Persona 5 Royal Is Not What I Expected

Persona 5 Royal Is Not What I Expected
Date Published: 4 September, 2020

As somewhat of a casual fan of the proper JRPG franchise—Persona, I have played and beaten both Persona 3 Portable, and Persona 4 Golden back in 2013, and have done so, solely due to the fact that I played Persona 4 Arena in 2012, and really enjoyed the characters and the game.

However, with no mention of another Persona fighting game, after the final competitive days of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, which came out in late 2014, I had no real urge to play Persona 5, as the fighting game component was absent, however, following the release of Persona 5 Royal, and slow times in the FGC (Fighting Game Community), the time for revisiting a JRPG franchise I enjoyed previously seemed right.

Fox as shown in Persona 5 Royal’s Opening.

I normally only write structured reviews for fighting games, as that is the genre I believe most of my expertise resides in, therefore, just to lay out the ground rules, this will be less of a review, and more so of a documented experience with certain elements of the game.

Before getting to the breakdown of my experience, it is important to note one specific fact. My main motivation for playing Persona 5 Royal, was to have a better understanding of how the cast would translate into a fighting game, rather than being interested in the game as a hard core Persona fan, as while I enjoyed the JRPG’s previously, I would not consider myself a part of the Persona community.

Noteworthy Stats:

  • I have not played any Shin Megami Tensei game.
  • I have not played Revelations: Persona or Persona 2.
  • I have beaten Persona 3 Portable in 2013 (94 hours).
  • I watched a complete playthrough of Persona 3‘s The Answer.
  • I have beaten Persona 4 Golden in 2013 (105 hours).
  • I had no prior knowledge of Persona 5‘s story/characters prior to playthrough.
  • I have beaten Persona 5 Royal in 2020 (162 hours).

Some spoilers beyond this point. Proceed at your own discretion.

Igor’s return to the Velvet Room.

Narrative – Something that I found very difficult to do was to not make comparisons to both Persona 3 and Persona 4 throughout my playthrough, however, although I don’t find the story impressive on its own right, there were a few moments that I truly enjoyed.

Few being the twist of Igor returning, after finding out that the Igor in the Velvet Room the entire time up to that point was actually the God of Control. It was definitely something I did find a little odd, as Igor has this indistinguishable voice, and upon the first summoning to the Velvet Room, the extreme voice change of the character was quite noticeable.

Although many were somewhat lackluster and predictable, the one subplot I was truly intrigued by was the Futaba’s castle—the pyramid. It was one of the more enjoyable dungeons to explore, and the overarching narrative with regards to Futaba’s mother’s death and research was one I actually cared to learn more about.

Maruki carrying a fainted Sumire.

The final part I enjoyed, was the expansion of the story through Persona 5 Royal, with the counselor changing reality. It was certainly different from the norm, as the final “bad guy” or villain, was hardly that. He may have been ethically wrong in doing what he was doing, but evil is not a label I would tag Maruki with.

As far the negatives are concerned, there are plenty to nitpick from, however, I’ll condense them to two major ones. The first is that I felt that outside of just wanting to “get back at these stinkin’ adults” or “getting famous”, there is absolutely no reason to continue the operation of changing hearts, at least at that point in time, after the completion of the first castle.

Returning to the comparisons of Persona 3 and Persona 4, that was not an option in those games. If the S. E. E. S. decides to cease their climb of Tartarus, society is heavily impacted, and the world literally can end. Therefore, they have a major obligation to do so.

In similar fashion, if the Investigation Team decides to stop going into the T.V. Realm in Persona 4, innocent people die, and the fog never goes away. Therefore, again, they have a responsibility to continue on with their mission.

Tartarus as shown in Persona 3.

Lastly with regards to narrative, the escalation of villains or targets was simply random and somewhat arbitrary, as the Phantom Thieves were really just looking for the biggest headline, and for the change of heart that will further push their name to notoriety.

The lack of any real consequence, at least until the end of the game, was a bit bothersome and made the goal of going after targets rather meaningless. Although it is known that Persona is not a place for hard hitting narratives at least within the world of JRPG’s, Persona 5 Royal‘s story build-up falls way short even for Persona standards.

Shadow negotiation in Persona 5 Royal.

Gameplay – I didn’t have too many grievances with Persona 5 Royal‘s gameplay, I largely enjoyed most elements of it. The use of the gun was a welcomed addition to the combat, as well as negotiations with shadows, Showtime attacks, were all gameplay options I was happy to make use of.

However, the biggest problem I had with the game was its dungeon design and layout. While it wasn’t every single castle, I felt that the majority of the castles were linear, and quite predictable in progression. 

The lack of innovation within its world building played a large role in my dissatisfaction with the game, as you spend a major portion of your time inside of castles. Though, to counter that, playing in Tokyo and traversing the outside world was quite entertaining, and I felt that although it was limited at times, the scale was big enough to keep me interested.

Persona 5 Royal’s presentation aspects are superb both visually and audibly.

Presentation – The game’s visual aesthetic and audible qualities were by far its most endearing attributes. The menu layout, graphical fidelity, art direction, and soundtrack were all on par if not better than my previous two experiences with Persona 3 and Persona 4.

The only part I did not enjoy were the English vocal performances, which was a surprise, considering I really liked the localization in both Persona 3 and Persona 4, and found the performances quite fitting. Luckily the option for Japanese vocal performances, and subtitles was made available, which served for more immersion during my playthrough.

Characters – The cast in any Persona game is often the element that makes or breaks the experience for me, and although I have only played three of the most recent Persona games, this was the first time, I truly did not enjoy the majority of the characters in the game. 

Therefore, here are some of my takeaways from the characters in the game who have either made a positive or negative impression on me.

Ren Amamiya (Joker) – A protagonist that is stuck between a rock and a hard place, as he is not charming enough to win you over, but not insufferable enough to make you hate him. The one major takeaway I got after playing Joker, is that he is by no means the same kind of leader that I find when I see either Yu Narukami, or Makoto Yuki.

The major differences is that unlike the two aforementioned, Joker doesn’t carry that same aura about him as “the guy”. He is not exactly a follower, but he’s certainly no leader. Although he is often referred to as the leader, even through display of the Phantom Thieves’ actions, there is this underlying lack of authority that I did not find with Makoto Yuki, and especially with Yu Narukami.

Ryuji Sakomoto (Skull) – I truly could not stand this character, as I found him loud, obnoxious,  unintelligent, and simply unlikable. His role is supposed to be somewhat the sidekick, as he’s the first teammate you encounter in the game, but even with regards to his friendship with Joker, the chemistry is not there, and the relationship is contrived.

Again, in the risk of sounding repetitive, comparing the relationship between Yu Narukami and Yosuke Hanamura, there is a clear distinction there, that despite knowing his role as somewhat comedic relief, Yosuke is also unequivocally Narukami’s right hand man, it’s a pact that Joker and Skull simply lack.

Ann Takamaki (Panther) – I could care less for Ann’s development, even after her experience with her friend attempting suicide, and dealing with creepy sexual harassment multiple times, she remains somewhat void of character depth, with her looks remaining her main theme, and outside of her constant back and forth with Ryuji, she adds very little to the group.

Makoto Niijima (Queen) – Makoto is what you would expect from the typical student council president archetype, she’s somewhat of a straight-arrow, she doesn’t have many charming qualities about her, but she’s not a bad teammate to have, especially considering her strategic mind.

Morgana (Mona) – Overall Morgana isn’t a terrible character, however, the constant switching between his serious demeanor to immediate comedic relief is often untimely, and therefore makes him a character that is hard to gauge, but overall as a mascot character, he fits his role somewhat well.

Haru Okumura (Noir) – One of the few genuinely likable characters on the Phantom Thieves, Haru is just nice, easy to get along with, and although she is a bit conflicted at times, it is understandable considering her backstory, which isn’t terrible despite its predictability. Her honest personality is a breath of fresh air in comparison to much of the contrived nature of the group, and as a teammate she is quite useful.

Sumire Yoshizawa (Violet) – The only takeaway I got from beating the game with regards to Sumire is that she is nothing but a conduit to Maruki. As a character she is pretty inconsequential, as Maruki could have found another reason to make an example of why his ideal reality is the right path.

Unlike Marie in Persona 4 Golden, Sumire’s addition to the game doesn’t feel nearly as impactful to the overall narrative, or plays part to the change in the course of direction of the plot.

Goro Akechi (Crow) – Akechi is by far my favorite character in the game, but only as the version of his after he returns from his perceived death during the infiltration of Shido’s castle. He is unquestionably the most direct character in the game, and he leaves absolute no doubt of his intentions and feelings.

Shedding the act as a fake good guy, Akechi’s embrace of who he is, makes him more interesting, and simply compliments his depth. He is unapologetic about doing the things he has done, he knows his position in the group as an outsider, and he is content with the path he has chosen to walk.

I really enjoyed his portrayal post the Persona 5 campaign and going into the Persona 5 Royal narrative portion of the game, and wished he had made that appearance much sooner than he did.

Takuto Maruki (Final Boss) – Maruki was an interesting final boss, as mentioned before, he is neither good nor evil by standard measures, but rather he simply acts according to his own righteousness and ideals. I did not necessarily find myself rooting for him, however, I harbored no animosity towards him either, a first for me when facing the “bad guy”.

The honorable mentions outside of the Phantom Thieves were Sojiro, Takemi, and Iwai. As I felt that their sub-plots were most interesting, and overall were more compelling to listen to than any of the other optional confidants.

With regards to any characters not mentioned, that would just signal that I either did not think much of their subplot, or they simply did not make much of an impact on my experience throughout the game, be it positively or negatively.

Joker as shown in Persona 5 Royal’s opening.

Verdict – After over 160 hours sunk into the game, can I say definitively that I love or hate Persona 5 Royal? The answer would be neither. I liked some elements of the game, but also felt a disconnect with many other elements of the game.

If I had to place an arbitrary score on the game it would be somewhere along the low 7’s, perhaps a 7.3/10. It is in fact a fairly good game, especially when taking into account its presentation and core gameplay. However, it whiffs too often with everything else, that simply takes too much away from the overall experience.

I don’t see myself ever revisiting the game, however, I am glad I played it, as it could be a future benefit if this franchise ever returns as a fighting game, giving me more of an understanding of the characters, their past, and what to possibly expect from their gameplay.

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