Game Info:

Persona 5 Royal
Developed By: Atlus
Published By: SEGA/Atlus
Release Date: March 31, 2020
Available On: PS4
ESRB Rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
Genre: Role Playing Game
Mode: Single Player
MSRP: $59.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Thank you Atlus for sending us this game to review!

Persona 5 is one of those games that almost set the standard for RPGs in 2017 when it was released - it gained a huge fan base, and even spawned dozens (hundreds?) of internet memes. It's hard to overstate the impact it had - and it was pretty well deserved. After all, it managed to not only make a game overflowing with style that people enjoyed, but it kept their interest for 150 hours without ever being boring. However, the folks over at Atlus never seem to be happy creating a Persona game to just leave it alone; ever since Persona 3 FES (and later with Persona 4 Golden), each time they have released an updated version with significantly expanded content a few years later. Persona 5 Royal is that new release for Persona 5.

For this review, I am going to focus mostly on the differences, and maybe some of the more philosophical changes with this new game. I would highly recommend that you read my original Persona 5 review, as everything I explain in there applies here perfectly well. While there are some subtle gameplay differences, everything in that review pretty much applies as-is.

It had been a while since I last played Persona 5 when I started up Royal, and the flashy art style and excellent music certainly don't disappoint this time around either. I also appreciate the greatly improved resolution on PS4 Pro - it seems to render at, or very close to, 4K. I will say though that when you unlock your Persona, or the manifestation of your spirit of rebellion that gives you power, I was once again struck by how occult and dark that process is. You make what is basically a pact with a creature that looks like a demon, and they say this power chains you to hell. I was a bit shaken by this hearing it all again. With that said, the darkest parts of the story are front loaded - which is to say the first parts of the game are the darkest, with the stories getting more and more interesting, and sometimes light-hearted, as the story goes on. There are exceptions to this of course; things take a sharp turn for the worse as you might expect pretty far into the story.

On the whole, the gameplay is pretty similar to how it was in the base Persona 5. The protagonist, whom you name but is nicknamed Joker, still meets Ryuji, Ann, and Morgana early in the story, and you quickly gain your Persona powers. You gather additional party members throughout the story, and if you make it past all of the original Persona 5 content, you can gain a final one as well, if you increase your confidant links appropriately. (Hint: The two new characters, plus Akechi - max them out ASAP.) In combat, Joker is special, in that he can switch Personas at will, as he can gain more by convincing them to join him, or by fusing them together in the Velvet Room. (This is a special place where Persona maintenance occurs.) All other characters have a single fixed Persona, but they are appropriately powerful and grow along with each character. Nevertheless, the Personas Joker can fuse by the end of the game massively outclass anything else.

Persona 5 Royal

Strong Points: New characters are great new additions to the cast; new semester and palace is incredibly interesting; great quality-of-life improvements over the original Persona 5; graphical enhancements on PS4 Pro include 4K resolution and look great; incredible art direction; great music and sound; fantastic voice acting; very engaging storyline; very lovable characters; deep and enjoyable game play mechanics; incredibly long adventure that never gets boring
Weak Points: Might be too long for some; debatable if players who already played Persona 5 should double-dip; the huge difficulty spike for the reworked Okumura Palace boss was very much unwelcome
Moral Warnings: Every common curse word, including God's name in vain, 'sh*t', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*tch', 'b*st*rd', 'd*ck', and 'f*ck'; some blood and violence; lots of sexual content, as both serious and light-hearted subject matter, including talk about rape or other forced sexual encounters; optional pre-marital sex, including with adults in authority over you, despite your character being 16 years old; some homosexual characters and jokes; women sometimes wear very form-fitting clothes, including bathing suits; some monsters/Personas wear practically nothing, with fully exposed breasts (with no nipples), while others wear form-fitting clothes that show nipple bumps; some other monsters/Personas are clearly shaped like male genitalia; game world areas are sometimes extremely dark, with twisted and distorted desires on display; all Personas and enemies (which can also be Personas) are aspects of personality, and run the gamut from angelic to demonic, and everything in between, including names like Gabriel, Michael, Satan, Lucifer, and a false god; Persona types based on tarot cards, and a fortune teller uses them

Each dungeon or however you refer to them is called a Palace in this game. Each Palace has a ruler, whose distorted desire created their Palace. The contents of the Palace mirrors the view of the owner/creator, so you can get a good idea of what they really think by going in there. If you steal their Treasure, they can then have a change of heart. This is what the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, the name of your group, is there to do. There is also the Palace of the shared unconscious, called Mementos. Inside either a Palace or Mementos is where all combat takes place.

All battles are turn-based, and outside of standard physical or gun attacks, all require either HP (hit points) or SP (skill points) to be used. Skills range from healing, support, status, or attack skills. Attacks can be one of eight magical or two physical types, for a total of ten strengths or weaknesses to consider for yourselves or enemies. Hitting a weak point can grant the attacker a significant advantage and turn the tide of battle, so it’s important to note them. It’s also much easier to acquire new Personas if you hit their weak points.

Your primary enemies are called Shadows, which is the term used to refer to the game’s enemies, and they typically transform into some form of Persona in battle. Since Joker can collect Personas, convincing them to join you is a major mechanic required in order to gain power. I can’t even imagine how you’d do well in this game if you didn’t properly exploit Persona acquisition and fusion. Just thinking about that idea scares me.

One major area of improvement is something rather simple: they changed how guns are managed. In Persona 5, you had a certain number of gunshots per day – once your clip was empty, they were gone for good. This made gun shots an afterthought and I almost never used them. Now, the ammo is per battle. This is a massive quality-of-life improvement I can’t overstate; now, you can use them whenever it makes sense, and there are legitimate gun-related builds and strategies you can use to get the most out of them.

Some of the other changes are more subtle, but mostly welcome balance changes. Skills were rebalanced, bosses modified, that kind of thing. One boss modification is almost universally determined to be negative, however. The Okumura Palace boss was reworked (fine) but made so that if you don’t kill off the entire wave in 3 turns they will run away and respawn. This is not cool, and caused me several wasted hours and lots of game overs. I ended up having to create/modify a special Persona just for this boss fight; once I was able to hit that wave with a heavy curse attack, I did enough damage to take them all out quickly enough. But overall, I am not alone in hating that boss fight; it’s a huge difficulty spike that was not welcome.

Outside of that, they made mostly positive changes. For example, they added a grappling hook as another way to make Joker look even cooler. Each dungeon has three added Will Seeds, which can be collected in each Palace and when all are gathered, grant you a powerful accessory, and a small SP restoration. One of the new confidants, Dr. Maruki, has skills that can help you recover SP when it's low, which is one of the most important things you need in a long Palace run. Ranking up his confidant also grants you more maximum SP, where every little bit helps. Having your SP run out before you are ready to call it quits is one of the worst parts of Persona 5, but through these new tweaks along with careful use of SP restoration items, I was able to beat the game and never leaving a Palace uncompleted once - though I was pretty close a few times, which shows the difficulty is quite well balanced this time around. There is little worse than wasting those precious days that could otherwise be used to pad that incredibly busy social life you wield.

When not inside of a Palace or Mementos, most of the rest of the game is spent sleeping in your loft in the Leblanc coffee shop, going to school, or spending your time (hopefully) wisely during the afternoon and evenings. There are many, many ways to spend that time, but using it somewhat wisely is pretty important. You can spend it with friends or other confidants, you can spend it focusing on increasing a primary social attribute (knowledge, guts, proficiency, kindness, or charm), or various other available activities. Almost all of them make time pass, and they are definitely not all created equal. For example, reading books takes two reads to gain attribute points until the game allows you to read the speed reading book; watching a movie/DVD or playing a game gives you attribute boosts each time. You can study to gain two knowledge points, but if it's raining, you'll gain three instead. Paying attention to little things like this is necessary to make the most of your time.

Also, certain activities are gated based on attributes. For example, one confidant requires you to have guts at three to be able to begin talking with her, while another requires a knowledge of four to be able to progress your relationship. These little 'gates' all around the game make it so that you are required to work on everything in order to get the best perks and skills. There are also small things like answering questions correctly in class, doing well on tests, and things like that which all contribute to your personality stat points and make an impact on time well spent. While the game has built-in social networking features which you can use to answer some questions, it's almost certainly worth checking out a guide to make sure you always answer correctly. Missing social points you could have otherwise gotten without wasting them on an activity is a huge blow to optimally spending each and every day.

Persona 5 Royal
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 100%
Gameplay - 20/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 31%
Violence - 3/10
Language - 2/10
Sexual Content - 3/10
Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

Persona 5 Royal has all of the activities and confidants from the first game, along with two new confidants and several new activities, some of which are nearly required if you want to do well. The new Kichijoji hangout spot has several really useful locations, including the Jazz club (great for later in the game when you want to increase the power of your team members) and the dart & billiards club where you can improve how well your team works together. Playing both is absolutely necessary if you want to do as much damage as possible; raising the darts rank to level 2 increases damage and restores since HP on a Baton Pass; reaching level 3 increases damage even more and restores some SP. (A Baton Pass happens when you hit an enemy using their weakness in battle; you can tag in another party member for a powered-up attack.) If you increase your billiards level, your technical attacks, basically an attack that takes advantage of an in-battle status ailment, deals tons more damage. Thankfully, in order to make up for all of these new things to do, the game has granted you more evenings that were previously unavailable in order to be able to spend that time studying or going out on the town (in some cases) where previously you were unable to in Persona 5.

Just as in Persona 5, there are a ton of appropriateness issues; so many that I would rather just refer you to my Persona 5 review once again. I'll summarize some of it here, but suffice it to say, if you think you'll find violence, sexual content, strong language, or occult content, it's all here and then some. Sex between characters is strongly implied, and that includes between your player character and adult women if you choose to romance them. There is also a 'harem' ending if you choose to be a jerk and romance all of the women at once. I am a nice guy, so I romanced only the new girl. (My RPG characters are one-women men also). She's pretty great, but she's not the only great choice if you enjoy romance in your games. As mentioned before, skimpy outfits or outright nudity (without details) are shown on enemies, while some humans have significant cleavage. Males are not left without depictions as well, as at least one Persona shows a phallus that is well known in Persona circles to be a bit too close to looking like a uniquely male body part to be a coincidence.

Personas include ones called 'Michael', 'Messiah', 'Lucifer', 'Satan', 'Satanael', and several new ones, including 'Maria', which might just be the closest to a reverent referral of a Christian character in this game series. She has the special skill 'Ave Maria'. A bullet named after the seven deadly sins is still used to defeat a false god, just like in Persona 5. The game makes it extremely clear that this 'god' is no 'god' at all, but false, though the imagery of Satan using sin to defeat 'god' is unmistakable imagery. Like before, there are Personas that represent all kinds of mythical creatures, from animist and Norse mythology through Egyptian through of course Judeo-Christian tradition. Tarot cards are present, and magical symbolism of various forms is present.

A notable change between Persona 5 and Royal is how they handle the Akechi confidant. Before, his confidant would automatically gain levels as the story progressed. Now, not only do you have bonding events with him, if you complete (or don't) his bonding arc, it will significantly affect the new semester/ending. You also get to see more aspects of his personality. {spoiler}It's part of the Persona 5 storyline for him to reveal himself as a murderer. In the extra semester, he joins your team and gets massive satisfaction over killing shadows. You can hear him cackle with glee over every kill. {/spoiler}

There is violence, including a rather bloody scene with a person being shot up close, and plenty of language to go around. All common curse words up until and including the f-word are included, and God's name is used a few times.

Thematically, rebellion from rules and social order is a major part of the story. The Phantom Thieves are there primarily to stop evil, corrupt adults from carrying out their will on the unprotected. It spans multiple locales and scenarios, but it's a major theme. In the new content, it deals with the power of the cognitive world in new and interesting ways. {spoiler}What if it was used for therapeutic reasons? It takes that idea to its logical conclusion - and it's incredibly satisfying. {/spoiler}

Persona 5 Royal is the sequel many thought was coming, but I wonder how many asked for. It took an already excessively long game - approximately 150 hours - and added even more to it, making it about 175 hours for me. Thankfully, that extra 25 hours doesn't tell the whole story - it takes a deep and engaging game and tweaks it in mostly positive ways and then adds interesting depth to the story in the form of the new confidants and the extra semester. I have to say, I didn't expect it to be this good. With that said, is it worth playing the game again from scratch if you already enjoyed Persona 5? That's mostly a personal decision - it's a massive time sink, with much of the game largely the same. If you have not experienced Persona 5 yet, then if you do decide to go ahead with it, get this version. But I don't blame you if you decide against it, as this game series has incredibly dark thematic tones, and mature themes of pretty much every kind. Again, please look over my Persona 5 review as I go into more detail in that review about appropriateness issues than I did in this one. Please use discernment when considering any gaming media, especially ones this full of mature and occult content.

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