Persona 5 Royal Review Stealing My Skeptical Heart On Steam Deck (2023)

I’m still here, reeling from the massive, vibrant, irresistible world of Tokyo, alongside the vast, fantastical worlds of the metaverse — all aiding in telling a fascinating tale of a school student by day who changes the hearts of corrupted villains when not in class, with so much depth in between.But all of this has left me with one burning question. What was it about playing on the Steam Deck that made me fall in love with Persona 5 Royal? And for those who are keen to take this gigantic RPG on the go, how does Atlus’ game perform on the Valve handheld?

Some history

I first played Persona 5 on PS5, courtesy of the PlayStation Plus Collection, and I really tried my best to get into it. I know what my friends all said about the game — put simply, they all called it the gold standard of Japanese RPGs. But I never quite saw it, and I don’t know why.Maybe it’s the limited time available to fire it up (having a console in the living room does restrict your chances to play), or maybe it’s my impatience when it comes to wanting to get into a game. But ultimately, I’ve just never really been a fan of JRPGs.To me, the text-heavy readathon with a thousand different things to do and a slow-paced turn-based combat system that feels overly tactical just bored me. I’ve tried many games, many times, but ever since playing Final Fantasy X on my PS2 at the age of 12, I just never got the hype around these types of games.And then, I fired up Persona 5 Royal on Steam Deck, which completely changed my entrenched mindset about these types of games.

What changed?

It’s a fair question, and a tricky one to answer, as it comes down to three things: story, depth, and personality.Persona 5 has been around for years, so chances are you already know the story. You are a high school student in Tokyo who works with a mysterious cat to create a vigilante group that fights for justice against corrupt adults. This is done by entering the metaverse — an entirely different dimension to the city you explore in the day, and unleashing your inner persona to battle many fantastical creatures.Of course, I’m simplifying it, but you get the gist and I wouldn’t want to divulge more, so as to not ruin it for newcomers. There are some moments where the story does veer in a strange direction, either going really unnecessarily dark or treating female characters as objects with very odd dialogue choices for you to encourage it.But once these pass, you’re right back on track and following every single beat of the plot with keen attention. Oh, and for those unaware, the Royal edition is an altogether bigger version of an already massive game: sporting new activities, new characters, many more school activities, and bigger, more complex palaces (more on those later).

Nailing the fundamentals

Of course, this is an RPG with heavy dungeon crawling elements, so it’s got to get the basics right in the form of a turn-based system that gives you plenty of tactical intrigue alongside some room for experimentation, which Persona 5 Royal absolutely nails.It starts with a series of dungeons, from the randomly generated Mementos that you can drop into at any time to palaces — grand, bizarre levels that are a metaphorical construction of every corrupt adult’s personality (and key to the progression of the main story).Both of these are packed to the gills with a diverse ecosystem of unique enemies at different levels of power, keeping you on your toes in regards to switching up your strategy to win. Every new foe you face comes with no prior knowledge from your team of fighters in the vigilante group, so the first few moves come with a “risk vs. reward” strategy of trying to find its weaknesses.A lot of the time, it is common sense (e.g. if you spot a snowman, of course it’s weak to fire), but it does provide an interesting dimension to each skirmish. Then comes the rest of your confidants in your group. If you wish, you can control each one manually, but there is also the option to give them tactical orders on how they should act in battle.I tried to control each character myself for a while, but quickly realized there was just too many stats to keep track of for my small brain. But having the characters act based on more general orders, such as acting as a healer to the rest of the team in more difficult battles, or asking everyone to preserve SP in the earlier stages, made the whole tactical experience speedy and all the more enjoyable.Speaking of automation, in a stroke of convenient genius, Atlus notices the boring rigmarole of straight up murdering the same old low-level characters over and over again in earlier stages, in the situation of grinding and leveling up. That is why the team has implemented a fast forward button, which allows all your characters to act automatically and zoom through any battles. It’s a nice time saver!And then, on top of this comes so many more additional tasks and content to get stuck in.

So much to do

As for the depth of the whole experience, I’ve played (and got bored of) many games like this in the past, because of the huge amount of menial tasks that take you off the main campaign path. While these tasks may be a fun distraction for a short while, none of them made a lasting impact on you or your character. They were just set dressing that may give you a little extra money.However, Persona 5 closely ties its Tokyo-based social simulator and dungeon crawling together, in which everything you do outside of the metaverse can empower your character. And the list of things you can do is far too long for me to write in this piece, including hitting the batting cages to improve your proficiency, hanging out with confidants to improve your relationship and unlock new arcana effects from their persona, crafting tools and items to use in the metaverse, watching DVDs to improve certain character traits, or even taking part in a burger eating challenge to improve your guts.This all sounds very strange, I get that, but within the gorgeously realized and super deep world of Persona 5, combined with the fact that everything runs on a calendar that takes you through your school year, the satisfaction of planning and optimizing what you do every day is immensely satisfying, and the itch to do it all grows quickly.For newcomers and skeptics (like me), who are left bamboozled by the amount of stuff to do, Atlus helps you answer the question of “what should I be doing right now” with Thieves Guild. This is an online service that gives you a subtle helping hand by pooling data from all the other players — be it showing you how other gamers answered questions in class, what level they were at before tackling bigger dungeons in the metaverse, or (more importantly) showing you what other people did with their spare time in the game.It’s a handy feature that is warmly welcomed, giving you a slightly clearer path through these vast swaths of content, which is all presented with that same infectious personality that you can’t help but fall in love with.And that’s what captured me most. It’s not the most graphically intense game (something that I’ll talk about in a few minutes), but there is an almost unmatched artistic flair to every single element, from every enemy in the metaverse within the grand, bizarre levels that are a metaphorical construction of every corrupt adult’s personality to the lively bustle and bright lights of Japan’s capital city.This even trickles down to the menu screens and loading transitions — everything has been meticulously crafted with the purpose of grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and dragging you into this world. Plus, I can’t get the damn soundtrack out of my head. Every second is consumed by the smooth beat of Café Leblanc (and it will happen to you, too).

Persona 5 Royal Steam Deck performance: Best settings

Thanks to Persona 5’s focus on stylistic design rather than absolute graphical fidelity, your Steam Deck won’t break a sweat playing this at the highest settings.In fact, you don’t actually need to touch any of the settings. With Graphic and Shadow Quality set to “high,” along with a 100% rendering scale and SMAA anti-aliasing, Persona runs at a fairly solid 60 fps at the 1280 x 800 resolution — deviating only in busier scenes, which is easily forgiven with the more laid back turn-based gameplay on offer here.Connected to a 4K TV, you’re still getting a smooth 60 fps, but that is primarily because the maximum supported resolution via Steam Deck is 720p. I’d love to see a software update that allows you to increase the resolution and make the most of all those extra pixels, because while it is an artistically gorgeous game, 720p blown up to a big screen is pretty pixelated.Beyond that, there is one weird issue. My PS5 DualSense controller wasn’t registered by the game, which may limit the versatile play potential. Hopefully this is just some early bug that is patched out in the future!

Persona 5 PC performance

Finally, a quick word on PC performance. This is a Steam game after all, not just a Steam Deck title. I tested it across two systems: the mid-range Asus TUF Gaming F15 with 12th Gen Intel Core i7 and an RTX 3060 GPU, and my super old bargain bin Asus ROG Zephyrus G15 (GTX 1650 and 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen 7).Both of these systems more than held themselves — the QHD panel on the TUF F15 running at a super stable 120 fps, whereas the max 1080p resolution of the Zephyrus G15 also hits that max framerate with only small amounts of stuttering.All in all, Persona 5 Royal is a graphically basic game, so whatever your system, chances are you’re still going to have a good time.

Bottom Line

So here I am, a JRPG convert, courtesy of Persona 5 Royal — a massive game with an intriguing story, tons of depth, and amazing artistic flair when it comes to visuals and the soundtrack.With impressive performance across all systems, this is more than just a worthwhile cop on Game Pass. It’s a must-play for anyone who can get their hands on it, thanks to a strong core turn-based experience with a genuinely infectious personality.It managed to steal my skeptical heart and make me love JRPGs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have many more hours of my life to spend on this piece of gaming greatness.

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