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When Persona 5 came to PS3 and PS4 back in 2016, it's safe to say developers P-Studio absolutely nailed it. The game immediately established itself as an essential JRPG title thanks to its phenomenal art style, first-rate story and loveable cast of characters, earning plenty of 9/10 reviews across the board.
Now, four years later, publisher Atlus have brought an expanded, somewhat reimagined version of this masterpiece to PS4 in the shape of Persona 5 Royal. But have they done enough to earn that coveted 10/10?
Persona 5 Royal begins with a new opening animation, and it's obvious already that this game has amped up the charisma. Character models are more detailed and the colour palette is broader, and we get our first look at the game's new addition to The Phantom Thieves, Kasumi Yoshizawa (more on her later). The Phantom Thieves are the good guys in P5R, by the way, and your character, codenamed Joker, is their leader.
The actual gameplay starts off similarly to the original P5, with the player protagonist trying to escape a decadent casino while being pursued by monstrous enemies called shadows. But it becomes clear pretty quickly that P5R isn't entirely the same game we're used to, thanks to the addition of the grappling hook for a new way to get around, and the arrival of new girl Kasumi to promptly save you when outnumbered by bad guys. Luckily for us, that's not all that's new in Persona 5 Royal.
Although the game's story initially plays out the same way, Kasumi's presence is the first most notable distinction. Our hero develops a relationship with Kasumi through several chance encounters, and from there she becomes more integral to the plot, and one of your potential confidants.
Confidants are set characters within P5R who have a relationship with the protagonist, and how close you get to each one is dependent on the time you spend with them, potentially giving them presents, completing plotlines and taking down enemies. This is how the social side of Persona 5 Royal works, and it works exceptionally well.
Spending time with other characters is always entertaining, ranging from lighthearted lunch dates to sequences of heavy dialogue in scenic hotspots. Building on the fine work Persona 5 did, there are now more options for when you hang out with friends, mainly thanks to new location, Kichijōji.
This neighbourhood has several places of interest, but most importantly you can play darts and billiards there. The former is especially fun as you have to use your DualShock 4's motion controls to throw your darts, a much better function than calming down a crying child. (Are you listening, Hideo?) Occasionally, after spending time with your in-game friends, you'll be rewarded with a photo in the group chat, adding another nice layer of authenticity to these social encounters.
The social side of Persona 5 Royal goes even further, letting you see friendly interactions between side characters when the protagonist isn't around. These events can also lead to your party members developing special 'showtime' attacks, which are essentially signature moves that cause huge amounts of damage to enemies.
Persona 5 Royal also tweaks palaces, which are basically the dungeons you explore throughout the game. There are new areas only accessible via the aforementioned grappling hook, with the protagonist swinging from the rafters (or whatever you can find) to reach concealed areas. These sections house Will Seeds, new collectibles stashed away in each palace that give items upon being found, and also replenish your SP (the fuel for your special attacks). Boss battles have also been reworked, making them more streamlined. Fans of these original encounters might feel they're too easy now, but they feel more dynamic and to the point.
Then there's the music. For those who don't know, Persona 5's OST remains to this day as some of the catchiest, most satisfying music in video games. Tracks like 'Beneath The Mask' and 'The Days When My Mother Was There' live long in the memory, and I'm delighted to say they all return in Royal. There's even some new music too, and each piece holds their own against the originals, particularly the new main theme 'Colors Flying High'.
The biggest change in P5R is the inclusion of a new semester. The story runs on an in-game calendar, with your days spent attending school, seeing friends, working part-time jobs, exercising, reading, studying, and whatever else you choose to do, all the while fighting for justice with your team, The Phantom Thieves. As such, it's down to you to balance your time as you see fit. Perhaps you want to develop a close friendship with a particular character, or study hard to improve your knowledge stat and ace your exams? It's up to you, but you'll never manage to do everything in a single playthrough, so save some of it for next time.
In Royal, the in-game calendar is longer, giving you more time to do what you want. This affords you more opportunity to get the most out of your playthrough, and I can't emphasise enough how good that feels. For fans of the original Persona 5, who know all too well how fast time flies by in-game, this is a huge deal.
But do all of these new features actually improve upon the original Persona 5? Fans of the series will know the franchise is no stranger to releasing expanded editions, having done so with Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 Golden back in 2007 and 2012 respectively, with both of those games offering ample extras and improvements upon their originals. And in answer to that question, yes they do. P5R offers enough key differences to its predecessor that I'm already planning my next playthrough, which would be my fourth journey through the Persona 5 story.
Royal is also easier than Persona 5. In the base version of the game, you could attempt to talk enemy shadows into joining you during battle. However, trying to say the right thing could prove overly difficult because it wasn't that clear about what to say and when. P5R fixes this by offering a tutorial on how to negotiate with shadows, and your support character Morgana provides tips each time a negotiation begins. There's also the redesigned boss fights I mentioned earlier, which feel no way near as laborious as before. Even the trophy list is easier now, relying less on multiple playthroughs to platinum the game, if you're into that sort of thing.
All of these changes make Persona 5 Royal the definitive version of this title, for newcomers and veterans alike. There are more characters, more things to do and more time in-game to do it all. P-Studio have managed to take a near-perfect game in Persona 5 and elevate it to another level. It gets in your head like never before thanks to its refined blend of dungeon-crawling RPG action and satisfying high school simulator mechanics. In a year where Final Fantasy VII Remake is set to take the world by storm, the Persona series has done what it always does and produced something even better.
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