Report Card: Persona 5 Royal (Review in Progress)

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I have not played an Atlus games since Nocturne on the PS2 and after spending some time with Persona 5 Royal, I can comfortably say that is way too long of a time. The game has been on my radar since it’s original release, but my plate in 2017 was too full to fit a 100 plus hour JRPG. Luckily for me, I’m finding plenty of free time in 2020. Person 5 Royal is the expanded edition of the original so whether this is your first play though like me or you are a seasoned vet, there is plenty of content for all.

First off, Persona 5 (Royal or original) is content thick. It felt like my first 25 hours were all a part of a tutorial. I was constantly learning new systems the entire way past my first palace experience and beyond. I really like this approach as I never felt bombarded or overwhelmed with everything there was to learn (being overwhelmed come later on). Instead, the game lets you learn, use that information for a bit, then adds onto it gradually.

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Persona 5 is half turn-based dungeon crawler, half student life simulator. Everything in the game costs precious time. This is where a bit of anxiousness and bombardment comes into play. When not in the metaverse (the game’s combat and exploration focused dungeons) you are a normal Japanese high school student. Everything you do in your normal life influences the combat portion of the game.

With the limited free time you have on a daily basis, you have to make decisions based on what stat you want to work on increasing or the relationship you want to work on or just going and buying new equipment. It all costs time and sometimes multiple confidants will be vying for your time on the same day. If you are lucky you can maybe choose two options a day.

Time is never on your side in Persona 5. Everything works off a calendar and tight deadlines. Each new target your thieves come across has a hard deadline in which you need to compete against. If you don’t infiltrate and steal their twisted treasure before the deadline, you fail. On top of that to some companions will be unavailable at certain points in the game making it impossible to boost relationships with them or stats.

You have to a very clear idea of what you want to achieve when you have the chance. Between the metaverse, a place called the velvet room, school and a wealth of activities you may need a calendar in real life.

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It is a good thing the dungeons and combat portion of the game is so damn slick. It makes the grind and time crunch worth every precious second. Parties of four take turns fighting hordes of shadows and cognitions in turned based combat (the best kind of combat). Attacks range from guns and melee to various magic that comes from your persona.

The combat is simple yet has many layers available for depth and strategies. Most enemies shadows or personas have certain weaknesses that you must figure out, once you do you can inflict tons of damage and most cases, cause stun, in addition, this also allows the current player to be able to do a follow-up attack or pass to another player (a baton pass). When every enemy is in a stunned state you also have some options. Your group charges in, you can either do an all-out attack which often finishes the fight or talk to your enemies which will gain you money, items or new personas.

Each character in the game has a set Persona, a spirit or extension of their true heart. They earn XP along with the rest of your companions, leveling up and learning new moves along the way. Joker, the main protagonist can have more than one Persona, allowing you to switch between them during battles to exploit enemy weakness. The number of additional Personas you can have is gradually expanded in the Velvet Room.

If the city and school are where you go to work on stats such as Guts and Charm, and the Metaverse is where you go to get proficient in battle, then the Velvet Room is where you go to manage your different Personas. Run by Igor, a mysterious companion in charge of your “rehabilitation,” the Velvet Room can be accessed to combine Personas to create new ones, buy already discovered Personas, or execute Personas to gain items. Much like in Pokemon, you can’t have Personas that are a higher level than you, whether you are trying to recruit them in battle or combining two personas. The whole place is a bit morbid considering the Personas themselves all seem to have personalities.

The story centers on Joker, a character that has a bad run-in in his old hometown and must transfer to a new school. With a record following him around it isn’t easy to make friends or get his teachers or his caregiver to trust him. Through a mysterious app you enter the metaverse, a realm fed by people’s collective consciousness and desires and discover a teacher at your new school is vastly abusing his power but no one can stand up to him and the teachers that are aware turn a blind eye.

You along with companions you meet along the way must steal the targets heart treasure in order to make him confess. The larger themes of Persona seem to be about power, the haves and the have nots, abuse and more specifically, in this case, it is shown as kids vs lecherous adults. This is a very text-heavy game with bits of anime cut scenes thrown in here and there and it all serves the game very well.

Persona 5 oozes a style and does it so well. Every moment in the game is visually stunning, from battling to buffing your stats by reading, even the brief load screens that show during a transition in locations. The game looked at a movie like Oceans 11 and said, “we can do that much, much better” (cue all the Rick and Morty heist memes).

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I have loved every minute of my 35 plus hours with the game so far and look forward to completing it. Seriously this is a huge game Royal added 30 hours of content at least and a new playable character unto the already huge original release. The only area I can possibly give it a knock is the lack of an autosave feature. Getting out of a palace usually triggers a lot of text and events, if you don’t save you could lose all that progress (like I did once).

If you are like me and missed out in 2017 now is the time to correct it (we all have loads of free time right now). And if you already played the original the added content seems worth the double-dip. The graphics, music, story and gameplay loop all have me addicted. I would comfortably give this game a 5 out of 5 even with only being three palaces deep. I hope now that the game has been rereleased that you give it a look, you won’t regret it.

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