Persona 5 Royal reunites you with the Phantom Thieves in the best kind of way

(Image credit: Atlus)

As I start to navigate my way around Kamoshida's Palace in Persona 5 Royal, which is the first dungeon-like area you'll visit as the Phantom Thieves, I have to take a moment to just appreciate how vibrant and polished everything looks on PS4. Royal is essentially an expanded re-release of 2017's Persona 5, and right off the bat, I can't help but notice just how sharp and refined the graphics are, which make this already stylishly slick game look all the more eye-catching. 

In the world of Persona 5 Royal, you play as Joker, who leads a group of vigilante teens with special abilities. These teens band together to form the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, and by entering an alternate distorted dimension known as the metaverse, the Phantom Thieves can enter the minds of the corrupt, staging heists in order to try and make these seedy individuals change their wicked ways. 

 Hooking you with vines 

(Image credit: Sega Atlus)

I start my session partway through Kamoshida's Palace. As the first dungeon area to appear in Persona 5, it's a great opportunity to see how Royal is expanding upon and refreshing the existing content. While parts of the Palace will be very familiar to those who played the original release, the first noticeable difference comes with the introduction of the Grappling Hook. Joker is now able to grapple to different areas around the palace, which can give you access to brand new rooms and areas. 

The first new area I came across in the Palace is right after my first encounter with a  fixture on a wall that I can grapple onto. You'll know right away if you're nearby a place to grapple to thanks to a pinging noise that indicates you're near a grappling location. 

After swinging across, I find myself in front of a door covered in vines. These viney new doors, as I soon find out, are rooms that contain Ishi – Ishi are new collectible items that appear to resemble human skulls with a glowing stone inside. Morgana tells me that these Ishi have manifested because of negative distortions in the palace. The Ishi I find is called the Red Ishi of Lust, which reflects the corruption of Kamoshida.

Outside of letting you catapult up to ledges and across gaps to access new areas, you can also use the grappling hook on wandering enemies. Doing so will pull you towards a foe and ambush them, which gives you an upper hand in combat. Overall, the grappling hooks add a fun new way to traverse the Palace, and opens up the dungeon in interesting ways by giving you access to secret passages and hidden rooms. 

 A visit to Kichijoji 

(Image credit: Atlus)

The adventures of the Phantom Thieves takes place in Tokyo. During my session, I also get the chance to visit Kichijoji, a new location introduced in Persona 5 Royal that gives you access to a whole host of new shops, activities, and missions. I take a spell to wander through the streets and talk to a friendly person at the information kiosk, who's all too happy to regale me with the interesting sights and locales I can visit in the area. 

From a temple to an optician and a peppering of interesting new food stalls, there's plenty to do and discover. Persona 5 Royal takes place over the course of a calendar year in monthly cycles, and just like other areas in the game, certain venues and restaurants aren't open at certain times of day, or days of the week. 

So, for example, you can only go to the temple in the daytime, and the beef stall is so popular that you won't have a chance of getting anything unless you pop by on a Sunday night. Persona 5 did a fantastic job of making its locations feel alive, with people conversing on the sidelines and ambient sounds surrounding the area, and Royal continues to deliver in this regard in Kichijoji.

After taking a jaunt down all of the little side streets, I head to the new billiards room, where I play a round of darts with the actual ray of sunshine, Ryuji. There are of course pool tables in the room, but Ryuji tells me we can try it out another time – as with all activities, doing one of them will trigger the next part of the day. 

Playing darts isn't just a pleasant way to pass the time with your pals, though. This particular social activity has some benefits that come into play in the metaverse. After a round of darts, my bond and the effects of the Baton Pass move strengthens with Ryuji - this increases his damage and HP and SP recover stats when I use the move in battle. The Baton Pass move enables you to pass your turn to another party member once you've performed a critical or effective attack against a foe. Darts was the only activity I came across in my session that had this effect, but as with many other activities you can perform, increasing your rankings adds more weight to the way you choose to spend your time in the real world.  

Walking in the rain

(Image credit: Atlus)

After exploring Kichijoji, I was eager to meet one of the new characters, Kazumi Yoshizawa. While our meeting was only brief, and I didn't get to fight alongside her in combat, I encounter her at Shujin Academy. Offering her my umbrella, we walk through the rain. It's here that I get a bit of exposition about the character and how others view her. I don't get to interact with her for too long before the session ends, but from what I learned from the encounter, she's a very likeable person who I can't wait to get to know better. 

After all, discovering who these characters are, and spending time with them in both the real world and the metaverse, is half the fun of Persona 5 – and for me, getting to experience the game all over again with some new faces is where the real appeal of Royal shines through. 

I also jumped into a new feature called the Thieves Den, which you're able to access and enter from the in-game menu. The Thieves Den is a hub-like area that contains your very own customisable Palace. The first thing you'll see is a large "Palace Maker" vending machine where you can buy decorative items, such as statues of characters from the different Palaces you've completed, as well as Palace decals. 

Outside of dressing the place up however you wish, you can play a new card game to earn P-Medals – the currency you use to buy new decorative items – as well as listen to music from the soundtrack, rewatch cutscenes from the game, look at artwork, and view the trophy rewards you've earned.

Diving back into the metaverse as Joker feels even better this time around. As someone who played Persona 5 when it released in 2017 and invested 100+ hours to complete it, I can happily say that the new content makes for a refreshing return to the Phantom Thieves. And if you've been sitting on this one, it just makes sense to experience this excellent JRPG for the first time by jumping into Persona 5 Royal when it releases on March 31. 

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.