Atlus’ expanded edition of the award-winning Persona 5 adds new characters and new places to visit, but does bigger mean better?
The question of having too much of a good thing is something video games very rarely seem to worry about. The original Persona 5 was released in 2017 and, depending on how thorough you were, took in excess of 80 hours to complete. And now on top of that this new director’s cut adds new characters, new areas, and new plot elements. The original was too long as it was, and Persona 5 Royal is verging on the ridiculous. It’s just a good job it’s one of the best Japanese role-players ever made.
Persona 5 Royal is not a director’s cut in the sense that it features content originally left out of the original, but Atlus has done an extended edition like this before with Persona 4 Golden and Persona 3 FES. In each case, the gameplay is the same, as is the basic plot and characters, but several significant new story elements and features are added, along with a host of more minor nips and tucks. But because everything is integrated into the main story campaign you have to play the whole game again from the start – you can’t just skip to the new bits, the most significant of which are right at the end.
There’s usually little or no story connection between any of the Persona games but they do always have a similar initial set-up, as you take the role of an ordinary Japanese secondary school student who becomes aware of a supernatural terror threatening the school and beyond. But rather than some Tolkien-esque fantasy land the Persona games are all set in modern day Japan – Tokyo in Persona 5’s instance – and so you also have to survive the more normal social and academic adversities of being a teenager.
Despite its length, Persona 5 manages to introduce its premise with surprising (especially if you’ve played Persona 4) briskness, as you and your friends are pulled into a parallel realm called the Metaverse, which is sculpted by the subconscious of ordinary people. The first mind ‘palace’ you visit is the creation of a bullying and lecherous PE teacher who sees himself as a medieval king, complete with his own castle to lord it over in.
Exploring these dungeon-like worlds is where the game is at its most traditional, with a turn-based combat system that in terms of its fundamentals has a clear lineage all the way back to Dragon Quest. A legion of complications is gradually introduced, from elemental weakness to the titular personas of each character (guardian angel like manifestations of a person’s psyche), but the combat remains the series’ weakest element – despite the stylish presentation that makes it look a lot more inventive than it really is.
As unoriginal as it is the combat is perfectly enjoyable, with Persona 5 Royal adding new enemies, new perks for personas, and new team-up moves for your party members. But it’s the storytelling that is the real appeal, and how it affects your abilities in battle. This is most obvious in the ‘social links’ between characters, which can be forged in various ways, from simply talking to someone at school to going on a date, and which improve your stats and your combat options in the Metaverse.
Each day you have to make a decision about what to do with your spare time, with the in-game school year constantly progressing and ensuring you never have enough time for everything, or everyone. Although this is one of many areas where Persona 5 Royal offers some additional options, as it’s got an extra third semester to play through that the original didn’t.
The most significant additions in Persona 5 Royal are a new playable female character called Kasumi Yoshizawa and a new palace. Kasumi’s insertion into the main story can occasionally feel a little awkward, especially if you experienced it the first time round, and she only has five confidant rankings, as opposed to the 10 of everyone else, but there’s some interesting twists to her character that ensures that makes sense from a story perspective.
Kasumi only becomes a full party member during the new post-game content though, just in time for the new palace, which obviously we’re not going to describe here. We will say though that the new final boss encounter is excellent, even if the new ending is less clear cut and satisfying than the original version.
There are other new non-playable characters as well, including a new school counsellor that’s introduced early on and an expanded role for Goro Akechi, who becomes a new optional confidant. He’s often found in the new area of Kichijoji, which includes a variety of new clubs and hangouts that offer new mini-games (darts, anyone?) and chances to gain more perks and items.
There’s also a whole host of quality of life improvements, from Morgana helping out more during shadow investigations, to making baton passes easier to unlock, the ability to ambush enemies from a distance, and guns becoming much more useful. Main character Joker also now has a grappling hook, which opens up a range of new areas in each of the original dungeons.
The procedurally-generated Mementos dungeons have also been given an overhaul, with a number of new collectibles that can help in battle and the ability for Morgana to ram into enemies, instead of having to get into a formal fight – which makes level-grinding far more enjoyable than it used to be.
In terms of gameplay this is inarguably superior to the original version of the game, but in terms of storytelling we’re not sure it’s necessarily gained as much. Nothing is worse than it was, but the new story content feels like it’s adding more to the running time than it is to the themes of the original.
Persona 5 Royal didn’t have to exist, as the original was already near perfect, with only the old-fashioned combat and an occasionally lacking script translation holding it back – neither of which has really been addressed here. Criticising a game for not being perfect does seem harsh though and Persona 5 Royal once again cements the series’ reputation as the Japanese role-player that even people that usually hate the genre will enjoy.
You could argue that the game should be editing out content rather than adding it, but since existing fans are likely to appreciate the changes more than newcomers that seems a churlish complaint. Persona 5 Royal is the best Japanese role-player of the generation and equally captivating whether you’re returning to the story or experiencing it for the first time.
Persona 5 Royal review summary
In Short: The definitive version of one of the best Japanese role-playing games ever made, even if it’s easy to see the joins with some of the story additions.
Pros: Ambitious storytelling has real thematic depth, while stilling maintain a large cast of engaging characters. New gameplay changes are all positive, especially Mementos. Excellent presentation.
Cons: Apart from the quality of life improvements none of the additions are in any way essential, in a game that already made substantial demands on your time.
Formats: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 31st March 2020
Age Rating: 16
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