Anyone who knows me, knows how much I bloody love Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal. They are best-in-class JRPGs to which, unfortunately, all JRPGs must now be compared. I have said on multiple occasions that I firmly believe that Persona 5 and the release over when I should have been studying for my finals led to me dropping a grade at university – and I don’t regret it. Furthermore, Persona 5 Royal was my favourite game of last year.
Naturally then, if something new comes out related to something which I enjoyed so much, I’m going to check it out. Whilst I didn’t expect Strikers to be anywhere near as good as the mainline games, I was pleasantly surprised with what we have here. I am going get right to it, this is going to be a lengthy piece and I’m really sorry about that.
Your favourite anime returns, complete with a bath house and beach episode
The story for Persona 5 Strikers picks up after the events of Persona 5, but omits anything which happened in Persona 5 Royal, that means no Kasumi and no Maruki. The Phantom Thieves have all gone their separate ways but have all decided to meet up at the start of their summer holiday. Reuniting in Leblanc coffee shop was something I very much needed, having not seen my real friends in person for several months at this point. P5S makes no apologies if you haven’t played the original, if you don’t know who these characters are, very little effort is made to introduce you to their previous struggles. I would not recommend jumping in here if you haven’t touched the original.
Whilst going out and shopping for barbecue supplies for a party, you stumble into the metaverse, another version of reality where cognitive being and scary monsters live. You come to learn that a new evil is manipulating this other world and nullifying all your hard work over the previous game. You then discover your first villain and with reports of more cases similar to this cropping up around Japan, you decide to jump in an RV, travel the country and shut down these evil doers once again.
There isn’t much point in me covering the characters so much, if you have played the mainline game, you already know that Ryuji and Yusuke are my bros and Makoto is “best girl”. The new additions here are both solid too, Sophie and Zenkichi are nice additions to the cast. The idea of having an adult crew member is interesting and leads to some much-needed grounding of the Phantom Theives’ lofty goals.
The set up is fairly simple, essentially, it serves as a means to bring the gang back together and see how the Phantom Thieves have grown, in this regard it succeeds, but there are some nice twists and turns along the way to boot. It remains interesting and enjoyable throughout.
Looking cool Joker
The first thing that should be praised about Omega Force’s foray into the world of Persona is that it feels just like P5, despite playing completely differently. It is clear that a lot of effort went into adapting what makes Persona 5 so unique and how they can turn this into a more kinetic combat system. All the hooks of P5’s turn based combat make an appearance here, “all out attacks”, “one more” and baton passes are all integral to mastering the combat and helps make this feel like a true sequel rather than a cheap spin-off, which it so easily could have.
The UI and menus all have that distinctive rebellious feel of Persona 5 too, looking at some screenshots of this, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the two titles, particularly if you were a layman. Discussions are still punctuated with large cross-screen flashes and the dialogue is, whilst less engaging than P5, is still classic anime. If you loved the presentation of P5, as I clearly do, you’ll feel right at home jumping into Strikers.
Another area in which Persona 5 truly excels against basically every video game ever made, it is with the music. Good lord, the music is fantastic. The same can thankfully be said in Strikers also, and typically skews more towards my music taste too – particularly with the more high energy punk arrangements of Persona 5 songs like Last Surprise and Rivers in the Desert. It would have been easy to just use the tracks already present in the mainline game, but the extra efforts and energy that is injected through these new arrangements to complement the frantic combat is awesome. On top of this there are new tracks made just for this game, and they all rule, and feel especially true to the series bringing in Lyn for vocals once again. I’m so happy I have more Persona 5 music to cram in my earholes, if you can’t tell. Oh, another thing to remember, if you have P5 or P5R save data on your system, you can access extra music from those titles too. Neat.
Just like any Persona game, it can be split into two halves. One part is high school dating simulator, the other half is fighting demons and saving the world. The beauty of this in prior games is how the two interact, and you it is easy to see how the scaled-back nature of P5S has impacted this balance.
Friendship can literally solve anything
The first thing which is taken heavily from the Persona series is long and extensive dialogue sequences, if you’re accustomed to Persona, you come to expect this, but if you’re new to the series it can be a little daunting. Similar to how Kojima goes a bit wild with his cutscene length, the same can be true here, with some sequences lasting upwards of 40 minutes. Luckily though, this is all good and I enjoyed hanging out with the Phantom Thieves and going on a summer road trip, especially as for me at the moment, this is a mere pipe dream. As I mentioned, these sequences are interesting and heart-warming, however, there is a part of the game where around an hour and a half to two hours pass by without having much input at all, bar the odd inconsequential dialogue choice. This really slowed the game down to a crawl even to someone who is a huge fan. Needless to say, it isn’t as action-packed as some of the screenshots might lead you to believe.
Hanging out with your friends is still great in this game, I’ll always go get ramen with Ryuji whenever he texts me, but the rewards for doing so are neutered compared to other entries in the series. Gone is the confidant system where you level up different arcana by building bonds in the real world. Instead, there is a more generic “bond” system. After social interactions and completing certain side objectives, you acquire bond points, which can then be spent on upgrades to permanently buff your party. Given the much shorter runtime of around 40 hours, this change does make sense, but the rewarding feedback loop from hanging out and talking to new NPCs has been dulled from this change. That said, the system works and the dialogue is fun enough that I would see these extra missions through whenever I get the chance.
Another Persona element, whilst still present but scaled back is the calendar system. In previous Persona games, you would have to hit specific deadlines and plan your approach to each months, balancing your social obligations alongside your demon-slaying side-gig. In Strikers, time progresses at set milestones along the story, meaning that there is far less forward planning and you’re simply along for the ride.
On the whole, the entire portion of the game which takes place in the real world is still nice to see as it builds upon characters which I grew to love so much throughout the original Persona 5 story. As sad as it sounds – it’s like hanging out with old friends. The other half of the game is spent in the metaverse, and this is where the combat, dungeons and monsters can be found.
The structure of P5S is similar to any other Persona game, it is very much a villain of the week situation. The road trip premise of the game perfectly sets up giving a new antagonist, or “monarch” in this case, each with their own distinct flavour and location. These are largely cartoonishly evil characters who need to be taken down a peg by the Phantom Thieves. In order to access their cognition and change their heart, you need to perform some rudimentary investigation, meaning that you should talk/interact with anything you are able to in the real world to get some background on what the target is doing wrong. Once this has been completed, you need to grab their keyword to become their friend on “EMMA”, the current social media craze, once this has been achieved, you can get to work in those dungeons, levelling up and doing all that RPG-fare. It is fairly formulaic, and after a while you will begin to notice the narrative template, knowing “oh, this is where the villain will be humanised”, this is where the mini-boss will happen, etc.
Persona 5 Strikers has the usual Persona 5 dungeon traversal, the main difference here being that you are exploring “jails” rather than “palaces”, ultimately, there is little difference between the two. Just like the palaces in P5, each of these jails is modelled after how the antagonist for that portion of the game sees the world, whether that is as a whimsical carnival, or a wintery snowscape. These metaverse dungeons are much larger than those found in P5, however, they also feel to be emptier, with less distinctive features than what I would expect in a mainline Persona game. The increased size is not used to enrich the dungeons and is likely due to the wider arenas needed to facilitate a musuo combat system.
There seems to be less personality in each setting this time around, this is likely a result of the reduced emphasis on story beats to fill out each dungeon, as they typically last around half the time as in P5. Unfortunately though, this gives a weaker connection to the final boss of that area. You are spending less time scouring through exactly how they see the world, what drives them and ultimately what makes them evil. Don’t go into this expecting anything like the final palaces in Persona 5 Royal, you will certainly be disappointed. There is far less time spent getting to know your foes and it means that a lot of the time you don’t even see the Monarch until the final confrontation which can take much of the drama out of the experience. The trade-off for this, is that you have more time spent hanging out with the phantom thieves and getting to grips with the combat system, which is where Strikers truly shines.
The combat is as stylish and flamboyant as you’d expect
Persona 5 Strikers has the usual Persona 5 dungeon traversal, the main difference here being that you are exploring “jails” rather than “palaces”. Each of these jails is filled with shadows who patrol around and offer the opportunity to ambush them (it isn’t that difficult, but does feel awesome), once you trigger this, the combat begins.
Rather than a turn-based affair as you’d come to expect from most JRPGs, rather it is what people often refer to as musuo combat. P5S takes inspiration from Dynasty Warriors, coming from the studio which basically created the genre, this should come as no surprise. What this means is that there are a ludicrous number of enemies which crop up, and they are weak enough for you to usually decimate upwards of 30 of them with a single blow.
I have never really been into this type of combat, and usually wrote it off as repetitive, bland and unrefined. However, here, when you mix in all the Persona elements, it really works for me. You do have the usual “square, square, square, triangle” combos which you can repeat ad nauseam if you like, but there is much more to keep each encounter interesting.
By pressing the R1 button, you open up your persona menu which allows you to choose your next magic attack whilst simultaneously pausing time, this can always buy you unlimited time to think out your next moves. With each shadow having a specific weakness in a Pokemon fashion – the fire guy is weak to the ice attacks, duh. The aim of the game here is to hit them with the element they are most vulnerable to, if you do that, you will trigger a “one more”, allowing you to strike them once again, or switch to a ready party member who will do this for you. If you knock all enemies down in an area, you can perform an “all out attack” and wipe out a large area of foes. There are other ways to knock foes down too, by landing critical or technical hits this can also be achieved.
Passing between party members is also encouraged and offers a handy boost to the rate at which your “showtime” gauge will fill, once this is the case you can unleash a stylish finisher move that will cause serious damage to anything unlucky enough to be in the surrounding area. The combat is a constant loop of building this meter, hitting elemental weaknesses and switching characters, when you get in a flow with it, it feels amazing. Best of all, you have access to most of this from the very first encounter, bar a couple of text boxes describing each party member, you are ultimately left to your own devices to discover which combinations work.
Throughout your dungeon exploration you will come across several checkpoints, once you have found these, you can fast-travel between them at any point. This gives the opportunity to head back to the real-world, replenish your health and magic meters, then dive right back in where you left. In other titles, the stamina of your party is likely to restrict your progress, giving every safe room a sense of relief, but also a question – do I risk carrying on, or should I head back to the real world and have a day progress? Without the calendar system in place, this begs the question – why don’t checkpoints just refill health and magic in the first place? This would eliminate the need to pass through two loading screens to get the benefit. With the calendar not progressing like it does in previous games when entering and exiting the metaverse, this just serves as an unnecessary annoyance, not a massive deal, but once I think about it, it does puzzle me.
Finally, I want to touch on the bosses in P5S. As I’ve mentioned, the build-up to some of these leaves a lot to be desired, especially compared to the mainline games, however the designs are all pretty cool. Each monstrosity comes about as a twisted form of whatever the character’s motivation might be. Each of these fights, whilst not mixing up the formula too much, were lots of fun. It also helps that it is accompanied by some amazing music also.
RPG elements can get in the way of the fun sometimes
As a typical RPG, there are side-quests, or “requests” to complete. These range from defeat a certain enemy with their weakness to acquire a Persona with a particular ability. They aren’t very imaginative I have to be honest. The problems here arise with only being able to take on 7 requests at once, and not have all of these running in the background to tick off as you go. Managing these requests can be a bit of a pain, especially as tracking them means fiddling around in the menus for extended periods of time and having the same dialogue repeat over and over.
Another holdover from the RPG genre is party levelling. There is a large number of Phantom Thieves available right from the get-go, each independently levelling. This can quickly get out of hand however and I felt my main party members quickly pull ahead of my benched protagonists. This made it more difficult to take a chance on these under-levelled characters when entering a new dungeon, which only caused this gap to grow wider. I suppose it comes with the territory, but this led to me experimenting a lot less with characters I’d otherwise like to try out (sorry Makoto). Maybe I will switch this around in a new playthrough.
I did also have one hard crash, I just wanted to note this as it did cause me to lose some progress, but it wasn’t too much and with the combat being this fun, I don’t mind making up a little bit. Hopefully it doesn’t happen to anyone else, my PS4 is incredibly old so I will just chalk it up to that.
Will this change the heart of someone new to the series?
On the whole, I feel like if you are a fan of Persona 5, you either already have this game, or you need little convincing to be pushed into making the purchase. Whilst the experience is entirely different to Persona 5, it isn’t something that I could recommend to anyone who hasn’t played through the original game. If that’s the case, I envy you – you get to play Persona 5 for the first time, and you should definitely do just that. If you did play Persona 5 and found it wasn’t for you, I can’t see this changing your mind.
I had loads of fun with this one, bar some pacing issues which rear their ugly head, it was a blast. The music is top-notch, the action is frantic fun and the story is like a filler episode of your favourite anime, kind of like when Goku did his driving test. Get up and get out there.