reviewed Persona 5 Royal
VERY MILD SPOILER WARNING ON GENERAL THEMES
While playing its epilogue, P5R made me feel a profound and familiar sadness. I was sad because it was going to be over. That is the biggest compliment I could possibly give a game of its caliber. After 130 hours of playtime it was clear that this is not a game I will replay anytime soon, but that it will stay with me; And the fond memories I’ve made during this very long time will actively shape my daily thought process to some degree. In a way, it managed to make me care about it and its characters just as much as I did with (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Undertale. Compared to that game, Persona 5 Royal lacks the tongue-in-cheek humour, but it more than makes up for with its unbridled hope and its sharp rejection of any sort of cynicism or defeatism.
But, let’s talk a bit of gameplay before I get back to waxing philosophically:
The game consists of daily life and dungeon/exploration/combat segments that are fairly strictly separated, but during a chapter you can choose when exactly to tackle the currently available big dungeon.
The daily life segments are very vivid for what they are. I would love to say something really cheesy, like “You actually feel like you’re in Tokyo” but that is obviously not true, although it emulates the feeling of a big city with all your friends, and colorful shops and characters in it very well, especially given that the map sizes of the city segments are usually rather small. You will have a lot of days and evenings in the calendar during you which you can freely decide what to do. You can level up your social stats, which will usually grant you access to more confidants - people you can have a deeper relationship with - and give you other opportunities in the city. You can meet up with said confidants and intensify your relationship level. This sounds very mechanical, but it’s actually where Persona 5 Royal shines the most: Each relationship level you reach with any character has its own unique (and sometimes fairly substantial) little narrative segment during which you can react to the character, deepening your bonds by spending time with them and helping them overcome their hardships, and every character actually has an interesting story to tell.
The combat in this game is elemental-weakness-turn-based combat, so there is an inherent problem with the combat being a very crude abstraction of what an exciting battle would be like, but it handles itself rather well, given that fact. This game has two (and a half) major advantages over its peers:
1) The baton pass system. This system allows you to have an extra turn when you hit the weakness of an enemy and pass that turn on to a teammate, granting them a temporary attack boost. The smart idea here is that you can cascade this effect and doing multiple baton passes in a row increases the attack boost by so much that you can’t help yourself taking a small break to think about how you will absolutely decimate the enemies optimally. Big numbers are fun in this game, because it actually made you think for a bit. It introduces a dynamic puzzle element into turn-based combat, and I wish more games tried to have a fresh take like this on the turn-based formula.
2) The combat systems actually interact really well with the daily life segments of the game. By leveling up your relationship level with your confidants, you gain abilities for combat and exploration, and most of these abilities feel like meaningful upgrades to your repertoire. This intersection makes it so you can’t wait to try your newly unlocked ability in the dungeon, and the game smartly balances these abilities so they neither feel overpowered nor underwhelming – for the most part.
2.5) You will unlock the ability to defeat weaker enemies without actually having to play through the fights, while still gaining all experience and gold. This drastically cuts the time spent in far too easy (and hence boring) combat encounters, and it’s a huge quality-of-life improvement that not many other RPGs have.
Finally, let’s talk about the exploration. I have to admit that this is where Persona Royal fumbles a bit. While I find it great to not wander through randomly generated boring looking tilesets like in Persona 3 and 4, Persona 5 Royal has its own problems. The game constantly handholds you while exploring the (admittedly impressive-looking) dungeons, and except for the last few, it will almost always tell you puzzle solutions verbatim. It feels like the puzzles aren’t meant to be puzzles for you, the player, but for the characters in your group. You’re just there alongside with them, waiting for the penny to finally drop - and then you still have to implement the solution afterwards. Naturally, you will most likely feel aggravated, because the dungeons do have potential that is just never fulfilled. One positive thing I can say it that they work reasonably well in a narrative sense, and that each dungeon has its own arc and revelations, which helps the overall feeling of the game that everything is well thought-out in that regard.
Even in its weakest points, Persona 5 Royal still shines in conveying its story and most importantly, its themes. I have rarely seen a game with a script this gargantuan that truly justifies itself, but I can’t point at many scenes that feel like they were entirely there to pad things out in old-school JRPG style. Every character in the main cast goes through their own fulfilling arc, every segment feels like it explores some facet of the overall messages the game wants to convey, and as a whole Persona 5 Royals narrative and thematic beats come together like a very well-crafted puzzle. Everything becomes about hope and overcoming adversity, about feeling like a outcast and still doing right by others. Persona 5 Royal asks the fundamental question if this world is worth saving despite all the terrible things mankind is capable of and it answers it with such a loud and resounding “yes” that even the cynic in me just utterly crumbles before it.
To make me not just roll my eyes at this very corny view of the world is worth a lot to me, because truly feeling like a hopeful little kid again is a commodity that becomes rarer the older you get – and it’s always a relief to see that some piece of media will be there to recapture that magic wholeheartedly, uncynically and without making you groan. I am thankful for the people that still create art that has genuine messages without some sort of triple-layered ironic metacommentary on something. I love this game and what it tries to tell the world, and it taught me that I maybe just shouldn’t care if that sounds too corny
Reviewed on Dec 09, 2021
1 year ago
ok but actually good review
1 year ago