Jumping back into a 100-hour game is a hard sell. Atlus released Persona 5 — a JRPG about teenage vigilantes with supernatural powers living in Japan — in 2017. Now, it’s created an enhanced version: Persona 5 Royal, a version that addresses the original’s problems, with new characters and gameplay tweaks. It is a natural progression, an elegant and noticeably improved version of an already great game, that also serves as a reminder of the simpler time during which it was created.
The core of Persona 5 Royal remains the same: a high school kid arrives in a new city after a run-in with the law. His efforts to lie low and live a normal life are disrupted as he, and several of his fellow students, discover that they have the power to change the hearts of corrupt individuals by entering palaces — physical manifestations of distorted desires. In between heroic extracurriculars, players also spend the course of a calendar year making new friends, improving themselves by raising social stats like charm or knowledge, and doing mundane tasks like laundry or cleaning.
As with past enhanced Persona games, the majority of Royal’s new story content doesn’t appear until late in the game with a new school semester and palace. But a big part of its allure are the quality of life tweaks it adds, from new party attacks, altered dungeons and bosses and extra Personas, to the number of places you can visit or how the game guides you with extra tips. Mementos, an ever-expanding dungeon players need to explore often throughout the entire game, now features a new character named Jose who randomly appears throughout. Players can trade in-dungeon collectibles to Jose for special items or improvements that raise experience, money, and more. Where Mementos once felt like a place to rush through as quickly as possible, it’s now an area that’s satisfying to explore.
Persona 5 Royal also introduces a handful of new confidants, characters players can build relationships with, and expands on others in crucial ways. It adds a new party member named Kasumi, a gymnast whose story entangles with the hero’s, as well as a school counselor. Players can spend more quality time with Goro Akechi, a party member from the original game with a lackluster relationship; where Persona 5 automatically built Akechi’s relationship, Royal gives you the choice to spend real, substantial time with him.
That’s easier to do thanks to extra time at night and new activities. Persona 5 infamously gated players’ time with a cat who’d chide you into going to bed early. Now, it’s easier to spend free time with friends or at home reading and making tools. The game also introduces new activities like darts and billiards, a fun way to both raise different stats with party members and kill some time with minigames. And the addition of the Thieves Den, a hangout you can add statues, photos, and more to, offers a quiet place to admire your achievements.
In the midst of a pandemic, Persona 5 Royal’s arrival is a welcome break from the daily anxieties that have become the new normal. It began as a fantasy about the supernatural power of well-meaning individuals. Now, it’s also a dream of what’s been lost: coffee dates, crowds, dinners at restaurants, packed movie theaters, and time closely spent with friends.
Persona 5 Royal is out today on PS4.
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