I was very late in coming to the Persona series, it was almost a year after release that the original Persona 5 landed in my lap and PS4 but I was immediately hooked by it. The visuals, the music and the gameplay won me over like nothing else has really since the original Final Fantasy VII changed everything I knew about gaming. I found it challenging and rewarding and it was a huge time sink for me just as it was. Now we have, well what we have is not quite a GOTY version but instead, it is the original game tweaked by player feedback but with additional content making the temptation to do it all over again absolutely captivating. Persona 5 Royal is here…but could it actually improve on the original?
For those who are not aware of Persona 5’s story, you play the role of ‘Joker’ a young man who paid a heavy price for stepping in to prevent a woman being assaulted. Due to causing the assailant injury, he was sued, causing him to get a criminal record and expelled from school leading to him being sent to a new city to go to a new school whilst being placed on probation for that year meaning should he get in any form of trouble at all, he would be sent to juvenile prison. The story follows that one year away as Joker makes new friends and some enemies along the way but the fun part comes in the form of Joker and then the friends he makes at school, discovering that they have the unique ability to change the ‘hearts’ of the evil and corrupt people around them by entering the physical manifestation of their dark desires, called Palaces, and defeat them there.
To aid them, this team of ‘Phantom Thieves’ are aided by Personas, which are physical manifestations of a person’s psyche and subconscious used for combat within the Metaverse of which the Palaces belong. What makes Joker stand out is that he has the very rare ability to take the persona from his enemies as well as the ability to merge persona’s together to create new and stronger Persona with the ability to change between them in battle where other Phantom Thieves can only have one. This was one side to the gameplay that I came to love in the original Persona 5, and just one of the examples of the absolute time sink this title is.
Now I put over 100 hours into the original Persona 5, so much of it being the grind to level up to buy accessories, weapons and evolving new Persona to meet the challenge of the Palace I was tackling. What this new Royal edition of the game does thankfully, is to tweak those original system in order to improve that original experience for both veteran players and newcomers and I fully welcome this decision. The adjustments will make an impact from everything from activities outside of Palaces to how combat within the Palaces work as well with re-balancing of enemy Persona as well as your own to how their skills work to something as simple as making the Gun system something you can actually rely on in combat with ammo refilling after each encounter.
One of the revamps I came to appreciate the most is in with the Mementos world which is where you can spend a lot of time doing side missions which in the original took up a lot of time and often gave very little reward for the time you spent there. In Royal, it has been adjusted to give you more rewards making it a far more satisfying place to visit with the grind to improve your levels and Persona feeling far more engaging than in the original especially with the inclusion of a brand-new character named Jose who you can now trade Memento items with for better quality ones and ways to boost money and XP. When I originally ran through Persona 5 I always found Mementos to be an area I would try to just get through as much as possible and once I hit the wall where I could not farm to improve my Persona any further I would avoid it. With the improvements in Royal its now a place to focus on to gain the extra edge outside of the main story Palaces and it helps to prepare you for the end game far more than it originally had for me.
If the quality of life improvements and additions were not enough in themselves to improve the experience playing Persona 5 than the added content is really the icing on the cake. These come in the forms of new areas in the Palaces to explore as well as mechanics making it far more rewarding to explore before the final boss encounter than before. I love Joker’s new grapple ability which enables more exploration of those new areas as well, unlocking new secret areas. You now have more time to do side events now that the constant “go to bed” restriction at night has been relaxed enabling you to do far more with your day outside of school such as socialising with your friends which strengthens your relationship with them. I never understood why Morgana was always so quick to end your day limiting what you could actually get to do so having that frustration removed opens up so much for the game.
Next you have the brand-new character in Kasumi Yoshizawa, who like Joker is also a new student at Shujin Academy on a scholarship and is an accomplished gymnast. There is an entirely new semester and story arc to play in the game with my only criticism being the placement of this towards the end of the story, being new and fresh I would have preferred to have had this much earlier or even half way to keep the freshness of this edition as someone who played the original, newcomers will probably never notice but it would have been more impact earlier in the story. But the story is very clever in that she is actually introduced to the player in the updated opening section to the story as you play as Joker trying to escape from the police and suddenly runs into Kasumi in her Phantom Thief form and they have a brief teaming up teasing what will happen much later in the story, but it was a clever way to introduce her to veteran and new players alike.
The immediate answer to the question of does it improve on the original…is yes. Persona 5 Royal manages to improve on the original enough to give veteran players a reason to come back and new players the definitive experience you would expect from a re-release or GOTY version of the game. The new opening video and prologue action is your gateway into everything that is new in Royal and the adjustments and quality of life updates are most welcome for a game I have happily already recommended to friends unsure of the JRPG genre and turn based combat that was off putting in series like Final Fantasy to them.
The visuals are so vibrant and just pop out of your TV even on the basic PS4 but are enhanced further if you have a PS4 Pro, the cut scenes are so well animated you are literally transported into an anime film. The gameplay is one of the finest modern examples of classic JRPG elements but truly brought to life in such a flamboyant way that it is just so satisfying especially with all the improvements removing many of the elements that frustrated me about the grinding which now are far more rewarding when you put the effort into building your characters up and evolving Persona to help in battle. The changes are impactful and if you have played the original Persona 5 you will notice even more just how much they change the gameplay for the better. The new character is a great addition to the mix but I do feel the new story arc would have benefitted from being woven into the original story far earlier than it has been.
Persona 5 Royal is the best example and version of Persona 5 you can play right now, and if you have never tried the series before, this is the version to go for and if you are a veteran, there is enough here to make a return worthwhile. At this time where people are searching for a game to occupy them well this is easily a 100hour plus game that has found the balance between grinding and rewarding for the time you put into it. Often a GOTY can just be the original experience with all the DLC added in and it can be fine, but what has been accomplished with Persona 5 Royal is taking what was one of my favourite JRPG gaming experiences and fixed the issues I had with it and added new elements that simply made me love it all the more.