A major overhaul that gives Persona 5 the royal treatment.
Persona 5 was one of 2017's best games--it resonated with many of us and was a transformative experience for myself. But with Persona 5 Royal set to launch in the West next month, I think it's fair to ask if it'll be worth investing (or reinvesting) 80 to 120 hours into this RPG. However, it's not just the same game with more content; P5R is the definitive version and reimagining of the original, rebuilt with fundamental story and gameplay changes.
I recently got a taste of some of P5R's new content by playing the localized version at a preview event and saw a bit of how dungeon exploration, boss fights, and the day-to-day activities have been altered. More importantly, I got a small snippet of the new character who's going to shake things up in the story. Combined with having also followed the Japanese release closely, it's becoming clearer that P5R will be worthwhile for newcomers and returning players alike.
A New Face And A New Mask
Beneath the mask of lavish, unrelenting style is a story about rebellion, ridding the world of authority figures wildly abusing their power. It's wrapped in an RPG that uses its soundtrack, visuals, and social sim elements to connect you to its characters and their fight for what's right. All that is, of course, expected of P5R since it was the core of the original, but what's being added to that foundation? Let's start with the crimson Phantom Thief, Kasumi Yoshizawa.
She's a new student at your school, Shujin Academy, and is pretty well known for her talents as a gymnast. From a short scene I played, it's apparent she takes a liking to Joker, accepting his offer to share an umbrella to walk in the rain and then opening up to him about her school life. It seems that Shujin's administration and faculty are trying to offer her special benefits for being a top-tier athlete, but she appears to be conflicted and wants to do right by everyone. Eventually, we'll have her fighting alongside the rest of the gang in the metaverse with her persona Cendrillon--she seems to be focused on bless-type skills and physical attacks. And like everyone else, she has a fire inside that drives her to join the cause.
Kasumi isn't just a character added to the roster, she's directly involved in how the main story plays out, appearing in a number of new and existing scenes. She has her own Confidant social bond route, and there's even an entirely new dungeon that revolves around her. She gets in between Joker and Akechi at times, and seemingly confronts the moral quandaries of what it means to be a Phantom Thief. As to the extent to which these are explored with Kasumi, we'll have to wait and see because I haven't spoiled it for myself, and I wouldn't do that to you either.
Living Large In New Areas Of Tokyo
One of the best parts of Persona 5 was the virtual tourism of Tokyo, taking a page out of the Yakuza series' playbook. In the original game we got to see Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, and more. In P5R, we have a new location within Tokyo to hit up: Kichijoji. In real life, Kichijoji is a part of town with shops, restaurants, and places to hangout. In P5R, it's kind of like that, too.
What makes this special is that there are new group activities and places to chill, such as Penguin Sniper, a spot to shoot pool and play darts with the squad. Pool is a passive event, while darts on the other hand is an active minigame--unfortunately it wasn't available as a minigame in the demo, though we did get to visit this place to see what it was about. These activities at Penguin Sniper level up Baton Pass ranks with the team, adding special perks to this clutch combat mechanic like healing HP and SP with each pass.
There's also a shrine you can visit that helps boost your stats, a shop where you can turn in collectible items for new gear, and vendors that offer a variety of items. Different spots open up at night time in Kichijoji, too, such as a Jazz club where you can take friends on dates and boost their Confidant rank.
A Transformation Of The Metaverse
When it comes to combat and exploration in the metaverse, P5R remixes its dungeons (known as Palaces) with additional areas to explore, slightly changing the original layouts. Joker's new grappling hook ability is a means to get to many of these nooks and crannies, performed as context-sensitive actions. This often leads to items such as Will Seeds, which are new collectibles that recover SP for the party. This is important because the extra SP boost will help keep you going in palaces without having to leave the metaverse and spend an in-game day to recover, as was the case in the original version. The grappling hook will also be a way of ambushing enemies from a distance to get turn advantages in combat, but it's my understanding that it unlocks through a Confidant perk.
Boss battles have changed slightly with new phases. In the fight with King Kamoshida, the first major boss, I saw an added mechanic where he summons cognitive versions of the characters Mishima and Shiho and affects the battle with a high-damage party-wide attack. Ultimately, you need to inflict damage on them or Kamoshida to move past the phase. It didn't change the original flow drastically, but I'm curious to see how extra phases mix up the challenge of other boss battles throughout the game.
Lastly, the Thieves Den is a separate mode that seems to be an expanded showcase of unlockables. You can decorate the area, rewatch previous cutscenes, and listen to the soundtrack, but I can see myself spending most of that time playing the card game Tycoon to earn points that unlock items within the Thieves Den. It plays similarly to Pusoy Dos or Big Two with players taking turns to lay down a higher card than the previous, strategically playing the hand they're given. Since the demo was set early in the game, I had limited access to its roster of customization options. So, I'm not entirely sure how deep it goes or what you can get out of it quite yet.
Another Round Of Localization
From speaking with senior project manager Yu Namba, who has played a major part of the series localization dating back to Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (2000), there'll be some changes to existing lines of dialogue in P5R. Specifically, we talked about the gay couple that would harrass Ryuji at certain points of the original game--they were "portrayed [as] more like predatory," as Namba put it. When I asked him about those scenes, Namba stated, "I think the community had a very strong response to that, and you saw that, and that was definitely altered for Royal."
As for how those characters and lines have changed, Namba simply said, "We made it [as if they're] being very strong enthusiasts for something they like doing. But it's not like they're on the hunt for some young boys or anything." It's clear that, like the fan base, those who worked on Persona 5's localization felt some type of way about it, too. Namba told me, "Our team members felt a little bit of awkwardness about when working on it," with regards to those moments in the original release. He also said it was no easy task to get the green light to make changes. He concluded, "We're pretty happy with what it is. It's not a significant change, but I think there's enough of a change that people who weren't comfortable going through that part in Persona 5 would feel better this time around."
Outside of those scenes, Namba also said that the team and voice cast went over a few existing lines from the original game in addition to delivering all the new Royal-specific content. While there have been gripes about the pronunciation of some names in the original game, Namba did say that the general pronunciation guidelines were kept, though they tried to make things more consistent across the game.
So Much To Do, So Much To See
As great as it is to see all these new elements changing up the game, there's so much more I'm looking forward to seeing for myself, based on what we know from the Japanese release. I can't wait to get to know Kasumi, see how she affects the dynamic throughout, and experience what the new palace has in store. I'm excited for the new social scenarios, since there'll be additional scenes at key points in the game and an extra semester in the story to flesh out school life a bit more. And the extra combat mechanics have me hyped up, specifically the absurdly stylish Showtime attacks that have different party members teaming up to lay down heavy damage in ridiculous fashion. I won't go into detail here, especially if you want to go in fresh, but I have a more detailed breakdown of these new elements I've mentioned for P5R that you can check out.
It sure is nice to return to a favorite game and find that it seems to have been shaken up in some big, positive ways. It's not too surprising that P5R exists, considering Atlus' pattern of revising Persona games, as it did with Persona 4 Golden and Persona 3 FES. However, it looks like P5R is the most significant overhaul yet. Of course, we won't get the full picture until the Persona 5 Royal launches on March 31 in the West exclusively for PS4.