The Phantom Thieves of Hearts return for an expanded and more stylish mission. We tell you what you need to know before starting, and don't worry - we #DontSpoilTheRoyal.
Many of you probably already know this, but Persona 5, even without any added content, is already a damn long game. You can easily expect one playthrough to last 100 hours, maybe longer, and even then, you will probably still miss out on some of the fun. The game in its expanded form comes with a new subtitle, extra content, and lots of small additions and fixes, adding even more style to its original vision, evolving this monster of an adventure to its final, royal form.
It's not straightforward to explain what the Persona series actually is, so we strongly recommend that you take a look at our review of the base game, which will go into more detail. To give you the gist, however, from a gameplay perspective it's about making the best out of the time you have because the agony of choice is an ever-present in this world. We follow a group of young adults in their everyday life, study with them for exams, listen to the worries and fears of our friends, and after school, we might end-up jetting through the subways of Tokyo, in a cat bus no less.
These different characters all want you to spend time with them, and so life slowly but surely unfolds as a teenager in Tokyo. Cool, right? But wait, there's also a turn-based combat system, and you'd better be ready for a mountain of mechanics that come together to deliver a fantastic adventure with a socially critical background. An insane journey awaits you since, at its core, Persona 5 is about rebellion, about how weak people stand up to their oppressors. It's about outsmarting fate by making friends and working actively to change your situation. It's about solidarity, and you're at the heart of things. Although this narrative is brought to life through the lens of high school kids who can use their cell phones to physically invade the soul-worlds of their adult targets, the narrative identity remains universal. It may sound silly and unbelievable, but Persona 5 will take it's time to make you understand these topics in every way.
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Contrary to the motto of Persona 5 - "Take your Time" - Atlus only needs a few minutes to show players how much Royal will change the main game. Returning players will face fresh content right at the tutorial, as another character appears, raising questions right from the beginning. This opening scene gives us a glimpse of how big of a difference this game will be even for someone who already completed the original. The main quest and most of the side missions still follow the path from 2017, but some of the conversations and situations have been so thoroughly altered, that they sometimes shine in a different light.
This becomes apparent early on, for example, with Ann, the blonde lady in the red latex outfit. In the original, a cunning adult is trying to push her into a sexual relationship, and to make matters worse, the pubescent boys of your group even tease her about her revealing outfit. Fan feedback on this particular segment of the story suggested it to be a quite tactless approach, and so with Royal, Atlus took the opportunity to alter it ever so slightly. All of the scenes described are still also included in Persona 5 Royal, but thanks to revised discussions, slight adjustments in the timing, and its presentation - and last but not least thanks to a greater degree of care in the face of such hypersensitive topics - this version succeeds in offering a much more tactful, sensitive approach. It's not self-censorship, it's simply offering up a more nuanced take on a difficult topic.
For those of you who played the base version of Persona 5, it can be exciting to look out for these differences. However, not all of the changes are this subtle, as some of the characters' features were tweaked too. The artist Yusuke, for example, is still eccentric in certain situations during Royal, at least when it comes to the topic of fine art. However, his outbreaks have been reduced in favour of more prudent arguments and firm conclusions. As a result, the student does not stand out as often as he did before and rather fits into the group.
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In addition to such details, Persona 5 Royal also extends the content of the JRPG as two new characters will tell their own stories. School counsellor Maruki and the female gymnast Yoshizawa will be particularly prominent since both play an important role in this new edition. Both confidants compete for our attention, as the others do too, and deepening your connection grants you with helpful rewards. Atlus has also adjusted the less popular confidants in order to make them a little more attractive and worthwhile.
There is also an additional dungeon to be found. Atlus decided to put this palace at the very end of the main story, leading to an alternative outcome. We don't want to ruin the game for new players, but to give you a general idea of how things change, in Royal, the fast-paced end of the year is opened up by a clever trick, meaning that the time frame until spring can be filled with a new challenge to overcome. Unfortunately, all players must first complete the entire main game before encountering these events. This might be a bit much to ask for players who have already beaten the game once, so Atlus made lots of small improvements along the way for us to enjoy.
Furthermore, Royal enriches the adventure with further activities and areas to explore. For example, there is a new area of Tokyo - Kichijoji -, which in turn offers a number of options for us to help organise our everyday life. We can go to the jazz club, play darts or billiards with our friends, and of course, there are additional shops that sell consumer goods and equipment. All these things slip into other areas of Persona 5 as well, so it's a rather big addition to the overall package.
The extent of these adjustments isn't only evident in the social components. The combat and fantasy aspects of the overall experience have also been revised and added to, as every single palace of the game has been redesigned for Royal. Some areas have simply been shortened or rearranged to create a different dynamic, but there are also new surprises and things to be found. For example, we are able to collect so-called Will seeds in these dungeons, which not only refresh our SP (mana) but also provide our troops with skills.
There are even completely new mechanics added to Royal, as we now have a new tool at our disposal, and it plays an important role in exploring the Metaverse. It's a grappling hook, but of course, it's as stylish as you would expect with it coming from Atlus. However, this particular addition isn't really worth mentioning at first (although you can use it to surprise enemies from afar after you spend some time with Kasumi), but the late-game dungeons where some players ran out of stamina in the base game benefit from these little design decisions.
If that's not enough for you, Atlus has also reworked the boss battles together with their palaces. The phases differ from the ones in the main game, as does every boss with adjusted stats and strategies. What's more, there are also new narrative elements to be found, which we particularly liked. If you are afraid or have concerns about having to run through the long palaces once again, rest assured as the innovations from Royal also carry the game in these sometimes slower phases.
Another area that deserves renewed attention is the Metaverse, more precisely Mementos. 66 short procedurally generated levels have to be crossed if you want to complete the game, and this is not an easy task, even for seasoned players (in the third quarter there even is another area with multiple stages). In the original, Atlus linked many higher confidant ranks to the gradual exploration of Mementos but in Royal they went a few steps further: In the depths of the collective subconscious we meet a mysterious boy named José, who has a shop stocked with special surprises. If you explore Mementos diligently, you can exchange gathered items with him to unlock various permanent bonuses (XP, items and money), thanks to which we can get more out of our time down there. In addition (and this is not insignificant in terms of time), Mona now runs straight over all low-level opponents, meaning that the easy fights are skipped in Mementos and you still receive rewards!
While we're at it: the fighting has also been refreshed, as ammunition for ranged weapons, for example, is now automatically refilled when entering battle. That, in fact, finally makes them viable, since we can use our guns effectively, offering new strategies to try out. The Batton Pass can now be upgraded as well so that you get even more benefits if you are a particularly tactical player. And that's not all since all of our team members get absurdly complex animated Showdown attacks, which cause a significant portion of damage (but only occur by chance). Joker can also do this if we hold down R2 in the palaces (again, this only works with low-level enemies).
Before we come to an end, we would like to highlight the unique presentation of Persona 5 Royal once again. This is a fine piece of interactive extravagance, and out of every pore, it exudes this incredible charm. This might be too much for some players - honestly, it is a fair argument - but one can appreciate the detail in both its visual presentation, its music, and its narrative, and within each of these lies an affection for detail. With Royal, Atlus has not only sharpened up the character models and given them a fresh wardrobe of clothes for extended events, there are new animations, the character portraits have been redrawn to match facial expressions better, and the jazzy soundtrack has also been upgraded with some cool new pieces.
Of course, the same can be said about the additional videos that incorporate the new content into the existing story. And to top it all off, with the Thieves Den Atlus has even created an area that is used solely to demonstrate all of their artistic ideas. In this interactive gallery, you can look at pictures, concept art and videos, or simply relax to the music in the lounge. You can play cards with your friends and listen to their opinions on certain memories from the story. None of that needed to be done, but Atlus wanted to do it because it knew its fans would love it.
For all those reasons, Persona 5 Royal occasionally feels like a remake, although the original released only a few years ago on PlayStation 4. The changes don't make a big difference if you look at them individually, but in their entirety, it makes a huge difference to the whole experience. It's clear to us that there's an incredible effort involved in lovingly updating a game like this, and it was already overflowing with content, charm and style. However, it's clear that Royal is an expression of the developer's need to do even better. We also see this in the extended localisation options, available in French, German, Spanish, and Italian subtitles (and that includes translating and rearranging the distinctive menu-design as well).
Persona 5 is one of our favourite JRPGs, so we had pretty high expectations for this re-release. The new ending offers a nice conclusion of its own, which the upcoming Musou spin-off Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers most certainly will be connected to, whenever it makes it out over here. Overall, however, we don't think that the additional chapter was absolutely necessary. The end of Persona 5 came by relatively abruptly and in Royal this criticism gives way to a slightly protracted climax. Now, we're definitely not among those getting upset about having too much Persona, but neither the new dungeon nor the extra time with our allies is essential from a player perspective.
The two new characters, on the other hand, felt like a good fit because their strong fates offered some interesting ideas that resonated well with us. What's more, we believe that the end of Royal will be an emotional one for a lot of fans, even more so since some of us already know how it turns out after our first outing. At the same time, we are impressed by how well the many adjustments mesh with the original and allow this raft of changes to work in an already finished game. We shouldn't forget that Persona 5 already covered a lot in its 80-100 hour story, and all those elements have been extensively adapted and tuned to work towards the new finale. In fact, because most of the new additions turn out to be well-considered and slick, we can't give anything other than a comprehensive recommendation for both new and returning players alike. There is no question that the Phantom Thieves have stolen our hearts once more, and they're likely to steal yours as well.
10 / 10
Extravagant presentation runs through every fiber of this game, sensitive topics are shown much more sensitively now, additional content, deep gameplay adjustments, suitable for new and old players alike.