Well, it’s finally arrived. After years of Sony exclusivity, the Persona series of games is finally making its debut on Xbox consoles. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over on the other side of the fence about Atlus’ decision to bring Persona to the Microsoft stable, as you’d expect, so I guess the question we need to answer is pretty simple: has the wait been worth it? Well, let’s dive into the world of Persona 5 Royal and find out.
We’ll kick things off by looking at the presentation and every little aspect of Persona 5 Royal, from the graphics to the sound to the dialogue, is super stylish and fantastic to behold. The visuals have been inspired by anime, without a shadow of a doubt, and every character you meet is different and distinct. From the first friend you make, Ryuji, to Morgana the talking cat (or maybe not) to the rest of the team that you eventually assemble, everyone looks great. The animation as you run around, whether in straightforward day to day life, going to school and catching trains, or as you delve into the other world where you are fighting twisted shadows, all looks very good indeed. I am in real danger of running out of superlatives when it comes to describing just how good this looks. In fact, the contrast between your life as a school kid and that as a Persona wielder, right down to the design of the Personas themselves, how the enemies look and the world changes, is nothing short of awesome.
Sound design is good too, and while you may decide to go in with the original Japanese voices dragging you through (it just seems more authentic somehow) English dubbing is available. The voice acting is also superb, as is the design of the rest of the soundscape. So far, so good, and Persona 5 Royal is seriously impressive.
It’s equally as good as we delve into the story, as this is where a decent RPG lives and dies. I have to be careful not to give any spoilers away here, but we are a student who was forced to change schools after defending a girl from the advances of a man. The man turned out to be powerful, so we ended up on probation and with a criminal record, and so we are sent to Shujin Academy as a sort of last chance saloon. When we are there, it turns out that the rumour mill has been going into overdrive and everyone is aware of who we are and what we did; settling in is a little tricky, as you can imagine.
One thing leads to another and we become aware of the existence of another world, almost in parallel with our own, where people with twisted desires can shape the landscape to reflect their wishes. And wouldn’t you know it, in this world, the person who shapes it is the ruler. But they do have a vulnerability: if a bunch of thieves can reach the treasure at the centre of their world and take it, the owner of the desires will have a change of heart and mend his ways.
It is surprising how difficult it is to put the narrative of Persona 5 Royal into words, but it all makes perfect sense as you play through it. Suffice it to say that the characters you play as and interact with are sufficiently intriguing enough to keep you playing, and the lure of the story is strong. You’ll want to play this one through to the bitter end.
Thankfully it plays well too, even if it could be defined as a game of two halves. By day, we are a mild mannered student, tasked with going to school, studying and forging bonds with our friends. And this bit is well realised, giving an insight into what the life of a Japanese high school student is like. Visiting the library will allow us to make our knowledge greater, and this will in turn lead to new abilities. The same goes for the rest of our mundane abilities: we can take in activities to increase our guts, or charm, for instance, and these will again open new avenues in conversions with people. There’s a lot of content to go at in the real world, whether that be visiting bath houses or batting cages, or training and meeting with friends. Everything seems to have purpose and trying to fit it all in is tricky.
The second half of the game sees us infiltrating the other world; our personas changing as we do so. Or should that be Persona’s? You see, when we enter the other world, we all don masks, and these give us the power to not only summon friends to attack, but also gives us access to a variety of new moves. Take our character as an example, as when we begin, we gain a Persona by the name of Arsene who is the spirit of rebellion within us. Each of our companions also has a Persona within them, ranging from Zorro to Captain Kidd, and it just gets weirder from there on out.
Anyway, our character, Joker, has a very special mask. When we are fighting, if we manage to knock down all the active combatants on the enemy team, we can enter into a “Hold Up” phase (yes, that’s what it is called) and from here we can choose to talk to the monsters. If we can successfully persuade them over to our side, they are absorbed by the mask, and so we can then use their power in battle from that point forward. As you can imagine, choosing the right Persona for each fight is vital, and can make your life a lot easier.
There is so much more to the combat system that I would be writing for weeks if I went any deeper, so suffice it to say that the combat system is deep and extremely satisfying, with multiple ways to take enemies on and defeat them, or bring them to your side. Fighting your way through a Palace, capturing new Personas and making it out with the treasure is an almost breathtaking experience.
What this all means is that Persona 5 Royal is as close to the perfect RPG as I have played in a long time. Not since the heady days of Final Fantasy VII will a game grip you so fiercely, refusing to let go. It is deep, it is beautiful and it demands to be played.
Better late than never, Persona 5 Royal is a must play RPG.
Persona 5 Royal is on the Xbox Store