Have you ever wanted to take justice into your own hands, and look cool while doing so? Do you have fond memories of your time in high school, and wish to relive a part of it while also exploring Tokyo? Persona 5 Royal offers this, and so much more.
Platform: Playstation 4. Playstation 5. Coming to PC, Switch and Xbox Series X/S on October 21st
Genre: JRPG. Turn-based combat
I remember April, 2017. I had recently finished my playthrough of Mass Effect: Andromeda, the newest game from my favorite game series of all time. A game that sadly had left a bitter taste in my mouth, as I felt it had failed to live up to the hype. But I knew there was another game on the horizon. Many years ago, I had played through Persona 4, and loved it. The plot, the music, and the characters had won me over. And after all these years, I would return to that world. But nothing was the same.
The game had a brand new cast of main characters. A brand new story, with a different style in both appearance and music. Yet everything felt so familiar. The rhythm of going to school every day and meeting your friends to chat with them. Or to enter a world connected to the human subconscious, and fight against the inner shadows of mankind. I loved it, and Persona 5 rose to the top of my list of favorite games.
And then, in the year 2020, came Persona 5 Royal (also referred to as P5R). An updated version of Persona 5, with an expanded story, more strategy, more music, and an extra chapter if you had done things “correctly”. It was in the early stages of the lockdown, so I had plenty of time to play through it.
I once again found myself in Tokyo, once again deeply sunken into the story.
Tokyo is taken by storm. A mysterious group calling themselves the Phantom Thieves have over the course of a year worked in Japan to take on horrible people that have hidden away from justice. And you start the game in one of their greatest heists. Their leader (you) makes a glorious escape. But not without complications.
The rest of the game is played in a flashback. As the leader of the Phantom Thieves, you will go through your memories of the road that got you where you are. How you, as a 16 year old boy still in high school, discovered the power to steal peoples twisted desires, by sneaking into a world made up by humanity’s subconscious and the persons twisted view on reality. But you also relive your days as an everyday student. You go through every battle, every festival, every day in your hunt for justice in a corrupt world, to avoid the incoming “ruin”.
P5R does have a very strong anime-vibe to it. It is similar to many Japanese animated series, as it follows a group of teenagers with mystical powers who are trying to save the world. But in contrast to many of these series, P5R has a darker tone to it at several moments. The people you are trying to stop are horrible people, with more realistic crimes. It does however avoid becoming too heavy, as you often meet these criminals in the subconscious world. And as it is built in the subconscious, the villains often become more cartoony, which can feel a bit exaggerated at times. The anime influence is very visible at these points. The civilian life also feels very much like a “slice of life” anime, while the adventures in the other world have more in common with an action-anime. The game also takes full advantage of it taking place in Tokyo, with cultural influences, environments, city areas, words, and suffixes.
The game has two sides to it: Your civilian life, and your life as a Phantom Thief.
In your civilian life, you are a normal student in Tokyo. You can wander the city’s streets and explore it in all kinds of ways. You can go and fish, you can go to the gym, you can go to the school’s library to study, you can clean in the café you live in, or you can hang out with your friends to strengthen your bonds. Many of the things you do affects either your Social Stats, or your Confidant Rank, which is how close you are to your friends. Increasing your Confidant Rank can give you incredible bonuses, from making you a better Phantom Thief, to buying healing items at a cheaper price, or even things that help your civilian life. If you have the chance to get closer to your friends, it is most certainly worth it. Social Stats opens up more dialogue for you, allowing you to keep building your Confidant Rank with certain people. You can also only get the best scores in the school tests with maxed out Knowledge, or you can build several infiltration tools with a higher Proficiency.
In your life as a Phantom Thief, you infiltrate Palaces made by a person’s subconscious. You do this by sneaking around, ambushing enemies, and solving puzzles. When you start a battle, you’ll be put in a turn-based battle. Against normal enemies, the challenge will be to find and exploit their weakness and exploit it, combined with using your team to bring down an enemy and knock them to the floor to unleash a devastating All-Out Attack. At the same time, you need to keep an eye out for you and your companions’ resources, as they are not easily recovered.
A day is split into two parts: After School, and evening. You can only do one big thing during each part of the day. For example, you can spend your after-school hours in the library and then talk to the owner of the café you live in to increase your Confidant Rank with him. Or you can go to a Palace to work on your infiltration as a Phantom Thief after school, and then clean up in the café in the evening. You have a limited number of days to complete an infiltration however, which makes it a balance to juggle your life as a student, and as a Phantom Thief.
You will need to be prepared for this being a story driven game. Several days in the game can be focused entirely on driving the plot forward, which means there are periods when you don’t get to play, but instead watch a long series of cutscenes which advances the story.
If there is one thing that the game has going for it, it’s that it has a unique style. The music is a mix of Acid Jazz and Rock, that together make for an unforgettable soundtrack. The music always fits the situation and can help to build up the excitement for the bigger events and battles.
The visual presentation is no laughing matter either. The graphics might have been made for the Playstation 3 era, but one won’t notice it due to how well made the game is in its artistic style. To navigate the menu is simple, and a visual treat as you see the main character move around and react to everything you do. Every battle also has a cool feeling to it, as your team works together to exploit the enemies weaknesses. And despite all the visual flair, it never ends up excessive. You can see what happens, without losing yourself in the menus, with it all heightening the feeling of being a cool Phantom Thief.
The game takes place in Japan and is made by a Japanese company. Those that don’t know much about the country can find the culture alien and confusing. Their open views on religion, their dark work culture, maid café’s, the obsession with youth, the view on children missing one or both parents, the legal system known for a conviction rate of 99%, and the Idol culture that one could write several articles about. P5R does not shy away from its country’s cultural history, and the English translators have done a phenomenal job in keeping and sharing as much as it possibly can about the culture.
This has led to some minor controversies in the west, however. The biggest one being two short scenes with a homosexual couple that are very intense with the way they flirt with one of the main characters friends, which was changed to them trying to get your friend to start wearing drag queen fashion. The view in Japan regarding homosexuality has sadly not reached the same level of acceptance as it has in many European countries, and a joke of this nature is thus completely fine over there, while it is seen as negatively homophobic in the west.
P5R can be seen as an opportunity to get insight into Japanese culture and society. Both the positives and the negatives. That which raises your curiosity or shocks you about their culture can lead to you wishing to gain more knowledge about it yourself.
In a culture focused on respect and submission, to blindly listen to your superiors – your boss, your teachers, your parents, or politicians – you are expected in Japan to obey. P5R stands out a lot in Japan for its realistic world, with a theme about revolution. To break the chains of submission and take control over your own life. Everywhere, you will see and meet characters that are outsiders, that are not accepted by society due to their narrow view of what a person is meant to be.
P5R also touches upon themes of apathy, trauma, abuse of power, depression, police brutality, the philosophy of what is justice, and what makes the masses happy. It has themes surrounding tarot cards and how people can be compared with the cards from Marseilles Tarot Deck. It also explores thought experiments like Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine”.
It is a big game, with a well-deserved M for Mature rating. It is recommended that parents that are thinking about buying this game for their children feel as if they are mature enough. There is violence and sexual subject matters, but nothing too graphic is shown, nothing even close to, say, Game of Thrones.
There is much that can be said about P5R. The incredible music, the cool art style, the amazing story. But, to me, I think the game’s greatest strength is the characters. The bonds with the other Phantom Thieves, both as thieves, but also just as friends. The game does an amazing job evoking nostalgia from one’s time in High School. To hang out with your friends, study, and to go out and do stuff with them. And when the game is finally over, many have said they feel as if they are saying farewell to their friends. And if that is not the sign of a good game, I don’t know what is.
There are many things to keep track of in this game, so a few simple hints feel appropriate. These are as spoiler free as possible, but will make sense once you play the game.
- The Twins will ask for you to bring them Persona’s with specific abilities. If you decide to fulfill their requests, you might want to look up a guide. There are several of them online.
- Read through your list of Confidants and see which Arcana of the tarot deck they represent. If you have a Persona on you of the same Arcana as the Confidant, it will help it go faster to get your next Confidant Rank.
- You don’t need to fill up all your Confidants, but the more, the better. I would, however, recommend trying and do Moon, Justice, Faith and Councillor, as these give pretty neat abilities.
- Try to change your team around. You can go with the same characters through the entire game, and fill in the gaps with the Main Character, but there will be moments where you want to switch out one teammate for another.
- Take your time. Explore, experiment, and enjoy the trip.
Other Persona Media
Persona 5 Royal is an amazing game, but it is not the only game worth playing in the Persona series. It is not even the only one with a 5 in it. If you find P5R interesting, you might also be interested in these other things:
- Persona 4 Golden (PSVita, PC). The very first Persona game to break the trend and get a PC release. If you are fine with PS2 graphics, you might find Persona 4 Golden to be a masterpiece. The contrast with P5R is big, however. A different theme, cast of characters, and a music style closer to J-pop than P5R’s Acid Jazz. It is already out on PC, so you can play it right now to get a taste of Persona before P5R’s PC release.
- Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth and Persona Q2: New Cimena Labyrinth (3DS): A spinoff series that is a massive crossover. The gameplay is a mix between the Persona games, and a completely different game series: Etrian Odyssey. In the first game, the cast of characters from Persona 3 and 4 team up, while the Phantom Thieves join in for PQ2. You explore deep labyrinths and draw your own map on the way, all while fighting enemies to find the secrets of the labyrinths. If you have a 3DS, and have played through Persona 3, 4, and/or 5, I’d certainly recommend it.
- Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight (PS4): The music in the Persona games is memorable. So, somehow, we got a rhythm game, where the infamous Phantom Thieves…are in a dreamworld, dancing. If you enjoy rhythm games, got a PS4, and want to enjoy more of the cast from P5, you will find this to be an enjoyable spinoff. It ain’t my cup of tea, however. If you find yourself playing through P4 or P3, there is also Persona 4: Dancing all night (which has a story mode that follows after the plot of P4G) and Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight.
- Persona 5 Strikers (PS4, Switch, PC): Many were skeptical of the idea of a Persona game mixed with the gameplay style of Dynasty Warriors. But oh boy, people were taken by surprise. It expands on the themes of P5 and is a direct continuation of its story. Instead of the usual turn-based combat in P5R, you will find Strikers having a more action focused combat style, that blends in well with what P5R and previous Persona games have built up, making you quickly feel right at home. Strikers was however built around the original P5, so what happens in the last chapter of P5R is not mentioned in detail. This does not stop it from working as a great sequel. I would recommend playing P5 or P5R before looking into this game, however.
- Persona 5: The Animation: Not a game, but an anime based on Persona 5. It follows the plot of the original game, but changes things slightly to better fit a series format. The voice actors from the games return, but sadly, the animation itself is quite lacking. It is better to simply play the games for the story.