When Atlus takes ALL of your time
Ever since I first played Persona 3 FES in 2007, I treasured the flagship Persona RPG experience. The magical blend of slice-of-life high school drama and high-stakes dungeon crawling tickled my brain unlike anything else, and that’s true to this day. When Persona 5 launched in 2017, I easily sunk 100 hours into it and couldn’t think of anything else. With this year’s Persona 5 Royal—the “definitive” version of the game—I spent another 120 hours with it in the past few months. With only three years between the two, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja vu, and not in a good way.
For the casual observer, the differences between 5 and Royal might not mean much. The most meaningful change, arguably, is the brand-new third semester, featuring a never-before-seen dungeon and an extension to the story. The two new confidants—Kasumi and Maruki—shouldn’t be overlooked either, and my perspective on Akechi's has changed drastically for the better. But at what point is it fair to ask someone to sit through 100 hours of familiar content just to get a couple more hours of something truly novel?
Warning: This post contains light spoilers for Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal.
A Game Between Remake and Sequel
Since Persona 3, Atlus has pushed out various “updates” to their games. Persona 4 Golden revamped the original for the five PlayStation Vita owners on the planet (although the floodgates have recently opened). Persona 3 might be the most egregious; FES added a new episode called “The Answer,” while Portable provides quality-of-life changes and a female protagonist. To this day, there’s no “definitive” way to play Persona 3.
For newcomers to the series, Golden and Royal are perfect starting points. They’re fantastic RPGs with fine-tuned combat and lovable characters. For loyal fans, though, what’s the true value of these updated takes? In some ways, it’s like a remake; the story remains largely the same, with some updated visuals and tweaks to the gameplay. In other ways, they’re like sequels; an unexplored story awaits, and dashes of new moments are sprinkled in throughout the journey. Yet, Golden and Royal are neither remake nor sequel. They’re more like the “definitive” way to play Persona 4 and 5.
Yet, my recent experience with Royal made me question the true worth of these updates. By the time I hit the third dungeon, my excitement waned a bit. The new combat mechanics gave it a shiny coat of paint, but that didn’t change the fact that the same story beats were hiding underneath. The new scenes with Kasumi, Maruki, and Akechi were nice breaths of fresh air, but for every eight hours of all-too-familiar gameplay, it felt like I only got a few minutes of something novel.
To be fair, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about these new characters, and throughout the story, Royal adds tons of little details that I loved as a fan. However, up until the in-game date of Dec. 24, I knew exactly what to expect across the big picture. I knew who all the bosses were, and I remembered a majority of the dungeon puzzles. The hours I sunk into social stats and familiar confidants eventually became dull, despite how much I adore these characters. I was left waiting for the next new scene to surprise me.
Revealing Your True Form
By the time I beat the (original) final boss, I sat there thinking that I essentially just replayed Persona 5, plus a couple new scenes. That didn’t bother me too much—it’s one of my favorite games. Yet, it made me wonder if other people gave up on Royal because it wasn’t all that different from the gargantuan RPG they played three years ago. After all, the overall plot is a known quantity, and for the most part, the confidant scenes remain unchanged. Kichijoji might be a new district to visit, but it loses its luster after a while.
After completing the Royal-exclusive content, though, I firmly believe that the new last act is worth experiencing. The extension to the story left me with a heartwarming, provocative message about our individual aspirations. How far should we go to realize our dreams, even if it hurts? Is it worth settling on something easier because life gets too hard? For a story about high schoolers attacking and dethroning a god, it left me thinking a lot about my life as an adult.
Those last few hours reinvigorated my sense of self. In a way, it was therapeutic watching these characters I love go through what they did. I imagine for many around the world, it’s a message that could help them get through tough times, especially in the current climate.
Yet, that doesn’t change the fact that sitting through Persona 5 again can feel like a chore. Perhaps Atlus would have been better off making Royal DLC, as an extension to the story. That may not account for the litany of small changes, but is it worth spending another $60 for a game you’ve already dumped 100+ hours into? Alternatively, it would have been nice to see Atlus do what Xenoblade Chronicles Definitive Edition did: make the third semester playable from the main menu.
On some level, I still want to encourage readers to play Royal, even if you’ve beaten Persona 5 previously. I want to say it’s worth working through the same eight dungeons again to see the thought-provoking new story. I want to say that prerequisite 100 hours are worth experiencing the banging new tracks in their original context. But that’s a personal decision. For some, carving out that much time in their schedule is a tough endeavor.
A Golden Opportunity
Persona 4 Golden is next on my infinite list of games to play. I’ve given many hours to Persona 4 on the PlayStation 2, but I never got around to playing the Vita upgrade because I don’t want to be killed by a Naughty Dog protagonist. Many years have passed though, and my memory of the story gets a bit fuzzy in the middle. Maybe my experience with Golden won’t leave me as conflicted because of that.
From a business perspective, this is likely a huge opportunity for Atlus. It’s not every day we see a Persona title on PC, and to go from Vita to Steam opens the door to a whole new audience. Many will be able to experience Golden for the first time. For those who jumped on the series with the Phantom Thieves, this opportunity could be the first time they experience Persona 4 at all.
While this is all very exciting, I worry about future iterations in the series. If—or when—Atlus reveals a Persona 6, I’ll likely be more than excited for it. However, I’ll also be wondering about when an updated version will be announced. Is it worth waiting an extra few years to play the “definitive” edition of Persona 6? Or should I block out 200+ hours in the future to experience the same story at least twice?
Knowing me, it’s probably the latter. For others? It’s hard to say.