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Persona 5 Royal (2020)

System: PlayStation 4 | Publisher: Sega

Developer: ATLUS | Reviewed On: PlayStation 4


Celebrating its silver anniversary next year, the Persona franchise has seen a gradual increase in popularity since its inception. Born as a spin-off to ATLUS’s Shin Megami Tensei series, Persona‘s goal was create a more accessible RPG experience for casual gamers; by crafting storylines that dipped into the situations of everyday life whilst retaining the fantasy-based elements its big brother brought to the table.


In 2006, the series would mix things up with its 3rd entry; implementing a unique form of social simulation, which was blended into its RPG gameplay. This formula proved to be very successful amongst fans & Persona 3 began to feature in numerous ranking lists from critics, including top spots for “Top RPGs of the Decade”. Its reputation began to spread in the West & following the release of further spin-offs titles that included fighting & dancing games, the series has gone on to sell approximately 13 million copies in total; outshining the records of its older sibling.


I first played Persona 5 (the original version) in early 2019. Although a little late to the plate, I was curious about its esteem by other critics & although I acknowledged a few things that needed a bit of work, it became one of my favourite games of last year. Hungry for more as I started to acquire its predecessors, I slowly realised in my search; ATLUS love to re-release expanded versions their games. All of their mainline entries have seen a re-release at some point, including other titles they have developed; such as Catherine (of which I recently reviewed).


It would seem almost trivial when one month after completing the game, ATLUS announced it would be releasing an enhanced version of Persona 5 for the PlayStation 4. Talk about timing......and of course, I pre-ordered it. Today, I provide you with a in-depth look into the definitive version of the 5th entry in this series; known as Persona 5 Royal.


For those curious about what this game offers, you’ve come to the right place but brace yourselves; this is going to be a long one. Let’s break it down!


Story


The game takes place in 21st Century Tokyo & follows the path of a silent teenage protagonist named...well, that’s your decision but for the sake brevity in this review, we’ll call him by his nickname; Joker. Following an event that led to him being put on a year-long probation, he is forced to stay with a family friend in the city; living in the attic of their Coffee Shop. Following a strange dream, in which a long-nosed gentleman proclaims that of an event of ruin is beckoning, he proceeds to get ready for his first day at his new school; Shujin Academy.


En route, Joker becomes acquainted with a student named Ryuji, who offers to walk with him. When they arrive at the school grounds, the school is nowhere to be seen & in its place stands a giant castle. Upon entering this structure, they are met by a series of monsters & a skimpily-dressed King, who proceeds to imprison them before deciding to execute them. Starring at the face of death, our protagonist suddenly awakens to a mysterious power, granting him the ability to summon a Persona; an apparition of one’s psyche that appears as a fantastical entity. As they try to escape, they become acquainted with a talking cat named Morgana, who proceeds to explain the situation to our perplexed students.



The world they have found themselves in is known as the Metaverse; a realm formed from the collective subconscious of humanity, which can physically manifest people's desires & is unknowingly connected to the real world. Those with overwhelmingly distorted desires will subconsciously form a structure in this world known as a Palace; personalised to their subliminal wishes, guarded by Shadows and ruled by a shadow version of themselves. In the real world, this kind of person generally exhibits malevolent traits; using their power & influence to oppress others.


Whilst the Palace remains in existence, they will continue to act accordingly but luckily, there is a way that a person of this nature can cease their spiteful ways. Hidden somewhere deep within the Palace is the core of their desires (known as their Treasure) & by stealing it, it prompts a change of their heart in that person. After helping Morgana escape & returning to the real world, our protagonist and Ryuji realise who the Palace's ruler is outside of the Metaverse & they begin to learn of the heinous acts he is committing. As things reach a critical point, the three of them come up with a plan to infiltrate the castle & steal the ruler's treasure, in order to prevent this person from causing any more harm to others.


As the plot progresses, Joker becomes acquainted with other students who also feel oppressed or being taken advantage of. Combining their collective disdain for the rampant injustice they witness & their desires to confront & eradicate this toxic ethos, this form the nucleus that will become The Phantom Thieves; a vigilante group whose goal is to oppose & confront corrupt adults, steal their hearts & in turn, forcing them to miraculously accept & atone for their actions. The team sets out on a path driven by justice, targeting those who continue to inflict misery upon others whilst attempting to liberate the oppressed mindset of society, as their actions begin to gain attention. It is up to this group of teenagers to conjure the strength to overcome these forces & remain integral in their mission for change.



The narrative provides a thrilling adventure surrounding the themes of freedom & empowerment that is both suspenseful & highly entertaining. As you lead the double life of a kick-ass vigilante coupled with the everyday ebbs & flows of being a high school student, you will embark on a journey that sees you connect with your comrades & tests your skills as a team, as you begin to face the threats that become evermore evident & dangerous as time goes on. It maintains its integrity with a number of twists & revelations as you slowly begin to uncover the truths behind your targets, the Metaverse and the further dangers that lurk in the shadows. Although its premise does feel serious, it's able to balance its elements of peril with a multitude of light-hearted moments that will have you smiling, laughing and holding your breath.


Its compilation of characters are a unique arrangement of individuals; each with their own personal journey, personality and appearance. You’ll see them grow as individuals over time & being able to connect & interact with them was a personal highlight. Even less-prominent individuals have their own interesting story to tell which, more often than not, I would go out of my way to explore. Whilst the game also has the option of explore romantic paths, the high point was simply to witness their personal growth & their path towards a point of enlightenment.


The game does choose to make our protagonist primarily silent, but I feel this is an effective decision. Although he is of a quiet nature, there is enough dialogue and interactions that prevented him from feeling like a fly on the wall & helping you form a connection, which will immerse you at the centre of everything that transpires.



Although the plot plays in an almost identical fashion to the original Persona 5, Royal adds a number of complimentary additions to expand its plot. First, we have the inclusion of two new characters; a ballet student named Kasumi & a counsellor named Maruki. Both have undergone the same character-building process, which provides them with charming personalities & intriguing backstories for you to uncover. The only questionable part was that I felt that their segments would often stand out, only if you have played the original, but I found this faded away after time. Whilst they don’t feel lost in the shuffle with its other characters, their inclusion only truly pays off if you play the game's new epilogue, which features a brand new 3rd semester for you to experience.


When you trigger the correct requirements, you have the opportunity to explore this altered timeline which, whilst I won’t spoil for anyone, I found to very enjoyable; adding an additional dynamic of peril & mystery to the game’s already potent plot. Whilst it may be refuted if its ending was better when compared to the original, it still escalated to a grand finale & the threat it presented made me refuse to hang up my mask.


To summarise, I loved this story. It works well within the confines of reality and fantasy, fusing elements of action, drama & humour that kept my attention & interest at a peak. It was a joy to see these characters progress from the ground up & witness them stand up to confront the tyrannical standards they reject. I was on their side from the start & wanted them to succeed right up until the end, even when hope felt faint and almost non-existent. Although my playthrough clocked in at approximately 100 hours, I would still happily invest in another playthrough, just to relive the journey it offers.


Gameplay


Persona continues to utilise its combined formula of RPG gameplay & social simulation, which sees its most ambitious and effective implementation to date. First, let's take a look into the game's action & RPG gameplay.


When the opportunity arises, you will be able to enter the Metaverse to take on the Shadows that inhabit it. First, you have Palaces that become available when a target is selected. Upon entry, you will be greeted by a large structure with your mission to traverse its 3D environment, solving platforming puzzles, collecting items and defeating Shadows along the way; in order to reach the ruler's Treasure. Each Palace is large in scope, composed of multiple levels & sections with no single area structured in the same way; often taking a couple of hours to infiltrate successfully. Safe Rooms are implemented in various sections that present an protected opportunity for you to save your game, use items, make changes to your setup & fast-track to previously visited safe rooms.


When lurking through its various areas, Joker has a unique vision perk known as the Third Eye; allowing him to detect nearby enemies, find hidden items and various other elements not seen by the naked eye. Items can be found either in ornaments dotted around the Palace or via Treasure Chests; containing a wide variety of consumables, materials, tools & key items that can either be traded in or used when needed. There are also combat items such as weapons, guns, armour and accessories, which you can equip to your team members & help strengthen yourself and your team when you enter battles. The Palaces have also been slightly expanded since the original, primarily making way for a new collectable side mission, in which you collect Will Seeds to form powerful accessories that you can take advantage of their perks.

When a mission begins, you are given an allocated duration (usually a couple of weeks) to complete your infiltration of the Palace & locate the treasure. The choice of when you enter is at your discretion, allowing you to prioritise how you want to play the game. You can choose to complete this in one fell swoop or break it down into manageable segments but be warned; if you don't obtain the Treasure before its required date, it's Game Over. Upon reaching the Treasure, you will enter in a Boss Battle with the palace's ruler as they will try to prevent you from taking their Treasure. Upon a successful heist, the Palace will becomes inaccessible from that point onwards.



The other area in the Metaverse you can explore is Mementos; an area that allows you to search the depths of a warped version of the Tokyo Subway system. You will be given side missions throughout the game, where the Thieves will be asked to steal the hearts of various members of the public who are committing unjust acts, but not corrupt enough to form a Palace.


There are 9 areas of Mementos to explore, which become available to you as the story progresses. It’s recommended to progress through these parts when you can, as it helps in the final stages of the game & acts a perfect environment for level grinding, offering more opportunities to collect items and battle against more powerful Shadows. Whilst these traverse like Palaces, they are formed of randomly generated levels; a similar design to what was used in Persona 3. We also see the return of a certain OP enemy, who will rattle his way towards you if you stay on a level too long. If you begin to hear chains, take my advice: RUN!


Although appearing a little repetitive, most sections don't take too long to advance through, the battles kept their intrigue & completing its side quest make you feel that you are making a proactive & positive impact in this world. There is also a new inhabitant named Jose, who helps the thieves by offering valuable items in exchange for flowers dotted around Mementos. Although I'm not a botanist, this simple collectables task never felt like a distraction & were an extra bit of fun when traversing these parts.



Moving onto combat, the game uses a typical turn-based RPG system with fights initiated by attacking a Shadow, turning them into a Persona entity. You can have up to 4 members in your party & each character will use their own Personas to battle against each other. Each character has a Health & Skill bar, with your task simply to deplete the health of your enemies. Your comrades can be eliminated from battle but if Joker should die, it's Game Over. Successfully completing battles will earn you experience points, money and/or items. The more experience points you obtain, the higher your level increases as well as your HP & SP capacity. This will also level up for your Personas.


There are an extensive array of moves you can perform including melee, gun, physical, elemental and ailment attacks that will incur a cost to either your HP or SP. You can also perform various skill and support actions, such as healing, curing & temporarily increasing/decreasing a Persona's stats. Certain items can also be used to this effect. Similar to systems used by the Mega Man & Pokemon franchises, certain attack types will be more or less effective on certain Personas. Each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, which can be easily identified & should be factored into your strategy.


Strength statuses can decrease an attack's effectiveness; ranging from reduced damage to absorb the attack for a small health boost. Exploiting an enemy's weakness is actively encouraged, as it will put the enemy into a Down state & granting you an extra turn. You can choose to attack them again, perform a Baton Pass (allowing an available character to perform a charged attack) or if all enemies are Down, you can initiate an All-Out Attack where all available characters jump in for a mass melee onslaught. Surprise moves can also randomly appear at certain points in battles, which don't cost a turn and are an appreciated rarity when the situation arose.



One of the new surprise moves is called 'Showtime', which delivers a heavy blow of damage to enemies, presented as an over-the-top cutscene with two of your teammates, often providing a brief moment of entertainment. Other tactics and actions available to you include the ability to scan a target's stats, a Rush mode, switching out team members, the option to guard yourself against an upcoming attack, using in-game items, various assist options and even escape the battle if things get too spicy.


Hold Up situations can also occur when an enemy will enter a negotiation; either when they've taken a member of your team hostage or begging for their life. Each enemy has a different personality type & you must choose the correct dialogue options, to influence the situation in your favour. This can respectively reward you with the successful release of your teammate or obtaining the enemy's Persona, for you to use in other battles. Negotiations can also help you obtain more money & items in battles by spearing the final enemy's life.



There are also an optional network feature called the Thieves Guild. This allows you to call for help from another active player during a hostage situation or when an enemy tries to escape. Whilst this can only be used three times during an infiltration, it was a nice added feature. There is also a new Shadow type called Disaster Shadows which, when defeated in one set of turns, will cause them to explode & inflict heavy damage to other enemies. Finally, I must positively make note of the tweaks and refinements that have been made to its gameplay, allowing quicker transitions between stages and battles, which didn't impede or remove any of the game's core elements.


The artistic presentation of these battles rarely makes them feel like a chore & will challenge you as the Shadows increase in level & difficulty over time. That being said, you can lower the overall difficulty of the game at any time & you can restart boss battles, as opposed to being met with the main menu like in previous entries. The sheer volume of its elements ensures a high level of accessibility, allowing you to focus on your actions, strategy and enjoying the battles themselves. Now, let's talk about Personas!



Throughout the game, you will encounter over 250 different types of Persona; each assigned to a different Major Arcana (based on those used in Tarot decks). This represents their race & can dictate their attacks, abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Whilst your party members use a single Persona to attack enemies, Joker has the unique ability to acquire multiple ones; allowing you to build up a powerful team to protect yourself against varying enemy types. Each Persona also has the ability to level up & unlock new attacks and abilities via the progression tree; acquiring up to 8 different moves per Persona.


The Velvet Room is also very important when it comes to cultivating your team, as this place allows you to obtain Personas through the means of Fusion. Here, you can sacrifice two or more to form a new one, which also allows the transfer some skills you can selectively add to your new Persona. Unfortunately, you can only obtain a Persona either at or below your current level but luckily, this is all made very simple with a effortless prediction table & interface for you to find out what combinations create which Personas; each with their own stats & history to read up on. You can also obtain an experience boost in fusions, dependent on the Arcana's level status progressed via the game's Social Link system (which we will get into soon).



You can also fuse skills cards, weapons & armour, including a variety of different Fusion types to help you create highly-ranked Personas. The compendium allows you to register your Personas with their current level, stats and moves & you can buy these back at any point, in exchange for money. The latest addition to The Velvet Room is a new section called Challenge Battle, where you must try to defeat a series of Personas in a simulation in the lowest number of turns whilst meeting other objectives. There are 9 battles to complete & offered some practice with my Personas without the risk. A fun mode & an additional challenge to complete outside the main gameplay.


The act of fusing and acquiring Personas gave me flashbacks to when I played Pokemon Yellow on the Game Boy. Before facing off against a Gym Leader, I wanted the best possible team before I entered & this very much echoed when playing this game. Its premise has a natural appeal; never feeling like a chore & only wanting to further invest my time into the game. The prospect of using these Personas in battle would only increase my anticipation.


With all of the action out of the way, let's dive into the game's social simulation!



Outside of the Metaverse, you live the life of a typical high school student; going to lessons, studying, trying to stay out of trouble & preparing for your exams. Outside of curricular activities, you are free to do what you want...only if that day doesn't involve a storyline segment, which of course takes precedence. One of the key parts of this game's social simulation is its Social Link system, which allows you to explore the lives of its side characters. You have the option to become acquainted with 21 different Confidants; some of them will be your teammates whilst others will be acquaintances or those simply roaming the city. There are Social Links that progress automatically, whilst a majority will require you to proactively invite them to hang out with you.


When spending time with someone, a majority of these segments become interactive by offering dialogue options for you to choose from. Selecting the most appropriate answer to that Confidant will earn you social points, which act as a measurement of how strong your bond is with them. Each level in their storyline requires a certain number of social points to proceed to the next part of their story. If you haven't obtain enough points, you will need to engage in further generic visits before the next chapter becomes available to you. You can also choose to take a Confidant to one of two dozen locations in the city, with some specifically designed for social links; adding variety to your interactions. Although some of these locations cannot be fully explored, I was able to overlook this because of their intended purpose.



As your bonds grow, reaching certain levels in the Social Link can unlock new perks; ranging from item discounts in certain shops to allowing an ally to take a fatal blow for you, if you're low on health in a battle. There are at least 100 perks you can unlock & if you plan things correctly, you may be able to max all the Social Links in one playthrough (although this is quite the feat to accomplish). Remember when we mentioned about Major Arcana earlier? Each Confidant is linked to an Arcana & progressing the link will help give Personas a level bonus during fusion, as well as unlocking the ability to fuse very powerful Personas in the Velvet Room, exclusive to that Confidant's Major Arcana.


The game also uses a Social Stats system that will increase when you complete various activities; inside & outside of school. Obtaining a high enough level in each category will open new opportunities to you, including certain Social Links. There are a wide variety of activities you can perform; including going to the cinema, taking on the Big Bang Burger challenge, read new books, renting a DVD to watch at home, going fishing, partaking in batting practice at the local Batting Cage, I could go on.



Let's not forget the fine art of shopping! With the money earned in battles, you can buy numerous items and upgrades from different shops that you can use in the real world, the Metaverse or equip to team members prior to battles. Certain items can unlock mini-games & different areas of the city, so it’s worth treating yourself to a bit of retail therapy. Items that you obtain in the Metaverse also carry over into the real world and whilst there is no limit on how many items you can hold (OK, it's 99 but still!), you have the option to sell these off to shops to earn some extra money to use elsewhere. The best way I can recommend finding out how certain items can benefit you is to simply explore this energetic concrete jungle.


Thanks to Royal, we receive yet more extras with the inclusion of a new explorable town called Kichijoji; allowing you to engage in new activities such as playing darts, socialising via a game of pool, praying at a shrine, going to a Jazz club and more. Confidants will now call you after you hang out with them, granting you another opportunity to grab some extra social points. The game's calendar has been reworked to allow more free time to socialise, but the greatest improvement is the ability to socialise at night. Originally, you were usually left in the coffee shop to do something productive but now, screw productivity! You've got extra opportunities to socialise with your friends & explore the city at night. These additions just add yet more variety to what you can do.


You're a young protagonist; go live your life! But make sure you study too...because education is important! But also make sure you have fun! ......and study.



To add the icing on the cake, there is a new area called the Thieves Den; a fully-customisable hub that acts as the game's gallery & features a number of fun extras, which you can access anytime during the game. However, there is a catch; most of these features & assets are unlocked via an in-game currency you obtain by completing various non-storyline optional challenges, which you can use this to unlock & acquire items in the Thieves Den. These can range from unlocking 40 chests to completing the Persona Compendium.


First, you can decorate the Den using various decorations and themes, to create a Persona 5 museum for you to browse with pride. You can access the Gallery, where you can re-watch various cutscenes, view numerous concept art and promotional pieces, even cranking up the awesome soundtrack used in both versions of Persona 5. You can also play a card game with your fellow team members called Daifugo (known as Tycoon in the West). Luckily, any unlocks will not revert with a new game as your progress is permanently tracked throughout multiple playthroughs. This added a further sense of optional challenge to my playthrough and although other matters had my attention & priority, it was a pleasant alternative when I needed to take a break.



There's no denying that this game is very potent & the above should hopefully reflect as a testament to this fact. Nothing felt bad or average, even in its implementation & what I truly appreciated was that everything had a purpose; no matter how big or small. The only times it felt easy were when I put in the time and effort to increase my level & experience, resulting in swift battles. Even then, the game’s difficulty will gradually catch-up and I felt it spurred me to continually better myself; in the way I would approach battles, my stats and Personas. Playing this game was so accessible & enjoyable; from the fighting to the collecting & exploration in both worlds. I can’t even recall a single bug that I encountered during my playthrough.


I was scared at how addicted and engaging this game was, which should be enough to perfectly summarise my thoughts.


Presentation


When it comes to describing this game visually and audibly, there is only one word comes to mind: Style. Everything from the in-game models & environments to the characters & artwork display a great level of detail & vibrancy that will appeal to your senses. As the Metaverse uses a fantasy-based premise outside the confines of reality, it opened up numerous creative possibilities that P-Studio took full advantage of, presenting with an array of beautifully-crafted environments that take full advantage of the colour spectrum and its chosen themes. Even its HUD system utilises a comic-book style presentation that distinctively grabs your attention when you are browsing through its various menus.


Storyline segments are presented in a visual novel format, replacing static images for sequences generated in-game using its 3D environments, character models and assets. Although it is of a distinct style artistically with not much in terms of character motion, the use of subtitles, body language, facial expressions & visual language imagery provide an effective substitute. Not to mention the complimentary inclusion of voice actors that audibly act out scenes.



Whilst minor scenes only use reactive and brief sound bites, mainline story segments are fully dubbed by its voice cast. One thing I did notice was that the phrasing of some sentences in the dialogue felt a bit off at certain points. I believe this to be a result of its localisation and is not in anyway the fault of its actors, nor did it sour any moment of my playthrough.


An excellent line-up of actors and actresses are involved; featuring a number of established individuals within the video game & anime communities. Everyone's voice performances perfectly suited each character, further bringing out their character's personalities. It features the likes of Erika Harlacher, Max Mittelman, Cassandra Lee Morris, Matthew Mercer, Michelle Ruff & Cherami Leigh amongst others. Special credit must be given to Robbie Daymond & Erica Lindbeck for their depictions of Akechi and Futabu respectively.


Unfortunately, I have not played this with the Japanese audio, so I am regrettably unable to comment on this. Although my brief research into people’s feedback suggests this is a very positive performance from its Japanese cast. If you prefer the original voice work, it’s there for you to enable if you wish.



Anime cutscenes also make an appearance, produced by studios Production IG and Domerica; the former of which has worked on a number of popular anime series including Guilty Crown, Psycho-Pass & Ghost in the Shell. Most of these sequences last no more than a few minutes and were so beautifully crafted, I actually found these scenes to be better looking than Persona 5's anime TV show!


When it comes to music, Sound Director Shoji Meguro once again takes the stage as he crafts a noteworthy soundtrack, blending in elements of acid jazz with other genres. His selection of compositions were an absolute joy to listen to with some English-sung tracks featuring jazz & soul artist; Lyn Inaizumi. There were times I wanted to jump out of my seat and dance, even though I knew full well that I can't dance at all; to the embarrassment of those around me. He provides a range of tracks that perfectly complimented the game & its cutscenes.


To avoid the perception of this being seen as a matter of "Style Over Substance", I can assure you that Persona 5 Royal ensures satisfaction from both sides of this spectrum.


Overall Thoughts


Trying to condense this game into a summarised review was an impossible feat without watering down all the features that I enjoyed when playing this game. If you have reached this far, thank you & I hope that this review has been both thorough & informative, as I now present to you with my final verdict.


Persona 5 Royal is a behemoth. The game builds on the strong foundation of the original Persona 5, which sees the sum of all its parts deliver one of the most definitive JRPG experiences of this generation & a standard-bearer for the next. Its expansive array of gameplay features & mechanics provide a wide variety of choice, whilst refining & improving on the qualities its predecessors offered. Its offers a stylistic spectrum of colour & design that grabs your attention visually & blessed with a high quality across all aspects of audio; all woven into a story that, although linear in design, turns an ember into a embracing inferno.


I personally didn’t experience a single negative in my playthrough & even my tentative thoughts on its epilogue & the few minor issues of dialogue localisation didn’t hinder the adventure I experienced in any way. For a game that doesn’t feel like a major update, there is so much under the surface & it all adds upon reflection. For me, this game exceeds almost every measurable quality that I find appealing in a top-tier video game; accessible gameplay, an engaging story with investable characters, a distinguished level of audio & visual presentation, variety in gameplay features & options, memorable moments & the ability to post-reflect. No wonder I easily see this as a contender for Game of the Year.


Personal 5 Royal is a treasure that has given me an experience that I'll hold dear to my heart, as we are about to enter the next console generation; I just hope a group of rebellious teenagers don’t plan to steal it from me.




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