HIGH It’s the definitive version of one of the best JRPGs around.
LOW There really can be too much of a good thing sometimes.
WTF “Cats turning into buses is a very widely-held cognition!”
I still remember the day I finished playing Persona 5‘s original release in 2017. I concluded that it was “peak Persona“, and the “final form” of both the franchise and of the formula. What a fool I was, then, forgetting that Atlus has never met a game it didn’t want to tweak and re-release.
This time, we’ve reached Peak Persona. Really.
(For full details on the base game, please see our original Persona 5 review by Darren Forman.)
Like Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden before it, Persona 5 Royal is a combination expansion pack/extensive patch. Most of the new content is back-loaded into the “Third Semester”, which is an adventure that extends past the original campaign’s ending while adding new narrative reveals and conflicts that re-contextualize what came before.
That said, not all the new content is kept back until the postgame. The intro sequence, for example, proceeds as expected until an intervention by one of Royal‘s new characters changes the script. It works well as an assurance that this is the Persona 5 players remember, but also that things will be different this time around. I can’t go into too much detail in order to avoid spoilers, but Atlus and P-Studio have done such a great job integrating the new stuff that most of it feels like it’s always been there.
One thing I can say is that the new characters are introduced early, and quickly become part of the player’s array of “Confidant” relationships.
Confidants are a core system in P5R, representing the bonds the player forms with main and supporting characters and convey both narrative and gameplay enhancements. Thanks to these relationships being subtly woven in, their newfound prominence in the Third Semester doesn’t feel unnatural. The downside of such tight content integration is that it’s impossible to jump straight to the new stuff.
Every player, whether newcomer or veteran, has to play Persona 5 Royal from the beginning. It’s a big ask, given that even before the additions Persona 5 could easily last 80 to 100 hours. The Third Semester adds between 10 and 30 hours to that already-mammoth runtime.
To rub it in, the additional content is surprisingly easy to miss. Players need to fully explore three particular Confidant relationships before the end of the base game, or else they’ll just get the original ending and fail to proceed to the Third Semester. I won’t say more, but I strongly suggest that those who wish to see the new stuff pay particular attention to the Gymnast, Counselor, and Detective.
In terms of other changes, Royal offers a host of tweaks. One prominent criticism of Persona 5‘s base game was that it would alternate between a lazy pace and an overly-strict one. Royal remedies this by adding more activities to do at night and even minigames that add opportunities to improve stats, and the bossy Morgana has been reined in a bit. The in-game calendar has also been tweaked to allow players more control over how to spend their days.
Other tweaks are more subtle. UI shortcuts and tooltips now hint which activities will raise which stats or Confidant bonds, making it easier to plan activities. More bespoke events give players time out with their friends. One particular Confidant relationship has been reworked almost entirely, better reflecting both their role in the story and subtly acknowledging how engaged fans were with the character.
Persona 5 Royal‘s combat has also been altered to make it more engaging and less annoying. Guns can now be reloaded and new enemy types add a wrinkle to fights. Expect to see strong enemies that need to be weakened before they can be knocked down and “unstable” monsters that explode and kill their comrades if hit with the right combo.
Individual levels have gotten a makeover. Each villain’s palace can now be explored with the aid of a grappling hook, unlocking new areas and collectibles. Persona 5‘s randomized labyrinth, Mementos, now has new twists that reward exploration and allow players to manipulate dungeon conditions to their benefit, such as increasing the amount of money or experience enemies award on death.
Improvements have also been made to translation errors and issues with the quality of the original’s writing. The two years since then has given Atlus time to give the script a once-over and iron things out. Even one infamous scene played for laughs in the original (and rightfully skewered for homophobic overtones) has been reworked somewhat, though it’s sadly still eyebrow-raising.
All of the new additions and content mean that Persona 5 Royal is a clear upgrade to the original. New players should seek this version without hesitation, although vets may find starting the game over from scratch to be too big an ask. Either way, there’s no doubt that Persona 5 Royal sits proudly on the throne of Peak Persona… or at least it will until Atlus decides they can do even more with it.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Atlus. It is currently available on PlayStation 4. This copy of the game is based on retail build provided by the publisher and reviewed on PlayStation 4. Approximately 113 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. There is no multiplayer mode. The game was completed.
Parents: At the time of writing, this game is unrated by the ESRB, but the original version of the game, Persona 5, is rated M, with descriptors for Blood, Drug Reference, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence. The official ESRB description for Persona 5 is as follows: “This is a role-playing game in which players assume the role of a high-school student who enters an alternate world and uses special powers to change the hearts of people in the real world. As players explore themed areas of the “Metaverse,” they engage in turn-based combat against fantastical creatures (e.g., demons, evil spirits, shadow creatures). Characters use blades, pipes, firearms, and Personas (i.e., creatures that enable magical attacks) to defeat enemies; battles are highlighted by light effects, impact sounds, and cries of pain. Some cutscenes depict characters ripping masks off their faces as blood sprays. One cutscene depicts a man shooting another character in the head at close range; blood is shown pooling on the floor and splattering the victim’s clothes. Several female monsters/Personas are depicted with exposed breasts, and a handful of creatures have phallic-shaped heads, torsos, or appendages. Various Personas (e.g., Succubus, Incubus) have sexual characteristics that are described in text (e.g., “They visit sleeping men/women and have sexual intercourse with them”); dialogue also includes sexual references (e.g., “Apparently he’s been forcing young idols and other girls to have sex with him to move up in the ranks”). Drug smuggling for the mafia is briefly discussed during a side quest (e.g., “Like illegal drugs…? Maybe they made Iida smuggle drugs for them.”). The words “f**k,” “sh*t,” and “a*shole” appear in the dialogue. ”
Colorblind Modes: The game has no colorblind modes selectable.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue and narrative in English and Japanese language are presented using onscreen text, though some dialogue, songs, and combat audio “barks” played in-game or in pre-rendered video are not captioned. Sound effects have caption options, as well as text size and auto-advance options. There are no audio cues needed for gameplay.
Remappable Controls: This game’s button controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Controls are fairly standard — left stick moves and selects menu choices, confirm and cancel are done with face buttons.
Today he continues to write for a living while trying to turn his fledgling knowledge of Japanese into a marketable skill. He is Managing Editor of Japanese culture site Japanator and is a Contributing Editor for Destructoid. He has written for The Escapist, The California Literary Review, Esquire Magazine, and proudly holds the badge as the premier apologist for Star Trek Online.