Persona 5 Royal's character-driven storytelling and clear structure offers comfort in uncertain times

(Image credit: Atlus)

The world works in mysterious ways, and every once in a while it feels like all the stars align and a game comes into your life just when you need it most. I came to Persona 5 Royal just as everything in my own life rapidly started to change. I threw myself in with reckless abandon, and, having played the original release back in 2017, I've found it undeniably comforting to revisit a game I'd had such a great time experiencing the first time around. But more than that, in these strange and uncertain times, actively taking part in the story of the Phantom Thieves through Persona 5 Royal's day-by-day narrative structure gave some shape and meaning to any free time I had. It offered me a sense of control and reassurance I felt like I was losing in reality. 

As an expanded re-release, I could hardly wait to meet the new characters introduced into the mix this time too. Getting to know the mysterious red-haired student Kasumi Yoshizawa, and the part-time school counselor Takuto Maruki, was easily the most appealing part about Royal. The character development in Persona 5 is one of its biggest strengths, and Persona 5 Royal happily continues to deliver in this respect. Dedicating my time getting to know each character, and offering my support in whatever way I could, gave me the kind of catharsis I so sorely needed right now. 

I am thou, thou art I  

(Image credit: Atlus)

Watching the ragtag members of the Phantom Thieves gather around as a team to discuss how they'll try to help a corrupt person have a change of heart, I take a moment to appreciate just how easy it is to root for these characters. In a world where unscrupulous individuals are only interested in their own selfish desires, to the detriment of others, Persona 5 Royal makes it feel all too effortless to support the teenage protagonists who are doing everything they can to try to improve themselves and the world around them. 

I've always felt that reuniting with characters that meant a great deal to you at a certain point in your life is akin to seeing old friends you haven't seen in a while, and returning to rediscover the varying personalities that make up the Phantom Thieves breathed so much life into my otherwise empty flat each day. It's incredibly satisfying to watch each and every character grow and develop as individuals throughout the story, and I can't help but find the protagonists' drive to fight for what's right inspiring. 

The new faces introduced added even more depth and enjoyment to the adventure by building on Persona 5's ability to deliver strong character development through its storytelling. I was pleasantly surprised to find just how well the new characters were weaved into the narrative, without it feeling at all illogical. If you played the original release, you'll immediately notice some subtle changes right from the start, with the new protagonist Kasumi Yoshizawa making an appearance early on. 

(Image credit: Atlus)

As a sweet-natured first-year student, you start to notice that there's more going on beneath her very polite veneer and she's struggling with her own inner turmoils. Despite the fact that her social ranking is halved in comparison to the other characters, I couldn't help but get invested in becoming a shoulder for her to lean on whenever the opportunity presented itself and quickly got wrapped up in trying to help her. As I began to feel helpless in the real world, having the agency to help Kasumi offered me a sense of control, and it felt just as meaningful as helping any of the other characters. 

Part-time school counselor Takuto Maruki is also another new face who's role feels especially important. Throughout Persona 5, the young protagonists go through varying kinds of trauma and don't really get any sort of support to deal with it outside of their peers. In a world where so many adults are only interested in their own personal gain, Maruki is like a breath of fresh air. He truly wants to help the grossly neglected students come to terms with their own troubles and listen to what they have to say. Throughout the story, you learn more about his own personal history, and while he has his own motivations, Maruki feels like one of the few adult characters who's on your side. His presence gives so much reassurance and hope, and it was comforting to see someone in a role of authority try to help.

Take your time

(Image credit: Atlus)

Spending my time with the characters wasn't the only big source of comfort, though. Played out through a day-by-day calendar school year, the structure of Atlus' JRPG unexpectedly helped me so much more this time around as my own reality started to lose its usual sense of routine. The game will demand a, frankly, massive amount of hours from you, but it never feels like it's wasting any of them. The way you choose to spend your free time in Persona 5 Royal's stylish world is just as important as any time you spend infiltrating the dungeon-like Palaces.

Even doing run-of-the-mill things like brewing coffee, watching a DVD, or cleaning the floor of the cafe you live above, contributes to your social stats, or provides items with some practical use. It makes everything you do feel meaningful, and it gave me a sense of fulfillment I just couldn't get in reality given the current state of global affairs. In another sense, the freedom to go to the cinema, eat at a restaurant with a friend, or enjoy a spot of shopping in its virtual world helped me deal with the loss of being able to have the same freedoms in my own life. It gave great shape to my free time and restored a sense of routine. 

Diving right back into Persona 5 was all the more enjoyable thanks to the way Persona 5 Royal manages to feel both familiar and new at the same time. The way it naturally introduces the new characters you meet throughout the story makes it feel as though they were always a part of it, but the biggest surprise of all was just how comforting stepping back into the metaverse would turn out to be. 

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.