I came to this game and this series late, but I am glad I did. Persona 4 Golden remains one of my favorite JRPGs in a long while, a brilliant game with an even more brilliant cast. Even well over a year later I still find myself thinking about their adventures and how well they endeared themselves to the cast. I also knew that the sequel had been universally beloved for being even better. Well once I snatched up a PS5 the first game I knew to get was gonna be it. So after the cut, let’s finally take a dive into Persona 5 Royal.
Like with my review of the last game, I want to split things up into three sections. While I am not a game reviewer, I do believe that it should be held apart from the story itself. While they are connected, I do think it is important to view them as separately as they can be. So with that said…
Aside from the jump from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2, I do not think there has been a game that has universally succeeded in improving itself than Royal. Everything from the fast paced combat, to the options, to the way it is styled is an improvement over the previous entry. Atlus stepped it up on every single level and the love, spit and polish shows in ever single moment. I rightly criticized Golden for being too grindy, with too much of a focus on the RPG mechanics. Royal still has that and there are still moments of ‘the grind’, but the combat has been sped up and the addition of guns, combo attacks and more keep things fresh.
But most of all, is the sheer amount of respect the gameplay shows. Whether it is easy warp points to get around parts of town or skipping battles if you are over leveled. Royal has done everything it can to make the game easy to get into, and fun for those who may not care for turned based combat. I was floored again and again at how this game respected my time. Gone was the endless randomized dungeons of Golden and instead jumping back to places was just a few button clicks. I have lost a lot of my patience over the years for needlessly complicated things, so seeing Royal step up like this was a god send. This is one of the most efficient, polished and smoothly running RPGs in literal decades.
Which is good, because the story and characters are….
Now let me 100% crystal clear here. This is my personal opinion, and I don’t expect people to share my view. But I have to be honest, and the truth is that I didn’t find myself falling in love with the characters of Royal like I did with Golden. Part of that is probably that you never forget your ‘first love’ when entering a new series, but also I think that there was something missing. While the adventures of Joker, Ann, Makoto and the rest were fun, funny and touching. They didn’t have the charm or chemistry that I saw in Golden. There you saw a group of people become real true friends and the fluffy filler moments endeared you to the cast so much.
In Royal, that element is still there, but the nature of the story means there isn’t as much time for it. The rise of the Phantom Thieves and their struggle for justice and fairness is a good one. There is much to be said for teenagers realizing that the adults they trust can fail them and trying to fight the system on their own. And to its credit, Persona 5 Royal believes this, but doesn’t go whole hog on it. The Phantom Thieves get a little too deep at times, and realize that not every person they meet is a total asshole. There are moments of reflection and questioning, wondering if what they are doing is correct. I was grateful for that, because too often “fight the power” shows rarely take time to address what happens after you smash the system.
In terms of the characters, again there is much to enjoy, even if I didn’t love them like I did Golden. Whether it was Yusuke being the constant starving artist, Futuba being every gamer boy’s dream, Ann being the dumb blonde, or the myriad of enjoyable confidents. Persona 5 had something for everyone and I can see why so many have latched onto these characters. Sadly like with Golden, the linear nature of the year-long story line does mean some characters get shafted. Haru in particular comes into the story far too late and doesn’t have any real time to gel with the group which is a shame. Then there is the additions made by Royal which…
The biggest change to Royal, aside from several gameplay and quality of life updates is the addition of a new playable character Kasumi. Who, until the exclusive content in the post game, can be pretty much be summed up as this.
Now don’t get me wrong, Kasumi is a fun character and her backstory is typical, but well done. It is just that she feels so shoved into the main story, yet has no real part in it. She shows up on random days but does nothing to change the overall plot, feeling very much like she was edited in. It sticks out like a sore thumb and by the time you get to her big part in the post-game, the whole feels damn anti-climactic. Royal’s other big character Dr. Maruki suffers the same way, but he is at least able to blend far more seamlessly into the main story that you’d be forgiven to think he was there in the first version. In all honesty, the whole Royal addition feels very much like an end of series anime movie, think very much Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, or Naruto: The Last. Great to have, but does very little to change your opinions of the game.
The Persona series was always a niche thing before, but this was the game that shot it to mainstream attention. Persona 5 Royal is a game that earns all the accolades it gets and feels like it will be a touchstone among JRPG fans for decades to come. As a game it is by far the most polished and developed improvement for a sequel I have ever seen. As a story it is gripping, creative and clever, but there is something that Persona 4 Golden had that this game is never able to replicate. Regardless if you are in the market for an anime JRPG, then this game should be the first or second choice on your list. It is a special experience and I can see why even Atlus is scared of creating a sixth installment. Give it a look for yourself, and see those colors flying high.