The Persona series has always had a flair for branching out into other genres via spin-offs. So far we’ve been given rhythm games, fighting games, and first-person dungeon crawlers. Persona 5 Strikers is the series’s first foray into the Musou action genre and it’s more than a spin-off; it’s a straight-up sequel. For some, it may be somewhat over-the-top for a 120-hour long game to receive a sequel. But the prospect of hanging out with the Phantom Thieves once more was a welcome one and P5 Strikers doesn’t disappoint, despite having a few mild flaws.
In Persona 5 Strikers, the Main Character (MC), codenamed Joker, returns to Tokyo six months after the events of the original game. It’s right here that we had to praise the game’s direction as it managed to give us an actual nostalgic feel like we were seeing our friends again after a long time. Returning to Yongye-Jaya and walking through the doors of Cafe Leblanc was a tear-jerker of a moment. Upon arrival, we’re reunited with the rest of the gang as well as Sojiro, and it all feels familiar. After some catching up, the Phantom Thieves begin to plan their summer vacation and agree on a camping trip. The MC and Ryuji, along with Morgana in tow, are tasked with shopping for equipment. Upon arrival at Shibuya, they get caught up in a fashion event where a popular idol is promoting her products by handing out gift cards with her personal friend code on a newly launched Siri-like platform called EMMA. The MC receives one as well and after inputting the friend code in his device, he and his two Phantom Thieves comrades are transported to what appears to be the Metaverse. It’s here where Persona 5 Strikers’ story kicks off for real.
As a premise, the story is a familiar one. The Phantom Thieves are thrust into action with the aim of changing the hearts of the now-called Monarchs. However, Strikers manages to evolve its predecessor’s concept for the better. Where previously we faced off against Palace rulers who were being evil because they in fact were evil, in Strikers we’re dealing with people who are genuinely misguided. It may not sound like a really dramatic change but in practice, it gives the villains of P5 Strikers an added layer of complexity. Joker and Co’s journey also expands beyond the reaches of Tokyo as the gang goes on a road trip around Japan. While not much exploring is possible in these other locations, it still feels like a fresh perspective. The addition of two new characters, the highly-sophisticated AI called Sophia and police officer Hasegawa, also adds some extra variety in the character development department, an area where P5 Strikers also shines. In the previous games, we got to help out each Phantom Thief overcome their inner turmoil and achieve personal growth. Here, we get to see them as people who’ve found meaning in life and are using their new enlightenment to help others. It’s a welcome approach that feels fitting with the nostalgic vibe Strikers is shooting for.
Where the game falls a bit short, disappointingly so, is in the lack of social links. While the game does retain a much more restricted version of the Confidant system called Bonds, you’re no longer able to individually spend time with the Phantom Thieves. Conversations and revelations are still had throughout the game’s 60-hour long story, but we’d gladly trade a few of those hours for some more hangout time with Ryuji and the rest of the gang. Thankfully, this is the only area where Persona 5 Strikers falls short when it comes to its characters and story.
In terms of gameplay, Strikers manages to take the button-mashing action combat of the Dynasty Warriors series and give it a Persona 5 feel. Even though the turn-based combat is gone, you’ll still find the hack-and-slash style is quite fitting. Each character has a set of basic attacks and specials as well as their Persona attacks. After familiarising ourselves with the available combos, each of which is surprisingly unique among the cast, we found that the action was highly addictive. The game retains familiar stylish attacks such as the All-Out-Attack and Show Time attacks that all look extremely flashy and satisfying to pull off. The main gripe we had was the same we had with both Persona 5 and Royal. Your Stamina still imposes a hard limit on your stay within each palace. You can only last for so long until all of your team is out of SP before needing to exit a Palace in order to replenish it. It’s an annoying feature that we could’ve done without. The good news is that P5 Strikers no longer subjects you to a calendar-based time limit by which you need to complete each Palace. Persona collecting and fusing also makes a return, albeit with a smaller number of Personas to work with.
Persona 5 Strikers is one of those rare sequels that you thought was unnecessary yet turns out to be a gem. The game does an excellent job of sucking you back into the lives and deeds of the Phantom Thieves with its art style and music. Bringing a couple of new faces and evolving the way the Metaverse influences the real world provide an expansive look at the Persona 5 universe. The best thing about P5 Strikers is that it gives us an opportunity to see how the friends we made along the way in the previous games have changed and grown. It would’ve been great to touch base with a few other faces, like Dr. Takemi and the airsoft shop owner Iwai but we appreciated their omission for the sake of brevity. Even with its flaws and lack of turn-based combat, Persona 5 Strikers is definitely a game every P5 fan should play.