Persona 5 stole our hearts back in 2017. It was crowned Push Square's Game of the Year, and it remains one of the greatest role-playing titles available on PlayStation 4. It's impressive, then, that Persona 5 Royal makes the original pretty much redundant. This enhanced re-release is hands down the best way to experience the tale of the Phantom Thieves -- the main attraction being a whole new school semester and story arc that's bolted onto the end of the game. Simply put, this is the definitive version of Persona 5.
For the uninitiated, Persona 5 is a character-driven, calendar-based RPG. It puts you in the shoes of a Japanese high school student who awakens to a strange power, and from there, you're tasked with changing your seemingly doomed fate. You balance everyday life with crazy dungeon crawling, as you and your teenage pals steal the hearts of society's scummiest big shots.
There's a lot of dialogue and a lot of dungeon delving, but it's all underlined by meaningful player choice. When you're not attending class or getting stuck into a main story beat, your free time can be spent socialising, or developing your abilities in a randomised labyrinth called Mementos. The genius of Persona 5 lies in the way that each and every gameplay element is connected. Stronger bonds with your friends result in more powerful persona -- otherworldly beings that you collect in a kind of Pokémon-esque manner. Meanwhile, real world skills can be boosted by reading books, working part-time jobs, or studying. Your time is limited, but everything has a purpose, and watching the days tick by, knowing that you're always progressing, makes for a seriously addictive -- and highly customisable -- gameplay loop.
But without spoiling anything, the ending of Persona 5 did feel a little bit lacking, despite its detail. It certainly had its crescendo, but after such a long game -- Persona 5 clocks in at around 100 hours -- it struggled to tie everything together in a way that was truly memorable. Fortunately, Persona 5 Royal improves on this dramatically, introducing an encore that really solidifies the underlying themes and morals of the story.
The new act accounts for an additional 20 hours of gameplay, give or take, and it's fantastic. The setup may be predictable -- especially if you're already familiar with Persona 5 -- but the execution is excellent. Its plot is packed with twists, its new dungeon is one of the game's best, and the boss fights are amazing. Three years have passed since we first got our hands on Persona 5 and it shows; the overall quality of the new semester is a definite cut above what's found in the main release. And that's high praise.
Having said all that, the new semester alone wouldn't be enough to justify spending another $60 on Persona 5 Royal. There's no getting around the fact that this is essentially a re-release launching at full retail price. Perfect if you're new to Persona 5, but if you've already played it? It's a tall order, and you have to ask yourself whether you're prepared to run through the entirety of the original story all over again.
Fortunately, Royal has much more to offer than its touted third semester. For starters, it introduces two new characters: determined gymnast Kasumi Yoshizawa, and soft-spoken guidance councillor Takuto Maruki. Both of them show up quite early on, and they're woven into the existing story with care. They each bring a fresh dynamic to the game's sizeable roster of secondary characters, with Kasumi relying on the protagonist as her senpai, and Maruki offering a considerate shoulder to lean on when times are tough. As you'd expect, both Kasumi and Maruki are well written, grounded characters that you can't help but grow attached to.
Okay, so we've got a new semester and two new characters -- what else? Well, there's a whole new location that houses a bunch of new shops and attractions -- including a darts minigame -- but it's in the finer details that Persona 5 Royal really begins to shine. So many smaller gameplay additions and alterations have been made, carefully tweaking what was already a seamlessly structured experience and making it better.
Persona 5's brilliant turn based battle system has been enhanced with stunning cinematic 'showtime' attacks. Mementos is back and bigger than ever, now sporting unique rewards and bonuses that are well worth chasing. There are new personas, weapons, armour, and accessories. Every palace has been expanded, and every boss has been overhauled to some degree, making for even more dramatic encounters. There are new cutscenes, and new places to visit alongside friends. And, most importantly, Morgana, commonly known as the meme cat who tells you to go to bed, isn't quite so strict this time around. Generally speaking, you've got more free time -- especially at night -- and so building up your social standings as well as your core knowledge, charm, guts, proficiency, and kindness stats is less of a grind.
In a lot of ways, Persona 5 Royal presents a streamlined experience. There are tiny quality of life adjustments running right through the whole game, and ultimately, they all add up to the point where going back to the original Persona 5 would be incredibly difficult. We could sit here and list every single welcome change that Royal brings to the table, but this review would end up being far too long, and way too technical.
Again, the thought of playing through Persona 5 at least once more can be daunting, but we think there's enough here to rekindle the love for what is still one of the most impactful RPGs of this generation. If anything, Royal's myriad improvements allow the base game's strengths to shine through even brighter than before. Persona 5's ability to meld the mundanity of everyday student life with the absurdity of an alternate reality, where people's distorted desires manifest as monsters, is nothing short of masterful. And with Royal, it's easier to appreciate, and to enjoy, than ever before.
Persona 5 Royal improves upon what was already one of the greatest RPGs of this generation. The entirely new semester -- Royal's headline act -- is a fantastic addition, but really, it's the countless smaller improvements to gameplay and structure that sell this enhanced re-release, especially if you've already played through Persona 5. Our only criticism is aimed at the price tag -- full retail at launch -- but ultimately, it's difficult to deny the quality on offer here. The Phantom Thieves are back, and their tale of rebellion rings truer than ever.