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Persona 5 Royal Early Review Impressions

Persona 5 remains a visually and auditorily stunning RPG experience full of heart.

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Persona 5 is a very long game. My first playthrough was about 120 hours, so you can imagine how much time I'll be putting into Persona 5 Royal--an expanded version of the base game--which I am in the process of reviewing. Thankfully, every hour of P5R has been (and continues to be) an absolute joy and a tremendous reminder of why I loved the original in the first place. It's a game that wears its heart on its sleeve, for better or worse, but when it fires on all cylinders, with style, music, gameplay, and narrative in harmony, there's nothing quite like it.

As of this writing, I've clocked in 60 hours and I'm about to head into the fifth palace, which is in September in the game's calendar--so I'm roughly halfway through. This means I've yet to see the more significant story changes in Royal, since they come later down the line. So far however, some great quality-of-life and gameplay additions, along with a few narrative touches, have improved what is an already rich RPG that brings heart and soul to its social sim and dungeon crawling mix.

Kasumi Yoshizawa has been touted as the star addition to P5R--a new playable character who gets involved with the Phantom Thieves and seems to have a major role in how the story progresses later on. There hasn't been anything dramatic with her quite yet, except in the opening casino heist that alludes to late-game events. In that moment, she shows off her combat style and has a cryptic exchange with Joker about a deal they've made before they part ways.

From then on, as you experience the story in chronological order, you see their relationship build as she occasionally shows up in scenes and opens up to Joker about her drive to become a top-ranked gymnast at school. Kasumi has a five-part Confidant route, which is surprising when everyone else has 10 ranks. Where I'm at in the story, though, she has hinted as to how she feels about the Phantom Thieves, which is an intriguing twist that I'm eager to see play out.

My man Charlie Tunoku has to get fit and learn some fancy footwork to keep with Kasumi, which will help in the Metaverse.
My man Charlie Tunoku has to get fit and learn some fancy footwork to keep with Kasumi, which will help in the Metaverse.

The other major character now on the scene is Takuto Maruki, and his impact is felt immediately. He's the school counselor who's hired after the first palace, following the revelations about Kamoshida and his crimes. Maruki fits into Persona 5 effortlessly, his focus on mental health and understanding of emotional trauma provides a comforting presence in a world that can feel persistently hostile. And the perk of +5 SP for Joker with each of his Confidant levels makes his route all the more worthwhile. As much of a dork as he can be, Maruki is one to seek out and prioritize with your free time, if only to hear his wonderful theme song.

Some broader changes to the social sim elements not only give you more to do, but also create avenues for advancing them more quickly this time around. For one, Goro Akechi is now an optional Confidant that hangs around the new area of Kichijoji. I've reached Rank 6 with him and, thus far, his route has been a bit underwhelming, but it's hard to say definitively given that there's a lot I have yet to see. What helps you see more of your Confidants' key moments is that you'll often get phone calls from them after hanging out; it's an opportunity to get more points and advance their ranks faster without taking more time from your days.

Maruki is a delightful presence in a world of uncertainty and hostility.
Maruki is a delightful presence in a world of uncertainty and hostility.

Kichijoji isn't just another place to hang out; it also houses some of P5R's new features. Darts at Penguin Sniper is a fun little minigame that ranks up the Baton Pass mechanic for party members, which in turn is a lot more effective with perks like HP and SP boosts when using it. A clothing shop will take dirty armor in exchange for unique items, the Jazz Jin club gives XP boosts to party members you spend time with, and the meat shop gives SP items on Sundays. Overall, it's a lovely place to be that adds variety to the game's daily routine.

There have been just as many tweaks and additions to combat and dungeon crawling as well. When you're not living your best life in Tokyo amid social crises, you're fighting shadows in distorted (though imaginative) dimensions of the human psyche. Persona 5's turn-based combat system was already a fast-paced stylish endeavor, but a few new layers freshen up the experience.

I found value in the growth of its individual characters and their collective, unbridled effort to do what's right. Three years later, virtually living in Tokyo, going to school, and enacting true justice as a youthful, unapologetic vigilante alongside some good friends in Persona 5 remain moving.

Disaster shadows present a risk-reward challenge by exploding on death to cause damage to surrounding enemies, but get aggressive if you don't kill them fast enough. Personas now have traits that act like perks such as boosting damage from certain spell-types, increasing changes of status effects, or decreasing SP costs for some elements. Morgana gives pointers during shadow investigations, making the process a little less of a guessing game. Lastly, Showtime attacks are ridiculously over-the-top partner abilities that come up when enemies are low on health or if Joker's in a bind. Only one of the two party members who have one needs to be in battle, and unlock automatically as the game progresses. All these systems make the moment-to-moment action a bit more dynamic.

A number of new mechanics are layered and the already-dynamic turn-based combat system.
A number of new mechanics are layered and the already-dynamic turn-based combat system.

A few existing areas in palaces have been rearranged to accommodate the addition of Joker's grappling hook. Most of these shifts lead to finding Will Seeds, of which there are three in each palace (snatching all three forms an equippable accessory). Collecting them slightly replenishes SP to keep you going as you fight and explore the dungeons further. Through Kasumi's Confidant route, you can also ambush enemies from afar, so between exploration and fighting shadows, the grappling hook is a feature that helps alleviate the feeling that you're retreading old ground.

The Metaverse's most comprehensive change thus far is seen in the procedurally generated depths of Mementos. The new side-character Jose makes a living in Mementos and sells goods (including SP items) in exchange for flowers, which are a new collectible within the deranged subway tunnels. Stamps, though finite, are another collectible scattered about Mementos' levels and can be used to boost money or XP gains from battle. And to make exploring less of a drag, the Morgana bus can now ram into enemies in the overworld by holding R2 and automatically defeat them with all the benefits of actual combat (XP, money, items, and even capturing a persona itself). And thankfully, you'll get a new background tune by level three to mix up the hypnotizing Mementos song that kind of wore out its welcome.

Every single song or background track that plays throughout Persona 5 Royal beautifully captures each moment. Its music pulls on the fond memories made with the original game and serves as a reminder of the bold, emphatic messages of its story and character arcs.

I can't conclude my initial impressions without mentioning the new battle theme that's been added to the iconic soundtrack of Persona 5. I'm not one for hot takes, but the ambush theme, "Take Over," might be a better battle tune as it gives a more momentous upbeat vibe when blasting through unsuspecting shadows. You may miss "Last Surprise" but it's still there as a nice consolation prize when you initiate fights with an enemy head-on. Battle themes aside, every single song or background track that plays throughout Persona 5 Royal beautifully captures each moment. Its music pulls on the fond memories made with the original game and serves as a reminder of the bold, emphatic messages of its story and character arcs.

Rain pouring down, chilling with your best friends, the tune of Beneath the Mask playing--Persona 5 is as provocative as it is comforting.
Rain pouring down, chilling with your best friends, the tune of Beneath the Mask playing--Persona 5 is as provocative as it is comforting.

I've been eager to see how P5R will create new memories for a game I recognize as an all-time favorite. I found value in the growth of its individual characters and their collective, unbridled effort to do what's right. Three years later, virtually living in Tokyo, going to school, and enacting true justice as a youthful, unapologetic vigilante alongside some good friends in Persona 5 remain moving. However, I have a lot more work ahead of me in order to see that through in Royal. Kasumi's added palace, the new characters' arcs, the extra school semester, and tweaks to late-game scenarios still await me, and it's those things that will determine whether or not P5R truly is the definitive version of the game.

There's so much more to see and do, but I'm going to take Persona 5's advice to heart and take my time. You can expect my full, final review of Persona 5 Royal sometime before the game launches for PS4 on March 31.

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highammichael

Michael Higham

Associate Editor at GameSpot. Southeast San Diego to the Bay. Salamat sa iyong suporta!

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