Ever since the Japanese release of Persona 5 Royal in October, western fans have waited with bated breath to step into the role of Phantom Thieves once more. With a list of updates both big and small, Royal gives the original Persona 5 a makeover in this sort-of sequel.
With that in mind, if you’ve never played the original 2017 release and have an interest in stylish JRPGs, Persona 5 Royal should be on your radar, without question. It’s the ultimate version of this story, and all of the little tweaks go a long way to perfecting an luxuriously robust turn-based experience. For the beautiful red cherry on top, it features an aggressively catchy soundtrack with even more bangers than the original.
However, people who already played Persona 5 might have a tougher time sinking their teeth into Royal. Generally, the new features are more than welcome, and some are so well implemented that I questioned my memories from April 2017. When it comes to the overall package, though, you’re still playing a lot of the same story beats for the first dozen hours. A sense of blasé deja vu will wash over you, now matter how much you love the Phantom Thieves.
Returning to the Phantom Thieves
If you have a vested interest in Persona 5 Royal, chances are you already have some familiarity with the original game. Whether you stopped playing in the middle of a dungeon or have beaten the 2017 release, Royal has a lot of reasons for you to dive back in. The new characters—Kasumi and Maruki—flesh out the story, and the slightly tweaked combat mechanics keep things fresh.
In the first 25 hours, you’ll come across more than a handful of changes Atlus made for Persona 5 Royal. Perhaps the best one is the updated Baton Pass system. Unlike the original, the mechanic isn’t tied to social links, letting you pass your extra turn to a party member from the start. Furthermore, there’s extra incentive to passing the baton across your entire party. Aside from the damage boosts, the third pass lets that party member use any skill for free.
Kichijoji, a new location in Tokyo, houses a recreational lounge called Penguin Sniper. By bringing party members here, you can play darts and billiards with them, improving the effectiveness of their Baton Pass while you’re at it. The location remains in line with what makes Persona fantastic: well-written friendships underscoring meaningful dungeon upgrades. Outside the lounge, Kichijoji offers a slew of new stores with healing items and equipment, and it’s a refreshing avenue for novel social outings and Mementos requests.
Additionally, some small tweaks to Mementos makes the super dungeon feel like less of an unrewarding chore to get through. Flowers are littered around every floor, while stamps are hidden in certain locations. Both are easy to collect and provide you with tangible bonuses. Stamps alter Mementos, letting you earn bonus experience, money, or items from every encounter. Flowers, on the other hand, can be used to buy rare items that actually feel useful.
There are lots of other small changes I noticed by the time I beat the second dungeon, including small tweaks to confidant ranks, added scenes, and new social activities. Overall, these little updates pile up, elevating the Royal experience while presenting a familiar experience—almost too familiar an experience.
Persona 5 Royal Comes with Some Caveats
Unfortunately, if you don’t have an unhealthy obsession with Persona 5, it might be hard to justify playing Royal. While all these additions are nice, it’s hard to say that the experience feels completely new. The changes in Kamoshida’s and Madarame’s palaces aren’t quite mindblowing, either. For the most part, expect a few new rooms and shortcuts that justify the grapple hook. It's flashy, but lacks the sort of justified substance I expected. and the holistic story remains the same.
I found myself clinging to and longing for the new scenes. Moments with Maruki and Kasumi were the highlights of my first 25 hours into Royal, with the engaging combat system keeping me afloat. Unfortunately, it’s hard to feel comfortable skipping a lot of the dialog, just in case I’m skipping through something new. Solving the same old dungeon puzzles and watching the same cutscenes can feel like a slog.
If you’ve beaten the original, it’s easy to feel like this pseudo-sequel doesn’t respect your time. When you boot up the game, it checks your hard drive for a Persona 5 save file, giving you some healing items and in-game money as a bonus. Outside of that, you’re starting a fresh save file, all the way back at square one. It doesn’t do anything to tailor the experience to fans who know the original well. It can be a hard sell for people who don’t have the time for another 100-hour game, especially when the first quarter of those hours have only marginal transformations.
Ultimately, yes, Persona 5 Royal is more Persona 5, which is enough justification for the most diehard fans. The brand new third semester makes the perfect carrot on the stick too, ushering players further into the Phantom Thieves’ journey. Some might also appreciate the Thieves’ Den, an in-game space that lets you listen to the soundtrack, watch animated cutscenes, collect character models, and even customize the area’s décor. Nonetheless, it’s hard to deny that a displeasing sense of deja vu can wash over you in the early moments.
Newcomers – Take Your Time with Persona 5 Royal
Let me be clear though: If you never played Persona 5, there’s no question that you should pick up Royal, assuming you like turn-based JRPGs. You have an excellent story to dive into, and while it may seem complex to juggle the various systems, they all come together in satisfying ways. There’s a reason the original title made it to second place on our list of best games in 2017.
Persona 5 Royal is the definitive package for all things Phantom Thieves. The combat feels better than ever, and the new story beats—while few and far between—enrich the overall web that the original weaved. Unfortunately, it’s a web that many might already know all too well.
TechRaptor played Persona 5 Royal on a PlayStation 4 Pro with a code provided by Sega. It releases in the west on March 31, 2020.