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Persona 5 Royal review: This is the exact game I need right now

Persona 5 Royal gameplay
(Image credit: Atlus)

Persona 5 Royal is the exact universe I needed right now, an escape during this time of social distancing. In the week or so since I've been playing it, it's consumed nearly every inch of time I've let it near, like a cat expanding to the inside of a mixing bowl. 

Yes, P5R is exactly the game I was hoping it would be (so far). An expanded and remixed version of 2017's Persona 5, this feels like a game I will be happy to spend another 100 hours (maybe up to 150 or 200!) playing. I've seen an intriguing new student, whose red bow is a red flag for her likely importance, and even met a weird little boy named Jose who practically breaks the fourth wall. 

Still, at its core, even with new coats of paint and new faces, Persona 5 Royal is only an additive update (or at least it is so far in my time with the game). This early version of my Persona 5 Royal review explains exactly why I'm excessively happy to have this game in my life, and why I'm more than ready to spend more than 100 hours in its universe.

To catch you up, if you're unfamiliar with Persona 5, it's the latest in a series of Persona games, where high school teens control monsters (Personas, as they're called) that exist within the mind, to fight evil. Previous Persona games also got re-releases, such as the widely lauded Persona 4 Golden. 

Persona 5 Royal gameplay

(Image credit: Atlus)

Persona 5 Royal story

The adults are really up to no good in Persona 5 Royal, and the game is all about … well, convincing them to come clean. The worlds of Persona 5 Royal start in Yongenjaya, a fictional town in Tokyo where you (a high school boy) have been forced to move after an incident where you stopped a power-hungry adult male from assaulting a young woman on the street. 

Soon, you find yourself (and your new buddy Ryuji, a local hot-head) in a bizarre alternate reality. There's a talking cat named Morgana (who swears they're a real human), and your real-life adversary, the skeevy high school volleyball coach, is wearing … well, a cape and no pants.

Persona 5 Royal gameplay

(Image credit: Atlus)

This is all because your job in Persona 5 and the subsequent Royal edition is to wreak havoc, which take the form of RPG dungeons — called Palaces — that you explore and loot. Each Palace is a manifestation of the warped hearts and minds of these rotten adults, and is filled with Shadows — the manifestations of the evil adult's henchmen, or those connected to run-of-the-mill bad people who just walk around in plain sight. 

These other Shadows are filling Mementos, an alternate reality version of the underground subways system in Japan. By defeating the wicked in combat in their own subconscious, you convince their real life counterparts to repent.

Persona 5 Royal gameplay

(Image credit: Atlus)

Persona 5 Royal changes

As I write this, I've only managed to beat the first world of Persona 5 Royal, which (as most are) was practically a tutorial. That, plus some exploring of Mementos and high school life-living that sets up the next boss, has notched 15 hours and 46 minutes into my gameplay time. 

So far, though, the most impressive thing to me is how much better the streets and scenes of Persona 5 Royal look. This game has a ton more polish on it, with backgrounds, buildings and characters just looking more vibrant. So far, that's mostly happening in Yongenjaya and Shibuya, but I've gone back and looked at the original Persona 5 and noticed that even the fonts look cleaner. 

Persona 5 Royal gameplay

(Image credit: Atlus)

The only thing I've come across that I don't like is the new music used for the intro, when you boot up the game. The best songs of the game, like my favorite (seen below in this 10-hour loop video) are still here.

The next big thing I've come across is the grappling hook gameplay, which helped me find more nooks and crannies in Kamoshda's dungeon. In those spaces, I found three "Will Seeds," and each of those gave my team a very-much-needed SP boost. With all three, I unlocked a charm that opened up a stronger healing command. And when I got to Kamoshida, the battle was a bit more complex, as he was using even more of his students to fight us off. 

In combat, I've also come across a new kind of baddie, Disaster Shadows, who you should try to beat before you take on the others, for all the perks.

Persona 5 Royal gameplay

(Image credit: Atlus)

I've also come across a fourth-wall-breaking space called The Thieves Den. This space can be decorated with trophies of your vanquished baddies and photos from in-game moment. There's also a set of tables where the Phantom Thieves can play mini games for points. I haven't felt the need to dive into that yet, with everything else on my agenda. 

So while I've spent a lot of time in Persona 5 Royal, I've only dipped my toes into the changes. Here's what else is supposedly coming next:

Eventually, I'll get to the advertised additional semester of Shujin Academy, and see where Persona 5 Royal takes me, and how its new endings and extended character arcs further the gameplay. These new sections alone are supposed to offer up to 30 more hours of gameplay.

Persona 5 Royal gameplay

(Image credit: Atlus)

Kasumi Yoshizawa, a first year at Shujin, walks around with a bow in her hair, and I've been told she's a playable character who brings a new Confidant (the social links you build up by spending time with another character, for perks and story benefits). You're also supposed to be able to alter Mementos with Jose's help, but for now I've just been collecting flowers for him. 

Other gameplay changes coming later in the game include the Showtimes double-team moves, the non-playable confidant Maruki and more time to know Goro Akechi. I've also been told the game will allow you to give gifts to all of your Confidants, not just the female characters.

Persona 5 Royal gameplay

(Image credit: Atlus)

Persona 5 Royal recommendation

If the above seems a little light, don't worry. So far, this is kind of a good thing. The Persona 5 I fell in love with is still here, just augmented, and still setting things up.

Persona 5 Royal comes out on PS4 on March 31, a date that's likely been circled in the calendars of gamers since it was first announced last year. Persona 5 Royal costs $60, like most major games, but Persona 5 (which is still great) is still available for less than $20, and I'd be more likely to suggest that version to those who don't play a lot of RPGs, but still want to check it out.  

Persona 5 Royal gameplay

(Image credit: Atlus)

But overall, even though I haven't seen a drastically different game — I've only played about 7% to 10% of the game so far, based on estimations I've seen — I still think I'd recommend this Royal edition over the cheaper original. It just feels more alive and fun.