It’s always going to be a tricky proposition – updating and re-releasing an existing game as a new, full-priced product for a platform it already launched on. The Persona series isn’t new to the practice by any stretch, but in a landscape where games can be easily updated over the internet and gamers are comfortable with paying extra for post-launch content, there needs to be a really compelling reason to ask fans to fork out for the ‘same’ game twice. Luckily, Persona 5 Royal is more than just an update or added content, it’s a total overhauling of the existing game that makes it better in every conceivable way. Plus, it’s probably about time everyone replayed Persona 5 anyway, right?
Right from the outset, Persona 5 Royal makes its intentions clear with a colourful, energetic new animated intro. It maybe isn’t as slickly-produced as the original intro, but that actually works in its favour as it winds up being somewhat representative of the new game as a whole. The original Persona 5 was a thing of beauty – a glossy, tightly-scripted JRPG with precision-made mechanics working in harmonious balance. Royal is the same game, but loosened up. It’s like a classical masterpiece played on a keytar. All the same notes and the same emotional journey are there, it’s just a bit more fun.
I’ll avoid covering Persona 5 Royal’s general story and game flow, because if you’re here chances are you’ve already played or read about the original. I will say that both aspects have been tweaked a little, both to accommodate new content and to give players more time in their days to develop their social skills and relationships. I’d have to go back and play the original side-by-side to know just how different it is but I can definitely say that Morgana is far less of a stickler for bedtime now, giving your character more time in the evenings for activities.
The big-ticket content additions in Persona 5 Royal come in the form of a brand new playable Phantom Thief, a new Confidant, a couple of new explorable areas and a whole new playable semester that fills in details leading up and into the game’s ending. Naturally, I can’t talk about the new end game stuff without spoiling everything, but I can definitely say that it’s a wild ride and a community as passionate as Persona’s is likely going to enjoy arguing over the changes as much as they enjoy experiencing them.
One of the most instantly noticeable changes in Royal is the game’s luxe makeover in the visual department. While far from a graphical overhaul, there are very few aspects that haven’t been touched up in some way and as a result the complete picture looks starkly better than before. It’s much sharper for starters, especially when playing on a PS4 Pro, and that goes for UI elements too, some of which have been completely redone for this version. Better textures and lighting help bring the environments and characters together more cohesively than ever, and it all runs smooth as silk. The overall impression is that this looks much more like a native PS4 game now than the glorified PS3 port that it was originally. Persona 5 has always been an unbelievably stylish game, and it still is, but now it’s super stylish and fit for modern displays. Can’t argue with that.
New characters Kasumi Yoshizawa, Takuto Maruki and Jose flesh out the already exhaustive gallery of faces in Persona 5. Kasumi, a first-year at the school represents a new playable Phantom Thief (complete with sweet black leather outfit and rapier), while Maruki, a non-playable Confidant, is a mysterious new school councillor. Both are inserted quite gracefully into the game’s story quite early on, making them feel like they belonged there the whole time. Their motives and place in the story aren’t truly made clear until the new third semester rolls around though, and Kasumi doesn’t actually become a party member until very late in the game. The new story content is also tied inextricably to these characters, meaning if you don’t develop the necessary relationships with them (especially with Maruki), you might not get to it at all. That’s fine for returning players who would naturally go for the new story routes anyway, but newcomers could easily miss the whole thing.
Jose is a little more mysterious, and a little less integral to the story, but his role in the game itself is pretty important. He’s an egg-headed (I mean that literally), child-like figure who appears and asks the party to bring him flowers and stamps that now litter Mementos, exchanging them for rare items and upgrades that grant bonus experience, money and items when battling there. It’s a seemingly small thing but anyone who’s already spent hundreds of hours grinding in those dank tunnels will appreciate the help.
One of the more immediate major additions is the Thieves Den, a cognitive space belonging to the Phantom Thieves that acts as kind of a museum of their exploits throughout the game. Here, you’re able to view your in-game achievements, earning tokens to unlock things like music, cutscenes and images from the game. You’re also able to buy 3D models of characters, personas and even dioramas of unique locations. Changing the scenery isn’t just for aesthetics either – certain combinations of set dressing will cause characters to gather and engage in conversations that flesh out some of their stories. Dressing the Thieves Den up is fun, as is chasing and being rewarded with extra tidbits of story, but my favourite thing about it is being able to pick a character other than Joker to wander around the space as. Finally, my dreams of playing as Morgana are a reality. To a degree, anyway.
Kichijoji is another new location, this time in the real world. A shopping and food district, it’s one of the larger explorable locations in the game and ripe with new things to see and buy, and new activities to engage in with your companions. The coolest of these is the inclusion of DARTSLIVE3, a real-real-world arcade darts machine that’s also featured in games like the Yakuza series. This might be my favourite implementation of DARTSLIVE in a game so far though, because it goes as far as using the DualShock 4’s motion sensors to bring some authenticity and strategy to the board, and your social interactions extend to the game with team mates looking to you for advice on their next moves. Playing darts also leads into another new feature in this version of the game – tiered upgrades to your characters’ Baton Pass skills in battle.
Like the rest of the game, combat in Persona 5 Royal really benefits from the original’s neatly-wrapped package being busted open and crammed full of new surprises. Battles in the vanilla Persona 5 were some of the best in the business – dynamic and fast-paced, made up of interlocking systems that work beautifully in unison and stylish as hell while remaining incredibly easy to read. Royal maintains that while removing some of the inherent rigidity and repetition by giving players new options as well as bolstering some of the existing mechanics to make them more attractive. Like the aforementioned Baton Pass, for example, which now grants extra benefits like HP recovery when levelled up through darts. Or the fact that ammo regenerates after every battle now, turning a sorta-useful mechanic into an almost essential one.
The result is that battles now feel less like a test to pick the ‘correct’ strategy each time, and more like loose brawls that encourage experimentation and savvy reactions to occasional surprises, without ruining the symphony of systems that makes them so fun in the first place. Between the changes to combat and the plethora of new opportunities in daily life to increase your max SP and HP, running out of steam in Palaces or in Mementos is now basically a thing of the past. In playing through Royal I never once had to bow out of a Palace to regroup and recover – only at times where the story required it. The potential downside to this is that some fans might turn their noses up at the more lenient difficulty that comes as a result, but the silver lining is that the game’s Merciless difficulty is available from the outset.
I could honestly go on for an eternity about the laundry list of changes in Persona 5 Royal – the new enemy types, minigames, fusion types, online functionality, Showtime attacks, new Palace layouts along with new boss phases – the works. The weird thing about replaying a game as huge and dense as this too, is that I would constantly find things I thought were new but in actual fact were things I just never discovered the first time around.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A REVIEW COPY WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER FOR REVIEW.
The gist of it is though; this is more than just a few updates slapped on top of an existing game, it's a complete rethinking of the major and minor components that made the original what it was. For Persona 5 megafans who are ready to play through the game again, Royal is a very compelling package that more than justifies the double dip, and for curious newcomers it's an absolute no-brainer.