This review has been a while coming because the majority of the new story content is at the end of the game (not that I’d know but we’ll get to that) and I didn’t want to plagiarise my Persona 5 (classic) review. But after 100 + hours and an R.S.I in my wrist I think I am finally ready to reveal my true self! I mean reveal my opinion, sorry, it’s been a long 100 hours.
The plot remains largely unchanged; you’re still a high school student on probation because you stopped a sexual assault from happening (it makes sense in context) and you’re still sent to live with Sojiro Sakura, a family friend. But hold on to your hats folks because this time around the family friend actually feels like a family friend and not some horrible old arsehole that hates you for no reason.
If you read my review of Persona 5 you’ll remember that the main issue I had with it was some of the characters. In fact I had such a problem with them, it very nearly stopped me from pushing forward and experiencing what turned out to be an excellent game. My issue was that when we were introduced to each of them we were seeing them at their worst. While thematically on point and narratively interesting it made many of them come off as obnoxious or, in the case of one chain smoking barista, down right detestable.(Don’t get me started on this guy…)
The problem was that we weren’t seeing any motivation for their conduct, what was driving them, causing them to be defensive or obtuse. Take Sojiro for example, in the original he was this miserable old shite who had no qualms about calling you a dick and complaining about what a burden you are. Contrast this with the loving uncle who welcomes you with open arms in Persona 4: Golden and you have an instantly unlikeable prick.(Credit to “Pigeon Princess” for this awesome piece of artwork!)
“Persona 5: Royal” fixes all that by softening certain conversations and including more dialogue alluding to their behaviour. One way this was achieved was through phone calls, it felt natural, it was understandable that human beings would feel more comfortable revealing certain feelings over the phone, rather than in person. And these much needed changes result in characters being far more palatable, especially Sojiro who is more accepting and understanding upon your first meeting. It also helps that we’re given a glimpse into his personal life much earlier in the game; it goes a long way towards contextualising his demeanour.(“Who wants food?…And a cat?”)
The gameplay is largely unchanged, you still explore the world in the same way, except now there is more to explore. There is a new location called “Kichijoji”, which has various shops and hangout spots, including a club with both a darts and a billiards mini game, which benefit combat and relationships respectively.(“This will surely help us kill demons!”)
I would like to mention one thing about the combat which I feel was a fantastic addition and that’s the “Showtime” ability. Basically tag-team super moves, each of which are unlocked as the story progresses. Not only was this a fun and useful addition to combat, but it was a wonderful piece of ludonarrative synchronicity. Each team-up illustrated wonderfully how far the group had come and how much they trusted one another.(Plus they’re just fun!)
Royal also introduces two new characters, “Kasumi Yoshizawa” an interesting young woman who is a wonderful illustration of the pitfalls of placing so much pressure on young adults to succeed scholastically. A theme that is explored with great care, it would have been easy to bungle this sensitive topic, but to Atlus’ credit it is handled perfectly. There is of course much more to her but I don’t want to spoil anything.
Takuto Maruki is the 2nd new character; he is introduced just after the first dungeon as a psychologist/councillor to help students cope with the whole physical and sexual abuse thing. As a narrative device he was an excellent addition. By allowing the player a glimpse into other characters’ lives through the lens of a counselling session, it reveals previously unexpressed emotions and concerns, i.e. context for their demeanour.
As a character however, I could take or leave him. Now I didn’t get a chance to max out the relationship and I’ve read online that his backstory is a good one, but honestly it felt like anytime I went to speak to him it never advanced any further than small talk. Again, thematically and narratively this works, but given the small window of time we are given to progress this relationship perhaps expedience would have been preferable. Especially when you consider that new content is locked behind him.
Which brings me to my biggest and possibly only real gripe with Persona 5: Royal, in fact it soured my experience so much that if this had been a lesser game it would’ve been ruined completely, but luckily, that’s not the case. So it’s no surprise that there has been more story content added into this game, the promise of an entire semester for you to enjoy, a new palace and more Morgana stuff. The problem is that I didn’t get to enjoy any of it as it was inaccessible until I maxed out my relationship with “Goro Akechi”. Something I didn’t realise until after I had spent 100 hrs ignoring the anus and which was now too late to rectify.(Exactly…so fuck off!)
Last time Goro’s confidant was tied to the plot, it happened regardless, but in this iteration it’s up to the player to engage in banal conversation to achieve a max confidant score. Now you might be thinking that’s fine, I don’t mind doing that, but here’s the thing, I don’t like Akechi. I never did, even before the revelation that he’s a fucking psychopath. I would never have intentionally pursued a friendship with him because he is an arrogant, condescending wanker with a giant chip on his shoulder, and the fact that Atlus gated off new content behind this twat is fucking stupid.(Seriously, who would be friends with this twat?) But like I said, this is a small gripe in comparison to the fantastic job that Atlus have done in making this game one worth experiencing a 2nd (or in my case 5th) time.
It would have been easy for Atlus to add some new costumes, a few extra scenes and call it a day. But they went above and beyond to make this a new experience, they were not afraid to admit that they could improve their art and they did just that. A wonderful story with a satisfying narrative, fun gameplay and stunning visuals, a definite must play.