How do you take one of the simplest genres in gaming and merge it with one of limitless potential? How do you make a turn-based JRPG different than any other in the industry without changing anything from the standard? Atlus has always taken unique twists with the Shin Megami Tensei series, but the Persona spin-off franchise is truly where creative concepts shine. Mixed life simulators and monster collection JRPGs? How could that possibly work well?
You play the part of a young man who attempts to step in and stop a drunken man forcing himself upon a woman. Unfortunately, you’re framed for attacking him. Sent off to live in a brand new city, and forced into a new school, you’re transported to the mysterious Velvet Room and discover your abilities to wield creatures known as personas and travel the meta-verse. Something is using it to cause mental shutdowns and accidents all over Japan. You, the trickster with potential to change the world, must take up the codename Joker and build a team known as the Phantom Thieves to combat the threat and change the hearts of criminals.
Persona 5 Royal works on a very strict time-based system. You’re often put into scenarios where you only have a few days to pull a heist as the Phantom Thieves off. Each day is split up into your time after school and the evening. You can choose to dive into the meta-verse or spend your time partaking in a variety of actions in the physical world. There are quite a few pros and cons to doing both.
Spending time in the real world will always help you push toward your goals in the meta-verse. You have many stats like knowledge, guts, proficiency, kindness, and charm to improve by studying, playing sports, reading, and watching movies. Most of your time in the real world will be spent with your confidants. Confidants are special characters with multiple relationship levels you can reach. As you upgrade your levels personas of that type will become stronger and you’ll gain special new abilities in opportunities in both worlds. Want to be able to perform hard-hitting special attacks with teammates? Do you think it would help if the pharmacy sold you more potent healing items?
This game features such a well defined cast of characters that I found spending time with them rewarding regardless of the bonuses. Each confidant has their own reasons for helping you accomplish your goals and giving you the benefits you’ll receive. They all have their own problems for you to help solve. If you’re not a big fan of a character, or just want to get a move on, you can quickly fast forward through these scenes. You will miss key chances to provide a few bonus points to your relationship though.
The real meat of Persona 5 Royal is the meta-verse. You’ll mainly use it to infiltrate palaces. Palaces are huge hand-crafted areas that represent the distortion of a human heart. Palace rulers are typically the biggest threat in the story at the time. You’ll be given only so many days before you’re expelled from your school or have misleading photos leaked online. To complete a palace, you’ll have to find an entrance and explore all the way up to a treasure. To make that treasure appear, you’ll send a calling card to the villain. With one last dive-in and a boss fight, you’ll steal the treasure and change their heart.
In these dungeons, you’ll encounter all sorts of enemies and minibosses. It’s your standard JRPG fare. You’ll engage in battle with an enemy, hopefully sneaking upon them to take the advantage, and be given a few options. You can attack, guard in preparation for a huge attack, use your gun, and use a skill of your persona. Personas are the personalities within and your party will each get their one. Joker isn’t the only exception, but I’ll focus on him to prevent major spoilers.
Joker is a wildcard who can obtain and use many different personas at once. If you hit an enemy with their weakness or get them to low enough health, you will engage in a conversation with them. In these hold-ups, you can ask for an item, money, or their power. If you can please this persona in a conversation, they’ll join your team. Joker can merge personas in the Velvet Room to make them even more powerful. Persona 5 Royal is weird because it encourages you to constantly be switching out the monsters in your collection. I didn’t like ditching monsters I had grown attached to because I lacked space or they had outgrown their usefulness.
The other half of the meat-verse is Mementos. Mementos is described as the palace of everyone in the world. It’s a large randomly generated labyrinth that you’ll either spend way too much time in or ignore completely on your journey. There is no in-between. At certain points in the story, you’ll identify new targets who need their heart change but aren’t perverted enough to form a palace. You’ll end up tracking them through Mementos.
As implied, it’s basically just a far worse palace. Enemy encounters are so abundant that they become stale and rooms don’t feel like they have any purpose. Defeating the bosses in Mementos will help you further certain side-quests and give you plenty of exp and items, but I always found it more of a chore.
Quite a few small things about Persona 5 Royal bugged me. The first twenty to twenty-five hours dragged on incredibly hard. They were so bad that I dropped the original version of the game on PS4 and never looked back. If I hadn’t mandated I beat this game for the review, I would not have continued this time either. No game should, under any circumstances, take that long to “get good.” At a certain point in the middle of the game, the characters start to stagnate. They’re the same you’ve grown attached to, but they stop changing and become less interesting.
I guess I’ve gone this entire review while ignoring what the “Royal” after Persona 5 meant. For those unfamiliar, think of it like a third version of Pokémon. I didn’t really play the original, so forgive me for any errors, but Royal adds, at least, two new confidants and a whole new semester. I will refrain from spoilers, and forgot to take screenshots, but this semester really made the end of the game feel “worth it” to me. It developed a character that got the short end of the stick in a way that made them feel interesting and human. The new characters and palace? They kinda suck.
Persona 5 Royal is all the style and all the substance you could ever need. Flashy, but not garish, transitions and theming, beautifully written characters, worlds that feel dynamic and exciting, and two rigidly built systems that compliment each other much better than I ever could have expected. The big problem with Persona 5 Royal is that I wouldn’t have beaten it. If I can’t say that I wanted to beat it, I can’t tell you I think you should. I’m not sure I can really recommend Persona 5 Royal to you. It feels too bloated for its own good.
Joker was the second DLC newcomer Ultimate received and the first character of the Fighters Pass DLC pack. I’m quite conflicted on how the team at Bandai Namco handled him. His moveset is incredibly fun and his slick personality is well captured, but I feel like the persona mechanic was underutilized. Joker’s big claim to fame is his status as a wild card. Limiting him to just Arsene, the default you’ll first uncover, feels a bit wrong to me. Oh well, judging by Sonic, he’ll never get changed.