How does the flagrant World Ends With You ripoff fare now that it’s achieved its destiny of being portable?
The drumbeat of “put Persona 5 on Switch” has been sounding virtually non-stop since the second month of the Switch’s life, and the cries only intensified after the main character became the first part of the first Super Smash Bros Ultimate Fighter’s Pass in 2019. Now that Sega and Atlus have started to bring the previously-PlayStation exclusive series’s main entries to all platforms this week, the question immediately became how the Switch would handle a game previously exclusive to the PlayStation 4. And after several months of student life and stylish fighting, Persona 5 Royal holds up perfectly in its portable form.
The three Persona games that will come to Switch between now and January are all crosses between social adventures and turn-based RPGs, but Persona 5 Royal is the only one to be set predominantly in Tokyo proper. The self-named main character is stuck in the city as a condition of probation for trumped-up assault charges and on their first day at their new school find themselves trapped in an alternate reality created by overpowered desires of authority figures known as the “Metaverse”. (Any similarities between Persona 5 Royal and the world as it exists in October 2022 are entirely coincidental, though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.) In the “Metaverse”, the main character and several classmates manifest aspects of their personalities - the titular Personas - which emerge as famous rebellious figures of myth and end up forming a group commonly referred to as the Phantom Thieves: as the Thieves move through the school year, they have to take down corrupted adults of increasing power before eventually battling the human cognition itself. They are aided by “Confidants”, characters who provide expanded capabilities through “deals” with the protagonist.
Persona games are known for a slow start and snowballing quickly - Persona 5 isn’t as bad in this regard, though it did take nine days of ingame time before I could choose what I wanted to do after school. The first in game day is April 9, while the first day choice opened up for what to do was the 18th; this took about five hours of real time. For comparison, Persona 3 Portable starts on the 6th of April and open exploration starts on the 22nd, though a week of that is skipped due to the main character being rendered comatose. Between school life and after school, you can build the social statistics of your main character through activities or increase the bond with confidants to provide enhancements to dungeon combat, which will take up most of the time. Clearing out one of the prescribed “Palaces” - major ingame dungeons - is still also a three-afternoon affair at minimum; at least one day to locating the boss area, a second to the procedure of “sending a calling card” so the Phantom Thieves can force the boss to appear, and a third to fighting the boss. A major complaint about the original was that the mission control character/team mascot Morgana would frequently force the main character to go to sleep even when it wouldn’t be warranted; this reached the point where Morgana’s voice actress recorded a version of the famous children’s book Go The F**k To Sleep. This is mostly alleviated in Royal; although the nights where you can’t leave the home base are still common, there are now more options for doing activities that boost the social stats in the home base (devoting the days to Confidant building).
Persona 5’s battle system has some shades of the Shin Megami Tensei V battle system, though the SMT “Press Turn” system is replaced by the “1 More!” system. A critical hit or hitting an elemental weakness will give the user another turn immediately, though P5 adds the “Baton Pass” system which allows the follow-up to be given to a teammate for additional damage - handy for mixed-weakness parties. There are eight magical elements which work in matching pairs; fire and ice, lightning and wind, “Bless” and “Curse”, and the paired spares of Psychic and Nuclear. Add in disparate options for melee and gun attacks, and there’s a lot of variety in the combat. As the main character has the ability to command multiple Persona in battle, a simplified form of the SMT negotiation system can be used to obtain new Persona - though most of the Persona will be handled through fusing later on. The battles are the only thing controlled by the game’s five difficulty settings - ranging from “Satefy” to “Merciless”, though Merciless also offers triple damage for critical and elemental weaknesses which can be abused to get through the reduced damage.
I ended up spending far too much time in the Velvet Room doing Persona fusion, because if you give me a list of monsters to obtain I’m going to attempt to fill that list as much as possible. Basic fusion is available at the start with a restriction based on the main character’s level, though it can be turned into a soft cap by around level 30 and made essentially free with enough ingame progress. Skill inheritance from the component Persona is available by default, and later it is possible to not only make new Persona but also turn them into items. A “Network” fusion option unlocks early in the game’s second half, though it will probably fill up quickly when the live game launches.
Although this may sound familiar to those who played the original in 2017, the Royal version originally released in 2020 added a pair of additional Confidants and some new elements to flesh out the world. Chief among these is additional active time; the original version famously had its final battle involve saving Christmas, while Royal has combat running until February. Some of the new Royal content was previous DLC from the original including a whole host of powerful Personas and the previous Merciless difficulty, while other new content includes new minigames that if played to completion can utterly break the game. However, I do have to raise concerns about one new minigame in particular: a darts game was added, and the aiming is forced to motion controls with no option I could find to disable them. I question why this is the case, especially since the game is coming out on Xbox platforms the same day which do not have built in gyro controls. It is possible to mitigate some of the control variance on the darts, though they have to be purchased with ingame funds that are much better diverted to equipment or Persona fusion. Hopefully this is an option added in a patch, though a patch never came to disable motion on the PlayStation 4 version either.
It came out just before launch that Sega handled the port of Persona 5 Royal to Switch, and as far as I can tell it adapted to the Switch without any issues. I had no crashes or slowdown in 50+ hours of gametime, with the only technical hiccup being related to the game’s network connectivity. The “Thieves’ Guild” is an option that allows for the network fusion, an optional save in battle, and determining what to do each day, though if I put the Switch to sleep it would disconnect on wakeup and wouldn’t reconnect unless I backed fully out to the title screen. It didn’t affect things all that much in the review, though it may be something to watch for when the game is live. Royal also changed up some of the translation to make things clearer and modify some of the more problematic content, which was finally the comic relief it was intended to be rather than a highly problematic gag.
2017 was a killer year for game soundtracks, and Persona 5 was my favorite of the lot; the meme was that Persona 5 invented jazz music, but it definitely made it popular. The ambient themes are just as good; I have found myself randomly humming “Beneath the Mask” during breaks at work, and the battle themes rock just as hard as they did with the original. The new music that I’ve been able to see fits right in with the existing sound, and though “Last Surprise” returns as the battle theme and is still great, getting the drop on an enemy to the tune of “Take Over” feels even better. The new voice acting for Royal-specific characters is also strong, especially another great turn from the late Billy Kametz as the Councillor confidant. The enemies have unique designs and the city areas feel alive, even in handheld mode.
I have had some variation of “Port Persona 5 (Royal) to Switch you cowards” in my writing for years now, since it was my favorite game of 2017 - and given the company it’d be keeping in Nier Automata, Super Mario Odyssey, and the original Mario + Rabbids that’s a high bar. It took me five and a half years to get a second playthrough for Persona 5, but the third might be faster than that if I can get through January’s gauntlet quickly.