Persona 5 Royal Review – Hearts Of Gold

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.

Best girl Makoto is down to throw hands while being a straight-A student.

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.