items and equipment from shops to help you during fights, etc. What’s most important though are your confidants.


You have the option to spend time with friends or special NPCs, and by doing so you can increase your bond with them and unlock unique skills. Spending time with team members allows them to do more during battle, and spending time with random folks allows you to unlock new abilities. You can even get something special by maxing out your bond with team members. I enjoyed this aspect, because this helped me learn more about each character and appreciate them. Practicing with Ryuji by jogging around the school, helping Yusuke paint his new creation, helping Ann with her modeling career, you get the idea. However, you’ll hit a roadblock at times. Certain characters you can’t hang out with unless you raise your Social Stats.


There are five categories for Social Stats: Guts, Proficiency, Charm, Kindness, and Knowledge. You can increase them by doing certain activities, but it takes a lot of time before you can increase one of them to another rank. I kind of hate this aspect, it does motivate the player to do other things but sometimes I just want to spend more time with my friends. Why do I need more knowledge to hang out with Makoto? Wouldn’t it just be simple to say hi and get to know her. However, this does get the player to try out more of the side stuff rather than power through each relationship. Anyways that’s enough of the gameplay. Persona 5 Royal is both a life simulator and JRPG that stays true to what made the original so great. Hopefully you can stop the baddies of the world and bring peace back to society.


Thoughts

If you couldn’t tell by now, Persona 5 Royal is a game I don’t really have much to complain about because it's more of something I already love. It’s everything I wanted from a definitive version of a game, add new interesting features and mechanics without toiling the core mechanics that made the game enjoyable in the first place.


The soundtrack still stands out today, certain battle themes have been replaced but maybe it’s because hardcore fans who have probably played the original game more than three times apparently got sick of the original ones. Well, they actually haven’t, but maybe the developers wanted to add more variety to the soundtrack. The battle tracks are still uplifting and keep the player motivated even during intense situations. Catchy tracks are used during the day so that players can feel excited to explore the world they were dumped in, and calm and relaxing themes are used during the night.


I specifically love the one track called “Beneath the Mask” because it shows how insecure the main character probably is on the inside now that his entire school thinks he committed a crime and he’s no longer in a world that views him as a normal person. He’s alone, scared, and constantly stressed throughout the day. So, when he finally gets done with his work and takes a ride back to Leblanc he feels safe. Home, a place that masks you from the judgmental stares of the public. Yet, he learns to form bonds and create a friendship with people like him. People trying to find purpose in the world.


That’s the one aspect I will always love about Persona 5. The writing, characters, story, and how the game gets you engaged with it cast. The story and writing may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly for me. Everyone I knew from my original playthrough is still here and lovable as always. The optimistic goofball that is Ryuji invited me to eat out with him at his favorite restaurant. Yusuke wants me to help him paint his next masterpiece. Sojiro allowed me to help him around the shop. Giving Ann tips on how to be more positive with herself. Studying with Makoto, helping Mishima with the fan club, and much more. The cast and getting to connect with is something Persona 5 will always do right and better than any other video game I know.


The graphics are better than the original, but the changes are hard to notice. If you take a side-by-side comparison you realize Royal has better lighting, some character models have been reworked, certain objects have better shading, textures have been improved, and the game runs smoother than before. The art style is good. If they had an artbook for Persona 5 containing all the work they had, even what they added into Royal, then I would probably buy it right away but most of them are probably only available in Japan. Theoretically I think right now they are making a definitive artbook containing the new stuff they added in Persona 5 Royal, so it makes sense they haven’t released an official artbook yet. Another small change you might not have noticed is that they added new headshots during cutscenes which add more expressions during dialogue sequences which is really nice. They’re also more detailed and have better lighting and shading.


Some palaces and bosses are changed to either be traversed in a different way or be much easier than before. One problem Persona 5 Royal kept from the original is that there are at least one or two segments of the game that have random difficulty spikes and require a bit of grinding to get past, but those problems can be overlooked by the rest of the game. The combat is still very stylish and thanks to a few changes it’s more accessible than before. The new features they introduce are worthwhile and there is even a new chapter at the end of the game if you do certain things correctly. I heard online it is possible to miss it out by not meeting certain requirements, but it’s not that hard since you're offered multiple opportunities to do them. They also changed up the endgame villain, and while I won't spoil it, I can say they changed the villain problem the original had. Going from cartoonishly evil to someone who you can understand.


Replaying Persona 5, I r