Persona 5 Royal's long-awaited console ports were put to the test

Persona 5 Royal’s long-awaited console ports were put to the test

Persona 5 is one of the most acclaimed JRPGs of modern times, with a compelling, character-driven story, a satisfying turn-based combat system, and a confident sense of style. Technically, it’s a very strange game: basically, it’s a PS3 title with assets and rendering technology built around Sony’s 2006 system, but finally released in 2016 on PS3 and PS4. An expanded re-release called Persona 5 Royal came out a few years later on PS4, loaded with new content, gameplay improvements, and visual tweaks. After a three-year wait, that version of the game is finally out on non-PlayStation platforms, including current-gen console versions and a much-requested Switch port. So how does this PS3-derived game scale up to the PS5 and Series X and is the Switch release all it should be?

Persona 5 had a slightly odd pregnancy. It was developed solely with PS3 hardware in mind, but after missing a few release dates it ended up shipping to PS3 and PS4 in Fall 2016, as one of the last major titles to reach Sony’s seventh generation system. The models are stylized but low poly, the environments are boxy and use basic baked lighting, and the texture resolution is poor. The PS4 version of the game benefited from a 1080p rendering resolution and user interface but left everything else unchanged – a very bare bones conversion of the PS3 code.

With Persona 5 Royal, you get the feeling that Atlus tried to make the game fit a little better on the latest generation of hardware. Some of the more awesome textures in the original game are replaced with higher resolution assets. New artwork adorns many of the game’s buildings and streets. Depth of field is added to certain gameplay segments, while 2D elements are redrawn with smaller text and new overlays. Lighting and color grading are also being reworked, with the updated game sporting a brighter, punchier look. These are the sort of differences that are only apparent in side-by-side comparisons, but the improvements are there. It’s definitely still a PS3 title at its core of course – perhaps making it ideal for the Nintendo Switch.

Persona 5 Royal – there are no “bad” ports here, just a general feeling of a lack of ambition.

The Switch translation of Persona 5 Royal is truly a full and feature-complete version of the game without any fundamental cuts, meaning that the same structure, style and gameplay as the other console releases are present and correct. On the technical side, there are aspects worth praising as well: loading times are still mercifully short and effectively masked by short animations, and despite a fairly large reduction in file size, the animated cutscenes are largely free of visible artifacts.

However, I came away with mixed feelings about the ultimate result. There are some big problems here. First, texture resolution has taken a big hit across the board. Switch uses texture assets derived from the Royal version, but they are significantly degraded compared to their display on PS4. In the worst case, the result can look a bit messy and in some cases we get missing material properties. This also has a knock-on effect on the game’s baked shadow, all of which leads to the conclusion that the port isn’t quite there with the PS4 version. Not only that, the rendering resolution has been reduced. In docked mode, the game is rendered in 1440×810, slightly above 720p. Portable gaming is further reduced to just 960×540.

Persona 5 is a game that relies heavily on raw pixel count to resolve fine details, like the thin lines surrounding character models. It exhibits a very high-contrast aesthetic without any image processing, and lacks even a simple post-AA, so aliasing and other visual flaws are clearly displayed. At 1080p the picture quality is already somewhat marginal but at 810p the picture looks quite messy. It’s not too bad, but I expected a stronger result here: at heart, Persona 5 Royal is still a PS3 game at heart, and many seventh-gen efforts run at 1080p in teleplay on the Switch.

The original Persona 5 vs. the Royal version – the upgrades are many, but only noticeable in side-by-side comparisons.
Comfort 3D resolution UI resolution Performance
Switch 810p/540p 1080p/720p 30 fps
Playstation 4 1080p 1080p 30 fps
PlayStation 4 Pro 2160p 1080p 30 fps
Xbox One S 900 p 900 p 30 fps
Xbox One X 2160p 1080p 30 fps
PlayStation 5 2160p 2160p 60 fps
Xbox Series X 2160p 2160p 60 fps
Xbox Series S 1080p 1080p 60 fps

But it’s the portable mode that really disappoints. At 540p, Persona 5 Royal renders around 56 percent of the full 720p panel resolution – and it shows. Expect a blurry and imprecise solution with clumsy handling of distant details. This is far from the pixel-perfect 720p I was hoping for. At least Atlus has gone for a bilinear scale here, unlike some other recent low-res Switch releases, so aliasing artifacts aren’t highlighted unnecessarily. And the UI seems to render at the console’s output resolution in both modes, so it tends to look a lot cleaner than the 3D content. A plus point? All 3D elements play at 30fps without any issues, so at least the performance is consistent.

I was disappointed with the Switch, but the results improve as we scale up to a more capable kit. In terms of basic visuals, it’s just about what you’d expect – essentially, we’re getting the PS4 version rendered at different pixel counts. There are no obvious differences in texture quality, shadows, drawing distance or anti-aliasing. But higher resolutions improve Persona 5’s image quality tremendously, and there’s a lot of spread here. The PS4 delivers a 1080p image as previously mentioned, as does the Xbox Series S. The PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, PS5 and Xbox Series X all deliver a full 2160p resolution without any quirks to suggest a non-native presentation.

They’re all pretty simple – but there are two exceptions. First, the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X get a 4K 3D resolution, but miss out on a 4K interface and get the same 1080p 2D art as the PS4. And the Xbox One S only counts at 900p for 3D content, and appears to have a 900p interface as well, which feels odd and out of place given the age and visual complexity of this game. A 1080p display seems well within the Xbox One’s capabilities, despite its limitations in more demanding software.

Nintendo Switch and all last-gen console versions of the game run at a rock-solid lock at 30 fps.

Stacking the consoles side by side, there is a big difference in basic image resolution. Persona 5 has no anti-aliasing of any kind, so increased rendering resolutions greatly improve the consistency of the presentation. Detail that looks barely coherent on the One S is clear and crisp on the One X, for example. But even at 4K, there’s still plenty of jagged edges and image fragmentation on fine details, like character outlines and highlights. Performance is at least clocked in at pretty decent levels. To break it down, Persona 5 Royal is aiming for 30fps on last-gen machines and 60fps on current-gen. And like the Switch, that goal is effectively met, as in all my hours of testing I didn’t see a single frame rate drop in 3D content on any home console platform. Regardless of the system, you should expect a very consistent experience here.

Persona 5 has very fast animation with no motion blur of any kind, so cutscenes and complex attacks can be a bit difficult to follow in real time on last generation consoles. Everything has a staccato, slightly choppy look that no doubt goes well with the game’s anime stylings but doesn’t always feel good to look at. The increase to 60 fps on current generation machines basically solves these problems, with much cleaner motion animation. At 4K60 on PS5 and Series X, the game looks particularly appealing – a sharp, crisp and smooth rendition of Persona 5 that manages to hold its own remarkably well.

There is one last platform to take a look at: Steam Deck. Valve’s Linux-based laptop looks set to give us the best of both worlds – a portable experience that rivals current-gen consoles. And at first, that’s exactly what you can get. Running the Steam Deck at 1080p resolution, I was able to run the game at max settings at 60fps in the opening sections without issue with more or less identical visuals and performance to the Series S. The Steam Deck even reported fairly low usage levels, with low GPU clocks and minimal CPU usage.

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox series consoles all run at a solid 60 fps from start to finish – but unfortunately Steam Deck can’t match that performance.

Unfortunately, as soon as I got into urban areas, I experienced some hard performance drops for seemingly no reason, without a corresponding spike in utilization or clock speed. Lowering the resolution or settings had no effect in my tests – the drops remained no matter what I tried. Early dungeon sections also exhibited severe FPS issues. Limiting the framerate to 30fps using the in-game framerate limiter seemed to work well, however, and ended up being preferable to the SteamOS limiter as it caused a much smaller increase in input lag. Switching the display to 40Hz is another option for a smoother, consistent experience. These would be my preferred ways to play the Steam Deck – but I don’t think the deck is particularly well suited for this type of game.

And that’s because Persona 5 has a stark, bold color scheme that makes extensive use of pure black. Many UI elements and darker 3D content are intended to be completely black. Unfortunately, the Steam Deck’s IPS LCD screen is pretty mediocre by modern standards and lacks the contrast ratio to really do Persona 5’s art justice. Dull gray tones tend to dominate the image, especially in areas at night. The Switch OLED ends up producing a much more visually dynamic image in my opinion for portable gaming, with a bold, powerful look with beautiful pure blacks. It offers 3D at a much lower resolution but features display technology better suited for this particular title. It’s not an easy choice, but if I had to choose, I think I’d lean towards an OLED Switch for this game.

In conclusion, Persona 5 Royal is a highly engaging, unique title that packs TV-style serialized storytelling into a 100+ hour single player adventure. In relation to the original game, this is more of a remix than a significantly expanded title – I’ve beaten both and my understanding is that there’s probably around 15 hours of extra content here, in addition to various tweaks and improvements to the game. But this is definitely the best version of Persona 5, and now it’s available to play on basically every modern system. The game scales fairly predictably across the more capable home console platforms, but these ports don’t seem to translate Persona 5’s PS3-era tech very effectively, so more power-limited consoles – the Switch in particular – come in with serious visual compromises relative to the PS4 release. There aren’t any bad ports here necessarily, just a couple that fall short of expectations for modern conversions of seventh-gen software.

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