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Don the mask of Joker and join the Phantom Thieves of Hearts. Break free from the chains of modern society and stage grand heists to infiltrate the minds of the corrupt and make them change their ways! Persona 5 Royal is packed with new characters, confidants, story depth, new locations to explore, and a new grappling hook mechanic for stealthy access to new areas. With a new semester at Shujin Academy, get ready to strengthen your abilities in the metaverse and in your daily life.

Publisher: Sega
Reviewed on: PS4 (Pro Unit)

Cast: Xander Mobus, Cassandra Lee Morris, Laura Post, Max Mittelman, Matthew Mercer, Erica Lindbeck, Carrie Keranen, Billy Kametz, Xanthe Huynh, Erika Harlacher, Olivia Hack, D.C Douglas, Robbie Daymond

Developer: Atlus
Director & Original Story Concept: Katsura Hashino
Art Director: Masayoshi Suto
Character Designer: Shigenori Soejima
Composer: Shōji Meguro

Let me get the elephant out of the room quickly – I never finished Persona 5. I got three palaces in and stopped for some reason. That said, this is easily the version to play as it not only adds some fantastic new characters and locations but also fixes all of my complaints about the original release back in 2017. 

From the moment Persona 5 Royal begins with its flurry of fast animated colours and jazz-pop music, it’s hard not to smile. The game has a unique art style and presentation that’s only been improved here, although hardcore fans may not love the new intro video. What hasn’t changed is the core Persona 5 experience. You’ll be spending the majority of your time exploring Tokyo, spending time with your friends as you build relationships with them and learn about their lives. You’ll be partaking in part-time jobs to build your charm and earn cash; reading and studying to improve your knowledge, and then you’ll dive into the metaverse where you’ll battle shadows in fast-paced, stylish, turn-based combat. 

Joker, our protagonist - image captured by author

Joker, our protagonist – image captured by author

The game begins very similarly to how it did three years ago. Our protagonist, codenamed ‘Joker’, is escaping a Casino with many security guards right on his toes. What he’s done, and who the many voices talking in his ear are all a mystery to you. Very quickly Persona 5 Royal reveals its changes to the original game as you use a grappling hook to skip a section of stairs from the original game and as a new character appears to help you in a battle. 

Joker is caught escaping the Casino and then the game is told through flashbacks as he recalls his year up until that point and the adventures he has at both school and the metaverse as both Joker and his growing crew of ‘Phantom Thieves’ pull off a heist that changes the cognitions of criminals, causing them to admit to their horrible crimes. 

Sprinkled throughout the same story structure as the original game are new scenes with Kasumi Yoshizawa, the new Phantom Thief introduced in Persona 5 Royal. She’s the draw point for returning players and has been the focus of the majority of the Persona 5 Royals marketing efforts, however, she’s not implemented into the early parts of the game very well, and at one stage you simply don’t speak or see her for months. Most of the time you spend with her is one-on-one and it feels disjointed to the main plot. You’ll spend most of your time with her in the new semester that extends past the original ending of the game. Here her story is extrapolated and she becomes a really interesting addition to the team, which makes her absence from the upcoming Persona 5 Scramble somewhat confusing, especially when I can already see her becoming a lot of players new “best girl” if they see her story through to the end when it becomes really unique. 

New Phatnom Theif, Kasumi Yoshizawa - image captured by author

New Phatnom Theif, Kasumi Yoshizawa – image captured by author

You won’t get to spend time with Kasumi in the metaverse for a long time however, so don’t expect to unlock her early in the game. She is very kick-ass however and I love the story behind her metaverse costume and her rapier weapons. 

The other major new character added to Persona 5 Royal is Takuto Maruki who you’ll meet early in the game much like Kasumi. Takuto is a part-time school counsellor who’s addition to the game works super-well. After each palace, you’ll get to see him talk to a member of the Phantom Thieves about what’s going on in their head and this allows us to see a new side to the team. 

All of the new characters are most important when you hit the third semester which is a new extension for Persona 5 Royal. It potentially extends the ending of the game by twenty hours or more depending on how much you have left to do in that end-game period, paired with the new content, which includes a brand new dungeon. 

Somewhat effortlessly, Atlus manages to extend the ending and rework the story in slight details to make the third semester not only make sense but now seem like the way the story was always meant to be told. After you beat the original games’ final boss it’s hard to imagine what could come next, but the new palace and story elements added in Persona 5 Royal are easily the most memorable of the whole game, and some of the most emotional.

Yes, I do name characters after myself - image captured by author

Yes, I do name characters after myself – image captured by author

Two of my biggest complaints with Persona 5 was running out of SP too fast in the palaces/dungeons and the guns feeling useless. Both of those have been changed in Persona 5 Royal and now combat moves faster than ever to keep up with the flashy presentation of the game.

Your guns now refill their bullets after each battle instead of after leaving a dungeon, making them a clutch move at times and an easy way to unload decent damage. It made me care to upgrade them and even customise them with various elemental effects when I could later in the game.

The baton pass ability from the first game which lets you extend your turns by hitting enemy weaknesses is now something you’ll unlock with each character as a default. You’re also able to level it up by playing a darts mini-game in Kichijoji, a new area for Persona 5 Royal that contains several new shops and stat building places to spend your time. Levelling up your baton pass is well worth your time and maxing out at Rank 3 will see that character’s HP and SP return slightly upon every baton pass. Persona 5 Royal makes baton passing around your team not just a faster addition to the combat early in the game, but also super-necessary for some of the new enemy additions as you take advantage of elemental and technical advantages.

Showtime attack - image captured by author

Showtime attack – image captured by author

Talking about style, the addition of new powerful combo moves are now unlocked periodically — and I think depending on your confidant ranking — called ‘showtime attacks’ that see two characters team up to perform an animated and massive special attack. They can be super-clutch ways to finish off an enemy and potentially save your team’s life. 

Recovering SP inside a palace is easier than ever thanks to several factors and overall makes running every palace in one day a much easier prospect, which is necessary to allow you more time to work on maxing your relationships and stats in the real world. Each palace now has three ‘will seeds’ to find and each one will give your party a slight SP restore, making them well worth seeking out for that alone, but also if you collect all three you can take them to a new character in Mementos to receive a rare accessory. 

The palaces have seen slight and sometimes glaring re-designs because of the grapple hook addition. You can only trigger to use it at certain locations though, so don’t think you’re just swinging about palaces freely. For the most part, it’s just a way to find a chest hidden on a platform above you, but there are a couple of times it’s used in really exciting ways and seeing Joker flying about on a grappling hook just fits his character. 

The bosses have seen slight to major changes and after I looked up the originals on YouTube I was surprised just how much in some cases. I’m annoyed that one of the bosses is still very similar to how he played in the original because the fight is just tedious and a standout for being easily the most boring and uneventful in the whole game. More annoying to see, when they’ve changed other boss fights much more drastically.

Kichijoji, a new location in Persona 5 Royal - image captured by author

Kichijoji, a new location in Persona 5 Royal – image captured by author

In your day-life, things have also been improved in a way that may annoy hardcore fans. It’s now easier to level up your confidants/relationships with characters and find the time to work jobs, study or just spend an evening in one of the locations messing around. Most of this is thanks to having more days to work with, as the third semester, new to the game, gives you breathing room and simply more days to do stuff.

You still can’t do evening activities after leaving the metaverse without unlocking a special ability, but Morgana will no longer drive you up the wall as he tells you to go to sleep nearly every single night. This extra time given to you in Persona 5 Royal was super evident as I smashed through my books early in the game and levelled up my stats to max very early on in the game. I loved this as it made the game a lot less stressful and allowed me to max all but one confidant by the time I rolled credits without the help of any guides or strict day-to-day scheduling of tasks.

I did speed through a lot of the early game as it was, for the most part, the exact same as the original, which led me to a final playtime of 105 hours. If you’re playing this game for the first time you’re probably looking at closer to 150 hours, and more if you haven’t played a Persona game before and don’t understand the general way to play and structure your day-to-day life for the best results.

Jose, the mysterious kid in a car inside Mementos - image captured by author

Jose, the mysterious kid in a car inside Mementos – image captured by author

For a decent amount of my playtime, I spent it in Mementos, because there’s actually more to do there now. A brand new character shows up early in your first visit to the RNG dungeon called Jose. They’re a mysterious young child who’s chasing flowers which can now be found floating in bubbles inside Mementos like the item bubbles in the original game. You’ll also be able to find star stamps at random locations, and at the end of each level before you go down deeper into Mementos. Taking these to Jose you can use the flowers to buy an assortment of items, including some very good SP restoring stuff (I love that stuff) and the stamps can be used to adjust three factors within the Mementos: your XP, items and money earned inside Mementos. Each level inside Mementos only has a limited number of stamps to find but you better believe I found them all as soon as I could and put them all into turning the XP boost to the max and levelling up super-fast.

The game looks just as good as it did at release thanks to the unique and defining art style and animated cut-scenes. There’s apparently an improvement on PS4 Pro’s but I honestly couldn’t notice anything. New UI updates and songs are also going straight over my head as I didn’t finish the original, but I can say that I did very much enjoy the soundtrack, be that old or new songs.