Amongst many Japanese role-playing games, Persona has been one of the most celebrated game series ever. Loved by hundreds of thousands of fans and featured as one of the highest rating games in many reviews and critics in Japan as well as in the west. The praise it received is incomparable to any games in the same genre. Absolutely no one dares to say anything negative to such a masterpiece. It must be good, it gotta be. But does the game raised the par too high or is it overrated? I’m going to critique Persona 5 Royal 女神異聞錄5 皇家版 and share my love and hate of the game.
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As I recall, Persona 5 女神異聞錄5 originally was announced to be released on the Playstation 3. But it got delayed and released on Playstation 4 until 2016. After playing Persona 4 Golden on Playstation Vita, I waited a very long time for the next game to come out. At the time, it was one of my most anticipated games and I felt super excited to be able to get my hands on. I bought the physical copy of the game when it was launched. However, I abandoned it for a few months after playing it for the first 15 hours or so. And you guessed it, I sold it out without going back into the game to continue, not even once.
I gotta admit I’m pretty opinionated. I’ve very strong opinions towards a lot of things. I either hate it or love it, no middling. And I hated the game when I first approached it. I’ll explain more later in this post.
To be frank, I wasn’t expecting I’d play it again until a few years later, Persona 5 Royal 女神異聞錄5 皇家版 was announced. It’s an enhanced version featuring new characters, gameplay, and story. I decided to give it one more chance solely because of the new content it offers. After playing Royal and beating the game twice. Not only did I buy P5R standard version but another copy of the game—Steelbook Edition to add to my games collection. I love the game and hate some parts of it at the same time.
The story begins in a flashback while the protagonist who dressed in a thief costume with a mask on. He’s infiltrating a casino but got himself arrested by the police while escaping. He is then being interrogated by a prosecutor named Sae Niijima 新島 冴. Ren Amamiya 雨宮 蓮 starts to testify about the events he’s involved in half a year ago and that’s the opening of the game.
Ren 蓮 is a high school student who is being transferred to study at Shujin Academy 秀尽学園高校 in Tokyo. In Japanese, Shujin 秀尽 is a homonym for the word “prisoner 囚人”. He is put on probation because he tries to defend a woman from a drunk man who is harassing her but turns out to be framed for assaulting the guy. He is punished for a crime that he didn’t commit. He then has to live with his guardian, uncle Sojiro Sakura 佐倉惣治郎 who owns a coffee shop Café Leblanc 純喫茶ルブラン.
At the same time in Tokyo, there’s a series of incidents happening as some people lost their consciousness and caused a lot of casualties. While Ren going to school for the first day, he bumped into his classmates Ryuji Sakamoto 坂本竜司 and Ann Takamaki 高巻杏. He then finds out a mysterious mobile app is installed on his phone and the app allows him to have access to an unknown dimension that looks like a castle full of hideous monsters.
Later Ryuji and our protagonist both get into the realm to investigate what was it about. Ren awakens to his Persona Arsène アルセーヌ and saves Ryuji as they nearly died from a guy who lookalike Kamoshida 鴨志田, their physical education teacher.
They meet with a cat-like creature Morgana モルガナ who helps them escape and lets them know about the Metaverse イセカイ, a realm manifested by humanity’s subconscious desires and its appearance is shaped by the person with the most twisted desire. A Palace is ruled and formed by Shadow シャドウ, physical manifestations of one’s distorted inner thoughts.
It turns out, the castle-like Palace belongs to their teacher Kamoshida who uses his fame as a former Olympian athlete and sees himself as a ruler in school. He’s known for abusing his female student and using one of Ann’s friends to manipulate her to be a girlfriend of him. Of course, Ren and Ryuji ain’t gonna stand by that and try to unveil the lusty and selfish nature of Kamoshida. To rebel against the injustice which requires one’s will—the Spirit of Rebellion. The Persona of Ryuji and Ann also awaken and they fight against Shadow of Kamoshida in the first Castle Palace.
Ren, Ryuji, Ann and Morgana joined as a party and they realized they’ve the ability to steal the “Treasure” from one’s Palace and change people’s hearts. By doing that they also risking to cause the person to end up with a mental breakdown in real life. But they deiced to go for it and they succeeded to have Kamoshida truly change his heart and to give in.
As the story continues, they formed the Phantom Thieves of Hearts 心の怪盗団, a group of secret vigilantes. More team members joined later on. Their mission is to change the society by stealing hearts from adults who are corrupted and forcing them to repent for their sins. To reform the city and makes it a better place.
The game takes place in Tokyo, Japan. A fictional fantasy story based on reality. It’s a juvenile JRPG, the story revolving around a group of high school students. The game explores their struggles between school life, pop culture, commoners, prestige class, corporations, politics, and the government. The opposition from the young generation to adults.
In some sense, the concept reminds me of the 1999 film Fight Club directed by David Fincher. Some fragments of moments clicked when I was playing. In Fight Club, the Project Mayhem rocks the city while in Persona 5 the Phantom Thieves set off a storm of debate in the society. They both evoke a sense of rebellion.
The core idea behind the entire game is to let us do what we can’t in real life. To break free and not follow rules or orders set by adults. To fight against unfairness and injustice with the Spirit of Rebellion. The game itself is a metaphor—a social microcosm, as we all are prisoners restrained by the society. We shackled ourselves to live in such a world. You’re given the ability to change someone’s heart as vigilantes. The Phantom Thieves doesn’t represent justice, instead, it offers for players to taste how delightful it’ll be by punishing the evils.
I think the game conveys the message pretty damn well. The political aspects, as well as the influences of social media kind of reflects modern-day Japan. Even to people who do not live there but are still relatable. It resonates with us as we’re all bound by the society we’re living in. It’s pretty dispiriting as we can do so little about it as an individual.
The characters and environment are all in 3D models but using 2D sprites for the character’s portrait in text dialogue and UI. The character design is done by Shigenori Soejima 副島 成記 and Azusa Shimada 嶋田 あずさ responsible for in-game portraits. I love the visual design overall, especially the thematic red and the use of black and white.
The UI design is by Art Director Masayoshi Sutou 須藤 正喜. It is a mix of manga and anime styles with heavy brush strokes. Basically, all of the UI elements are drawn using irregular shapes with bold strokes in black and white color. It’s stylish, dynamic and very uniquely designed which matches the visuals perfectly. The Cut-in of character’s eye with animation in text dialogue is a very nice touch.
However, I dislike the text treatment in the game. I hate it. To be specific, the typography in game’s UI. In my opinion, I think it’s criminal to typeset in such a way. Why’d someone set UI text mixing serif and sans-serif typefaces for each word? And to make it worse, in upper and lower case letters in the same word and rotate each letter in different angles and perspectives!? The typographic treatment is barely legal. It gives me anxiety every time I look at the UI.
I’m well aware that it’s intentional as it was designed to align with the “ransom note” theme. But I’d argue that conveying the theme doesn’t necessarily has to make every element in the same way. It’s more than enough to apply the styles on some layouts. The repetition of the same treatment on text becomes annoying and hard to read at times. I personally think that it goes too far and beyond acceptable in terms of typography. This was one of the reasons I stopped playing the original game.
If anyone would ask me what I love most about Persona, the answer is no doubt the characters. Everyone has their own backstory and you’re to get to know each one of them. This is where the game excels at. Especially the story arc for each party member feels authentic and grounded.
You as a player is to create connections and build up relationships by spending time with different characters while they’re having various backgrounds and agendas.
The concept is planted into the gameplay. The game introduces the mechanic of Cooperation—Confidants and uses Arcana (Tarot Card) for each character as ranking system which indicates the bonding (level) of the player’s relationship. Every character that the player has a connection to has a story to tell.
The mechanic plays a very important part in the game. This is how the game introduces us to the perspective of side characters. They’re all very memorable and the writer did an amazing job at that. Also, the Japanese voice over is excellent where they portrayed the personality of every character on point.
The Phantom Thieves
Each team member has a unique storyline. I’d say I love them all. Their looks and appearances speaks for themselves. You can tell the personalities of each one of them from their outfits and weapons they uses in Metaverse. The design match with the theme splendidly. I’ll try to talk about the characters a little. Let’s start with the player and the protagonist himself, Ren Amamiya 雨宮 蓮. He’s a transferred high school student maintaining normal daily life and being a vigilante after school. You role play as him and that makes you the Joker.
Ann Takamaki 高巻杏 is a blonde-haired quarter-American girl who also is a part-time model and actress. She looks too pretty and pretentious makes you don’t like her at first. But when I get to know more about her, I changed my mind because she stayed true to being herself. Ryuji Sakamoto 坂本竜司 is a hot-headed and problematic young person which is the typical type that every Anime has.
Morgana モルガナ, a cat-like creature in Metaverse. Looks and acts like a normal cat in real world but having the ability to speak. He lost his memory and wants to find out his true identity. Always insists he’s not a cat. A true gentleman towards all ladies and he has a crush on Ann. The four of them were the founding members of the Phantom Thieves.
Yusuke Kitagawa 喜多川 祐介 an art student who always pursues aesthetics whenever possible even spending on things with all his savings. To be honest, I’m sorry to say that but he’s the last person I wanted to spend time with.
I think Makoto Niijima 新島 真 probably is my favorite. A valiant and brave girl with a strong sense of justice. She joined the Phantom Thieves after learning what was it about. Known as Queen, so-called 世紀末覇者先輩. She and Ryuji forms a duo and I like the chemistry between them.
Futaba Sakura 佐倉 双葉, she’s the adopted daughter of Sojiro. A Otaku with top tier hacking skills. Futaba is one of the most interesting characters because of her backstory and relationship with Sojiro. Haru Okumura 奥村 春, the only daughter of a CEO who runs a big corporation. She has a kind heart and loves gardening. She’s kind of silly at times but cute.
And the last member of the team, Kasumi Yoshizawa 芳澤 すみれ. A new character that introduced in Royal. A cheerful and pretty young girl and she’s a gymnast. Her outfit in Metaverse looks the best. However, she’s very late to the party and you’re not able to have her in the team until the third semester. To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed as she only plays a tiny part in the original story.
Sojiro Sakura 佐倉 惣治郎, is a man with a not so likable attitude but everyone knows he’s a nice guy at heart. He took care of Futaba like her own daughter.
Goro Akechi 明智 吾郎 reminds me of a character from the manga series The Kindaichi Case Files. A celebrity like detective. It turns out I was surprised how he transform himself at the end.
Another new character in Royal, Takuto Maruki 丸喜 拓人, a school counselor. He’ll be the key to unlock the extra third semester. If you please pay attention to the dialogue of him during counseling.
The story is following the days of a calendar. The player is to maintain a normal life as a high school student and being the Phantom Thieves after school. The game spans over the course of a year. The main structure of the gameplay is divided into two parts: Daily Life and Palace Infiltration.
Player needs to attend school which is mandatory and doing a bunch of side activities after school. The mechanic is for the protagonist to build up Social Stats while participating in various activities as well as to increase the rank of your Confidant’s Arana. The Social Stats’ allows player to have access to new activities or Confidants. On the other hand, the higher the Confidant’s ranking, the more bonuses can be unlocked such as abilities to use in combat or new items from shops.
You can read books on the way to school, or even make infiltration tools during class if you have a high affinity with your teacher. You can do part-time jobs, exploring Tokyo, go to restaurant, work out in gym, study at the library, fishing, play baseball, watch DVDs, or go to bathhouse at night. However, you can only have limited of time slots for each day and you’re required to decide what to do with your free time. In Royal, new area Kichijoji 吉祥寺 can be explored. You can invite friends to play darts, billiards, visit a Temple to meditate or even a Jazz Club to hang out with friends, etc.
Aside from that, you can spend time with different Confidants. The backstory of each one of them is split into multiple segments and each time you gotta pick the dialogue options that will deepen the bond. This is where it got intriguing as the protagonist can romance quite a few of his Confidants not limited to your party members: Tae Takemi 武見 妙 a doctor who dresses in punk-rock and sells suspicious drugs to people. Your school teacher Sadayo Kawakami 川上 貞代 as a part-time call-out maid. You may visit Chihaya Mifune 御船 千早 in Shinjuku 新宿 for a fortune telling to boost the affinity gain.
In general, player has to make their choices carefully in order not to waste time on things. There’s also a deadline for infiltrating Palace and you’ll have to finish it as fast as you could to have more free days available. To have the most optimal outcome, you gotta have it all planned out. The schedule plays a very important part of the game which is because if you play it blindly, you may find yourself getting stuck somehow in developing Social Stats or relations. This might make the Palace infiltration much harder.
In my opinion, the mechanics in original version P5 is a bit too hard-core. If you want the best outcome for picking dialogue options or who to spend time with that gains the most, you’ll need to reload from multiple save files. It’s very time consuming to do such a thing. To save time, I think most people follow a guide and don’t want to do the homework themselves. You’ve no reason not to because it’s all the same in the end. We’re talking about at least 100 hours of playthrough even if you follow a guide. But of course, it’s all up to you.
Player needs to follow the calendar every single day. This is probably the part that I hated the most. I’ll have to disagree with the design of it because it’s a game about freedom yet the game limit the player to freely pick what to do. I know we’re all living in a calendar in real life but this is just a game, get over it. Some of the activities and Confidants only available on specific days and you might miss out completely if you’re not following a guide. I don’t like the feel of doing assignments when you’re playing a game. The time management aspect is very critical to the gameplay.
But in Royal, new mechanics were introduced to minimize the chance of player from making the “wrong” choice. If you’re to know which action has the most benefits, there’s an online feature for players to share or have information on what activities or choices to take based on the percentage of online players. I’d say you can freely enjoy the game without worrying too much now.
The theme of each Palace design are all based on a specific character, the target’s corrupt thoughts—Shadow. As the story proceeds, new Palace will be available and you’re not able to go back to the previous one when it was cleared. Player is required to complete the Palace in a period of time. Dungeons are designed in multiple stages and you can get into a Safe Room for saving game and restoring HP or fast travel to other Safe Rooms. You can retreat from a Palace if you want to complete it the other day.
And when you get to the Treasure Room—the end of the dungeon and confirm an escape route, they go back to real world. The Phantom Thieves will send out a Calling Card 予告状 to the target and initiate the boss fight on the next day. Once the Palace collapsed, the story then advances to the next chapter.
The combat is turn-based. Player can have control over four party members, however, their Personas are fixed to its owner. The protagonist is the only person can summon Personas other than his main. You can negotiate with the enemy and have them join you. Each enemy is vulnerable to some types of attack and when you hit the target with its weakness and when all enemies are knocked down you can perform a All-Out Attack or negotiation.
I like the combat system overall and it’s what a JRPG should play like. The combat is fun and engaging and the difficulty is way lower than in P5. It’s so much easier to earn money and experience in Royal as they introduces the new Momemtos, a randomly generated dungeon for player to explore.
The score is created by composer Shoji Meguro 目黒 将司. You must listen to the amazing soundtrack Persona 5 Royal: Original Soundtrack. Lyn performed the iconic Life Will Change, The Whims of Fate and Colors Flying High splendidly. They’re all my favourites. The Jazz and Soul feel of the music still lingering in my head.
I love the game of its characters, concept, art and music. But dislike the typography in GUI and the calendar mechanic in Daily Life system. This might be because my aesthetic tastes are different and it’s all personal. In the next instalment of the game, I truly hope they can somehow evolve the Daily Life system with less restriction and have more room of freedom for player.
I almost got the Platinum Trophy on PS4 but I left one trophy purposefully. Hoping someday I can replay it again and that gives me a reason to.
This is the first and ever so-called Critique of a video game that I’ve written. I think it’s more like a recap of the game rather than an actual piece of review. I’m still fixing my grammar and rewriting some sentences. Writing is hard but I’ve enjoyed my time. That’s it. See you next time.