You'll love it if:
- Enjoy story driven games
- Love connecting with characters and building bonds
- Enjoy JRPGs and not having to grind
Not for you if:
- Want a combat-centric experience
- Dislike long story sequences
- Wish to skip plot and go straight to the action
With the recent reveal of the new Persona 5 X mobile game, I am reminded of how much I miss the series and wish for a real new installment to the series. I have missed playing the Persona series and thought I would replay the latest installment in the series, revisiting Joker and the Phantom Thieves before giving Persona 5 X a try when it comes out.
Who are the Phantom Thieves: Persona 5 Royal’s Gameplay
For the uninitiated, Persona 5 Royal is a beautifully revamped take on an already excellent game. The classic JRPG is combined with stylistic visuals, an amazing soundtrack, and a real depth to the storytelling and character progression. Persona 5 Royal (P5R) takes this game, updates it with many quality-of-life changes, introduces new characters, and adds an entirely new section seamlessly after the existing story. Overall, P5R provided a very enjoyable and emotional experience and had me almost immediately jumping back into the game again for a full completion run on New Game Plus.
Without divulging too much of the story, Persona 5 Royal has you play as a second-year high school student who recently had to relocate to Tokyo after being arrested for a crime. You move into the cozy attic of LeBlanc, a café that specializes in Coffee and Curry, and proceed to get accustomed to your new life and a new school. Over the course of the game, you find and create bonds with other characters who like you, have been taken advantage of or have been done ill by adults in their lives.
You then develop the ability to infiltrate their “palaces” in their minds to cause them to feel remorse, create compassion, and have them write their wrongdoings. The game does a wonderful job with its pacing and character introduction. They expertly utilize the calendar mechanic, following your character day by day with story deadlines and gradually growing the cast and deepening bonds between them.
The gameplay is split into two separate parts. There is the classic JRPG theme of exploring through palaces of various themes, turn-based combat with various party members and exploring to get new items and upgrade your gear. There is also the element of exploration of the city of Tokyo and its various locations, meeting up with other cast members, and deepening your character’s connection to the large supporting cast.
The palaces were created with great detail and design variation. One big problem that JRPGs often have is designing dungeons to match tropes and specific themes. The classic cave dungeon, the underwater/cave levels, and the one volcano dungeon. Persona 5 Royal does a wonderful job of diversifying its palaces so no two palaces feel at all the same. The level design is further improved with themed puzzles to match, making progression all the more enjoyable as opposed to strict random encounter after random encounter. Additionally, the unique soundtracks for each palace are impressive, and in my own words, the soundtrack for this game is an absolute banger.
The combat itself remains engaging the whole way through. Not once did I feel like I was frustrated with the number of enemies in a level, nor did I feel that the fights were tedious or boring. While needing a bit of getting used to, the combat UI and animations help keep the flow of combat moving. Once you master the UI you can quickly change between characters, chain attacks with ‘Baton Pass’, and flow seamlessly into flashy cinematic attack animations, making turn-based combat seem almost real-time.
While the combat is by no means easy, it’s also not the most difficult. There are special battles and hidden bosses in New Game Plus that do add a level of difficulty. However, if you’re really looking for a game to challenge you, I would recommend playing on the Merciless difficulty for some added difficulty. Outside of the difficulty level, the most interesting battles are definitely the boss battles. The individual design makes them unique and very memorable. A couple of the bosses are more forgettable than the rest of the cast, but for the most part, they have very unique gimmicks and make for engaging battles.
The Bonds That Make Us
The second part of Persona 5 Royal’s gameplay is the day-to-day life of playing as the new kid in town, acclimating to Tokyo and your new school. Early on you’re confined to the route between your home and your school. Just as one would experience when moving to a new city, over time you discover new locations, stores, and attractions to visit.
Additionally, you unlock ‘confidants’, other people you can increase your social links with. Other than simple dialogue, Persona 5 Royal takes the time to develop full side stories for each character, developing their personalities, their goals, and their struggles. Each unique character deals with their own dark aspects of their life. The topics they touch on accurately reflect the struggles of people in real life.
Throughout the game, you gradually become introduced to new “members” of the Phantom Thieves, help them grow and escape their internal struggles, and gain their support. Because of the day-by-day schedule the game follows, you see and speak to these characters over the course of months, and begin to form a genuine connection with these characters.
This is what I believe to be the greatest strength of the game, the personal connection forged between you the player, and the cast of the game. And when the game ends and you decide to play through again, you get quite the feeling of nostalgia and a sense of how far each individual character has come.
The Treasure at the End of the Palace: The Final Verdict
Overall, if you’re looking for your more classic Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy JRPG this game might come as a surprise to you. However, even still I highly recommend trying out Persona 5 Royal. Its unique storytelling methodology, powerful supporting characters, and unique aesthetic and design of the game all lead to an impressive and immersive experience.
I don’t personally replay story-based games often, especially when a single play-through can take upwards of 100 hours. But even on my second playthrough, Persona 5 Royal has kept my attention and I can confidently say this has made its home in my list of favorite games of all time.
If you’re thinking of getting more involved in the Persona series, maybe you should take a look at our in-depth look at Persona 4 Golden!