This is simultaneously a very easy and very difficult review to write. Here’s the short version:
If you haven’t played or haven’t finished the first version of Persona 5 and have any interest in Japanese RPGs, anime, etc., this is an easy recommend for all the same reasons the original Persona 5 was. The fundamentals are all still intact, refined even more than they were in the first version. Definitely play it.
If you have played the first one and are a huge fan looking for more to explore or a reason to go back and revisit the game, it’s also an easy “yes” from me. This is the category I fall into.
If you have played the first game, but aren’t dying to go back to the world, to spend time with the characters, or just don’t know if you’re up for a 60+ hour RPG you’ve already played once, the answer is a bit more nuanced. There’s definitely some new stuff to encounter and enjoy, but it may not be substantial enough to tempt you back into the game.
Here’s the long version:
The positive and negative about the game is that a lot of the basic structure remains intact. As such, I’m going to gloss over a lot of what was covered in the original Persona 5 review quickly. You play as a 2nd year Japanese High Schooler, who was recently convicted of a crime you questionably didn’t do. You get sent by your parents to a new home in Tokyo to essentially start over with a new school and living situation while on probation for a year. You soon discover that you have the ability to enter an alternate reality in the hearts of corrupt people. Once there, you and your team can steal the metaphysical source of their corruption to change their hearts and make them into better people. You then begin a quest to try and fix an almost comically corrupt society, one mover and shaker at a time.
For those of you who played P5 the first time around, that should all sound very familiar. The game itself remains unchanged at its core. The story has received few tweaks to substantially change it. That is both its strength and one of its greatest weaknesses. The story, style, and aesthetic of P5 remains as strong as ever, but it also isn’t really substantially different. Aside from a brief moment in the in medias res opening and one or two scenes here and there, the first portion of the game is fundamentally unchanged. Even once changes start setting in after the first palace, they feel less substantial than some of those in the similar re-releases of Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden. With P3P, you could change your entire character from the outset by playing as a female main character. This changes your social links, your character’s responses, and the general feel of the game. Even if the plot was the same, it felt very different right from the beginning. Persona 4 Golden felt more similar to P5R in regards to the level of changes, but there hints that things would be substantially different later down the line. Marie was involved in Velvet Room shenanigans from the outset, which lends a very different character to her than either of the new social links from this game. Those who played the original P4 also got another new social link that, once it opens up, they would know has the ability to change so much.
P5R, up to the point I’m currently at, really doesn’t have that. I’m through the second Palace as I write this review. I know, from other information I’ve heard and seen about the game, that there will be an additional palace for Kasumi. However, playing through the game, it feels like less has changed than in P3P or P4G. I know that may change later on, but it really feels more like DLC than a full re-release.
Don’t get me wrong, for hardcore P5 phans, there’s a lot to enjoy here. The new characters are interesting and fun additions. They also shuffled around some of the abilities (baton pass is now just a mechanic for everyone instead of being tied to the confidant level of each character) and added some new things for each character (like combination attacks and new confidant abilities). There is also a new mechanic during dungeon exploration called “Disaster Shadows.” These are essentially random shadows that sometimes show up in combat. They will counter-attack anything they aren’t weak to and doesn’t crit them for pretty substantial damage. Once you kill them, though, they drop rarer loot and also explode, dealing damage to all other shadows on the field. It’s a fun addition to combat that can change how you deal with normal encounters.
Another interesting addition that substantially changes combat and preparation is the addition of Persona Traits. They’re somewhat similar to abilities in Pokemon. Each Persona normally has a trait that changes things for that particular persona, like halving SP costs for a particular element, increasing attack even more after a baton pass, increasing the length of status buffs, etc. The really interesting part comes in how this interacts with fusions. When you fuse personas, you can decide whether the new person has its standard trait OR takes one from one of the bases. This means you can potentially do something like pass along an increase healing effectiveness trait to a new persona that would have something else and make anything into a more effective healer. This also attaches to your party members, who each have group-wide buffs when they are in the party. On a related note, accessories have been changed as well. Instead of typically increasing stats or adding some passive ability, each one essentially adds a new skill to a persona, including to your other party members. So now you can give other party members access to elemental attacks they wouldn’t normally have or otherwise patch up holes you would normally have to deal with through the main character alone. All of this means a lot more versatility for yourself and your group.
One change in the dungeons is the addition of a grappling hook. At certain points in the dungeon, you’ll need to use a grappling hook to get around, either to find hidden things or to explore. While a fun visual, this is nowhere near as robust a change as the game would like it to be. It’s completely limited to certain spots and situations with no applicability beyond that. It’s a fun visual to see Joker zipping around on a grappling hook, but it isn’t much beyond that. Dungeons have also shifted around a little in their design, mostly to accommodate the inclusion of “Will Seeds,” hidden areas in each Palace where you can collect an item. Get all three in each palace and you get a new accessory with some pretty good abilities. It’s definitely worth doing and encourages exploration to get them.
The game adds two new areas to explore, sort of. One of the areas is another segment of Tokyo, Kichijoji. This area has several new stores to visit, things to do with the party members, and stuff to explore in the game itself. It’s a fun addition, but at this point doesn’t seem to do much aside from give some new items and a few more group activities (which is still nice to see the characters interact with each other).
The other area is not really in-game. It’s a lounge called the Thieves Den you can get to pretty much whenever from the menu. Here, you can replay cutscenes, get game music, buy items/figures to decorate, and play a minigame. All of this is done using coins you get for various achievements in the game, which are also tracked there. They’re broken down into some affecting confidants, some relating to combat challenges, etc. It’s fun to try and do them the same way it’s fun to try and get the trophies for the game. I expect there will be some overlap with the actual trophies, but I can’t check since, as of the time of writing pre-release of the game, the Trophies still aren’t showing for me. It also seems like it will carry over from game to game through New Game+, since some are contradictory with each other (romance everyone and romance no one are both awards). It’s fun enough, but also not terribly substantial. I went to check it out and, aside from checking status on the awards, haven’t really been back.
One of the most fun new additions to me is the inclusion of Challenge Battles in the Velvet Room. As the game goes, you will unlock new challenge battles where you will fight to get a high score. The score is based purely off of damage done, and often includes multipliers to plan your team around (Like wind damage counting as three times as much for the score, or if Yusuke finishes off an enemy, that damage counts as 7x). This is an interesting, fun puzzle to work around and definitely will encourage some creativity in how to beat the ever increasing levels of complexity.
Mementos also has a new addition as well. Jose, a mysterious kid who looks like a Velvet Room Attendant of some sort, hangs around in the various levels of Mementos. He asks you pretty early on to collect flowers for him, which you can then trade for items. The flowers spawn in a similar fashion to the loot drops and it’s not hard to find and collect them as you go. Jose also leaves stamp kiosks around the level, normally one at the end of each area and possibly another hidden somewhere in the level. Unlike the flowers, these don’t respawn. They also have a more permanent change than the flowers do. Once you collect enough, you can trade them in to increase XP, money, or item drops in Mementos. It’s a fun little addition to do while you’re otherwise spending time exploring or grinding through Mementos.
I guess the larger takeaway is that there’s a lot of little changes to the game. There’s a bunch of smaller refinements (more character poses, some expanded voice acting, guns reload after each combat, but have more limited ammo in each one, etc.), but it lacks the major hook that other Persona re-releases had. That could change as I continue through the new social links and the new palace, but that’s my general take-away at this point. Everything that was great about the first game continues to be great. Animation, voice acting, general style, everything that made the first version good is just as good or better. However, if you aren’t the type to replay old RPGs or aren’t as big of a fan of this game as others, there might not be enough of a substantial change to draw you back into it. Like I said above, if you didn’t play or finish the first one, play it! If you loved the first game and want something to tide you over until Persona 5 Scramble comes out, play it! If you played the first one and thought “That’s enough,” take a look at the above and see if that’s enough to give it a shot.