Persona 5 Royal (Switch) Review
You don’t need me to tell you Persona 5 is good, right? I feel like it’s all anyone’s been talking about for the last six years. It’s an incredibly fun, incredibly stylish, and incredibly polished JRPG that is often held as the bar to meet for modern games in the genre. It’s certainly not without some stark issues, though, and I’m a little less forgiving of those issues than some others might be, but we’ll get to those in due time. Before we get stuck in though, if all you’re interested in knowing is if the Switch port of Persona 5 Royal is good: yes, it’s solid as a rock. If that’s all you wanted to know, there you go, the rest of this review isn’t for you. For everyone else, read on.
Persona 5 Royal is an expanded version of Persona 5, much like Persona 4 Golden and Persona 3 FES (and P3P, depending on who you ask) before it. In addition to all the base game content, Royal adds a bunch more stuff to do, including new characters to meet and hang out with, new activities and methods for raising your social stats, changes and additions to the game’s dungeons, and even a whole new semester and dungeon to play through. All in all, it probably adds another 30-50 hours to Persona 5’s runtime, which is both a gracious blessing and a harrowing curse. Again, all in due time.
Persona 5 tells the story of, well, a guy without a name, but whose code name is Joker so we’ll stick with that. A little while back, Joker stepped in to stop the assault of a woman by a ghoul of a man, and ended up copping assault charges himself. With a criminal record, he was expelled from his high school and forced to move to Tokyo to stay with a family friend while he finishes up his studies.
Not long after moving to Tokyo, Joker finds himself acquainted with the outcasts of Tokyo — students who, like him, have been handed a rough hand in life, often for reasons outside of their control. This angry, impassioned group of teens look at the injustices in the world and want to do something about it, and with the help of some magic powers and a mask to hide their identities, they stumble upon the Metaverse. Probably the polar opposite of Facebook’s interpretation of the term, Persona 5’s Metaverse is a hellish alternate world of people’s worst thoughts, desires, and impulses. Hmmm, maybe it’s not that different from Facebook’s after all.
The Phantom Thieves, as they’re dubbed, use the Metaverse to their advantage, diving into the cognitive palaces of the worst people around to steal their hearts and trigger a total change in demeanour. Doing so removes the twisted desires of their targets, often leaving them wracked with guilt and eager to atone for their crimes. I’m not kidding when I say that these targets are the worst of the worst, too — Persona 5 doesn’t shy away from tackling some surprisingly heavy topics head on. There’s sexual assault and coercive relationships from teachers in positions of power, mafia bosses forcing students into shady dealings and drug running, famous artists abusing and plagiarising their protégés at the threat of being thrown into homelessness. It also takes a strong stance against capitalism and government corruption, a stance that’s not particularly rare in today’s gaming landscape, but good to see presented in a game like this nonetheless.
This game’s universe is one where most of the adults in the world are truly terrible, awful people who do little else but grab power and look down on the youth of the world. It’s a game that wears its themes of social justice proudly on its sleeve: the world is messed up, and nobody’s putting their hands up to make it better for the next generation. It’s a world where inequality and injustice reigns supreme, where the powerless are left to fend for themselves and the powerful exploit them at every possible opportunity. It’s grounded in reality but takes a deep dive into a fantasy of justice, in a way that feels both very personal and very fantastical. It’s very much inspired by the world we live in, and if you’re part of that group – the powerless, the outcasts, the misfits – it’s easy to get amped up by the Phantom Thieves’ mission statement.
The story, of course, has its twists and turns, as any good RPG story does. Our heroes have their triumphs at the top of the world, and their downfalls at the very bottom of it. The characters are incredibly well-written and consistent, they feel like teenagers, but teenagers who’ve had to deal with a hell of a lot more than they should ever have to in a lifetime. That’s good, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with them. A lot of time. Some would say too much, but I digress. Royal’s additions to the story are good, a little bit of icing on top of an already fantastic cake, but there are times where they feel a little bit out of place. Sometimes, new events would overlap with original events, causing you to sit through a few back-to-back conversations that really feel like they should’ve been spaced out. It’s not surprising, given the more free-form nature of the game’s progression, but it does very much stand out when it happens, and it feels very awkward.
Persona 5’s excellent combat gameplay remains largely the same in Royal, with a few small additions and tweaks here and there. To simplify things – a lot – it’s got a lot of Pokemon vibes, where every combatant has specific strengths and weaknesses against a collection of types and elements. You can even “catch” enemies too, though rather than chucking a ball at them, you’ll have to negotiate with them and convince them to join your team. This is actually somewhat improved in Royal too, since I found in the base game that it wasn’t always straightforward what you should be saying to an enemy with any given personality type — Royal tweaked this a little bit just to make it much clearer and much less frustrating.
The actual flow of combat, however, couldn’t be more different from something like Pokemon or really anything else except, maybe, Persona’s parent series Shin Megami Tensei. Instead of a battle of attrition like most turn-based combat systems, Persona has you aiming to get the upper hand and then taking advantage of it. By hitting an enemy’s weakness, or getting a critical attack, you’ll knock it down, earning yourself an extra turn. With that turn, you can continue to hit other enemies with the character you’re using, or baton pass over to another character for a damage boost and a different set of skills. Knock all of your enemies down, and you’ll get to choose to either begin negotiations to try and obtain an enemy monster for yourself, or go for an all-out attack, which has the entire team perform a big, flashy attack that deals a gigantic amount of damage to all enemies in the battle.
Because of this, there’s a level of strategy to Persona’s battles that you just don’t see in other games. On simple encounters, you’re more than likely just trying to get through it as quickly as possible, or trying to recruit an enemy, while more difficult battles are all about the order of operations — you have to do the right things in the right order to maximise your damage output and, hopefully, delay the enemies’ turn as much as possible. It’s incredibly satisfying when you pull it off, and with Royal’s added team attacks, alongside the all-out attack animations, you’re always rewarded with a very cool, very flashy spectacle when you play your cards right.
Outside of combat, your time is spent quite literally passing the time. Persona 5 takes place over a year or so, and there’s a lot of things to do and see in that time. Managing that time is at the core of the Persona series, and it can be incredibly overwhelming at times. You’ll have to make and build friendships with not only your teammates but others in the world as well, improve your social skills by completing certain tasks, prepare for infiltration, and of course, go to school, among many many other things. No matter what you do, you’ll pretty much always be getting some benefit out of it, but those benefits vary greatly, and their usefulness varies depending on not only how you play the game, but when in the game you gain access to them. Sure, focusing entirely on building up your knowledge stat is a good idea in the long-run, but it doesn’t do much for you in the short-term, where spending time with Ryuji or making coffee to use in the Metaverse might be a better choice.
Royal makes managing some of these things a lot easier by being a little more generous with social stats during other activities, but if you want to experience all the game has to offer in terms of extra content, you’ll have to sacrifice some things you want to do in favour of things you have to do. The worst part is that the game doesn’t really tell you what’s required to unlock the extra semester or some of the other extra content, so you’re pretty much forced to either google it, getting lucky, or risk missing out altogether. Not only that, but because you have to fit it all in between missions, there’s a very real and ever-present deadline that looms heavy over everything you do. Most content is not particularly time-sensitive, but some of it is, and it can get to be a little bit much trying to balance it all. Still, that’s the nature of these games, and managing your time, making those compromises, is part of the appeal of Persona over Shin Megami Tensei. It’s a JRPG, a creature catcher, a dungeon crawler, a dating sim, and a management game all in one, and the way it expertly weaves those genres and sub-genres together is something very few games can match.
Having said all that, I have complaints. Persona 5 was already a very, very long game, pushing 80 hours at the minimum and easily falling into the 100+ range on a casual playthrough. Persona 5 Royal adds at least another 30-50 hours onto that runtime, and frankly, I’m not sure it’s worth it. In my experience, Persona 5 loses a lot of steam about 60 hours into the game, right after the game’s first big climax. What follows is a slog of uninspired and often frustrating dungeons, one of which has randomly generated floors that make it a pain to navigate. The story is interesting enough, but it grows tiring when it’s sandwiched between more of the same dungeon crawling gameplay you’ve been playing for the last few weeks/months/years.
That’s kind of okay in the base game, where you’re kinda near the end and you can push through it, but with Royal that loss of steam is just barely halfway through the game, and there’s still so much more to come. The later dungeons are long, convoluted, and frustrating, and the final run of the main game before the extra content is simply not all that fun. Mind you, most of the dungeons are like that, despite Royal’s attempt to rework a lot of them, but it’s a lot more forgivable 20 hours into the game — 80 hours in, not so much.
As for the Switch-specific details, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that it looks and runs great. That’s not surprising because, not only is this fundamentally a game that ran on the PS3 just fine, but because the Persona engine has been on Switch before, in Catherine: Full Body, and variants of it have been used in other Switch games too, such as Tokyo Mirage Sessions. In handheld mode, the visuals can be quite soft overall, it’s clearly not hitting the full 720p, but the cartoony, hyper-stylistic fashion of the visuals do a good job of hiding any resolution issues the game might have. The Switch version (along with the Xbox and PC versions) also comes with all of the DLC from both Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal, all available from the get-go — this includes a bunch of very cute, cool, and dumb costumes, a few essential items to get you started, and some ridiculously powerful Personas to claim if you get stuck… or are just sick of it.
Persona 5 Royal’s soundtrack is on full display here as well, sounding as good as it ever has. I have a big soft spot for Persona music, and Persona 5 really pushed the letter on both composition and lyrical impact. The lyrics are packed with appropriately thematic social justice, and are full of very hyped up energy for standing up to the ills of the world. These are mixed in with some very jazzy arrangements, some understated background pieces that shine in their simplicity, and some hard rock that blows your damn socks off when it hits at juuuust the right moment. Combine this with the stylised UI and you get a package that is dripping with style from top to bottom, a presentation that delights the senses as much as it guides them through the themes with perfect timing.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Royal did make some attempts to clean up some of the… less ideal aspects of Persona 5. That game had some pretty overt homophobia that bordered on outright cruelty, and that’s been significantly altered to be less problematic. They’re ultimately small changes, but they change things that frankly shouldn’t have been in the game in the first place. It’s absolutely not perfect, to say the least – the fact that you can, as a 17-year-old, date full-grown adults like your home room teacher and your local GP is still incredibly yuck – but it’s better, if only a little bit. Other scenes have had lines altered, added, removed, and reworked entirely, often for the better, and that’s a big plus, too.
Persona 5 Royal is, as Persona 5 always has been, an incredibly solid experience on Switch. Royal is the very best version of the game, with tweaks and additions that make it a big step up from the original. It’s still far too long, and the added content certainly doesn’t ease that pain, but if you can push through it, you’ll find a game that stands at the top of its genre.
+ Incredible gameplay and presentation
+ A bunch of free DLC included
+ Looks and runs well on Switch
- It's too damn long
- Later dungeons are frustrating
- Why did they make it so long?