Stylish artwork, exciting game-play and a gripping story can all be found in this energetic piece of perfection.
- Developer: Atlus, P Studio
- Publisher: Atlus, Sega
- Release date: 31st March 2020
- Genre: JRPG
- Platforms: PS4
- Reviewed on: PS4 Pro
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
If you have ever watched the film Aliens, you know what a classic it is. As originally released, there was nothing wrong with it at all – it was perfectly enjoyable. Shortly afterwards, however, the director’s cut version added another 20 minutes to the film, expanding the overall story and giving the whole film much more depth and enjoyment. Ridley Scott said himself, “This was the intended version of the film.”
Much the same thing has happened with Persona 5. Persona 5 was released to critical acclaim back in September 2016. Since then, the developers, Atlus, have reworked the game to what – some would say – it was originally meant to be. A much more rounded, fuller experience. On paper, the additions to the game don’t amount to much, but everything has had a tweak here or there, thus introducing new gameplay features, new areas to explore, and a whole new character arc to enjoy. Persona 5 Royal hasn’t simply had a bolt-in addition to the game, the likes of which could have been covered in a DLC – no, the new content has been woven into the very fabric of the entire experience, from start to a magnificent finish.
Persona 5 Royal, simply put, is like no other JRPG on the market. In fact, there are a few games that have tried to copy the Persona template, but none are as outstanding as this full-fat original version.
From the moment you fire up the game, your eyes are assaulted with colourful, vibrant visuals. Players simply aren’t sure where to look first, as so much is happening, all in a glorious, clean, crisp artwork pallet of colours and action. The opening scene has been made into a full anime video, as are cut-scenes throughout the game.
When the game goes back to normal visuals, it’s still hard not to think you are enacting an anime yourself. The movement is done in the same anime style, as are the backgrounds of the areas you explore and interact with. There is so much flair and excitement on screen it’s impossible not to get drawn into the game.
Accompanying the visuals are some of the most catchy background music tracks ever put down into a game. I have a few times been guilty of watching the opening sequence for the video and music of “Colours Flying High”, but many of the other tracks are equally enjoyable, and pop up during gameplay to push you along.
For many, it will be exciting to know that the entire game has been voice acted into English, apart from the character you play as Joker, as he doesn’t have a voice at all, just written dialogue. Each character on this journey, the good, the bad, and the bit players, have great scripts to work with, and the actors play their parts superbly, with such gravitas, it’s hard not to get sucked into the drama and emotion that unfolds during the game. The gameplay audio is as detailed as the rest of the game. The delightful squeak when you choose an option from the menus, the splashing of water as you walk over puddles, the murmur of conversations, and the rattle of underground trains – all convey a sense of realism and depth to envelope the player into the world.
So, what do you actually do? Good question. The gameplay loop of Persona is unlike anything else you will have played before. The scene is set in the real world. A drama will unfold in the lives of the teenage characters you play as. In the first chapter, for example, it’s an abusive volleyball coach. The drama unfolds very much in the same way as is typical of anime series, but here, any action takes time. Time, as you quickly find out, is a precious resource. As you start to get involved in life living above a coffee shop, you are introduced to systems that buff your player. For example, back at the cafe after a day at school, you have the option to study, read, brew coffee, clean, watch a DVD, take a bath, train, do the laundry, or go outside to the local area where a few other options are available, such as a batting cage, or to watch a film. Although this all sounds very mundane, each action will affect and boost your base stats in different ways, so you have to choose wisely, particularly as you only have time to do one of the above.
Fairly early on in the story, you discover the metaverse and the velvet room. The metaverse is – for want of trying to explain, the dream-like world of the villain – where everything inside is a manifestation of their desires. For example, the first metaverse of the first villain, is a castle in substitution of where the real-world school is, and him being king of it, is how the first villain views the school in his twisted mind.
This castle (or it could be something else depending on the villain) is the dungeon you explore to find the source of the villain’s desires. Once the source has been located, you steal it with a view to impacting the real-world version of the villain, and hope by taking their desires, it changes them for the good.
The dungeons themselves are huge, and when you find a save point, you can escape and go back to the real-world to restock, regroup and power up. Coming out of the dungeon, however, takes more of your precious time resource, and the tension arises in that you only have a certain amount of time to find the treasure in the dungeon and escape. The time pressure is never too stressful to become a hindrance, but it is certainly a pressure to complete the dungeon.
The further you progress into the dungeon, the harder the enemies, until, after delivering a message to the real-world villain that the phantom thieves are going to steal their desires, you then have a final, glorious boss fight, and hope that in defeating it, the villain is a changed man in the real-world. Boss fights are not just a matter of battling the Boss until it’s dead. Boss fights have many layers of defeating other things, as well as the Boss himself. This makes for an interesting and exciting finale per dungeon.
During your first foray into the metaverse, you meet a character called Morgana, who will help you learn the combat systems. Combat is turn based, and players have three main ways of attacking. A melee weapon, a ranged weapon, or they can use their ‘Personas’. Think of Personas as different types of Pokémon you can summon. Each Persona has different types of attributes and attacks. To get more Persona’s, much like Pokémon, you have to capture them during battle. Battles themselves are a visual treat of over-the-top attacks, with or without Personas, and much like the rest of the game, entertaining to watch.
One of the keys to easier victories is to find a Persona that has an attack that will target the enemies’ weaknesses, and that, when used, will knock them down even with a lot of health stored. This is known as a technical attack, and reduces the enemy to its knees, after which you can either finish them off in an all-out attack, or try to talk to them to obtain items, cash, or indeed, their own powers.
To save a bit of time, you can instruct your team to act freely, heal, or go easy on SP (magic points), or you can yourself decide what they are to do in battle. However, the AI of the game is excellent, so your team tends to do the right thing without you having to micro-manage them.
Also, during the exploration of the dungeons, you will be faced with puzzles to solve in order to progress. This may involve finding items carried by enemies, or pulling levers in a certain order. You are helped to do this by Joker’s batman-like scanning vision ability, which highlights where items may be found, or areas you can access.
As the dungeons are quite large and take many in-game days to complete, the harder the settings are, the longer it will take. For example, even on the easy setting, you would be hard pushed to complete the first dungeon in one or two forays.
Another area to explain is Igor in the velvet room. This strange place is where you will learn more about Personas, create new ones, and have a battle arena to test them and your team out. To be honest, you’re never quite sure if Igor is there to help or mock you.
As you progress through a dungeon then retire back to the real-world, the dialogue of your team very cleverly follows your progress. Once out of the dungeon for the day, you can also explore areas around Tokyo, buy new weapons or items, find a job to earn cash, or hang out with your teammates to increase their bonds with you. Each action has a benefit, and it’s a delicious choice of what to do before you go home.
So, finally, once you have defeated a boss and gone back to the real-world, you wait with baited breath as to the outcome of your actions, and in particular, whether the villain has become a changed person. When they change, it is utterly gratifying to see, and each chapter feels like a complete game in itself, let alone the overriding story arc, and the many people the Phantom Thieves change in their adventure.
What is also gratifying is that although there are many gameplay systems and things to do, which at first it can seem overwhelming, it soon becomes apparent it’s not. With the help of the online network features, players can also click to see what other players did with their time at the same point in the game. Knowing this is a great help to know you are not alone as if you don’t know what to do, just copy what others did. The gameplay systems are deep, expansive, fun to learn and get to grips with, but ultimately very rewarding, and gives you a sense of achievement in building your characters’ strengths up in the style you so choose.
So, with the new content in Persona 5 Royal, added to an already excellent game, you are now looking at a game that will take around 120 hours to complete. The many dungeons to explore and a new area of Tokyo to spend your in-game real-world time in, complete with a new base for the Phantom Thieves to decorate, who will be their next victim or their correctional program, and will they ever be discovered?
When a game gets every aspect nailed down to perfection like Persona 5 Royal, it’s very easy to recommend. It is quintessentially a must-play PS4 game. It does take about twelve hours to really understand the idea of the story, not to mention the gameplay loop and systems, but once you do, you’ll be utterly hooked on this brilliant and outstanding game.
It sets the standard of how entertaining a game can be and lingers with the player long after you have finished playing: a hallmark of the best games. Persona 5 Royal will surely rank as one of the all-time classics.