persona 5 royal retrospective

in 2016, 8 years ago now, i first got into the persona series with persona 4, a ps2 game that i ended up buying on the playstation 3 store. the year after that, persona 5 dropped on my birthday (april 4th!). that timeframe was basically the height of my craze for persona, though the series has remained dear to my heart afterward.

with all that in mind, it might sound kind of odd that i never played the rereleased version of 5 - persona 5 royal (or "the royal"). funny, but hey, that's how the cookie crumbles. fast forward 5 years and they finally drop the game on pc in 2022. at that point i finally toss it on my wishlist on steam... and then a year later my pal nathan buys it for me. thanks dude! of course... another year goes by...

and then persona 3 reload drops. i know this is taking a huge detour, but we're getting there. i played the crap out of p3r because i always have wanted to beat persona 3 in some capacity (i had a playthrough of p3fes but i've since lost the file for it, though it was somewhere in october/november). beating that game broke my heart - it was everything i think i probably needed at the time.

i was still hungry for another persona game after the fact, though. i'd already played persona 4 golden when it came to pc in 2020, so i figured it was high time i finally beat royal. sorry it took so long nathan!

i didn't really have any idea what to expect from royal when i went into it. i knew there was a new girl added to the story and some new social links, plus other changes. fresh off of running persona 3 reload semi-blind i decided i'd just follow a guide to make my first playthrough easy, since i had no idea of all the changes.

as i played through the game more and more, i felt some thoughts cropping up in my mind that i needed to write down. i figured i might as well make a post about it on my neocities.

i'll be splitting this retrospective into a few sections. one will be a no spoilers section which will be just under this section. under that, i'll talk about some changes to the combat and difficulty as a buffer between my no spoilers and spoilers section. i know the game technically came out 4 years ago, but considering i've been vaguely dodging spoilers all this time, i might as well try to be considerate in case of anyone else who might be.

no spoilers

first i figure i should talk about what i mean by no spoilers. when it comes to actual plot i'll avoid stating actual details except for my thoughts on it as a whole. mechanics are fair game, though. i'm also assuming the reader knows about the new characters' existence.

this might sound harsh, but i'm not sure this game needed to exist. the quality of life is great; don't get me wrong. i think that some of the alterations made to the plot and progression of the game don't add anything of value, however. the writing doesn't treat the new girl well at all in comparison to the other characters it adds or changes. furthermore, honestly, some of the quality of life goes too far. it's possible to get some insanely amped damage values in this version of the game as i'll go into next section that kind of obliviate any actual difficulty even on the hardest setting of merciless.


there are, off the top of my head here, two systems that make the difficulty in p5r so much lower than in vanilla p5. those would be 1. the changes to the baton pass system and 2. the changes to the technical system. there are some other features that also make the game easier but these have to do with vanilla p5 as well, so i'll save them for later.

starting with baton pass - it's a really good system that they buffed in p5r by allowing everyone to have it innately rather than as a factor of their confidant. in vanilla p5, it included a boost to attack and recovery power. this chained until you could no longer hit one mores and send off baton passes.

the system could get pretty crazy if you knew how to abuse it. in p5r, they buffed it. you can spend time at a certain location to increase your baton pass level and do 75% more damage on the first baton pass rather than 50% more. depending on the weaknesses available to the party, it can sometimes be rare to go further than a single baton pass. this means on average you're doing 25% more damage per baton pass. maybe that's just me, but i think that's kinda wild.

on top of that technical damage got buffed, too. while the base modifier was nerfed from 1.8x damage to 1.4x, you can also train this up to base p5 levels while getting the HUGE bonus of having your technical damage down enemies. this is crazy.

there's one last factor that puts the final nail in the coffin that i didn't cover at the beginning - the addition of persona traits. these have super wide ranging effects, but you by no means need to master them to make them effective. even just passing on the basic 20% single target damage boost trait is enough to have joker's damage output skyrocket past the rest of the phantom thieves', all other skills and stats being equal. remember how i said earlier the technical bonus was 1.8x with some time put in to level it? one persona has an ability that boosts that damage by 50%. you can start to see some truly bonkers numbers - i was able to do over 9,999 damage in a hit without even putting much effort in. there are also traits that boost damage when striking weaknesses.

for those in the know about the series, charge and concentrate are hugely important for good damage output. one persona has a trait that triples the damage unleashed after a charge or concentrate as well as providing an automatic concentrate at the start of battle. whew.

i'd also be remiss if i didn't speak on dlc personas. i legitimately cannot believe the system runs as it is. you can get a level 89 persona for free the very first day you can visit the velvet room - specifically izanagi-no-okami picaro, a persona that knows myriad truths, which deals 3x heavy almighty damage to all enemies AND fully restores your hp and sp after a victory. dude. what the hell?

ok, that's all i got. time to write down my thoughts on the story.

full spoilers

i really gotta reiterate it. this game didn't need to exist. i'll kind of follow my stream of consciousness notes for a bit here.

at the start of the game, the new girl, introduced later on as kasumi, makes a pretty showstopping appearance in the escape sequence at the start of the game where you escape sae's palace. appearing out of nowhere, she saves joker from being surrounded and then leaves to buy him more time to run after the fact.

this was pretty surprising to me. after playing both p4 and p4g, i didn't expect that much alteration to the main plot of the game. maybe it's nostalgia, but i felt that p4 and p4g were kinda seamless. as it was just the beginning of the game, i just shrugged and moved on.

beyond that, the game proceeds roughly as normal. you get some extra free time here and there and unlock the new confidants - the aforementioned kasumi and a new councillor, dr. maruki. i'll go into sections about each of them here:

maruki, part 1:

i'll take a bit of extra space here and say this: maruki actually fits great into the story of the base game at this point. it seemed kind of strange that the school did nothing for the kids whatsoever in vanilla, and hiring a counselor to talk through their issues felt right - not to mention the little sessions where you can see him speaking to your party members are great for more characterization.


in contrast, kasumi barely gets much time to interact with the original phantom thieves at all - even though she awakens to her persona before okumura's palace, she never even joins until far later on. the first time she even meets a phantom thief besides joker is the hawaii trip in september, 5 months past the start of the game. more than any other royal addition, kasumi finds herself being tacked on in weird spots that just don't quite feel right.

her story isn't quite compelling either. she's portrayed as an almost perfect honors student competing in gymnastics at basically a national level. up until october you only get little glimpses into her backstory, revealing she has a sister who passed away in a car accident that was also a gymnast.

then finally we see some movement. apparently, she only gets third place at her gymnastics meet (which according to the wiki as i cross reference is at the international level). this... um... somehow doesn't meet the lofty standards of shujin academy, who look to revoke her honors status because it's not good pr to only get 3rd. i can't really say i buy it even with all that's going on at the school at the time (this is after kamoshida's ousting and the "suicide" of the principal).

somehow, this leads to kasumi and the protagonist ending up in odaiba due to various circumstances, where they happen upon a mysterious palace. inside, kasumi confronts what seems to be a copy of herself that is crushed by a shadow, and awakens to her persona. despite being asked to join the thieves, she declines citing her gymnastics practice. this i can sort of understand even if i don't think i'd ever make the same decision. she does have a promise to keep after all.

that said, this is where some weird stuff starts happening. the writing was kind of on the wall from the prologue, but... well...

the crux of the issue is that her entire creation almost seems to me to be some kind of weird insert for the writers to be some kind of perfect match for joker. i don't love the term, but everything i saw of her kind of gives "mary sue". even her first persona summoning is vastly different from everyone else's. where they were struggling and covered in blood from ripping their masks off, kasumi gets a fully animated magical girl sequence for her first transformation. side note, but why did they make her outfit like that...? ann was bad enough.

kasumi also gets *multiple* fully animated cutscenes with joker essentially alone barring some side npcs including one where all she does is dance at a party while joker watches and random npcs comment on how cool she is.

it feels like i'm just being a hater looking at everything i'm saying here but to be honest i was super interested in her from a design standpoint outside of her metaverse outfit. as someone who really enjoyed the base game i was looking forward to finally figuring out her deal.

at the end of the plot, we discover a fundamental truth about her character - she was never kasumi, she was actually sumire. kasumi was the one who died in the car accident years back because sumire felt like she wasn't good enough to match up to her perfect sister. she ends up feeling like everyone just misses kasumi and wishes she could just be kasumi instead. i'll get into how it happens in a little bit, but essentially... her wish comes true. to her, everyone sees her as kasumi.

this as a plot twist only comes up in the very last month of the game. you basically get about 30 days to get to know the actual sumire. in the base game, people complained about how late you get haru, but as a phantom thief you only get sumire for a single month and one palace. to be honest, her personality doesn't change all that much, though. because of how her social link works you get 5 extra levels that you can complete in the final month which are essentially just helping her be her own person, but you only spend 2-3 visits on this. the final social link visit has her realizing that kasumi basically always saw her as a rival and equal.

maruki, part 2 + akechi

how did she become kasumi, though, you ask? well... let's start from christmas eve. having defeated yaldabaoth as with the base game, sae approaches the protagonist with her bargain of turning himself in. if you complete the newly added akechi confidant hangouts and follow certain triggers, akechi reveals he lived despite his final stand in shido's palace, and offers to turn himself in in your place, letting you enjoy christmas with your chosen partner.

more time passes, and the new year rolls around... and as it does, it's revealed that everyone's wishes have miraculously came true. ryuji is back on the track team, shiho back home hanging with ann, yusuke is under madarame's tutelage again in a far more benevolent capacity, and futaba, makoto, and haru's parents have come back to life. oh yeah and morgana's a human.

only two people realize that something's off - you and akechi. somehow, akechi got released suspiciously quickly despite everything he did in the story. and he doesn't like that one bit. on a call from who they then know as kasumi, both akechi and joker go to odaiba again, returning to the mysterious palace where kasumi awakened to her persona, though this time it seems to be visible in the normal world.

here it is revealed: this is a new reality created by maruki, a metaverse user, in which everyone's wishes can come true. he's usurped the power of mementos after the defeat of yaldabaoth so that he can make this happen, and you have a month to stop all this before his changes to reality become permanent.

part of the month involves speaking to all of your phantom thief friends so that they realize something's off so that when you do confront maruki again they all save you in a heroic fashion. you can also hang out with them all again to unlock their third awakenings, which are strangely all unvoiced and follow the same general idea of "sorry i was taken in by my dream reality," which i think is kinda silly... who wouldn't get taken in by that?

eventually, we find out one other thing - akechi's survival can also be attributed to maruki's power. maruki brought him back because he knew the protagonist wanted a fresh start with him. despite knowing it will result in his death, akechi still wants to steal maruki's heart... say what you will about akechi, but hey i guess the dude knows what he wants.

this all culminates in a huge battle at maruki's palace over the fate of the new reality. it's kind of interesting in contrast from yaldabaoth's fight. it feels like almost a retread of similar themes, just replacing apathy with... a strange contentedness. the fight itself is fine, but i think it could have probably been structured to hit harder. eventually, however, the thieves triumph over maruki and escape the palace unscathed, though joker, maruki, morgana, and akechi all go missing after the fact.

it turns out that this is because reality is shifting back to normal from maruki's alterations - joker ended up turning himself in following vanilla's story, so he actually finds himself in juvenile detention. similarly, morgana returns to leblanc after just roaming around town for a while as he did in the original ending - where the thieves all rally to get joker out of prison.

i'm really not sure how i feel about this ending. it felt like they wanted to keep the original vanilla ending while still keeping their new content in the game, but i find that it ruined the impact of the original. because it is suddenly dropped on you that you're back in juvenile detention, there's no hard hit to the player about joker's sacrifice. you also miss out on the cool animated cutscene of all the thieves meeting up and fanning out for their plan to get joker freed.

at the very end after joker is freed and you enjoy a few more events, you find out that maruki has become a taxi driver after he drops joker off at the train station when he returns to his hometown. he leaves joker with some parting words, and joker says his goodbyes to his friends, then somehow bumps into sumire alone on the station platform (see above where i say every time she's animated it's alone with joker lmao) and she gets her own goodbyes with him.

this is where something funny happens. as joker rests his eyes on the train, you can see a familiar school uniform walk past in the background... yeah, akechi's. joker sees his metaverse outfit reflected in the window and takes his glasses off, revealing it wasn't real. then boom, credits. yeah, akechi might be alive somehow. wow...

that said, i honestly do like the akechi stuff they added. you get to duel him one on one at a point in his confidant which is pretty cool. i think if you do enjoy akechi as a character you'll probably like royal for all these additions not to mention his potential survival. i kinda think it does throw away his sacrifice in shido's palace, but i only have so much criticism left in my body after writing all this out.

final verdict

like i said... persona 5 royal didn't need to exist. it seems like even the writers realized this when they made it so that reality shifted back to normal after maruki's defeat. the only change that we can guarantee stuck after the fact is sumire's friendship with the thieves, as akechi's face is never shown to fully confirm his survival.

royal's existence also almost throws a wrench in the canon of persona 5 strikers, though i haven't played it. that game takes place after the original vanilla ending of persona 5, though it was kind of made concurrently with royal. sumire and maruki aren't mentioned in it as a result of this, which would be strange to anyone coming from royal. part of me wonders if strikers is why royal had to fully revert the timeline after maruki's defeat lest they delete strikers from the canon a year after its release.

i said this kind of in jest to my friend, but i wonder if everyone at atlus that ships joker and akechi made a dark bargain with someone whose oc looks suspiciously like sumire in order to make royal and give akechi more content... not to mention the new ending song which seems to be written from joker's perspective about akechi... this all at the cost that the oc haver could also ship the hell out of their character with joker too of course.

let's see... what else... the new music does all fuck aside from the new opening. don't love "take over" over "last surprise" as the ambush battle theme though but that's fine. standouts:

  • no more what ifs
  • i believe
  • throw away your mask

anyway, if you don't fuck with any of these new characters or additions to akechi's storyline, you're really fine not getting this game. that's all. thanks for reading!