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Persona 5 in 2017 was a marvel for RPG games. It has writing that had players root for characters, fighting mechanics that improved when hanging out with friends, and a whole (in-game) year of content. Unfortunately, there were several small but noticeable setbacks that made certain aspects of the game feel restrictive. This includes being stuck in the player’s room even if they have enough energy to study right outside in the coffee shop.
Atlus kept these hindrances in mind while revamping certain events in the story to include new characters, friends, and even a new school semester. The question that remains is whether the game deserves the same $60 price tag for a title that had its run in 2017.
A high school student, codenamed Joker, got into a situation where he had to defend a woman from an assailant. Since then, he’s been sued, marked as a criminal, and is forced to live a new life as a student in modern-day Tokyo. Upon starting his first day in Shujin Academy, he meets a new friend and encounters a Palace protected by beings called shadows. After discovering that he and his friends can use their own Personas to fight back, they set off to change the hearts of terrible people who are destroying the livelihoods of those around them.
The story serves as a stepping stone for what’s to come. Joker will have to gather a team of Phantom Thieves. To do that, the thieves must go into the individual’s “Palace” to steal the treasure in enemies’ hearts and convince them to confess their crimes.
This was the main point of the original Persona 5 in 2017 and continues to be the case in The Royal. Returning fans will find that most of the story plays out the same as the original except with some new voice additions and revisions made so players get a clear idea of what’s happening. Royal also introduces veterans to new confidants who will appear in Joker’s daily life.
Kasumi Yoshizawa appears early in the game and serves as Joker’s underclassman. As the game goes on she hears about the antics of the Phantom Thieves and thinks they’re a menace to people who should change on their own. The new school Councillor, Takuto Maruki, thinks otherwise. Maruki will speak to each of the Phantom Thieves and have them talk about the traumas they go through as the game progresses.
The last confidant who introduces players to even more content is Goro Akechi, with whom players never had enough time to hang out. He’s more forthcoming in The Royal and will introduce Thieves to places he likes to hang out in such as the new Jazz Club. Atlus heard that Akechi may have been lacking in story progression in the previous game, so it’s nice to see the company gave him more of a spotlight, despite his intentions.
Before exploring any dungeons to fight Shadows, players get to experience a more refined life simulator that gives them the freedom to upgrade and do what they want on each day. There is a variety to do, from hitting the batting cages to increase proficiency or eating a big hamburger to raise the characters’ guts. These stats are used to determine if Joker is able to hang out successfully with a confidant; if a stat is not high enough, he will have to come back next time.
Hanging out with confidants not only makes the player feel closer to his team, they also give out small but important buffs, which can help in the middle of a fight. For example, hanging out with Ryuji can make it so dashing in a dungeon makes no sound, or Ann being able to attack for Joker after he attempts an unsuccessful strike. These upgrades are all useful and are introduced throughout Persona 5: The Royal.
Meaningful changes were made to the flow of living Joker’s life. Originally, when players went home at the end of the day, they were forced to stay in their room upstairs, above the Coffee Shop. Afterwards, they would be relegated to only doing actions in their room until they upgrade a specific confidant. Persona 5: The Royal changes this by allowing Joker to do a variety of tasks in the café. These include cleaning, making coffee, and even doing a crossword puzzle before going to sleep. Being home was always a drag in the original game and it’s good to know that that’s changed here.
Instead of dungeons, the Phantom Thieves will have to infiltrate the Palaces within the metaverse to change the minds of evildoers. Palaces are where the turn-based RPG mechanics are implemented. The team will don their Phantom Thieves outfits and fight the shadows that reside in the hearts of these people.
In the original P5, combat felt a bit flat. The game widely relied on hoping the player knows what character is next to weaken all of the enemies and finish them off with an all-out-attack. P5R fixes everything that made combat feel clunky and refined it to feel smoother than any turn-based RPG deserves. The analyze system was made to make choices on the fly and if players master looking at their skills, many battles can be solved in an instant against normal enemies.
The introduction of new explosive enemies changes up some of the tedious fights to waste less time. If a player attacks an explosive enemy, they will retaliate right after. Players will have to think a bit more strategically to deal with them. The baton pass system has also been greatly improved as it allows the player to freely switch to, and buff, his current party to follow-up with another attack.
Guns have also been reworked. Bullets were not readily available in the past and ran out after one encounter. If more bullets were needed, the team would have to leave the palace and come again. In P5R, bullets are replenished after each fight, making the use of guns more permissible against enemies who are weak to them. While this is one of the smaller changes, it greatly improves the use of a combat mechanic many were afraid to use.
Showtime attacks get introduced a few chapters into the game in which two teammates come together to finish an enemy off. They have a chance to happen when there is only one foe left or when an all-out attack is activated. They’re all really fun to watch and show off the personalities of all of the teammates.
Palaces aren’t the only dungeons that have been changed. Mementos, the collective dungeon of everyone in Tokyo, has been changed as well. The goal of Mementos was for players to grind and power level while taking care of smaller investigations. For Royal, the roguelike area has been changed with a new character, Jose entering the picture. He needs to explore Mementos for unknown reasons and will happily sell items to players in exchange for flowers found around the areas. He can also change Mementos itself, if players find enough stamps in the subsystem. With these stamps, Jose can add more experience from enemies, more money drops, and better rewards.
Persona 5: The Royal is a feast for the eyes in many aspects. From the opening of the game to the story cutscenes and the cool abilities used in battle, it’s clear that there’s a high production value in the animations. Players will be wowed as they venture through the crowds of central street and have fun looking at the fights in the dungeons. The battles are full of interesting pop-art in all of the in-game battle menus including the end of the all-out attacks.
The game’s overall style is oozing with the smooth pop and jazzy aethstetic. Even when looking through the options menu, there are cute little animations moving around the sides of the screen. Everything that goes in is an overload for the eyes.
Familiar tunes such as “Last Surprise” and versions of “Beneath the Mask” will still play during the game’s downtime and some battles. Joining the previous version’s over 100+ soundtrack are 30 brand new songs, which are introduced alongside the new in-game scenarios and fights.
Persona 5: The Royal is a masterful RPG where players are given more freedom to do whatever they want. Whether it’s hanging out with friends or making the combat flow faster through new mechanics, Persona 5: The Royal is able to make these systems better. Even if the main addition is supposed to be the final new semester and final Palace, Royal’s overall improvements and new story elements beforehand manage to make the game refreshing to play for veteran players.