After years of asking and waiting Nintendo Switch owners can finally get their hands on one of the greatest JRPGs ever made, and a shining example of the genre in modern times. Persona 5 Royal is a massive, complex experience that packs in some of the best storytelling and character games have seen in the last decade, all layered on top of rock-solid combat and gameplay mechanics. What’s even better is that having the game on Switch makes it much easier to approach this 100-plus-hour RPG.
Persona 5 Royal tells the story of The Phantom Thieves, a group of “outcast” teens fighting corruption by charming the hearts. By entering the Metaverse, a realm made up of the mass consciousness of society, the Phantom Thieves can harness the power of Persona and quite literally change the hearts and minds of people. Story is a major focus in Persona 5, like the rest of the series, but the relationships that grow between the main characters are unlike anything you’ll find in RPGs.
The Phantom Thieves are deeply flawed characters that have all suffered through trauma or hardships in some way. For example, Ryuji was forced off the track team by an antagonistic teacher and turned into an outcast, while Futaba has become a socially reclusive following the tragic death of her mother. The brilliance in Persona’s storytelling is how each of these characters overcome their respective trauma, and essentially ends up becoming a “found family” for each other.
Part of what makes Persona 5’s narrative work so well is how nearly every mechanic and choice is built in service to the overall story and world-building. The game plays out through a mix of real-life social simulation, and Metaverse dungeon crawling and battling. Time advances on a calendar system, and during each month you’ll need to attend school, answer questions, and then be given free time to do as you see fit. Social elements are what really set Persona apart from other RPGs, as during your free time you can work part-time jobs, study in the library, improve your skills, or generally just explore streets of Tokyo.
A key component of the game is the “Confidants” system, which represents the bond you build with fellow party members and other major characters. By choosing to hang out with Confidants in your free time you can build these relationships and see some fantastic stories play out. That’s not all, however, as raising your Confidant level also provides tangible gameplay rewards, such as one Confidan’ts ability letting you swap characters during battle, while another will take care of menial tasks, giving you more free time at night.
The dungeons of Persona 5 Royal are also tied directly to the narrative, being presented at mental “Palaces” for the targets whose hearts the Phantom Thieves want to change. Each Palace represents the core desires and sins of its character, like Kamoshida’s being a dungeon where he tortures his students, or Shido’s being a massive cruise ship where he “steers” the fate of Japan.
As ambitious as Persona 5 Royal’s narrative and dungeons are, the minute-to-minute gameplay linking it all together is every bit as good. Atlus has easily crafted one of the best turn-based combat systems of all time, focusing on quick battles where the focus is to exploit an enemy’s weaknesses. Each party has a different role in combat, like Ryuji being a strong attacker for single enemies, while Makoto is more of a hybrid attacker-supporter character, great at providing buffs. Persona 5 simply provides so many different options for building your party and characters, and the deeper you get into the game the more the combat system expands.
It’s easy to drone on for hours, even days, about everything Persona 5 gets right, but it’s really a game that needs to be experienced to grasp what makes it so special. Persona 5 Royal also makes some hugely meaningful improvements on the original game, providing even more story that really packs an emotional punch on top of mechanical changes like more free time, easier stat raises, better stealth, and reworked dungeons.
All of the game’s elements work in harmony to make an experience that still feels enthralling at the 100-hour mark. If you own a Nintendo Switch and love JRPGs, there’s no excuse to not play Persona 5 Royal.