As of this writing, I’ve gotten about eight hours into Persona 5 Strikers, the Musou-style spin-off (but actually kind of a sequel) to Persona 5. A more holistic review of the game will be coming a little closer to launch, but I wanted to take some time to spotlight some of my favorite things about the game so far, as well as something I’m wary of as I head further into the Phantom Thieves’ latest adventure.
After the events of Persona 5, main character Joker returns to Tokyo to see all his friends months after they saved the world from a cataclysmic event, requiring the group of teenagers to attack and dethrone god. In the time since, a new band of villains has found out how to use the Metaverse, the series’ paranormal world that serves as a manifestation of human consciousness. This universe is a secret to most people, and is capable of changing people’s hearts in the real world. The Phantom Thieves have used it for good in the past, forcing criminals such as mob bosses and sexual predators to confess their crimes, but some have started using it to manipulate the public for capital gain. Including Alice, a singer who has changed the hearts of Shibuya citizens to buy her merchandise and keep her relevant in the constantly-changing entertainment industry.
As some of the only people capable of entering the Metaverse at will, the Phantom Thieves are back on the case again to infiltrate Jails, which are specific areas of the Metaverse that house the evil Shadow versions of people in the real world, who are exerting their influence on the public from the other side. While parts of the story are similar to Persona 5, the means by which you get there are radically different.
Strikers adapts a lot of Persona 5’s turn-based RPG mechanics into a Dynasty Warriors-like action game, along with still letting you wander around its depiction of Shibuya. You can’t go everywhere you could in the original game, but there are new locations that you’ll be passing through as the Phantom Thieves attempt to solve their latest case. Here are a few highlights:
Like: Playing as Ryuji Sakamoto
My favorite part of Strikers so far is undoubtedly the ability to play as (almost) all of the Phantom Thieves. Ryuji Sakamoto has been my favorite Persona 5 character since even before the game launched in the west in 2017. Since then, I’ve only ever really gotten to play as him in Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight, and that was only in two of the rhythm game’s songs. But Strikers is the first time the entire party has been playable for a majority of the game. Every time you’re in a Jail you can play as any member of the Phantom Thieves, rather than just Joker. A few story moments will require you to play as our silent protagonist, but I was able to stay in control of my favorite delinquent for most of the first Jail.
This is rad, because in my experience, most people have more attachment to the party members of Persona games than they do the protagonists, who are mostly just the arbiter through which you engage with the rest of the wonderful cast. Joker has his perks, like being able to use multiple Persona abilities as he can in most of the games and external media, but getting to see fan favorites like Ryuji, Makoto Niijima, and Morgana lead the team is a refreshing change. But more often than not, you’re encouraged to switch between your party of four and create teams that can synergize against different enemy types and create effective combos. So even if you’ve got a favorite Phantom Thief, you’ll likely end up playing as each of them eventually.
- Persona 5 Strikers’ Western Box Art Does Right By Ryuji Sakamoto
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Like: Getting to see the Phantom Thieves again
Some aspects of the original Persona 5 are intact in Strikers. However, a few things are different, including the removal of Confidants, which were social sim elements that let you have some one on one time with each character. Instead, Strikers is all about the group dynamic of the Phantom Thieves, who haven’t seen each other in several months after the end of the original game.
So far, Strikers has the original eight Phantom Thieves members together in nearly every scene. As such, there’s been less time for each of them to develop on their own, but the first storyline and Jail has been particularly special to Ann Takamaki, which makes me hopeful that the further I get into the Phantom Thieves’ latest mystery I’ll see the rest of the group have moments to shine. I’m never not happy to see these characters again, so even if we’re only together again for a little while and not every one of them gets to be the star of the show, that’s time well spent. But if you were someone who was attached to the game-long social sim systems of Persona 5 proper, you might be disappointed to find Strikers has mostly done away with or streamlined those.
Like: New characters bring something fresh to the table
There are two major additions to the cast in Persona 5 Strikers: an artificial intelligence named Sophia that lives in Joker’s phone and Zenkichi Hasegawa, a dirty cop who we do not trust. So far, I’ve had more time to warm up to Sophia, who actually takes on a role as a playable party member before most of the Phantom Thieves do. As an AI, she’s somehow able to exist within the Metaverse, but stays in Joker’s phone when in the real world. She’s trying to learn about the human heart, and since the Phantom Thieves made a career of stealing those, they’re the most equipped to help her. Sophia’s naivete makes her a source of constant dry humor, and as of yet, she hasn’t felt like a party crasher in the company of established friends. As most Persona spin-off characters do, Sophia seems to be integral to the resurgence of Metaverse-related cases, but I still haven’t gotten quite far enough to determine how.
Comparatively speaking, I’ve had less time to get to know Zenkichi, but he already has points docked against him for being a cop (and Haru will not let him forget it). However, actor Tom Taylorson is the voice behind our new begrudging confidant, and since I can’t unhear him as Pathfinder Ryder from Mass Effect: Andromeda, he’s off to as solid of a start as a cop can be.
However, their inclusion does lead me into one of my gripes…
Dislike: Characters from Persona 5 Royal are missing
Persona 5 Royal, the definitive edition of Persona 5 that came to the west last year, brought in a handful of new characters (and made it possible for another to hypothetically be in a new game), but none of them are present in Persona 5 Strikers, as the game is a sequel to the original Persona 5. This means this is in a timeline where the Phantom Thieves never met Kasumi Yoshizawa and Royal’s surprise villain, nor was Goro Akechi’s fate ever left up in the air.
So not only are those three not part of the story, but they’re not playable, which is a shame because each of them would have been nice to see adapted into the Musou style and develop further after the events of Royal.
Question: Is this sustainable for 30+ hours?
After one Jail, I’m really enjoying Strikers as a fresh take on Persona, but I’m wondering if it can keep the entertaining but infamously repetitive loop of Dynasty Warriors interesting for a full game. Much of the fun of Musou games is fighting through waves of dozens of enemies at once. There’s a cathartic thrill that comes from mowing through an army with one swing or slice of a weapon. However, fights that let you do that in Persona 5 Strikers have felt fewer and farther between than I was expecting. In terms of structure, Strikers is actually very similar to Persona 5 proper. The Phantom Thieves infiltrate a Jail, sneak around a bit to get a sense of the owner’s distorted view of the world, and in the midst of that there are enemy encounters spread out as they would have been in a turn-based RPG. If you get a preemptive strike, those individual fights can last literally seconds by using a team-wiping All Out Attack. It feels like Strikers’ stealthy RPG set up incentivizes me to avoid what makes Musou games appealing as often as possible.
On top of this, Strikers implements a lot of mechanics from Persona 5 into an action game, such as elemental weaknesses, status effects, buffs and debuffs, but Musou combat systems can also be so mindless at times that these things can feel inconsequential. Part of me feels overwhelmed having so many mechanics happening at once in an action format, but the more I realize that a lot of these fights can be won by the standard hack-and-slash of Musou games, the less stressed I get about managing seconds-long status effects and just get back to whacking shadows with Ryuji’s bat. The higher level boss fight at the end of the Jail was one of the only times I felt I was being more strategic, so that at least has me thinking that as challenge rises, I’ll find myself delving into the minutiae in a way similar to when I do in a turn-based setting.
Ultimately, the sights and sounds of Persona 5 are more than enough to keep me interested in seeing Strikers through, I just hope that as I progress there will be a moment where all of the above clicks and feels natural to mess around with. Perhaps a sudden difficulty spike might be headed my way and could make it all feel more robust? Though the Musou combat still seems to be ramping up, I’m all in on the direction Persona 5 Strikers is taking the Phantom Thieves. Who isn’t down for a road trip across Japan with your best friends to save the world? Oh the places we’ll go together as we roll out more coverage and a review of Persona 5 Strikers between now and launch day, when it comes to PlayStation 4, PC, and Nintendo Switch on February 23.