Game of the Year 2020

Take My Heart.

Video Version can be found here.

Hello again and welcome back to the Pretendies! Last time, I highlighted nine games which I thought deserved some praise. Now it’s time to give out the biggest award of them all: the Game of the Year Award. You may be asking yourself: you know, why didn’t he just include this game in the list last time? Well, my dear readers, the answer is quite simple. I never reviewed the best game I played last year so I wanted to give it a chance to shine while also giving it an unofficial review here on the blog. I had a great time playing this particular game and I can’t wait to unveil it. So, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, without further ado, may I present to you my Game of the Year for 2020.

What can I say about Persona 5 Royal? I guess I’ll start with a little background. This will sound blasphemous to some but I had never heard of the Persona series (at least it wasn’t on my radar) until about 2016 when the hype around Persona 5 intensified. When I finished Nier: Automata, I decided, on a whim, to buy Persona 5 and give it a go. I played around twenty hours of it and enjoyed it thoroughly. Despite my good time with Persona 5, however, I put it aside and never went back to it for reasons that remain a mystery even to me. By the time I wanted to return to it, Persona 5 Royal (an expanded version of the original game) was on its way so I decided to wait for it instead of going back to the base game.

Truth be told, I had no plans to buy Persona 5 Royal right when it first came out. I was going to finish up a few other games and then jump in at a later date. That was the plan until a family member came down with a fever and we all thought it was Covid-19. Thus, I had to quarantine for two weeks. “What game takes a while and will keep me occupied the entire time?” I remembered thinking. The answer was fairly obvious: that game was Persona 5 Royal.

In hindsight, I must say that I’m an idiot. No, I’m not an idiot for playing Persona 5 Royal. I’m an idiot for not finishing the original Persona 5 when it first came out back in 2017. Persona 5 Royal is an absolutely fantastic game which means Persona 5 was as well. I should not have waited so long to play this game or indeed this series.

As I said, Persona 5 Royal is an expanded version of Persona 5. It features new characters, locations, and the combat has been slightly tweaked. Royal is a JRPG in that it features turn-based combat and is an extremely long game. I know I lost most of you after I said “turn-based” but, and trust me on this, you do not want to miss this game. Especially if you enjoy good storytelling and excellent characters.

So, how long of a game is it? Well, let’s just say it took me over 113 hours to finish the game. That’s almost five whole days of my life, folks. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Jeez, what are you doing with your life? What a waste!” My only response to that is that I don’t want to hear it. I know many, many people who have watched TV shows which go on for a lot longer than the time it took me to finish Persona 5 Royal. And they’ve rewatched those shows multiple times, even! I don’t hear anyone giving them any shit about that. I don’t regret spending any one of those 113 hours on Persona 5 Royal one little bit and, I have to say, I was sad when it was over. It is, in my opinion, a triumph of video games and I hope I will be able to do it justice once I’m done talking about it here today.

Oh, that’s right, I’m not done talking about Persona 5 Royal just yet. It is a shame that I fell off of a writing cliff in 2020 and wasn’t able to write a proper review for the game. Maybe I’ll have to do that one day. We’ll see. Anyways, back to the Game of the Year!

You step into the shoes of a mostly silent protagonist who has to move from his hometown to Tokyo (Did I mention that Persona 5 Royal is set in Japan? Well, it is) following what we’ll just call an incident. He is a high schooler and you can name him anything you want. By day, you must live the life of a high schooler by going to class, answering questions from teachers, and working on building up your skills. By night, however, you become a member of the Phantom Thieves.

You see, things go awry for our protagonist on the very first day of school. While walking to Shujin Academy with a fellow classmate, he soon arrives at a castle instead of a school. As it turns out, you and your soon-to-be friend have stumbled into another world called the Metaverse. While there, both of you awake to a special power. This power, of course, is the ability to summon the eponymous Personas.

From there, the story turns into a wild romp of an ever-expanding group of high schoolers who, while using their new powers, begin going after powerful people who abuse said power. The story is long and it is wonderful. I loved nearly every second of it in case you couldn’t tell from the Game of the Year award it is receiving here today. I won’t go much into detail about the story because I believe it is best if you experience it for yourself. Just know that it will involve many twists and turns and you will meet many an awesome character along the way.

And how about those characters! Every single character in Persona 5 Royal is full of life and personality. From Morgana the cat (yes, I said cat) who helps you in the Metaverse to Lala Escargot, a bar owner, all of the characters were a delight and I loved meeting each and every one of them. It was made even better by the fact that you can make many of them your Confidants. Once a Confidant, you can hang out with them after school to not only gain valuable skills in battle but you are also treated to a side story for each Confidant.

Confidants were one of my favorite parts of Persona 5 Royal not only because of the tangible benefits you receive from developing these links but also because each Confidant has their own side story. From a doctor who is trying to find a cure for an illness to a politician trying to escape his corrupt past, all of the Confidants were a blast to both talk to and hang out with. It was also interesting trying to manage all of these links since chances are you won’t be able to max out all of the Confidants in one playthrough (unless you use a strategy guide that is). This is due in large part to the time management aspect of Royal.

Persona 5 Royal takes place over an entire calendar year (don’t worry, it’s not in real-time). Each activity and story event takes up a certain amount of time. Thus, you have to spend your time wisely. This is really my only complaint about Royal as a whole if I’m being honest. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed role-playing as a high schooler for a year but I think that the calendar aspect sometimes got in the way of the story. I would always complete a story objective early and then have to wait up to a week of in-game time to see what the outcome was. After writing this, it would appear that the issue is more with my own patience than with the game itself but I digress.

I mentioned battle earlier and yes, it is a turn-based affair. What I like most about Persona 5 Royal’s combat are all of the Personas. Each character who joins your protagonist on his journey has their own Persona with its own abilities and affinities. Joker, our main dude, has a special ability which allows him to carry multiple Personas. He can pick up new Personas through a sometimes-amusing conversation with them in the middle of battle or he can fuse new Personas in the Velvet Room (you’ll have to play the game to figure out what that is). I can see people spending a lot of time fusing new Personas but I really didn’t use it that often. I’m glad it’s there for those who like that kind of thing though.

I really enjoyed the battles a lot mainly due to weaknesses. Each Persona, including the ones your team uses, has a weakness and, when hit in battle by said weakness, it will fall down. Once down, you can do a 1-More attack to deal more damage. This isn’t the only option, either. You can Baton Pass your extra attack to a teammate who gains an attack boost based on how high your Confidant rank is with said character (keep in mind that every single system is connected to one another in Persona 5 Royal). It was a great feeling wiping out an entire enemy team by exploiting weaknesses and baton passing my way to victory. Since Joker can have several different Personas, he can become a one-man damage-dealing machine while the rest of the crew looks on. It’s good stuff. Oh, and if you knock all of the enemies down, you can do an all-out attack.

I also have to mention how all of the battles are full of visual flair. From the costumes of all the Phantom Thieves in the Metaverse to the victory screen for each character after an all-out attack to even the menus themselves, everything is designed to draw the eye. And how have I not mentioned how the rest of the game looks? It is nothing short of incredible if I do say so myself (and I do!). I have never seen a game with such a consistently bold look that stays that way throughout the entire game. The visual designers behind Persona 5 Royal deserve a raise is all I’m saying. I don’t know how Atlus is going to top the visual style of Royal in its games after this but boy am I excited to see them try.

And don’t get me started on how the game sounds either. I could seriously go on for a dozen more pages about the soundtrack. It is phenomenal. I have listened to this soundtrack more than any other video game OST while driving in my car. I applaud Shoji Meguro and anyone who helped him compose these pieces. From the battles themes (“Last Surprise” and “Take Over”) to a few of the shop tracks (“Butterfly Kiss” and “Layer Cake”) to even the themes when walking around town (“Tokyo Daylight” and “Beneath the Mask”), every track breathes new life into Persona 5 Royal and I absolutely adore it. Even the opening theme is fantastic (“Colors Flying High”).

It’s hard to pick a favorite track out of all them. If I was forced to choose though, I would have to say that “I Believe” is my favorite. I’m still not sure about that pick since all of the songs in this soundtrack are so damn good. My only complaint about the OST is that you can’t pick which theme plays during a battle. I prefer “Last Surprise” (which was the main battle theme from the original Persona 5) over “Take Over” but that doesn’t mean “Take Over” isn’t any good, it’s just my personal preference. Alright, I think I’m going to call it here on the soundtrack since, like I said, I could go on and on about it.

It truly is a shame that I didn’t get off my ass last year and write a real review for Persona 5 Royal. Further proof of how great I think the game is lies in my trophies. Yes, I Platinumed Persona 5 Royal. It is only the third Platinum I’ve ever gotten. That should tell you how much I enjoyed the game. That and the fact that I spent a hundred and thirteen hours on it!

Persona 5 Royal is excellent. In fact, I think I may have enjoyed the game way too much since all other games feel like lesser experiences by comparison. As I said, I didn’t review Royal last year hence it doesn’t have a score from yours truly…until now. In a Pretend Gamer first, I give Persona 5 Royal a whopping 10/10. It deserves every single one of those points and then some and that’s what makes it my Game of the Year for 2020. Play it. You won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for reading! What was your personal Game of the Year for 2020? You already know mine so I would like to hear yours. Let me know down below!

P.S. If, like me, you played and loved either Persona 5 or Persona 5 Royal then be sure to check out Persona 5 Strikers which came out earlier this year. It features the same characters with a new storyline and a different combat system. It’s the closest thing to a sequel we’ll ever get for Persona 5 so you should play it if you liked that game. Ok, that’s it. Goodbye!

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