Release Date: March 31st, 2020 (Playstation 4)
ESRB: Mature (Blood, Drug Reference, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence)
The Phantom Thieves are back at it again! Fans of Atlus’ games are no stranger to their trend of rereleasing games with additional content, with Persona 4 Golden and, most recently, Catherine: Full Body. With Persona 5 being Atlus’ best-selling game, it is not a surprise that Persona 5 Royal has been greatly anticipated. Do not worry, though! If you have never played an Atlus game, you do not have to play the original versions to understand the new ones. In fact, if this is your first Atlus game, you have made an excellent choice!
Persona 5 is a JRPG that uses gorgeous anime cutscenes, in depth character development, and a colorful, unique version of turn-based combat to truly capture its players. Our protagonist, who goes by the code-name Joker, is a high school student who recently gained a criminal record when he rescued a woman who was being attacked. Though as unjust as that seems, he now must live with a friend of his parents’ and attend a new school while he is on probation for his crime. With the help of some friends he meets along the way, they form what they call the Phantom Thieves, who dive into the twisted desires of criminals to steal their hearts, change their cognition, and ultimately have them confess to their crimes. Each playable character awakens their Persona, a representation of their inner rebellion that they can use to take down enemies. Unlike the other characters, however, Joker can wield multiple Personas. This is all, of course, when they are not hanging out, studying for exams, dealing with rumors, and exploring the city like a normal high school student. With each new criminal having a change of heart comes more popularity and some controversy for the Phantom Thieves. This ultimately leads to an investigation to discover who they are and how they have done what they have done. To showcase this, the game bounces back and forth between a prosecutor questioning Joker and the story of how things led to that moment being told.
The game runs on a calendar-based system, with each day progressing the story more and with a limited number of things that can be done each day. For example, hanging out with a classmate after school will make the game switch to evening time afterwards. This gives the player a lot of opportunity to decide what they do with their time, such as working on increasing their skills, building relationships, or working a part-time job for extra cash. When Joker is not running around doing normal teenage things, he is in a distorted world using his Persona to traverse through the dungeons of the game, which in this case are called palaces. Palaces feature unique puzzles, enemies who have their own personalities, and a time limit for players to get through all of it to successfully gain an infiltration route to steal the palace rulers’ treasure. Characters become tired after some time in the palaces, so a palace cannot be completed in one day. It is smart to use free time wisely in order to make sure it is completed in time or it is game over. However, the game gives plenty of time to do this. One of the things that makes the palaces so enjoyable is the lack of repetitiveness. Each palace has its own unique appearance, enemies, and puzzles. Nowhere but a museum would require jumping into paintings, for example. This is one aspect of the game that really helps hold a player’s attention, which is refreshing considering the main story of this game will take over one hundred hours to complete and Persona 5 Royal pushes that even farther, adding three more months of content to the game. The story itself is unpredictable, fun, heart-warming, and downright hilarious at times, making those who play miss the characters afterwards and want to come back for more.
The character development in this game is truly stellar, with tons of people players come to know, each with their own unique stories and personalities that develop over time as time is spent with them. There is even the option to enter a romantic relationship with someone of the players choosing! An added benefit to spending time with others is being able to level the relationship, or as the game calls them, confidants. With each new level of each confidant comes new abilities that can be used in combat. Now, with Royal, there are even more social dialogue options and cutscenes to experience and we are introduced to two new confidants. There is the mysterious, yet sweet Kasumi Yoshizawa, a freshman at Shojin Academy with a love for gymnastics, as well as Takuto Maruki, a counselor at the school who genuinely cares about the thoughts and feelings of the students. Both are very strong aspects to the new storyline and seamlessly weaved into it, making players feel like they already met them before.
Another thing that stands out is the soundtrack and art style. The art is apparent the moment the game is opened with its bright, pop-art style that makes even opening menus and clicking through dialogue satisfying. The visual aesthetic during the outro for when all enemies are defeated is especially notable, because this makes the combat even less monotonous. The entire visual aesthetic of the game is something to truly marvel at. The soundtrack is so alluring that the songs get stuck in my head and it is one game I do not mind leaving up when I have stepped away with the music repeating itself. There are a few new songs added with this rerelease as well, which are just as enjoyable. The soundtrack is so memorable that Atlus has even made spin-off games such as the most recent, Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight, which is a rhythm game that features the main cast doing some sweet moves to these songs.
With Persona 5 Royal, many may wonder if the new content makes replaying this game worth it. The short answer to this question is absolutely. Atlus managed to make what feels like an entirely new game, with new content and cutscenes throughout the entire game. Playing this, I felt like I was getting to know everyone all over again and I found myself saying, “Oh, that is new!” frequently. There are the two new confidants, a brand-new palace, a whole new part of the city to explore with new shops, activities like billiards and darts, the ability to sell clothing, and much more. The area of the game that has smaller versions of palaces with smaller criminals, Mementos, even has new features. There are flowers on the ground in there that can be collected and traded to this little boy, Jose, who resides in Mementos, for items to aid in combat. Not only that, but there are stamp machines placed throughout Mementos, which can be turned into him to change the cognition of it be it to increase the amount of yen or items earned or the amount of experience earned in combat.
There are combat changes as well, with elemental damage being featured and show-time attacks (which are powerful and comedic partner attacks). The Baton Pass can also be leveled up, which is the ability to pass a turn and grant increased stats to another character when a critical hit has been made on an enemy. Palaces now have new enemies and secret rooms with an item called a Will Seed, which if all three in a palace are found, they will combine and can be given to Jose in Mementos to receive powerful accessories for combat. There is also a grappling hook available for use to get to out of reach places. One more feature worth mentioning is what is called the Thieves Den, which can be accessed from the main menu. This is a place where the memories of Joker will manifest, so the appearance changes throughout the game. There are achievements and sweet rewards that can be received in the Thieves Den, as well as a gallery and theater for players to browse through cutscenes, trailers, live concerts, images and art from the game and finally, there is a card game available to play. All these new features add even more to an already incredible story you do not want to miss out on!
Atlus managed to blow so many important aspects of a game out of the water yet again. From the story and character development, to the mechanics, visual aesthetic, soundtrack and combat. In addition, all these aspects blend in a refreshingly balanced way where nothing feels lacking or overbearing. The original Persona 5 set a very high standard for JRPGs back when it was released, having near perfect reviews tacked onto it. While the story of the game takes at least one hundred hours to get through, it is compelling enough to be worth it. Persona 5 Royal set the bar even higher with the new characters, cutscenes, and other content making it feel like a completely new game that players both old and new will fall in love with. For these reasons and the fact that they were able to take a game with a typical rating of nine out of ten and somehow make it even better, I am giving it a well-deserved higher rating. (Hannah Elizabeth)
Review copy provided by Atlus.