My 120 Hour Journey with Persona 5 Royal
Why this game is an utter masterpiece
(SPOILERS for Persona 5 Royal. All photos included are from my play through.)
It took me six months to beat Persona 5 Royal. I defeated the God of Control, the secret boss, and earned the Platinum trophy.
Six months is a long time. The 120 hours it took me to see Persona 5 Royal through was exhausting, fascinating, and ultimately beautiful. I wanted to write this article to try and sum up the jumble of thoughts and feelings that this JRPG has given me. This wasn’t my first Persona 5 experience, so I guess we should start there.
If you’ve been following Game Loot for any amount of time, you’ve likely read how I got my PS4. I’m military and I was deployed, sending my wife to grab some stuff for Black Friday. That’s the year we got a PS4. Because I was trapped in the desert and sleeping in a tent, my excitement for the PS4 came through reading about games and making plans for what I wanted to play/experience once I got back to the States.
Persona 5 was at the top of the list.
Various YouTubers and personalities online hailed it as a masterpiece. Through my study, I saw that Persona 5 was a stylish RPG spin-off from Shin Megami Tensei, which has swiftly become one of my favorite franchises. ‘Mature Pokémon RPG’ is a strong premise, and Persona 5 looked to match my expectations. It’s general anime feel and setting weren’t necessarily my bag, but I was willing to try it out.
I made it through the second palace before I called it quits. To be honest, the game was annoying me. I wasn’t connecting with the characters and I found the combat simple and offensively dull. Looking back at my initial feelings, I can’t help but be baffled. Especially after all this time I’ve spent with the game and all the love I have for elements that drove me crazy on my first try.
I chalk it up to my mood. Like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Death Stranding, you have to be in the right mindset to fall into these worlds and roll with their glacial pace.
When Royal was released, I read several reviews and studied the changes carefully. Despite my less-than-stellar initial impressions, I still wanted to play Persona 5. The gorgeous new Steelbook and this edition’s new stuff was enough. I was in again.
The People and Places of Persona 5’s Tokyo
I want to talk about what makes Persona 5 Royal so special to play. With a game this big and complex, that’s a tall order. Every square inch of P5R’s design all contribute to a common goal.
Let’s start with the characters. Joker’s (the protagonist) group of friends and acquaintances ranging from disgraced doctors to millionaire high school heiresses. There is a high school super detective and a politician trying to rebuild his broken career. These characters aren’t just for show. They aren’t standard RPG NPCs, ready to deliver advice and insight into the game world. These NPC’s have sprawling stories that intermingle into the main and side plots. This is the Confidant system. Most of these work on a ten-star system. Each time you spend time with one of these Confidants, you unlock a star. As these relationships progress you experience tons of story, unlock game bonuses, and a challenging side battle in the game’s random dungeon.
I love this; even some of the characters I had no interest in (the reporter and the politician in this case) were worth talking to. They gave me in-game bonuses that made my adventuring easier as time went on. Some of my favorite moments of P5R come from these technically optional quest-lines.
Among these Confidants are your party members, who gain further abilities the better your relationship is. Once you hit Level 10, you unlock a special persona that you’re able to fuse.
My time spent with characters like Sojiro and Makoto shows the power of this system. This isn’t a bland mechanic; this is story-telling in the most classic sense.
Digital combat and digital Tokyo
The next piece I want to touch on is the actual gameplay. If the conversations with the characters is the flesh, the game play is the P5R’s skeleton. The video game part of P5R is split into two parts; the real world and the Metaverse.
The real world is the bigger part. You control Joker as he lives his life as a Japanese student. You go to school, answering questions in class, and reading on your commute. In your free time, you plan and schedule all of your activities. Maximizing your time is the real goal of the game. After school, you have time to do 1 or 2 things. You can go into the Metaverse, spend time with confidants, study, make coffee, fish, read, do crosswords, go to a batting cage, attend a jazz club, and sweat it up in a bathhouse. This is only the start of possible activities. Keep in mind that certain Confidants and activities are only available on certain days and at specific times of the day. This sounds stressful, but the game gives you ample time to hit everything. By the time I rolled credits, I’d maxed every Confidant and seen every inch of Tokyo, doing everything I wanted to do.
The other half is the Metaverse. As the game’s story plays out, the Phantom Thieves select targets and work out all kinds of issues. These targets have what the game refers to as ‘Palaces’. This is the combat side of the game. You explore these massive environments, solving puzzles, and engaging in Persona’s excellent combat. There is also a randomized dungeon referred to as Mementos. It works much the same way as Palaces, just with less narrative focus. It’s mostly used for grinding and item hunting. I wrote a longer article on Mementos here if you want my full thoughts on them. It does play a role in the endgame, so Mementos are worth your time as you unlock requests and grow in level.
If you’ve played a JRPG in the past, this game’s combat will look familiar to you. Your party consists of your character and three others. Your teammates have certain elemental and support strengths that you’ll need to exploit to take on enemies. Expect to use different combinations of party members each time you enter a new Palace. Joker can carry a massive amount of Personas that you fuse and negotiate with. This allows you to have every element covered, making your character massively overpowered.
Using these elements to hit the enemy’s weak points allows you to down them and open your options up. If you hit every enemy with a super-effective attack, you’ll trigger a hold-up. This is one of the only ways to get new Persona’s, and certainly the fastest and most efficient way to clear out enemies. Watch your party’s SP. These long dungeons burn through it fast and can make runs difficult to complete.
The last gameplay point I want to touch on is the Personas themselves. This is what makes Shin Megami Tensei games so wonderful to play. The Shadows/Persona are much like Pokemon, but in this case, they are pulled from every mythology and legend that you can imagine. Norse, Japanese, fantasy, you name it. The sheer number of Persona included in the game boggles the mind. There are even individual bestiary entries that serve as extra flavor for each and every Shadow. Persona level up and learn skills that reflect their individual entries and real-world inspiration. You have to talk and convince the Persona to join your side, at which point you can summon them from a compendium.
Using a location called ‘the Velvet Room’, you can sacrifice Shadows to make new ones, power up your existing Persona, or create powerful items. Each time you make a new Persona, you pass down skills from the parents to create a more powerful Shadow for Joker’s arsenal. It’s a system that drove me to collect every Persona I possibly could. By the time I wrapped Persona 5 Royal up, I had an army of unstoppable Shadows on my side. This is a great system, everybody. A great system.
Further up in the article I mentioned Red Dead Redemption 2 and Death Stranding. These three games demand that the player ‘Take Their Time’, even if P5R is the only one that explicitly states it. This is a game to be enjoyed in spurts. As the students at this game’s core evolve as friends, you’ll spend dozens of hours just reading their conversations. Text messages, dinners, strategy sessions. It takes a long time, but I can’t stress enough how much it’s worth it.
Tokyo is also there. You take the subway to access different parts of the city, each lovingly designed and packed with details and things to do. Sitting and studying in a coffee shop. Popping an umbrella and wandering shops in Shinjuku. P5R uses creative edits and transitions to make everything flow and reflect the world that you’ll be spending the next 100+ hours in.
And the music. Listen; everybody loves Persona 5 Royal’s music. It’s excellent and will get stuck in your head. These themes roll together to express environment and feeling in spades.
I grew to love the slick way that Persona does everything. It’s in the small details, the flourishes that build to a greater whole. I love the back-flips the characters do when you execute enemies during a Stick-up. I love the rumbling animation that comes with the subway loading screen. I love the supernatural feel of the Velvet Room and the individual style of each and every Palace.
Persona 5 Royal is a masterpiece. Play this game. Set aside a few months. The characters are deep, the combat is rewarding, and for the number-cruncher RPG fans, it will not disappoint.