Thanks to ATLUS for the review code
Title: Persona 5 Royal
Release Date: 03/31/2020
In this RPG adventure, you take control of a new student at a high school, who ends up discovering an alternate dimension where cruel people’s darkest desires manifest into living dungeons of pure evil. With the help of his classmates, they form a group to reform these people and discover the secrets behind the darkness!
Persona 5 Royal is in a sense, a GOTY version of the original Persona 5, which launched back in 2017. It includes a lot of QOL features and other tweaks, and a pack of DLC from the original version is free on PSN for Royal, but since this is my first ever Persona game, (though not my first Shin Megami Tensei title) I’ll be covering this from my newcomer point of view, instead of someone who’s just looking at the new features and tweaks Royal included, since in my point of view, everything here is brand new.
Starting off with the visuals, they surprised me a bit more than I expected! I’ve played and reviewed plenty of 3D RPGs before, and plenty with anime art styles and cutscenes. So for Persona 5 Royal, I mostly expected more of the same with a similar look, and while some of that is true, the production values in P5R were far higher than I expected. This especially applies to the anime cutscenes, which are absolutely stunning and gorgeous, and honestly look the quality of if they came out of a real, full-length anime show. The game itself runs really smoothly and has a good filter on it, making the visuals pop, even if they obviously don’t match the cutscenes.
The music score in this game is also worth praising: A lot of the themes in the game, whether they’re cutscene, field, or dungeon related are just outstanding, and very memorable long after you put down the game. The battle themes are also good, especially the sub-boss and palace boss themes, though I’m not really the biggest fan of the use of vocals during certain battle scenes. The good news is, you can download the DLC from the original version of the game for no additional cost, and this also includes costumes that will swap the normal battle theme with a song from older Persona games. So while I wasn’t a fan of this game’s main battle theme, I did have lots of others to enjoy, with the awesome remixes of the battle themes from Shin Megami Tensei: IF and Persona 2 being my main go-to choices.
Persona 5 is a turn-based RPG, where you and your team of Phantom Thieves must go out in search of corrupt people and destroy the palaces that fuel their darkest desires! The game takes place with both real life out of dungeon segments, where you either investigate what’s currently going on, or spend your free time hanging out with your party members or exploring the town, and in-dungeon segments, where you either explore the current palace on focus, or the special Mementos dungeon, which always sticks around after it appears in the story, but is a fully randomized dungeon that adds extra floors with each palace you conquer, each floor increasing in difficulty.
So not only will you have to balance real-life aspects and using those to improve the skills of your main protagonist, but you also have to use the dungeons and Mementos in order to build up your party and prepare them for battle, while moving the plot along. The entire game works on a schedule that takes place over a year, so eventually the plot will mandate itself into motion whether you like it or not, but you’re usually given plenty of time to do your own thing, and can even go out at night after a while in order to do something you might have forgotten, such as crafting thieving items or washing strange equipment found in dungeons.
The palaces are the biggest aspect of the game by far, though you can’t just freely go in and complete them. Outside of the first one, which is more like a tutorial one, each subsequent dungeon requires you to do some investigation work, and once that work is done, the game will start a timer: whether it lasts that person bails from town, or takes action that could jeopardize the whole secret plan, you have to carefully time the dungeon exploration around that timeframe. You could go in the first day the palace is vulnerable, but if you aren’t prepared, then it may not end up well. You can still go in, make some progress, then back out once you’re content and use the safe room shortcuts to make subsequent trips easier, but you could also be caught off guard by enemies or the bosses, so it’s key to only go in when you’re prepared.
Likewise, going in at the last moment isn’t ideal either, since palaces might force you to back out for a day in order to change something in the real world, so having some extra days is still key. Still, when you’re in the dungeon, there’s lots of things to explore and check out, from hidden Will Seeds that can form into helpful accessories for the team, powerful enemies that you can convince to join your team as a persona for the protagonist to wear, to rare treasure chests that require a lockpick in order to access the goodies, there’s still plenty of things to find before the Palace ruler, and it’s key to find everything you want before you beat them, since the palace will evaporate from existence once the deed is done, and all the items within will vanish as well. With how much days you’re given, and how you can spend as much time as you want in a palace at a time, it’s not really that stressful or strict, so if you want to spend a day or two marathoning a palace and nabbing everything, you can!
Battles are fairly straightforward too. Each character can attack normally, or use their magic given by their Persona to take out the enemy forces, and if you really want to pack a punch, you can even use a firearm to deal heavy damage to enemies, though your ammo is heavily limited per battle, and something you’ll have to be more careful with. Like most RPGs, enemies are weak to certain weapons and attributes, and so are your party members, so finding the weaknesses and exploiting them is as useful as it always is in these type of games. Thus, recruiting personas, even ones you might not like as-is, is still very important, since you can combine two of them and make something that would be more useful, inheriting skills from the previous Persona in your possession.
When an enemy is weakened enough, they might break and plea for mercy, and when this happens, you can either use an ultimate, all-out attack to deal major damage and likely finish them off, or you can ask them to join your team, or ask them for money or items, just like in the main Shin Megami Tensei titles. Speaking of which, there’s still plenty of elements I recognized from SMT titles, such as the names of the personas and certain enemies matching those from that series, the ability to merge demons to create a better one, and a bunch of the spells and skills you can learn.
Finally, heading back to the real world for this aspect, there’s also this interesting Thieves Guild area that you can pay a visit to, with in-game achievements, unlockable gallery items, and even a really fun card minigame where you can take on your other party members. It’s a basic mode, and the unlockables are neat touches, but despite this being a system where you can connect to the internet and use it to see how other players responded to certain dialogue choices in the game, there isn’t too much to find in this area outside of the achievements and minigame, along with being able to goof around and control one of the other party members in this area. (though this doesn’t apply to the minigame, unfortunately) It’s a nice touch, and one that seems to be new to this version of the game in particular, but really it isn’t anything too major, I feel, so unless you really like the minigame you may not have much of a reason to visit it all too much.
In conclusion, Persona 5 Royal was a huge surprise for me. I doubted the original game due to the art style and the fact that I was more of a fan of the general tone of entries such as Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, but having played 15 hours of this adventure, I am very happy to admit that I was wrong. Sure, Persona 5 isn’t a first-person dungeon crawler like Strange Journey, nor is it extremely serious from the first moment like that game is, but it’s a very fun and enjoyable 3D dungeon crawler, with a story that’s honestly way more engaging and in-depth than Journey’s, along with a battle system that’s really fast-paced and addicting to play.
Parts of the story actually touched on some interesting elements I don’t see too much in other games, which kinda stunned me with how well some aspects were handled. Generally, I felt things were well-written and engaging, and I had enough motivation to mess with some of the side activites and build up some confidant rankings and relationships with the other party members in-between palaces. Due to this, alongside the fun combat, I was more than excited to get right to the palaces as soon as possible, or going as far into Mementos as I was allowed per the current state of the plot. Likewise, the sidequests in that dungeon are also fun, including the aforementioned stamp rally, along with being a good way to gain experience if you’re under-leveled or lacking money to purchase items for the dungeons.
However, as much as I’m enjoying the game as of now, I do feel that I can’t quite pin a score on this game as a whole just yet, despite how much I’m in love with all the mechanics on display here. As you may know, here at Seafoam Gaming I try my best to go in-depth with all the mechanics of a game, and even if I don’t beat a game before reviewing it, I will only review it once all the mechanics on offer have been covered and I’ve played enough of a game to feel comfortable with that.
So yeah, I really, truly enjoy P5R so far, and I don’t honestly think there’s much that would derail that, but as I’m going in this adventure totally blind, I also don’t know for sure if I even made it to all the mechanics or the meatiest part of the game yet. After all, I’m only 15 hours and 2 palaces in an adventure that others have taken nearly a hundred hours to clear. So while I am very confident that I know enough to cover and recommend this game in a heartbeat, I don’t think I’m going to lock a score to this review just yet, in case I discover new mechanics or form a major opinion on the plot that would change my thoughts.
Still, I am confident enough to give this game a solid recommendation nevertheless, if you’re an RPG fan wanting something lengthy and enjoyable with fast-paced battles to play. If you were in my boat of dismissing the original or thinking it was perhaps too much akin to the other anime styled RPGs you’ve seen, then please, I do truly implore you to make an exception and give this game a shot: It’s truly great, and one I’m more than happy to have started a journey with! Here’s hoping I continue to have a good time as I play it through the coming months.
As a review in progress, we’ll get back to adding a score in due time. But I do indeed, recommend this game for those looking for a new RPG to enjoy, so if you’re on the fence, then I can still say go for it! I just can’t use my scale to make an exact judgement on whether it’s great or godlike just yet.