Cast your mind back to 2012; the Mayans were supposedly coming to kill us and Persona 4 Golden was released to great success. Widely held as the best PS Vita game of all time, this unprecedented success was the ultimate version of Persona 4 — a little-played game released on the PS2 four years earlier. Persona 5 Royal carries on this proud tradition, rereleasing one of the most acclaimed games that the PS4 has to offer with a fresh coat of paint. This is something that Japanese developers have been doing for some time now — those of you who have been following Monster Hunter since its days on the PSP will be familiar with this, but for those new to the party, you can pretty much think of this as a Game of the Year Plus.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Persona 5 tells the story of Joker and his gang of Phantom Thieves, as Joker strives to avoid the ruin that fate has in store from him. After defending a woman from a drunken sexual predator who claims he ‘owns the police’, you wind up with a criminal record and are forced to relocate to Tokyo. Despite being shunned by society as a common criminal, you’re taken in by a guy who owns a coffee and curry shop, and are forced into a new way of life. As a highschooler, your mission is to lead a normal life — cramming for exams and hanging out with your friends — between bouts of forcing wicked adults to have a change of heart. Adults, as the game frequently reminds you, can be pretty shitty.
You force this change of heart this by breaking into a person’s ‘Palace’ — the metaverse manifestation of their most warped desires – and steal their Treasure, fighting Shadows along the way in the franchise’s traditional turn-based combat. Think of it like Pokémon, but with more mature themes and you’re throwing your Persona Genbu at someone and screaming “Bufu!” instead of a Squirtle and shouting “Ice Beam!” It’s the same, but different.
These games are dripping with real-world mythology. Genbu, for example, is the black turtle of Chinese mythology and one of the four guardian spirits of Kyoto in Japanese mythology. It’s similar to how the Final Fantasy franchise borrows heavily on the likes of Shiva and Quetzalcoatl, except you may learn something here if you pay attention. As a student, you’re frequently tested on your knowledge and recall, so paying attention pays off.
If it seems complicated, it is, but it’s well worth playing. We gave Persona 5 a rare 10/10 when it first released, and Persona 5 Royal takes everything already great about the game and adds a generous helping of new story threads, personas, confidants (friends who affect your game) and quality of life improvements.
So, Persona 5 is already a must-play, but is it worth picking up Persona 5 Royal if you’ve already played the base game? The answer to this is 100% yes! This is the definitive version of one of the best games of the generation, raising the high bar for JRPGs that the game already set.
The story has been changed, and while it might be slight, it’s definitely for the better. It sees two new additions to the roster – two new confidants, one of whom is a playable character – and with these come two new arcanas and a swathe of new Personas to fit them. Unsurprisingly, some of the character arcs are slightly different — Haru is introduced way earlier into the game, for example, making it less of a jarring experience when she first shows up — although these don’t detract from the game in any way. As I said, it’s the same, but different.
There are other interesting new additions sprinkled throughout the game, such as the lessons you receive having new information within them and the crosswords you find having new answers. Loads of little things you wouldn’t expect to be touched somehow got a little TLC or a bit of a facelift. Even the Palaces you infiltrate in the base game get a light revamp with the addition of grapple hook routes. There are different uses for these, but the primary one is that grappling your way through the building like Batman gets you into new areas to find new treasures, such as the all-new Will Seeds, three of which have been added to each Palace. Even the most seasoned player will find new and engaging content in this game.
Like all highschoolers, Joker loves kicking it with his confidants. On top of the usual diner and izakaya, you can now head out to a new part of Tokyo and play darts and snooker with your buddies. If the real world is too pedestrian for you, why not relax in your very own Palace, the Thieves Den? This is a snazzy little bastion where you can admire the game’s art, music and cutscenes, and play a few rounds of the card game Tycoon, picking up a couple of ‘P Medals’ for your trouble. You can then spend these medals on the aforementioned collectables, although Tycoon isn’t the only way to earn them. Persona 5 Royal has also added an Awards system, congratulating you for ticking off certain challenges, such as ambushing a set number of Shadows. Since these awards translate into hundreds of P Medals, you’ll want to keep an eye out for these as you play.
The Den is also the first place you’ll meet Jose, the white-haired mystery boy you come across into your first foray into Mementos — the underground Palace spawned from the collective unconscious of Tokyoites’ warped desires. Why is he in Mementos picking flowers? You’ll have to play the game and find out.
Another great addition is the challenge mode that the Twins in the Velvet Room offer you. This is pretty much what you’d expect from a ‘challenge tower’ mode in 2020, tasking you to kill things within set parameters. Despite it being a fairly standard gameplay mode, it’s still an intriguing way of playing. Not only does it net you some pretty cool items, it also lets you practice with some of the new quality of life improvements the game boasts.
The biggest of these – and we’re potentially saving the best for last — is the revamped Baton Pass. In the base game, this was simply a way of taking an extra turn after knocking an enemy down, but in Persona 5 Royal, passing the baton seriously powers up your team. If you can chain three Baton Passes and let all four of your party members have a crack at the enemy without failing, you get the excellent bonus of getting in a free attack for zero SP.
Think about that. Remember those hours you spent slaving away, low on stamina points, desperate to get even just a few SP while you try to grind those levels? This attack costs nothing.
There are loads of other little improvements as well. There’s a new intro scene, a couple of new songs (adding to an already incredible soundtrack), ammo refilling after every battle, text messages telling you to come to work during a particularly busy shift if you want extra pay, and even phone calls from your confidant after spending time hanging out with them, helping you get that little bit closer to your friends. Oh, and trophy hunters will be pleased to hear that the path to the platinum is much easier this time round. All of that, in a nutshell, is what Persona 5 Royal is — an excellent game which, somehow, managed to get that little bit closer to being perfect.