Persona 5 Royal makes a near-perfect game even better
Inverse score: 9/10
In Persona 5 Royal, adolescence is your last chance to see through the smoke and mirrors of adult life.
This enhanced version of Atlus's critically acclaimed 2017 JRPG improves admirably upon the original's engaging story, impeccable style, and eclectic gameplay mix of social-sim and role-playing elements. There’s enough new stuff to merit a new purchase for fans of the original, but if Persona 5's massive 100-hour time commitment scared you off last time, Royal's even bigger and sprawlier.
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You play as the Phantom Thieves, a group of Tokyo teens fighting for social reform by changing the hearts of powerful and selfish adults. You do this by entering a psychological realm known as the Metaverse. There, you discover each target has a Palace, a themed dungeon that represents their own personal form of vice – lust, greed, pride – if it's a mortal sin, you'll find it in Persona 5 Royal. Conquering each corrupt adult's Palace will cause them to recant their misdeeds in the real world. You’ll have to balance all that alongside normal high school stuff like dating, part-time jobs, and hanging out with friends. Essentially, Persona 5 is a mashup of JRPG, social sim, and dungeon crawler elements.
A longer, more intimate story
While Persona 5's narrative was widely praised when the game came out in 2017, it felt more personal in the early hours, when you were saving your school friends. About halfway through, the story awkwardly pivots from being a story about teens trying to fix society to a superhero origin tale. In the first dungeon, you’re tasked with taking down a verbally abusive and sexually predatory teacher. Your friends are the ones suffering, and you'll strongly empathize with your party's boiling urge to teach this guy a lesson.
The second half of P5’s story swaps that emotional weight for spectacle, prioritizing larger, gaudier set pieces that are spectacular to look at – like Okamura's spaceport and Shido's snooty cruise ship – but fail to match the first dungeon’s gut-punch impact.
Persona 5 Royal smooths over this awkward fit between its first and second halves by more thoroughly weaving its social-sim elements throughout, adding more chances to interact with your friends every step of the way.
In P5, as in all the previous installments of the series, relationships with your school friends, party members, and even random weirdos from the neighborhood quite literally help you fight monsters. Each of the roughly two dozen "confidant" relationships you'll forge during the game has 10 ranks. Get closer to party members like Ann, Ryuji, and Morgana, and they'll assist you in combat or learn enhanced moves. There are big perks to getting to know the townsfolk in Yongenjaya (a play on Tokyo's real-life Sangenjaya neighborhood) as well. Befriending a downtrodden politician will increase the money and experience you earn from battles. Spending some of your afterschool hours with a shady gun shop owner will grant you access to – you guessed it, a firearms shop.
Royal adds two entirely new confidants, one of whom is a school counselor named Maruki. He’s there to help students heal after Kamoshida's reign of terror on campus. He also doubles as a therapist for every one of your playable characters, allowing you to learn far more about their emotional baggage than in the previous game.
Your confidants follow up on the phone every time you increase your connection, which makes the relationships feel deeper and more natural. Your friend may worry if you got home okay, or share further insights on your earlier conversations. The addition of 20-30 hours of new story content also enhances the depth of those relationships. However, like its predecessor, Persona 5 Royal demands a major time commitment, on the level of 80-100 hours. It's a huge selling point for some, but a formidable barrier to entry for other time-strapped players.
More stylish visuals and time to spare
It’s not just the narrative that’s been improved in Persona 5 Royal. The stylish aesthetics critics praised the first time around look even slicker in Royal, with more expressive character portraits for everyone in your party and enhanced models plucked straight from 2018's Dancing in Starlight spinoff. There are also far more options to customize the look of your party members, and Royal includes every past DLC for free.
Dungeon crawling feels a bit fresher too, and the light platforming elements are enhanced by the new addition of a grappling hook to your thieving arsenal. This also makes navigating Palaces, some of which can take several hours to complete, a bit easier and more straightforward. The turn-based combat of the original is largely unchanged, but it's still rapid-fire and fun, requiring a great deal of strategy to avoid getting one-shotted and losing a substantial chunk of progress.
On the social-sim side, you have much more time to do things this time around. Persona 5 moves on a calendar, with your weekdays attending school, with most of your afternoons spend studying or spending time with confidants. Sometimes you can do things in the evenings, but P5 was more restrictive than its predecessors by forcing players to go to bed early, rather than pursue additional activities at night. Clearly, the developers at Atlus listened to player feedback, particularly where your nagging feline companion Morgana was concerned. After his nonstop orders to go to bed sparked thousands of memes, Royal eases up your protagonist’s strict after-hours curfew.
With more spare time in Royal's calendar, it's far easier to get everything done in a single playthrough, unlike the first game, which practically required a second go-round in New Game+ to experience everything. You don't have to worry as much this time around about missing something important. Since Persona 5 Royal' that third school semester, there's a lot more breathing room in terms of experiencing all those optional goodies the story has to offer.
Mementos, the procedurally generated optional dungeon that acts as a sidequest farm and level-grinding zone between major dungeons, is largely unchanged. There's some small new objectives to be found in this nightmarish version of Tokyo's subway tunnels, like collecting flowers and stamps. It’s a small but welcome tweak that makes Mementos and the Palaces feel more closely connected.
Persona 5 Royal is the complete P5 experience. Royal resolves elements that felt half-baked, bolsters the aesthetics, and decreases the few grumbles players had the first time around. Royal isn’t Persona 5 with some story DLC, but a hugely enjoyable new experience in its own right that any RPG fan with the time to see it through will enjoy. 9/10.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. ¶ ️We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. ¶ We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. ¶ We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. For instance, we won’t hold it against a video game if its online mode isn’t perfect at launch. ¶ And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.) ¶ Here’s how we would have reviewed some classic games: 10 = GoldenEye 007. 9 = Red Dead Redemption 2. 8 = Celeste. 7 = Mass Effect 3. 6 = No Man’s Sky. 5 = Fortnite. 4 = Anthem. 3 = Star Wars Battlefront II. 2 = Assassin’s Creed Unity. 1 = E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.