Upon its release in 2008, Persona 4 took the already aging PlayStation 2 by storm. Engaging gameplay, colorful characters, and a suspenseful narrative resulted in Persona 4 becoming one of the greatest RPGs of all time. The game’s minor imperfections were even later perfected in 2012’s PlayStation Vita port: Persona 4 Golden. After several rereleases of previous titles, Atlus finally released the successor of Persona 4 in 2017. This game was the sixth game of the series, confusingly named Persona 5. While sequentially a successor, Persona 5 was unable to best Persona 4 in overall quality. With the recent release of Persona 5 Royal, Atlus has given the game a second wind.
Return of the Joker
The events of Persona 5 Royal plays out much like its 2017 counterpart. After a physical confrontation with a sexual predator, the young protagonist is expelled from school and essentially kicked out of his own home. For the sake of clarity, the protagonist will be referred to by his alter ego, Joker, for the remainder of the review. Joker is sent to live with a friend of a family friend. In this new town, he is welcomed at a relatively local academy. While the school appears welcoming, their ulterior motives shine through alarmingly quickly. Joker’s once-secret past as a “violent criminal” is immediately shared throughout the student body. With rumors spreading like wildfire, it becomes apparent that there’s no one that Joker can trust. Almost no one…
As early as his first day of school, Joker finds himself associating himself with the school’s other resident delinquent: Ryuji Sakamoto. The two quickly bond over their dislike of adults and forgetting umbrellas for the day’s rain. In an attempt to make it to school on time, the two students attempt a shortcut. It turns out to be anything but, however, as the two find themselves at a medieval castle sharing a name with their school. They are ambushed by palace guards and thrown into the dungeon, awaiting inevitable execution.
King of the Hill
It doesn’t take long for their judge, jury, and executioner to arrive. This one-man is no other than Suguru Kamoshida, a teacher at their academy. Fans of Persona 4 may notice a dirty look in his eye. The Kamoshida standing before them is “a shadow… a true self…” Psychologically speaking, he is the true mentality personified by the abusive instructor. As all hope seems lost for the delinquent students, Joker hears the voice in his head. Naturally accepting who he is, Joker is able to summon Arsene, a Persona born of his own “true self.” With the power of Persona and newfound confidence, Joker gains the tools to combat Kamoshida; both the king of the castle and the olympian back at school.
While traversing Kamoshida’s castle, Joker and Ryuji eventually recruit the cartoon cat Morgana and their fellow classmate Ann Takamaki. The four begin calling themselves The Phantom Thieves of Hearts and set out to change the hearts of the “shitty adults” in town. This leads to a basic outline for at least the first half of the game. The Phantom Thieves hear rumors of oppressors or directly meet the oppressed. The soon-to-be antagonists generally seem nice enough, until their “true selves” shine through. While it is a somewhat similar structure to Persona 4, it almost a perspective from the other side. Whereas Persona 4’s Investigation Team journeyed to the shadow world in search of a culprit abusing their powers, some could argue that The Phantom Thieves ultimately do just that.
The New Girl
Whilst the overall story is largely the same, Persona 5 Royal does feature updates in terms of narration. First and foremost is the inclusion of two new characters and a total of three new confidants. Much like the inclusion of Marie and Tohru Adachi in Persona 4 Golden, establishing relationships with these new confidants can lead to a secret path in Persona 5 Royal. The first of these new characters is Kasumi Yoshizawa, a first-year at Shujin Academy. As highly implied by the box art and intro scene, Kasumi is a Persona-user and future Phantom Theif. She is a gymnast by day and essentially a female Joker by night.
The second new character, Takuto Maruki, has a less prestigious occupation. Due to early events in the game, Maruki is introduced as a part-time student counselor. While this is initially due to the school’s meddling, he continues working with Joker and Ann on his own accord. Whereas the school’s principal, teachers, and (initially) student body president assume the worst of Joker, Maruki-san enters the picture as an adult who appears to care about the mental health of his student.
In addition to Kasumi Yoshizawa and Takuto Maruki, Goro Akechi has also been updated as a proper confidant. This brings the total number to twenty-three. As with Persona 3 and Persona 4, the confidant system a sort of “choose your adventure” scenario. While the main story will mostly result in the same, aside from multiple endings. It’s the events between characters that may vary between playthroughs. Outside of meeting and greeting the main cast, most confidant events are technically casual. This allows players to befriend or flirt with the characters most interesting to them.
Luckily, Persona 5 Royal follows the trend of its predecessors by featuring a colorful cast of characters. The Phantom Thieves all feel driven and co-exist quite well. They are the types of people you could see hanging out at a restaurant or theme park together. Even the most obscure confidants still feel like part of the greater world. As random as some encounters begin, each confidant feels like a path worth taking. On the flip side, each and every antagonist is quite unlikable. Whereas Persona 4 mostly featured misguides teens as bosses, Persona 5 features an unsavory selection of foes. With the ultimate goal of changing hearts, the travesties of each antagonist are motivating to say the least.
Persona 5 Royal arguably has the most memorable story of the modern Persona titles. As amazing as both Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, their story arcs did feel a bit repetitive at times. Even though Persona 5 Royal also follows formulaic storytelling, it feels overall less predictable with its twists and turns. Having the Phantom Thieves quickly accept themselves in the face of their abusers is certainly a nice touch. This allows each Persona to emerge organically without the need of each Player Character’s shadow starting as a “villain of the day.” With junior detective, Goro Akechi, one step behind The Phantom Thieves every step of the way, Persona 5 Royal is perhaps the greatest tale of cat and mouse since the legendary Death Note.
The Begining of the End
As a role-playing game, Persona 5 Royal’s narrative features a beginning, a middle, and an end. However, it is not told in that order. The game is told in media res. Before showing Joker being deported to a new school, the game truly begins with a casino heist gone wrong. It is here that Joker meets Kasumi, or at least her Phantom Theif counterpart, for the very first time. Kasumi’s appearance not only fleshes out the opening sequence but gives fans some nice foreshadowing of her future involvement. Joker ultimately fails in escaping, however, and is captured by police. It is during his interrogation that he recalls the early days of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.
The story of Persona 5 Royal spans across an entire year. Because of this, time management is an essential tool for success. Aside from specific set in stone events, much of Persona 5 Royal is a game of player’s choice. Each weekday begins with attending school, though it’s generally a skit with little to no interactivity. After class, however, the world is your oyster. Each day is broken up into two parts: after school and evening. In most cases, an action can take place during each. These actions range from meeting with a confidant, making coffee, studying, eating out, or even working a part-time job. The most taxing options include invading a Palace or exploring Mementos.
The infiltration of a Palace is easily the meatiest portion of the game. They are also what ultimately makes or breaks each playthrough. With the appearance of each Palace, players are given a strict deadline. If the Palace is not cleared within that time, a definitive game over will result. Unlike dungeons in Persona 4, Palaces cannot be revisited upon completion. Players will not only want to defeat the boss but search for any of their hidden secrets. Most palaces can easily be cleared within two visits. This, of course, excludes any scripted events.
Veterans of Persona 5 vanilla will find that each Palace has more secrets to be revealed. As before, finding a treasure unlocks the boss battle. In addition, each Palace now hides a total of three Will Seeds. Aside from these, each Palace remains mostly the same when compared to the base game. With that said, their presence inspires a sense of investigation for even veteran players. Since these can be traded in for valuable items in Mementos, they are certainly worth looking into.
As Palaces cannot be replayed, Mementos is the second-best thing. Despite its name, Mementos is not a mint-flavored candy. Rather, it is an optional dungeon available throughout the game. Unfortunately, the design is about as inspiring as before. As a randomly generated dungeon, it’s hard to expect the same intricacies as a Palace. With the said, Mementos has received an overhaul between releases of the game. In addition to completing requests, the player can also collect flowers throughout. These flowers can be traded to Jose, a new character, in exchange for rare items. With the inclusion of Jose, Mementos feel more worthwhile than simply bounty hunts.
Shin Megami Tensei: Pokémon
In terms of gameplay, Persona 5 Royal is a traditional RPG. That said, the modern Persona franchise is really in a league of its own. Other titles such as Fate/EXTRA, Blue Reflection, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses have attempted to, but ultimately failed, to capture a similar spark. In battle, the most basic actions include a base Attack and Defense. In most cases, these are rarely used. Admittedly, the Gun action is quite useful against flying opponents. The bread and butter of any battle, however, comes in the form of Persona. Each player character is affiliated with their own Persona. This Persona dictates a character’s strengths, weaknesses, and available skills. As with Persona protagonists before him, Joker has the power of the Wild Card. This allows him to recruit additional Shadows to make into additional Persona.
The key to success in battle is finding and exploiting the enemy’s weakness. Super Effective attacks not only do additional damage but cause an enemy to stagger as well. Once the enemy team has been grounded, special actions come into play. Joker can attempt to recruit the enemy or bribe them for items or hard-earned cash. Alternatively, the entire party can also dish out an All-Out Attack. These are flashy and deal massive damage to the entirety of enemy forces.
One of the most notable additions is the Thieves Den. Admittedly, it does nothing to advance the plot or character development. However, it is a nice little getaway from the mundane activities of everyday life. The Thieves Den is something of a personal Palace for Joker himself. The player can decorate it themselves with items found and purchased from an in-game store. Unlike a certain Palace, the Thieves Den features a proper gallery. This includes unlockable concept art, music, and videos. Joker can also challenge his Thieves to a game of Tycoon. While it is the best way to earn special currency to purchase items within the Thieves Den, it is also just a lot of fun.
Night and Day
Persona 5 Royal is a piece of art. This really cannot be overstated enough. Like its recent predecessors, Persona 5 Royal takes a cel-shaded approach. This gives the game the illusion of being an interactive anime. During school and in town, Persona 5 Royal looks like a slice-of-life anime. Each location is made up of believable detail. The school is filled with students, the city with vending machines. Even the subway system is a real pain to navigate. As beautiful as the overworld is, it’s the Palaces and Mementos that truly shine.
Palaces and Mementos have undoubtedly taken notes from Persona 4’s Midnight Channel. As the embodiments of warped desires, each Palace appears just as twisted. The first Palace, for instance, is a castle straight from a dark fantasy. A later Palace takes place in space, oozing of Star Wars vibes. Each is just as fantastic as it is recognizable. Throw in the designs of the Phantom Thieves, and each Palace is a believable heist in the making.
On the outside, each Phantom Thief has an unassuming appearance or a high schooler. Even compared to Persona 3 and Persona 4 protagonists, they all look quite normal. Ryuji is the ruffian, Ann is the beautiful foreigner. Meanwhile, Joker looks mistakenly like a Japanese Harry Potter. Once infiltrating a Palace, they don the costumes of Phantom Thieves. Each Phantom Theif, as well as their corresponding Persona, is inspired by a historical or fictional white-collar criminal. Joker and Arsen, for example, are inspired by Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar. Meanwhile, Ryuji and Captain Kidd are both inspired by the legendary Captain William Kidd. Not to be confused with the One Piece character of the same name (and inspiration). As cool as protagonists looked in the past in their school uniforms, the Phantom Thieves steal the spotlight. It’s really no wonder why Joker was chosen for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
On the subject of Smash, there’s a reason why Joker is arguably the coolest looking of the DLC characters. Fanboyism aside, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate faithfully recreated the All-Out Attack and Victory visuals. And those are only the start of what the source material has to offer. Every menu, notification, and speech bubble pop out of the screen like a series opening. It’s hard to imagine any other game making players jealous of a cell phone interface.
Ever since the PlayStation 2 era, bad voice acting has plagued a great number of Japanese Role-Playing Games. Luckily, the only plague in Persona 5 Royal comes in the form of back-alley doctor Tae Takumi. The oddly feminine Morgana the cat is voiced by Cassandra Lee Morris. Morris is perhaps best known from her roles as Sword Art Online’s Leafa and Totori from the Arland Atelier Trilogy. Max Mittleman’s Ryuji Ryuji Sakamoto shares voices with Kira Yamato of Gundam SEED (2017) and Final Fantasy VII Remake’s Red XIII. Erika Harlacher voices Ann Takamaki as well as Danganronpa’s Kyoko Kirigiri and the titular character of Violet Evergarden. For those still not convinced, Persona 5 Royal also offers an option for the original Japanese audio. Likewise, the Japanese option also features an all-star cast.
“Aria of the Soul”
Following the launch of the original Persona 5, Atlus also released a rhythm game based on its soundtrack: Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight. This alone should give a good idea of the music quality. Persona 5 Royal is a wonderful blend of electronica, metal, J-Pop, and jazz. When the game brings the feels, the soundtracks embodies just that. Appropriately, the Velvet Room retains its ominous sound. Meanwhile, everyday life in Tokyo is accompanied by smooth jazz. Ironically, one of the best features of the in-game soundtrack is the ability to change it.
Atlus has rereleased all the pre-existing content as a free Legacy DLC. This bundle includes all the previously paid content of the original game. This, of course, features a wide array of available costumes. These include cameo costumes from other Atlus titles. Titles such as Persona 3, Persona 4, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and Catherine are all represented! As good as this figuratively sounds, it literally sounds even better. Using certain costumes in battle can even change the battle music. Nothing says immersive television like Persona 4 Golden’s “Time to Make History.”
Overall, Persona 5 Royal is exactly what the original should have been, a proper successful to Persona 4 Golden. As with Persona 4 Golden, the additional content and quality of life updates make all the difference. While it may not be a must-play for veteran Phantom Thieves, it should at least be taken notice of. For anyone else looking for an immersive RPG, look no further than this perfect example.
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