05th Jun2020

Opinionated: Is ‘Persona 5 Royal’ a worthy upgrade?

by Xenia Grounds

WARNING: The following article contains massive spoilers for the original story of Persona 5 and very minor spoilers for the new third semester in Royal. If you haven’t played the game or gotten past the seventh palace then avoid reading this.

In my retrospective on Persona 5, I mentioned I was playing Persona 5 Royal. Now, I’ve recently finished it and I’m very keen to talk about a few things about it. This won’t cover the elements I already talked about in my retrospective but the things that Royal improves on or adds to make going through this story an even better experience than before.

The first thing to talk about is the palaces. In the original, palace exploring was always a fun experience but more often than not, you were forced to cut it short because you ran out of SP and that was a deal breaker when it came to fighting shadows. However, in Royal, they include these items called Will Seeds. Essentially, there are three of them in every palace and once you collect all three, they merge and form a powerful accessory for you to use that grants a certain ability. For instance, the first being the ‘Ring of Lust’ which has the Champion’s Cup ability which completely heals the HP of a character and boosts their attack power as well. Additionally, when you collect a Will Seed, it restores a fair amount of HP and SP for the entire party which makes palace exploring easier because it reduces some of the stress of dungeon crawling as these rooms are all perfectly placed for when you need a quick boost. Finding them isn’t too difficult most of the time and the last one is usually guarded by a powerful enemy but it’s always worth it for the accessory you get and so you can power through palaces in a day or two if you want to rather than having to spend multiple days on it.

Other things worthy of note is the replenishable ammo, the grappling hook and new boss fights. Something that was a nitpick in the original was that once you ran out of ammo for a gun, you could never replenish it until you left the palace and you didn’t have much ammo to begin with. In Royal, you can use all the bullets in a battle with any foe and it’ll be completely replenished for the next battle every time. The grappling hook (apart from being very pleasing to use) helps you access new areas in palaces that normally have great treasures for you to find and makes sure that even if you’re an experienced veteran of Persona 5 already, you’ll still be surprised while navigating through palaces because it’ll be like entering the unknown even in a familiar setting. Another quick mention is that some palaces have slight differences like Okurama and Sae which make them feel a bit less padded out. For instance, the hunt for the words to identify the shadow you need to fight in order to get a keycard in Okumara’s. You only have to do it once compared to the three or four times before which made the palace feel like less of a chore. Sae’s cuts down the maze of darkness as well because once you finish it, you don’t have to do it again literally five minutes later when you enter the next room, you just go straight to the battle arena which is much more preferable.

Lastly, you have new boss fights and this is where the storytelling and gameplay can really combine in Persona 5 Royal. These boss fights feel much more reflective of the antagonist than they ever did in the original game. For example, Kamoshida has cognitions of Shiho in a promiscuous bunny outfit and a completely submissive Mishima helping him out during his fight which naturally gets under your skin. Other examples are how Madarame uses replicas of himself to fight you like how he replicated the Sayuri in the second stage of his boss fight rather than staying in that canvas form for the entire battle. My personal favourite was Shido’s where at the very end, he blasts away everyone so it’s a one-on-one showdown between him and Joker which is very cathartic considering all of Joker’s misery in the real world started with him so it makes perfect sense that Joker delivers the final blow. I don’t think all of the new fights were hits though. Okumara goes from being one of the easier bosses to one of the most annoying. In the original, he would just summon minions that you fought before line after line until you eventually took them all down. However, in Royal, they decide to change it up a little by adding the condition that you have to kill all the minions in a single turn otherwise they run off and Okumara just replaces them in an endless loop until you kill all of them at once which can really drain your SP regardless of how prepared you are. Another thing is that he also has a projection of Haru that constantly helps him and buffs the minions or de-buffs you. Trust me, that thirty minute time limit is at a real stressor this time because I finished that fight with two minutes to spare. It’s not a bad thing that the boss fight is more difficult than before but surely they could’ve done that without making me want to pull out my hair.

Now we move onto the new confidants. Most of the confidants from before stay the same and the only one that changes is Akechi’s and there are two new confidants with Maruki and Kasumi. If you’ve seen the promotional material then you already know Kasumi is a new party member but she’s only a party member for the new final palace where without spoiling it, her backstory ties into it. My biggest concern with Kasumi was that she would be a wish fulfillment character or Mary Sue because she came across as the closest thing we’d get to a female Joker which is most definitely intentional as her metaverse outfit mirrors his and she genuinely looks up to Joker in the real world and has a lot of ship tease with him too in the story. However, Kasumi is a very worthy member of the group because while she does come across as a little too precious at first glance, she has something to rebel against when it comes to unfair expectations and proving herself. She’s just as complex and damaged as the rest of the Phantom Thieves which is what the third semester really dives into because without spoiling it, there are things underneath the surface that show Kasumi isn’t the person she is trying to convince herself and the world she is.

Maruki is introduced as a councillor at Shujin Academy after Kamoshida’s abuse is revealed so the students can get the help they need to deal with their traumas. Ann, Ryuji and Joker are all forced into the counselling sessions given their issues with Kamoshida being known by the school but all of the Phantom Thieves eventually have a moment with him too. Maruki’s character is established very quickly. He has good intentions, can be a bit klutzy and like every other confidant, there’s an issue he needs help to deal with. I can’t stress this enough but he’s the most important new confidant to pursue. In order to get the third semester, it is required you get to Rank 9 with him by the deadline of Sae’s palace or you are completely locked out of the third semester and will only get the ending of the original game. It’s hard to talk about why he’s so important as that involves heavy spoilers but believe me when I say it pays off magnificently.

Last but certainly not least is Akechi. In Royal, they have completely reworked his confidant path. It automatically ranked up as the story progressed in the original game but in Royal, you actually do have to spend time hanging out with him like most of the confidants and that is definitely the best improvement of the game in regards to story. His role in the main story doesn’t change until after Shido’s palace (which again, I can’t talk about because of spoilers) but how Royal handles Akechi makes him much more sympathetic to me than the original. For instance, his backstory isn’t something that comes out in a heavy exposition dump before his boss fight but is something that you’re introduced to much earlier so it doesn’t feel like it comes out of the blue and comes across as how Morgana fittingly described him: ‘A little kid throwing a temper tantrum’. Akechi’s detective prince image always felt smarmy and that was intentional since he was obviously the traitor in the party by the time he joined but there was little to no foreshadowing that he had a psychotic side until the reveal so while it made sense, it wasn’t built up very well. In Royal, that’s not the case because if you spend enough time with Akechi, he actually lets the mask slip a little with Joker before the end of Sae’s palace and it slots into the story more smoothly than before.

Another thing is that in the third semester, there is a redemption arc for Akechi to some extent because his malicious motives are gone and he’s genuinely working with the Thieves. He doesn’t hide his true nature from the others and while at first, there’s some suspicions about his trustworthiness, they’re quickly dismissed. Overall, the conclusion that Royal provides for Akechi feels a bit more heart-wrenching because of the tough morally grey choices that you have to make in that third semester and he’s the one encouraging the right thing and being truthful about the reality of the situation you find yourself in. When the mask is gone, Akechi shows a real strong will and while he’s not the most pleasant company, you can’t help but admire the things he’s willing to put on the line because he believes you shouldn’t ever run from their own life or fate no matter what it is.

While I’m on the subject of the third semester, let’s talk about that. Now this is the reason why you should end up playing Persona 5 Royal if you’ve played Persona 5 already because it just provides a much stronger ending to the game. The villain for the third semester isn’t really a villain in the third semester. At least not in the sense that the other palace bosses were before it. This isn’t evil that needs to be stopped but rather good intentions gone very awry which ends up creating this false utopia. It basically asks the question: If you were given the chance to have all suffering erased from the world, would you grab it? Now the answer to that question may seem obvious at first but as Royal demonstrates, it’s not that simple because of how the pain that some people go through can be necessary for personal growth but at the same time, removing that pain completely can definitely make people’s lives happier and easier. It’s a genuinely moral debate and the game makes you go back and forth on this multiple times and asks you the question more than once about which side you fall on.

Additionally, I think the true ending itself is a lot stronger in Persona 5 Royal as when the Phantom Thieves disband, it feels more final because each character’s future is addressed and they’re all going their separate paths. It’s an ending that shows the characters are moving onto the next stage of their lives. While the ‘Adventure Goes On’ implication of the ending in the original always left me smiling, this one feels like a proper farewell to the Persona 5 journey.

Honestly, I don’t see myself playing the original Persona 5 again because I ended up loving Persona 5 Royal a lot more because the new additions make it so much better. The new semester, confidants and changes to what had already been established with the story, palaces and gameplay mean this story stole my heart all over again and I didn’t think that was possible. It’s a love letter to the fans of Persona 5 and the definitive experience that everyone (whether you’re a veteran or newcomer to the series) should play. I don’t envy Persona 5 Scramble for having to follow this.

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