Feature Article

Best Games Of 2020 - Persona 5 Royal

Persona 5 Royal isn't just the definitive version of a modern classic, it's a recontextualization of what the original game was.

Over the next week, we will be posting features for what we've nominated to be the best games of 2020. Then, on December 17, we will crown one of the nominees as GameSpot's Best Game of 2020, so join us as we celebrate these 10 games on the road to the big announcement. Be sure to check out our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best Games of 2020 hub.

I know what you're probably thinking: "Wait, Persona 5 came out in 2017, and you even named it the second best game of the year when you used to rank games!" That's true. This nomination, however, speaks to the fact that Persona 5 Royal expertly builds on what was already a tremendous RPG and delivers all-new story chapters that are genuinely unexpected yet perfect thematic fits. It's a definitive version, yes. But to simply call it a re-release is to sell short the extra 15 to 20 hours of essential content, the clever ways a new narrative is woven into the base game, and the emotional conclusions that follow. When we thought that Persona 5 couldn't be anymore invigorating or inspiring, Royal proved us wrong.

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Now Playing: Persona 5 Royal - Game Of The Year 2020 Nominee

Persona's bread and butter is its marriage of social simulation where you live the life of a Japanese high school student, and dynamic turn-based RPG combat as you explore surreal dungeons. Both aspects feed into one another to create a cohesive whole and instill a sense of purpose in the things you do. You grow to care about the world you're striving to change and grow attached to the friends you make and fight alongside, all of whom empower each other with conviction and strength to right the wrongs of a society corrupted by abuse and exploitation. The Phantom Thieves--the main cast of characters who drive the story--take matters into their own hands with such lavish gusto that you can't help but fall in love with the ways in which their style meets substance.

Atlus is known for putting out updated versions of their existing games with extra content, and as far as the gameplay experience goes, a slew of quality-of-life improvements and additional mechanics allow you to make more of your time playing the game. The new town of Kichijoji introduces extra activities to do with your friends. Morgana doesn't bug you as much to go to sleep. The upgraded baton pass mechanic adds an extra layer to the strategic turn-based combat. Showtime attacks are ridiculous and hard-hitting partner attacks to help wipe out enemies with flair. Confidant routes have new opportunities that make it easier to progress in those engaging stories. Boss fights have been reworked to present different challenges. Dungeon layouts have been tweaked to make exploration smoother and more rewarding. Mementos is revamped in smart ways. Royal-exclusive songs fit perfectly into what's already an iconic genre-bending soundtrack, and hit you in your feelings at just the right moments. And the new final palace is arguably the best one in the entire game.

I'm just scratching the surface but I don't want to spend all day listing the ways in which Royal proves itself to be more than just a repackaging of an old game. It's a culmination of improvements and additions that make a much better whole. Yet, that alone is not necessarily what makes Royal rise above its original release.

Persona 5 Royal is an overwhelmingly emotional experience, partly because you grow to love the characters you spend so much time with, making it tough to say goodbye as the credits roll.

What Royal does specifically seems understated at first, introducing two new characters: fellow student Kasumi Yoshizawa and school counselor Takuto Maruki. You know Kasumi eventually joins the squad thanks to a teaser in the fantastic opening sequence, but you gradually learn about her purpose and her tragic backstory. Maruki provides perspectives on mental health that were sorely lacking in the original game--for a story that revolves around overcoming personal trauma and the strength born from that, Maruki's inclusion is an important one. To talk through the things that haunt you, the things you dread, and be validated in those feelings sends a strong but subtle message.

However, as these narrative additions unfold throughout the game, they serve as the building blocks for Royal's new storyline. It's as if it's being constructed in front of you, essential to the overall narrative that's been hiding in plain sight. Instead of feeling like tacked-on content, this extra chapter superbly blends into what was already in place and leverages the already-affecting journey to draw you into a new finale that hits you just as hard. It's also a drastic change in tone, yet effortlessly fits into the themes and messages Persona 5 always expressed.

One of the empowering aspects of Persona 5 was in destroying the abusive power structures that have oppressed the people you know and society as a whole. With the confidence, style, and conviction of the Phantom Thieves, you were motivated to see the journey through. All that is still a core part of Royal, of course, but this new chapter in the Royal-specific story is a reflection of the trauma everyone has faced and an acceptance of your past to forge a better future. Your adversary is no longer someone who's in clear violation of human decency. It's a clash of visions for a genuinely better world, a battle between what's ideal and what's real.

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This new content isn't entirely wrapped up in a tangled web of philosophy, it's also more intimate. Goro Akechi, who was a core character in the original, is fleshed out to a much greater degree, which leaves you with a better understanding of him. A new alternate ending paints a full picture of your last "enemy" while peering deep into what your friends always wanted in their lives. As wild and bombastic as the final palace and boss fights are in Royal, the game always stays grounded in its human element, and after every battle in the Metaverse is done, you're always brought back down to Earth.

Persona 5 Royal is an overwhelmingly emotional experience, partly because you grow to love the characters you spend so much time with, making it tough to say goodbye as the credits roll. But also because there's a genuine empathy built into the fabric of Persona 5 Royal that many us identify with on a profound level. To see difficult parts of our lives expressed in a 100+ hour RPG that's an absolute blast to play is an experience like no other.

I said in my review that Persona 5 Royal is an empowering and inspiring RPG that should be recognized as one of the greatest games of our time, and that's due in large part to how it separates itself from the original version. I also said that I've thought about Persona 5 almost everyday since playing it back in 2017--with P5R, that continues to be true, and I suspect it'll be like that well after 2020.

The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

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Michael Higham

Senior Editor and Host at GameSpot. Filipino-American. Ask me about Yakuza, FFXIV, Persona, or Nier. If it's RPGs, I have it covered. Apparently I'm the tech expert here, too? Salamat sa 'yong suporta!

Best Games of 2020

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