There comes a time in every hero’s story where they grow to resent the responsibility that comes with saving the world and long for a normal life. The novelty of being the world’s secret protector wears thin and you hope for a time when you could just go to the movies with your friends or just rest on your own accord and not because a talking cat told you to do so.
Persona 5 Royal gave me that moment in a game of darts.
Earlier this month I had an opportunity to play a fair bit of the new content Royal has to offer. This included a revamped boss fight against the abusive volleyball coach Suguru Kamoshida, trying out some new traversal mechanics attained by giving protagonist and Phantom Thieves leader Joker a grappling hook, and a chance to explore the “Thieves Den,” which is a Persona 5 museum of sorts that lets you watch cutscenes, listen to music, and even walk around the space as different characters.
Royal has an assortment of bullet points about everything new it brings to an already great (even if it was doing its damndest to alienate people with its treatment of gay men, abuse victims, women) RPG. This includes additions like new locations, a new party member in gymnast Kasumi Yoshizawa, quality of life improvements, and just more of the game we all know.
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I got to see a lot of these things, but the part I keep going back to is a quick trip to Kichijoji with Ryuji Sakamoto. This is a character I spent a lot of time with in the original game (and also still wish the game would let Joker date) as he dealt with his abuse at the hands of Kamoshida, helped him train around the tracks of Shujin Academy, and generally enjoyed his company as my best friend and co-captain of this Phantom Thieves ship.
When we went to Kichijoji, we were there to play a game of darts at a club in the city. It had in-game benefits, including learning new skills to use in battle just by doing it. That’s probably enough incentive for some people to take time out of any of the many days Persona 5 lays before them to play a game of darts, but for Ryuji, the whole thing was like an adventure between the two of us. Upon our arrival, Ryuji found a flier that said “darts is a party when you play in pairs,” and there was no talking him out of this game turned team-building exercise. Literally all we were doing was throwing darts, but his undying support just set the tone for the rest of the trip.
“When you’re on the line, the pressure’s insane, but it makes you wanna do your best for your partner!” – Ryuji Sakamoto
Persona 5 has a way of making even the most mundane moments feel larger than life. Some of the most precious moments of that game to me were ones like taking all the Phantom Thieves to Destinyland, a Disneyland analog where we had the whole theme park to ourselves thanks to Haru’s connections. Or when Ryuji, Morgana, Ann, and I all celebrated taking down Kamoshida by going out to a buffet. Ryuji and Ann started freaking out upon realizing we had a time limit, then proceeded to stuff their faces, as we all knew we’d probably never get the chance to eat at a fancy place like that again. Persona 5 was my favorite game of 2017, but when you ask me what I like about it, my mind immediately wanders to points like those where I felt most endeared to the Phantom Thieves as people. The battles, the stylish presentation, and even the music I still listen to regularly to this day, are all secondary.
Mechanically speaking, darts is a means to an end, a way to spend your day that has in-game value that helps you perform better in combat and just generally be a better Phantom Thief. But to Ryuji, our time together meant something. It was a new memory made between the two of us. Going in to Royal, I think I’m more excited to see those moments, both revisiting old ones and experiencing new ones, than I am to fight new enemies, see old battles renewed and more elaborate, and explore larger versions of the Palaces I’ve seen before.
Since Persona 5 came to the west three years ago, I haven’t been without some new game or experience that brought the Phantom Thieves back into my life for an extended period of time. We danced the night away together in Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight, explored elaborate labyrinths and met up with other groups of shadow-fighting teens in Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, and sometime in the next year or so we’ll take on a new threat Dynasty Warriors style in Persona 5 Scramble.
With Persona 5 Royal, I’ll fight every fight again, I’ll go everywhere the grappling hook takes me, and I’ll try once again to balance the life of a Phantom Thief and a student at Shujin Academy. But more than anything, I’m just happy to see my friends again. Whatever form that takes.
Persona 5 Royal will come to PlayStation 4 on March 31.