*Warning: this article is long and contains minor spoilers for Persona 5: Strikers. If you haven’t finished it yet, read with caution.*
How did this game come to be? Who at ATLUS said “Let’s make a spin-off of Persona 5 that’s also a sequel. But let’s make it like those Dynasty Warriors games!” What does it look like inside that dude’s head?
Persona 5: Strikers (or P5S) is an odd game. Unlike most reskinned Warrior games, (like Hyrule Warriors, Fire Emblem Warriors, or One Piece: Pirate Warriors), all of which were adherent to the formula of the Dynasty Warriors games, this one leans more towards its source material. Instead of being a Warriors game wearing a Persona costume, it’s a Persona game dressed like a Warrior’s game. It picks and chooses different mechanics from either one to create something familiar yet distinctly new.
Question is: is that something new good? Well, I’d certainly say so. Though it isn’t a perfect combination.
Our story picks up a few months after the end of Persona 5. Summer vacation has rolled around and the Phantom Thieves are getting back together! Using the hot new AI app, EMMA, they plan the ultimate summer vacation! But when EMMA pulls them into the Cognitive Realm and an epidemic of changes of heart occurs, the Phantom Thieves need to get back in action!
Narratively speaking, this game is pretty good. Not without issues, mind you. But it’s fun to see the gang get back together! The group dynamic of the team is just as fun as ever!
We’ve even got two new players on the team! This time, the Phantom Thieves are joined by super AI Sophia and PubSec agent Zenkichi Hasegawa! Both are fine additions to the team that add a fun layer to the dynamic. Zenkichi the old man trying to connect to the kids, Sophia the all-knowing AI who doesn’t understand emotions. I love ’em both.
It is disappointing, however, that very few characters from before return. It even teases you with a visit to Takemi and Iwai’s place just to blue ball you! Why’d they have to tease me like that?
Also, the beginning is super weak. It throws you straight into an action scene without even the slightest introduction, then rewinds back to the beginning proper. A few problems with that. One: said action scene isn’t that important to the overall story, so it doesn’t serve as a very good hook. Not only that, it takes place not even three days into the story! Why would you start your story there?
But then the road trip begins. That’s when the story gets really fun! The moment the Phantom Thieves get on the road, the plot becomes fifteen times more enjoyable! We get some of the most fun little additions to the characters, like Haru’s terrifying driving!
How could a girl so sweet secretly be so terrifying?
Now, let’s talk about the not-so-great things. For one: most of the story is just Persona 5 again, but with a mild reskin to it. Palaces? No, these are called Jails! A plagiarizing artist? No, this one’s a plagiarizing writer! Powerful politician? Try a powerful CEO! A lot of this game’s plot is just the same as the last one, but with a small twist to it. Even the climax is basically the same!
They also tried to take a more tragic and sympathetic approach to the villains in this game. This does help them stand out from previous villains, even if only slightly. But it doesn’t totally work. Look, it’s sad that the idol girl who manipulated the masses into madness got bullied in high school. But the one hardly makes the other forgivable.
This all culminates in an ending that is simple and sweet. Nothing especially complex or memorable. But it’s enough to put a smile on one’s face and a tear in the eye.
Alright, that should just about do it for the story. Let’s go over those visuals and get to the actual meat and potatoes.
This game has the same art style as the previous game. The menus are stylish, the colors pop, and the big combat animations are as bombastic as ever (almost). It even runs at a buttery-smooth 60fps (at least on PS4). Although something about it feels… off. Like the models and the backgrounds are fighting an invisible war with each other during every dialogue scene. It’s hard to describe.
Thankfully, the music is just as incredible as always. We get some absolutely badass new tracks to add to our list! Axe to Grind, Counterstrike, and Daredevil are my three personal favorites. They’re a complete joy to listen to!
Okay, let’s talk about the actual game now.
In terms of mechanics, this game is basically a stripped-down Persona game. Only they replaced the turn-based combat with the much more hectic Warriors combat. You explore dungeons, gather treasure, complete side quests you get from your phone, and slaughter shadows by the hundreds. All that good stuff.
But there are a few exclusions that make me sad. Such as:
- No social system
- Bare-bones Velvet Room
- No fun side activities in town (unless you count buying items as an activity)
- Negotiations – gone
- No map battles like a Warriors game
None of these are game-breaking omissions, but it is disappointing to see them go.
One mechanic that’s sort of in the game is the Persona franchise’s defining feature: time. Except not really. See, time doesn’t move forward according to the actions of the player. Only the progression of the story. Meaning that you can dive into a Jail, go as far as you can on your limited SP, then head right back without consequence.
So, then, I beg the question: why do I, the player, need to leave the Jail every time I run out of SP? Why not just let me restore it at a checkpoint? All this does is create an annoying, inconvenient loop that goes as follows:
- Enter Jail
- Keep going until everyone in party is exhausted
- Go to nearest checkpoint
- Return from jail
- Wait through loading screen
- Head back into Jail immediately (maybe pick up some items first)
- Wait through loading screen
All you had to do was add a ‘Rest’ button at each checkpoint and that whole annoying process could’ve been avoided.
This also removes any sense of urgency to complete the Jails. In Personas 3, 4, and 5, there’s always an impending deadline of some kind that encourages the player to complete the dungeons as quickly and efficiently as possible. In Strikers, there is no rush whatsoever. Sure, the story tells you that you need to hurry! But the gameplay tells a different story. You can even revisit a Jail once you’re done with it! No need to be thorough, either!
Thankfully, the combat itself is intense and addictive enough to keep the player going. It gets incredibly hectic and chaotic really quickly, especially when there are a ton of enemies on the screen. But it’s all quite enjoyable.
You can play as each member of the Phantom Thieves (minus Oracle; phooey). Each one has their own combos, mechanics, and attribute of spells. For example: Ryuji is all about charging up slow but devastating attacks, Makoto and Ann can charge their regular attacks with a bit of elemental charge, Morgana can turn into a car, and Zenkichi can up his range and firepower at the cost of slowly draining his own health. On top of that, they are each capable of magical attacks, buffs, and debuffs.
Did I mention how you can swap characters at any point during combat?
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how magic works. It’s not a turn-based RPG anymore, so how do you cast spells? Well, there are a few options. Each character has a combo route that lets them seamlessly integrate their spells into their attacks. Or they can summon their Persona, stopping time for them to aim the area of their spells effect before activating.
Every enemy has a Shield, or a series of shields. These can be broken by striking that enemy’s weakness or hitting them with a critical hit. Once all their shields are gone, you can nail ’em with an All-Out Attack that does massive damage to the target and all the other targets around it.
Is that not enough for you? Luckily, you’ve got one more powerful attack on your hands: the Showtime. These devastating area-of-effect attacks are all different for each member of the team in appearance, but they all function the same. The damage breaks through all immunities and ignores weaknesses to hit the enemy for massive damage.
That is, if you remember to buff it. See, there’s this little thing called the Bond system, which somewhat replaces the social system. By doing certain side quests, completing encounters with more powerful enemies, or just progressing in the story, the bond you have with your friends will increase. This gives you Bond Points, which allows you to purchase upgrades. These range from increasing your stats to raising the rate that Treasure Demons spawn. If grinding the Bond meter weren’t so absolutely tedious, this would be really fun!
And dear God, we’re still not done! Because there’s also the environment! See, you can hop on various objects laying around the battlefield and use them to your advantage. This ranges from blowing shit up to dropping it on the enemy’s head to spinning around like a more murderous stripper. This adds another chaotic layer to the hectic mess that is combat.
One interesting thing I wasn’t expecting: this game is actually pretty tough! I jumped straight in on Hard mode because I figured I could handle it; I’ve played my fair share of both Warriors and Persona, after all. But I quickly learned that this game could be unforgiving! If you aren’t on your toes, your party could be wiped out super quickly!
And even worse? Once you beat it, you unlock Merciless mode! Which is even harder!
Phew! That was… a lot. Plot twist: a big RPG has a lot to talk about. Another big twist: a Persona game is high in quality. It’s chaotic, it’s tough, and it lacks a lot of stuff that makes both Persona and the Warriors games so enjoyable. But the combination of the two is still a ton of fun to play!
Weird as it is, I do think that Persona 5: Strikers is a worthy follow-up to the original. It doesn’t have the same spark as Persona 5; it’s not going to light the world on fire like that game did. But fans who loved that one will definitely find something to love here.
Okay, we’ve got the dancing game and we’ve got the Warriors game. So… when are we getting a new Arena game? Gimme a P5 fighting game!