Persona 5 Royal

Fusing lengthy, involved storytelling with turn-based combat and drop dead gorgeous graphic design, Persona 5 Royal brings one of 2017’s best games back for an enhanced second spin.

Even by the wildly imaginative standards set by some of the major game franchises that have emerged from Japan, the Persona series has gone above and beyond in terms of delivering that ‘anything goes’ feeling that so many Western games lack. Despite its huge popularity though, the Persona series had been on hold for eight years and nearly an entire console generation by the time Persona 5 arrived.

On its 2017 release in the West, Persona 5 steadily gathered acclaim around it from all quarters, with its Wikipedia entry even going so far as to declare it “one of the greatest role-playing games of all time.” But make no mistake, if you haven’t picked up Persona 5 in its original incarnation, you’re in for a treat that goes far beyond the idea of a basic RPG.

How do we describe Persona 5 to those who haven’t played it? Well, imagine a game that’s almost a visual novel for huge amounts of its play time, melded together with a dungeon crawler that’s the rarest of things in an action RPG-heavy world: turn-based combat. It wouldn’t be fair to spoil the story of exactly what brings you to these “palaces” as they’re called (the original release of the game actually blocked people from recording or streaming gameplay to help people avoid spoilers) but you’ll be playing a character who’s basically a mild-mannered school student by day, and something else entirely different by night, fighting with abilities gained from your social connections to your friends (hence why the “visual novel” section of the game is more important than you might initially think).

Re-releasing games in new editions seems to be something of a tradition in Japan – Square Enix taking it to over-the-top extremes by spending years building a new ultra-modern version of Final Fantasy VII. But Persona 5 Royal is not anything like that level of “reboot”. Indeed, for those who bought and played the original game three years ago, the question might be whether it’s worth picking up at all. Is there enough that’s shiny and new in Royal to make a second purchase worthwhile?

The answer is, “it depends”. If you fell in love with the original game’s gorgeous cel-shaded art design, its slow-burn social simulator of a main game, its often punishing turn-based dungeon battles and the fact that one of your companions is a talking cat that insists it’s not a cat, then you’ll surely be onboard for what’s been added here.

Persona 5 Royal

At the basic level, the game has now been enhanced for PS4 Pro. The original game was developed for PS3 and PS4 simultaneously, and while it looked great, the extra attention given to the graphics here is very much noticeable on a 4K display – the game has never looked better.

The gameplay additions, though, will take some time to get to – and no, you can’t load your saved game from the original (though Royal does recognise that you have one, and unlocks some things for you including access to all the original game’s DLC). The big additions are a new member of your gang of Phantom Thieves named Kasumi, a new “palace” (Persona-speak for “dungeon”), a new semester at your school, and a new location with a bunch of useful and/or fun stuff in it (including a playable darts game that reminds us that the PS4’s controller still has a motion sensor!)

Cutscenes have been expanded and tweaked, too, a ton of new music’s been added, palaces have been redesigned, Joker (the character you play as) now has access to a grappling hook to traverse vertically, there are lots of new collectibles and much more. Characters also get a new attack called “Showtime” which is magnificently visually ridiculous.

“Make no mistake, if you’re new to Persona 5 then this is the version of the game to grab.”

Make no mistake, if you’re new to Persona 5 then this is the version of the game to grab – it’s improved in many ways, big and small, and is even more of a unique, surreal and addictive creation than the original. However, it’s not so different that someone who played through the original’s 100+ hours will find it essential. Like the “special editions” of the Star Wars movies, though, fans will happily be all-in on revisiting a superb game and seeing a fresh coat of paint and a new spin put on it.  There’s more DLC coming for Royal, too, that won’t be available for the original game, giving further incentive to upgrade.

Persona 5 Royal is undoubtedly the version its designers would think of as definitive. And there’s so much content here it’s mind-boggling – completionists can look forward to 150 hours or more of gameplay, or even more if they follow the game’s constant instruction to “take your time” (sage advice if you want to win the more difficult battles – be sure to save early and often!)

If you’ve always meant to sink your teeth into Persona 5 and never quite got around to it, you’ve been rewarded with a bigger and (in more than a few ways) better version of one of the most unique experiences in gaming.

Persona 5 Royal is available March 31 exclusively for PS4.

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