Better late than never to get my thoughts together on my experience with Persona 5 Royal. As the next game in Atlus’s hit series, Persona, Royal played out similarly to Persona 4 Golden and third installments in Pokemon games, adding in an extra bit of content and slightly tweaking the core story. While the Royal delivered an exceptional amount of extra content and an new story with the third semester, by the end I wasn’t left with the same awe-struck impression that I was with the original.
So, what went wrong?
To anwer that question, I want to first touch upon on the altered gameplay
To answer that question, I want to first touch upon on the altered gameplay and new story elements. Overall, it was the experience from start to absolute finish that made the game what it was for me. Warning: this review will contain massive spoilers for the game, if you want to play the game and enjoy it for yourself then be warned.
In the beginning when the game was being marketed and hyped up, Atulus showcased a lot of the new gameplay mechanics like showtimes and altered boss fights coupled with a new story chapter and characters. All of this new content generated a whirlwind of discussion and the community went crazy speculating what changes would take place and how the core story would be changed to accommodate the new elements.
There were high expectations going into this game and I, along with other fans, were expecting it to be an entirely new experience that would give the original a breath of fresh air. I myself expected the Royal to be that game that re-sparked my initial interest and made the game fresh and new again.
At the start, the new gameplay mechanics like disaster shadows were absolutely amazing and with the tweaked status ailment mechanic, there was more strategy than before in the combat system with having the opportunity to effectively cast status ailments like burn and stun on enemies and use technical damage to down them. The extra bit of strategy made the game much more fun than the original turn-based beat the enemy with blunt damage method. From there the first three bosses in Royal had extra elements and phases added to them that made the fights pan out completely different than in the original. Again, it kept thinks fresh and exciting.
At this point the story was much of the same aside with added moments with the new characters which I will discuss later on. Story aside, the gameplay was phenomenal and kept me 100% interested despite playing the original P5 multiple times over. Royal felt new and exciting…until Futaba’s palace.
Most of the palaces up to that point, including mementos, were slightly altered and changed with how you would make your way through them and progress through puzzles and obstacles. Mementos even had Jose added where you would collect flowers to trade for items and find stamps along the way to change the cognition of mementos to increase experience gained, money acquired or items dropped. Sometimes when entering floors a rare phenomenon would occur like treasure demons, mass enemy spawns or rare loot to be found. Sometimes, the phenomenon could be deadly with the immediate spawn of the Reaper or traps throughout the floor. It was definitely exciting and kept the largest dungeon in the game from being redundant and boring. Even the aesthetics of each section changed alongside the music. Mementos felt more alive than ever.
But here comes the later half of the game starting with Futaba’s palace, it largely remained unchanged and even the boss fight was phase by phase the exact same as the original. It felt like the developers just gave up at this point to make it game different and better.
If it couldn’t get worse than starting to grow boring, Okumura’s palace is where the game was ruined for me until the new semester. In the original, there were a lot of complaints about how the palace and palace’s boss fight were handled. Okumura’s palace was definitely the most boring and uninteresting palace in the entire game. In a game that strongly prides itself on keeping the gameplay different with each level, Okumura’s felt like it was hollow and lacked any fun mechanic with it. There is no change in the Royal either. A perfect opportunity to enhance the worst level was squandered and even the boss fight was somehow made even worse than before.
What was already an extremely gimmicky fight became even more gimmicky to the point of being flawed. In the original, you are given 30 minutes to defeat a wave of enemies, the big boss robot and then defeat Okumura after. It was straightforward and on paper doesn’t look that challenging until you take into account that you are playing a turn-based RPG with a time limit mechanic and the hordes are plentiful and the big boss is both beefy and extremely dangerous. It was very easy to lose this fight if you went in unprepared or rushed through it without noticing the attack patterns of the boss just to beat it within the time limit.
To make matters worse, in the Royal a new phase and gimmick where added to make the entire boss fight flawed to the point of there being no legitimate strategy to defeat him without relying on the free or paid DLC. Even then it could still be challenging. The horde enemies were made even tankier which was problematic in of itself but they also added the infuriating mechanic of the enemies fleeing the battle after only just 2 turns in. For a battle that is absolutely reliant on buffing your allies and debuffing your enemies it would take at least 1-2 turns to setup that strategy. Now that it is set up, the green robots that are weak to psychic based attacks were made exceptionally tanky to the point of being a boss in of themselves.
If that wasn’t already infuriating enough then once they flee after 2 turns, the phase repeats itself. You have to kill all 4 enemies at the same time with AoE attacks. Easier said than done when the boss now in the Royal can debuff your allies and buff the defensive stat of one enemy throwing every strategy off. When looking on forums many players, including myself, mentioned that they would encounter moments where we would kill 3 of 4 of the enemies due to the last enemy being buffed and they would live with even a sliver of health and the next turn flee. Even if one of them flees you have to repeat the phase with a full wave of 4 enemies. The gimmick leads to a broken loop where the timer is still counting down and you still haven’t got to the main boss.
From there the final boss is nowhere near as broken but will still take a good amount of time to defeat making the clock much more of an issue in this game than in the original. After the main boss is defeated, you would originally fight Okumura but in the Royal you now face robot Haru who is extremely tanky, can’t do damage at all to your allies but thankfully she self-destructs after 2 turns leaving Okumura wide-open for a one-shot attack. Again, it’s not a matter of difficulty here but rather the time limit would normally be almost over and yet they added an element that would make the fight stall the timer down even more.
As someone who loves RPGs and plays a lot of these games, I was a much higher level than the average at this point in the game but I could not get past the first phase unless I used DLC persona. Every reddit thread I looked up even ranted the same. The green enemies were just too tanky and the fleeing mechanic absolutely ruined this game for me and for those with little patience or those who don’t like to cheat are going to feel absolutely heart broken by this point in the game.
After Okumura’s palace the difficulty just gets harder of course but unlike his palace the difficulty and fights are a lot more fair. You no longer have to worry about enemies that repel physical attacks and have an ability that inflicts a status condition on your entire party to make them auto physical attack against him. I got downed in one-shot at full health from this unfair mechanic without being able to cure the ailment first.
Never before have I played a game that was unfair with its difficulty until Okumura’s palace in Persona 5 Royal.
Sae’s palace until the very end of the original game remained largely unchanged with only an extra roulette thrown into her fight that determines the type of attack she uses. Nothing unfair and is more of a coll aesthetic than something that mixes up the gameplay. Shido also remains largely unchanged aside from the new final phase that pits Joker against him in a 1v1 that makes for a sweeter finale than the original.
The story largely remains the same in the Royal aside from the introduction of two new characters, Kasumi and Maruki both of which play a major role in the new semester. In the introduction of the game you are introduced to Kasumi and after beating Kamoshida’s palace, Maruki makes his appearance.
At first their introduction and moments in the story make for good character development and add to the expanding plot but as the game reaches its climax I was left feeling like they haven’t had enough time. Aside from the new semester, it felt like the new characters should have had more impact on the story as a whole rather than feeling like additions.
As you get through the game it feels more and more like Royal is just Persona 5 with DLC rather than a new take and experience on the original. The overall plot of Persona 5 remains unchanged and only does the new story afterwards take the new elements into consideration.
In the month of October in the game during Okumura’s palace, you meet Kasumi in Odaiba where they are developing what is meant to be an arena and end up falling into a palace. You briefly explore this unnamed palace to discover Kasumi’s fascination with it and she ends up awakening to her Persona. At this moment in the story it felt like we would reach a diverging point from the original Persona 5 storyline but in reality this moment had very little impact on the overall plot until the new story in the third semester.
Again, felt like additional content rather than something that should have changed the core game.
Once Yaldaboath is defeated and it comes to the point where you meet Sae and she discusses having you turn yourself in to make Shido’s trial easier, the game finally diverges from the main plot. But at this point this is basically additional story when it comes into play near the very end of the original game. Akechi shows up and says he will testify instead. In the original game it is believed that he was dead at this point so this twist was definitely interesting.
The focus then shifted back towards Kasumi with many questions circling around as your progressed through the New Year, everything seemed so happy and at peace but at the same time it felt like you were living in a dream and not reality. Everyone but Kasumi, Akechi and Joker were affected and lived happy, normal lives. Characters who were dead where now alive. It was a happy life, the ideal reality but it wasn’t the true one.
Eventually you stumble upon the new palace which is the same one you visited back in October. As you progress through it, Kasumi’s true identity is revealed. A girl who had been living in a dream all this time, her older sister, Kasumi had been dead for over a year now. Wanting to follow in her sister’s footsteps and be just as successful as her, she took up her sister’s mantle. But, the now reborn Sumire Yoshizawa realized that she was lying to herself and only holding herself back. Learning that she has to grasp her future for herself set the theme for the final semester and was also an amazing display of character growth for her.
We learn that Maruki is the ruler of the new palace and his only reason to altering the course of reality is because his dream is to make everyone happy. Taking control of the remnants of Yaldaboath’s powers, Maruki sets himself up to be the new villain. Everything is morally gray in this part of the game since Maruki’s ambition isn’t wrong but at the same time living a false life also isn’t the answer.
After getting your teammates to wake up from their dream world, they come to your side and help you rescue Sumire from Maruki who only wanted her to live a happy life even if that meant living as her older sister.
There are a couple times throughout this final arc when Maruki asks you the question of accepting his reality. By accepting it, the story will then end with accepting to live in his ideal reality that he makes for you. It’s definitely a happy but unsettling ending that really drives home the morally gray aspect of Maruki’s arc.
There is no wrong answer but there is also no right answer. By deciding to take up your future for yourself do you fight him in the end. It turns out that Maruki is also a persona user which makes the story even more exciting and the fight with him even more elaborate.
From when the third semester begins to before you fight Maruki at the very end, each of the main cast get an additional persona evolution, think of a confidant rank 11. In these story-forced moments we see each of the characters that we fell in love with receive that character growth that they had been missing out on in the original. After each character’s arc in the original they would hardly receive much development from then on but in Persona 5 Royal, we see Ann become the confidant woman and Ryuji let go of his anger. We finally see each and every character grow and flourish into a new person.
I know I only just skimmed over the story section but there is well over 120 hours of story to discuss and I don’t want to talk about every little moment of the game and absolutely ruin it. There are a lot of moment in the new gameplay and story to love but there are also many things that don’t feel like they go all the way.
Like I said earlier, it feels like Persona 5 with DLC added on rather than a fully new, immersive experience with the main story changed and altered in more drastic ways. Granted, the original’s story was exceptional in its own right and you don’t change perfection but this game was an opportunity to remake the original’s story into something new.
In the third semester you get all that character development that wasn’t available in the original as well as a brand new ending but that new ending feels lackluster compared to the original’s.
While Persona 5 Royal’s theme of grasping the future for yourself even if it is riddled with unhappy and hard moments, the ability to overcome those challenges yourself is part of the journey, that doesn’t mean the ending needed to be a somber one. The original’s ending had the main cast of the Phantom Thieves drive off into the sunset to take the main character back home in the countryside. It showcased that despite being separated from each other, they would never be alone.
The Royal’s ending on the other hand didn’t really drive that home as you don’t get that funny moment of Morgana tampering with the police’s vehicle to make your grand escape. Instead Maruki picks you up and we see his character come to his conclusion which gives a fulfilling end in that department but what about the main character and his friends? Instead they said goodbye and leave him at the train station where he sits on the train alone waiting for it to depart.
Now, you may also be asking yourself, where is Sumire (Kasumi)? She meets the protagonist right before he boards the train and offers him a good couple words of encouragement and that’s it. The new character that was strongly pushed as the main girl in the series doesn’t get a canon romantic moment in the ending let alone play a major role in it. She is more just there as a side piece, completely forgotten in trying to make the new ending as similar to the original’s.
My biggest issue I think speaks for itself there. Unlike Persona 4 Golden where an epilogue is also included to showcase the characters a year later, Persona 5 Royal desperately needed that same treatment. Since the characters were talking about each going their separate ways but saying they would always be together, it would have been nice to see that rather than infer it. It could have also been a bigger moment to see more Kasumi and the protagonist’s relationship develop, assuming you chose her as your love interest.
Overall, the story was really good until the ending when it felt like the new characters barely had any impact and when the new ending felt somber compared to the original and with the game lacking an appropriate epilogue that it so desperately needed. Sumire also played no major role in the ending seeing as that she only got 5 seconds of screen time in it and was hardly mentioned. The ending just felt incomplete and rushed.
The gameplay was also really good until the 4th palace in when there was hardly any more differences that could be spotted. The further you play into Persona 5 Royal the less ambition you could find in it. A project that originally started as something with a lot of ambition to alter the core of the game just became something that the developers no longer had interest in and quit halfway.
As someone who really loved the original and really loved the new characters, this new entry doesn’t quite deliver to what I was expecting.