Persona 5 Royal is the highest rated Playstation 4 exclusive game on Metacritic that is adored by its entire fanbase, but is barely known to casual gamers. Why? Some of the PS4’s most well-known games include its exclusives, like the Last of Us Parts 1 and 2 (14 million sales), Infamous Second Son (6 million sales), Uncharted 4 (16 million sales, which is the highest selling game on the platform). So why is it that Persona 5 Royal is not as popular in the mainstream world (with only 1.4 million sales despite higher acclaim than even these games)?
The Persona series of Japanese role playing games are developed by a studio called Atlus and published by Sega (yes, the company behind Sonic The Hedgehog). Persona is a spin-off from Atlus’ Megami Tensei franchise. The first entry in the series, Revelations: Persona, was released in 1996 for the PlayStation 1. The series has seen many more games since then, with the most recent main entry being 2019’s Persona 5 Royal and the most recent spinoff entry being Persona 5 Strikers (as of October 12th, 2021). Persona’s core features include a group of students as the main cast, a silent protagonist, and turn- based combat using Personas, that on the superficial level, can be compared to Pokemon’s turn based combat, but goes much more in-depth than Pokemon’s fighting system. Since the release of Persona 3 in 2006, the main series has used a social simulation function called Social Links or Confidants, which are directly linked to how Personas evolve. The series’ recurring concepts and design elements draw on Jungian psychology, psychological personas and tarot cards, along with religion, mythology, and literature themes and influences.
But the paragraph above is just the dictionary definition of what the Persona franchise is. Each of the Persona games follow a cast of high school students who get the ability to summon the inner manifestation of their personalities in the form of spirit-like creatures called Persona, and use it to fight injustice within themselves or against the world they live in, sometimes even getting into world-saving adventures by the end.
Persona 5 (and Persona 5 Royal; yes they are two separate but very similar games in the same series) takes place in modern-day Tokyo and follows a high school student known by the pseudonym Joker who transfers to a new school after being falsely accused of assault and put on probation. Over the course of a school year, he and other students awaken to the powers of their Personas and become a group of secret vigilantes known as the Phantom Thieves of Hearts. They explore the Metaverse, a supernatural realm born from humanity’s subconscious desires, to steal malevolent intent from the hearts of adults. The main cast start off by fighting against the injustice of their sexually abusive P.E. teacher to whom the school turned a blind eye due to his prestige as a former Olympian Athlete. The main cast of the Phantom Thieves grows throughout the course of the game as the cast fights against bigger and bigger threats, rescuing or getting help from people who join their group to help them in their fight.
Persona 5 was originally released for both the PS4 and the PS5 around the world back in 2016 and 2017, following the main characters from April of 2016 (referred to as 20XX in-game) to December of 2016, with cutscenes and time-skips outlining the time between January of 2017 to April of 2017. Later, in 2019 and 2020, Atlus released an updated version of Persona 5, titled Persona 5 Royal, released solely for the PS4, which added two new additions to the main cast, Dr. Takuto Maruki who was hired by the school as a counselor after the Kamoshida incident comes to light, and gymnast Kasumi Yoshizawa an aspiring athlete who is a year younger than Joker and his main love interest in Royal (although the player can opt to romance between a number of other cast members instead as the base game didn’t have main romantic interest so kept the others in for player choice).
The updated version still featured the same main story up till December, where certain story decisions the main character can make can lead you into an alternate ending which allows you to progress gameplay into January and February of the next year and defeat a new final villain that was foreshadowed throughout the main story of Persona 5 Royal in original as well as altered cutscenes. Titled, the 3rd semester of Persona 5, this expanded story sees the main characters be trapped in an alternate universe where they have to fight the new villain and decide if they want to go back to their original world where they faced all the hardships they did or stay in this new world and live happy, perfect lives, but with their memories altered to never remember the original world.
If the main characters decide to return to their original world, a similar ending to the Original Persona 5 ending plays, albeit with the newly added characters included in it as well as expanded mid-credits scenes showing the cast slowly growing up and working hard to make the dreams they saw in the other world a reality. If the main characters never unlock the additional semester, the exact same ending of Persona 5 plays in the game. And finally, if the main characters decide to embrace the other world and not leave, a completely original ending occurs where we see the cast happily living their lives in the other world, albeit with a sense of feeling that something is wrong.
The beauty behind the three endings (well, there’s technically 2 more endings in-game but we won’t get into them cause those are literally impossible to describe without telling you who the final two villains of Persona 5 Royal are) of Persona 5 Royal is that the company that made them treated all of them equally, not calling any of them a “bad ending” or a “good ending” or a “true ending” or whatever. All of the endings have the full credits play, with a post/mid credits scene and the “Fin” text pop-up at the end. The moral dilemma behind these endings are all up to you, based upon your own philosophies and what you believe is correct for the Phantom Thieves and for the world. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t care about such philosophies and just wants to play as much of the game as possible just for the heck of it, then you’ll most likely choose the ending where the cast DOES go into the third semester and then chooses to go back to their real world, cause that option offers the most amount of gameplay to you. But for anyone who cares about the plot and philosophies behind the plot of Persona 5 Royal, you will be hard pressed to choose which ending is truly your ending of Persona 5 Royal.
Behind the facade of looking like an anime-esque game with a cute mascot and cute looking main characters (which is what deters many people from playing it in the first place, at least in my opinion), lies a deeply scarred and psychological story about people growing up to embrace the worst parts of themselves, trying to grow and improve themselves, with you growing up with them. In Persona 5 (and Royal), you follow these characters every day of their lives, whether they are adventuring off, whether they are studying for their upcoming exams, or whether they just hanging out in the city of Tokyo with their other friends who are not a part of the Phantom Thieves; the game truly makes you feel for these characters and their struggles. You can hang out with the cast individually, or in groups, go out on dates with the one you chose to date, or celebrate Christmas with your foster father and foster sister; the game truly makes you feel like you’re actually living through a full year of the life of the main character. So, when the endings happen, they hit you hard.
The emotions they make you feel are ones you get with people who you feel like you truly know. And despite knowing that these characters are not real and that the “one year” the game takes place has passed in about 80-150 real time hours, you can’t help but feel for these characters, to root for them, to want happiness for them, and for them to succeed with their dreams. All of them come from broken families: a falsely accused teenager, a foreign girl with absentee parents, a delinquent with only one mother, an orphan with an abusive caretaker, and more characters that I won’t spoil for you as we reach the later half of the game. Even if you’re not deeply into games that tell a story, and if you don’t like anime or anime-esque games, this is one you don’t want to miss if you have a PS4. Cause it’s an experience that will move you to your core. There’s a reason why it is the highest rated PS4 exclusive game on Metacritic, a website that collates reviews from the major reviewing sites of the world (like IGN, GameSpot, etc). Do give Persona 5 Royal a try.
PS: The game is rated M For Mature, so please adhere to the age guidelines and play only if you’re 18 years or above in age. The game deals with themes of suicide, social anxiety, depression, abandonment, and assault (sexual and non-sexual). Please do not play the game if any of these topics do trigger you.