It’s a common sight nowadays for a beloved video game to be re-released years after its initial launch, with all its DLC and expansion packs crammed into one tasty package and labelled a “Game of the Year” or “Masterpiece” edition. At a glance, one might assume that to be what’s going on here with Persona 5 Royal – a glossed up version of 2017’s baseline Persona 5.
Look closer though – because this isn’t just the same game repackaged, but rather a massaging of what was already there, taking a phenomenal Japanese RPG and adding new characters, story events, dungeons to battle through, and 4K support on PS4 Pro. Developer Atlus has form for this – Persona 3 and Persona 4 both received enhanced versions, in the form of Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden, and were better for them. As for this fifth instalment, what we have now is the definitive edition of what was already a highly polished and deeply absorbing game.
The core story remains the same: you play a nameless protagonist forced to move school after a good deed backfires, landing you with a criminal record. There, you find yourself pulled into a shadowy Metaverse – an alternate reality where wanton desires and dark obsessions are made manifest, corrupting the waking world in the process. However, by harnessing your own persona – a powerful inner demon, of sorts – and teaming with a group of new friends, you become the “Phantom Thief” Joker, infiltrating the strange castles that make up the Metaverse and stealing the treasures that power the dangerous delusions.
Yes, Persona 5 Royal is ultimately pretty bonkers – like its predecessors, it draws on philosophy, psychology, and demonology for influence – but its characters are so earnest and its storyline delivered so dramatically you can’t help but be drawn in. For all the weirdness of manifested realities and the dangers of an unrestrained psyche, it’s ultimately a game about supporting the underdog. Compassion and understanding even factors into power growth, with new abilities unlocked as you grow closer to your teammates.
The more time a returning player spends with Royal, the more they’ll realise just how much nuance has gone into the upgrade.
The additions for Royal massively improve an impressive original release. Chiefly, the new characters significantly expand and diverge the story in unexpected ways, and their appearances are seeded through the game consistently – returning players will delight in how masterfully they’re woven into the game’s lengthy narrative. The existing characters all get a bit of extra love, with new portraits to accompany their dialogue, providing more expressive context to story scenes, and more voice acting where previously Persona 5 offered text-only dialogue. A choice of Japanese or English audio is included as standard here too, whereas the original Japanese audio had to be installed as DLC before – a nice touch for purists.
The mechanics get some love too. Joker now has a grappling hook, which helps to explore the dungeons in more depth and, later, can be used to attack enemies. The dungeons themselves are overhauled, with more secrets to uncover, and have been rebalanced in terms of difficulty, eliminating some of the more frustrating difficulty spikes of the original. Best of all, ammo – used for ranged attacks in combat – now replenishes after each battle, no longer rendering your gun near-pointless. Even in the real world sections, there are far more activities to do, whether it’s exploring Tokyo’s wards and playing some minigames, or crafting items to benefit you in the Metaverse, there’s always something to be working on. The more time a returning player spends with Royal, the more they’ll realise just how much nuance has gone into the upgrade, with everything from relationship management to the fusing of Persona given an overhaul.
Some of the original flaws remain – chiefly the glacial pace during the real world, plot heavy sections. Royal slowly guides you for around four hours before giving you the slightest bit of freedom, but you’ll be champing at the bit to explore and experiment long before that. Slog through the restrictive opening hours though, and Persona 5 Royal rewards you with one of the deepest, richest, and most stylish RPG experiences to be found.