In the three years since Persona 5's original release, I've thought about it almost every day. Its lavish style gracefully captures its spirit of rebellion and breathes life into its dynamic combat system. The evocative, banging soundtrack perfectly encapsulates the emotion of each moment. The downtime spent in Tokyo with your friends brings you closer to each of them, invigorating your fight for what's right. All those qualities feed into a bold story that unapologetically puts its foot down against the injustices that reflect our own society.
The extended version, Persona 5 Royal, brings the heat all over again. But beyond a plethora of superb gameplay refinements and features that improve an already-rich RPG comes a momentous new story arc seeded within the original narrative and paid off in full by the end. It delivers something genuinely surprising, leading to awe-inspiring moments and emotional conclusions that recontextualize what I thought the game was. Through its lengthy 120-hour runtime, Persona 5 Royal proves itself as the definitive version of a modern classic.
The minute you start P5R, you're given the fantastic in media res introduction that brilliantly showcases the ride you're in for--and provides a glimpse at the Royal-exclusive character Kasumi. After this teaser, you're brought to the chronological start of the story that then walks you through the events that lit the fire inside our protagonist (aka Joker) and kicked off his journey as a virtuous trickster. The opening hours may take some time to pick the pace back up, but by easing you into the game's systems, you're set up for the rest of its flow.
P5R expertly intertwines the daily structure of living life as a Japanese high school student and a supernatural-powered vigilante fighting evil in an alternate dimension. Because the social sim elements and RPG dungeon crawling are woven together seamlessly, you grow attached to the very world you're fighting to change. It's a format that's been the series foundation since Persona 3, and it is at its most effective here in P5R with a range of possibilities and new minor UI elements that help communicate your options. Carefully choosing how to spend your precious days and nights by balancing school life, relationships, and your duties as a Phantom Thief throughout the calendar year even makes the mundane exciting.
You'll spend time with characters to learn about what drives them and witness their growth as they internalize and overcome their traumatic pasts. Among your connections are kindhearted adults exhausted by a system that has failed them and teenagers haunted by their past and dreading their future. These are very human stories that often hit close to home and inspire in their own small way (although some are inherently awkward). And these relationships with your Confidants bestow powers you carry into battle. P5R makes the Confidant process easier with new scenes, in the form of phone calls, to help rank them up faster, effectively granting the opportunity to see more of these enticing stories. It's important because there are a few new Confidants to bond with as well.
The key new opportunities are with Goro Akechi, who is now someone you choose to spend time with, which eventually leads to a better understanding and development of him this time around. Kasumi Yoshizawa has been touted as the big addition to the roster; she fits in well and you'll see that her desire to be an elite competitive gymnast comes from a darker, complicated place. Although her screen time is limited in the first half of the game, she becomes vital to the delivery of the new story beats and a welcome ally to fight alongside the rest of the gang you know and love. Above all is the school counselor Takuto Maruki, a tremendous character who truly elevates P5R's narrative. He's an excellent thematic fit, offering perspectives on mental health that hadn't been touched in the original. His story is cleverly integrated into the core narrative, and he's also key for unlocking what's beyond Persona 5's original story and some of P5R's best moments.
Relationships are what drive you, but the hard-fought battles take place in the Metaverse, a physical manifestation of corrupted cognition. Demonic shadows lurk as you work to metaphysically crush the distorted desires of abusers who have oppressed your friends and many others--and you do so with a hyper-stylized, confident swagger. With most Palaces comes a new party member and story thread about what led them to join the cause. These aren't solely tragic backstories for the sake of being dramatic, though--it's how you come to understand their fighting spirit before they become a beloved comrade. Taking on these story-critical Palaces never loses its luster, as their trippy, imaginative designs and enemies allure you into the wild battles throughout. At times, the very premise of Palaces is subverted to great effect; sometimes evildoers aren't the only ones who need a change of heart. It further compels you to seek what lies ahead.
Beyond a plethora of superb gameplay refinements and features that improve an already-rich RPG comes a momentous new story arc seeded within the original narrative and paid off in full by the end.
Palaces feature some small but smart changes in P5R, too. Rearranged dungeon layouts accommodate Joker's new grappling hook, letting you swing to new areas. They often lead to Will Seeds, a collectible that replenishes SP and mold into useful accessories. Returning players may also notice that some dungeon layouts have been streamlined, making exploration smoother. Mementos, the Metaverse's collection of procedurally generated floors, also gets some much-needed overhauls. Driving around to progress in these twisted subway depths as the Morgana bus was novel, but grew repetitive in the original game. P5R throws in new mechanics like collecting flowers and stamps to cash in for useful items and perks to boost battle rewards. And the most welcome change is that, instead of the same song throughout, new tunes play at deeper levels.
Aside from stealthily navigating these surreal dungeons, you'll be spending a ton of time engaged in P5R's dynamic turn-based combat. It's swift and stylish, and builds on the strong foundation of Shin Megami Tensei, which has you focusing on exploiting elemental weaknesses and earning extra turns. Standard enemies can be fodder once their affinities are exposed, but tougher ones, minibosses, and bosses tap into combat's intricacies. P5R layers more onto battles, like the absurd Showtime attacks that have two party members partner up for a high-damage combo that initiates in clutch situations. The powered-up Baton Pass mechanic is even more crucial as it can boost damage and replenish HP and SP. And boss fights now have different phases that present new, tough challenges that require you to think more tactically, testing your mastery of the combat system.
The dripping swagger of it all extends to the snappy and efficient UI that helps keep up combat's fast pace. Everything unfolds in such a quick and ridiculously stylish fashion that you can't help but fall in love with it and the Phantom Thieves who pull off all these flashy moves. Even in a second version of the game, executing all-out attacks and watching them unfold hasn't lost one bit of its charm. Never has a turn-based combat system been this thrilling.
Persona 5 Royal is many things: a collection of small inspiring stories, an ambitious harrowing journey with some good friends, a stunning visual and auditory experience, a resounding call to action.
But P5R isn't here to just look pretty. Beneath the mask of its unrelenting style and charming silliness are the friendships you naturally form and motivate you to follow the fight through to the very end. From their persona awakenings to the moment you see them fully realize their goals, your fellow Phantom Thieves become your ride or die in this heavy-hitting story. In targeting perpetrators of sexual assault, worker exploitation, and vile authoritarianism, Persona 5 draws a clear line in the sand--people like this have no place in our society and deserve no mercy. There is no middle ground, no compromise to be made, no both sides-ism. Your crew's personal drama sometimes seeps into the broader message, but not without illustrating why you're fighting so hard to change things. Even when doubt about their vigilante ways starts to creep in, characters work through it, stick to their ideals, and realize there wasn't really a choice in the matter.
Admittedly, P5R is often subtle as a brick. It's easy to nitpick where its writing falls into being too simplistic or a bit rote--although it has improved in some ways, it can still be crude at times. It isn't particularly nuanced in its storytelling, but it doesn't have to be. In being clear as day in its narrative, the messages and characterizations are unmistakable. It's also so wild to me that the game's almost-caricature villains have become less and less far-fetched in just the three years since the original release--the blatant abuse of power, their wrongdoings laid bare, and the masses uninterested in seeing them face consequences. The conclusion to the original narrative arc just hits differently now, and the game's dramatic battles have become increasingly cathartic.
Transitioning into the Royal-exclusive third semester, there's a tonal shift that's effortlessly executed. Stranger things begin to happen, in an oddly unsettling way, especially during the seemingly blissful winter. Here, P5R takes a turn toward genuine moral quandaries. In this third semester, there's a bit more to learn about your friends, and there's one final Palace to infiltrate. And it is, without a doubt, the best one in the entire game.
These new events are beautifully captured with new Royal-exclusive songs that amplify what was already an iconic, genre-bending soundtrack.
The mysteries within will surprise you, and fascinating revelations about characters propel them well beyond who they presented themselves to be. The pace at which it's told and how the series of events are framed paint Persona 5 in a new, captivating light while staying true to its original spirit. This new story arc achieves a grand sense of scale and finality, yet captures a more intimate, personal tone. And it all builds up to what's also the greatest boss battle in all of the game, pushing your combat abilities to their limits.
P5R effectively solves one of the original's shortcomings: its somewhat abrupt end. In the vanilla version, even after over 100 hours, it felt like there was still a missing piece; P5R has that missing piece. There's 15 to 20 hours worth of excellent content that takes Persona 5 in a different direction while going all-in on its best qualities. It gives a dramatic, stunning finish even after the original's bombastic, over-the-top conclusion.
These new events are beautifully captured with new Royal-exclusive songs that amplify what was already an iconic, genre-bending soundtrack. I always recognized "Life Will Change" and "Rivers In The Desert" as perfect examples of how Persona 5 uses its music to portray precise emotions of the moment--songs that exude the infectious confidence of the Phantom Thieves going in to take a corrupted heart. As the case with our old favorites, the new evocative jams become a powerful narrative device. "I Believe" stands as a bold recollection of the long, hard-fought journey that culminates to one last battle, while "Throw Away Your Mask" carries the hint of reluctance between a clash of ideals. The new Palace's theme has a wistfulness that permeates the scenarios that unfold. Music is inseparable from the Persona experience--the series thrives because of it--and somehow, some way P5R delivers again to make an even stronger impact.
So, just like in the original, the song "Sunset Bridge" brought my time with P5R to a close. It's a bittersweet tune that's used throughout the game to signify a moment of clarity for its characters. But as the final background track before having to leave the game behind, it became my own personal moment of clarity, realizing just how much I've cherished my time here, and now for all-new reasons.
As P5R comes to a close, it tries to ease you into its end with heartfelt scenes, some new and some familiar. But in doing so, it only makes it harder to say goodbye again. Persona 5 Royal is many things: a collection of small inspiring stories, an ambitious harrowing journey with some good friends, a stunning visual and auditory experience, a resounding call to action. By refining what was already great and building on its best qualities with a brilliant new story arc, Persona 5 Royal asserts itself as an unforgettable and empowering RPG that should be recognized as one of the best games of our time.