I think one of the big reasons sequels are such a mark of a story’s success is that often times, people just want to be back in that world. That’s certainly the case with Persona 5, whose charming world of teenage rebellion had a pretty conclusive ending, with the characters losing the ability to access their Personas and the existential threat of the Metaverse itself disappearing.
And yet, Persona 5 Strikers has them going at it again, exploring the Metaverse and stealing hearts both in the games and in the case of their fans. Strikers has a pretty bold departure gameplay wise from other Persona games, eschewing the turn based RPG present in all Persona games and even the Persona Q spinoffs, opting instead for an action style. Does the gambit work out? Read on and find out.
What Even Is Strikers?
Turn-based RPGs are in an interesting spot. The genre has been around long enough that we can’t exactly get rid of them without a huge amount of fan uproar, but there’s also a need to innovate so it’s more than just Pokemon’s “I will praise you as Sun Tzu incarnate for knowing that water beats fire”. We got the excellent Yakuza 7, which redesigned their combat to be slightly more action-based, while games like Bravely Default doubled down on the turn-based action but also made you reevaluate the value of a turn, giving you the opportunity to score more actions.
Persona 5 Strikers is straight-up not a turn based RPG, going for a more action route akin to Final Fantasy 7 Remake, where your skills cause a slowdown while you decide which one to cast. That being said, it very much reeks of someone looming over its shoulder, wanting to retain as much of Persona 5’s turn-based gameplay as possible.
When it first debuted a lot of people thought this was a Persona-style Musou game, but that’s actually quite far from reality. You’re not doing any of the Musou staples like taking territory or the like, the only thing you have in common is that you fight a lot of enemies at once.
Even then, I find you’re not actually fighting too many enemies at any given point in time. Save for a few setpiece moments, the fights are actually designed like RPG encounters, so you’re usually only fighting a handful of enemies.
This is where I feel that Strikers gets most frustrating, cus it really does give off the feel of indecisiveness. Those moments where you are playing a Musou game are some of the best parts of the game, especially if you’ve leveled up your character’s Master Arts and unlocked all their moves. Every character’s broad-hitting moves really shine here, and it really feels like the spells do something since you can put a large mob of Jack-O-Lanterns to sleep while you focus on the next horde of Shadows.
However, for the most part fights are limited-enemy encounters, more like a classical RPG. This wouldn’t be too bad if it didn’t make Strikers’ combat feel imprecise, since it’s much more geared for big hordes of enemies rather than focusing down certain ones. The enemies can also go down a little too easily, often feeling like some weird tease where you rarely get to flex your combo skills unless there’s a bigger mob.
Similar to Persona 5 there’s an ambush mechanic, where if you ambush an enemy you start with them open to an All-Out Attack. This works really well, often ending the fight there and then. It’s great I guess, but sometimes I do wish the game gave you more stages to actually flex your stuff. But then again, given the game’s high encounter rate, it’s probably for the better that you have a “win fight” button instead of slogging through each one.
The game’s bossfights are probably the lowest point of the combat, since, once again, your moveset is clearly not designed for single-target fights. They use the gimmick of having shields that you need to break by exploiting their weaknesses, after which you can get an All-Out Attack to do, well, medium damage.
Considering how the All-Out Attack is supposed to be the climax of a good fight in Persona 5, it feels lame that you’re just using it over and over again in Strikers. Worse still, that it’s barely doing any damage and yet still the most damaging tool in your arsenal. The early game really struggles with these fights because you don’t unlock SP management items until later on, which makes a lot of the game just hoarding your spells until the big fight so that you can break shields.
I’ll give the game credit here though, it’s a great teaching tool. At various points during your character’s basic combo, they can hit the Special button for a “Persona Attack”, which summons their Persona to cast one of their spells. This spell is lower potency than if you cast it manually using the cast button, but it has the added advantage of not draining SP. The forced SP shortage is a pretty great way for players to realize this, but the combo-spell does significantly less to break a boss’ shields.
Considering the game gives you pretty decent movement options like dashes, I kinda wish the bosses were designed more like Devil May Cry’s, and actually tested your competence at action games instead of being so gung-ho about wanting to still play like a turn-based RPG. Because rather than style on most bosses, it’s way easier to get into a loop of just blowing all your SP on their weakness-spell and then wailing on them when you get the down.
The party mechanics also feel odd, because having 3 Phantom Thieves running around the stage alongside you can get pretty frustrating since they’ll often wreck any attempts at trying to style on enemies. That being said, there’s a really neat tag-in system where you’ll get notified to tag into a character, where they’ll do one of their skills and you can fill up your Showtime meter upon tagging in. It can lead to combat feeling pretty smooth, but only if the encounter lasts long enough to do it.
Again, I would have preferred if they only existed to be tagged in, acting as more of a support role. It makes sense you’d have an active party since it’s an RPG thing, but it just feels odd with Strikers’ already indecisive design.
That being said though, it’s a good effort to shake up the Persona 5 formula. The only real gripe here is just that it rarely gives you enough time to actually enjoy its combat, since so much of the game operates on turn-based RPG logic.
Persona 5 The Sequel
So, the story of Strikers takes place after the event of Persona 5, but thankfully doesn’t go into too much detail about the original’s game on the assumption that you’re playing Strikers first. Honestly, it kind of runs into the problem a lot of sequels of movies have when they’re not planned from the start in that it constantly feels like its just playing catch-up with its predecessor.
The biggest tell is in the new villains, the Monarchs. In Persona 5, you fought Palace Rulers, who were people in power that had become so obsessed with something that it was warping their desires. A key feature of this was that villains you fought always had an Institutional feel to them. It starts with the coach of a team, to your party-mate’s mentor, to two-bit mobsters.
In a weird kind of way the villains of Strikers don’t really have that same oppressive feel, mostly because the Phantom Thieves’ personal stories are largely done. Sure, Alice is an asshole. But the fact she doesn’t actually affect the Phantom Thieves makes the whole back-and-forth way less interesting. In a sense I’m glad they didn’t powercreep the Monarchs too much, but it still does feel like they could have handled it differently.
There’s also the problem that as much as Strikers dresses it up, it’s very much not a Persona game. Many of the features are watered down, such as the lack of Social Links or any mini-games. There’s side-quests, sure, but it’s just not a Persona game if it doesn’t meander a little.
Despite the fact that you still get the same calendar shifts every day, there’s no kind of time limit at play, either. You’re free to enter and exit the Metaverse at will, with no real punishment since time will only advance once you hit the right checkpoints. It kind of makes me wish they’d just done a new system then, since it really does feel like they were just pushing to have it look as much like Persona 5 even though it wasn’t going to have a lot of the gameplay.
There’s this particularly awkward moment at the start of the game that introduces you to the game’s new Shop, where you’re meant to go to all your usual Confidants to try and buy more gear for your party, but they’re all conveniently gone. Having every non-Phantom Thief confidant mysteriously vanish is a really noticeable gap in the game, and it just feels kind of lame to have the game constantly make up reasons for them to not be there.
That being said, if you loved the Phantom Thieves as characters, you’re in for a great time with Strikers. You get more of them, less burdened by things like extortion and being framed by the Prime Minister of Japan. The gang has a really good chemistry, and the new characters Sophia and Zenkichi are also really fun mix-ups to the dynamic.
One nice thing is that they’re written such that they’ve grown since the past game- although the only way this is really reflected is that the gang has a unanimous hate of cops. It’s kind of charming, since a lot of their dialogue largely feels like it could have come from the past game until they tell the police to shove it and explore literally every other option so that they won’t have to rely on cops.
The fact that a large chunk of the game’s plot is a cross-country roadtrip is also really fun, since you get to see the Phantom Thieves interact in a new way since they’re in an actual car for a change. We only got a hint of these during Mementos in Persona 5, and it was some of the most fun banter was them alluding to Haru being an aggressive driver and having dumb teenager conversations while driving around looking for Shadows to beat up.
If you want more Persona 5 characters, Strikers has you covered. But if you want more Persona 5 systems, don’t hold your breath.
Just like in mainline Persona games, Strikers has a whole mechanic built around Joker’s ability to swap personas. These all have their own stats, weaknesses and skills, all affecting Joker. You pick them up at random from battles, which can be a bit tedious since you can now suddenly have way more Personas than you’d previously thought.
I find that the collectable monster part of the game really comes at odds with the action part of the game, because it really makes you wonder what the rest of your party is even for anymore. Outside of their playstyles Joker is by far the best spellcaster, since he effectively has a heal that costs 0 SP and a lot of his moves can chain into Persona Attacks for more utility. I found that most of my battles were fought just using Joker, with the party members existing only as extra stocks of spells to break boss shields.
That being said, the Fusion system is almost identical to Persona 5, using the same level-math the let you fuse different Personas into each other. It’s great that they kept it, since collecting Personas via Musou can get quite tedious. Letting you transfer skills to the new fusion is also great, since building scummy Personas that were immune to certain types is a lot of fun, so it would have been sad if that wasn’t a part of Persona 5 Strikers’ gameplay.
One more new feature I’m really glad they added in Persona 5 Strikers is the ability to directly alter your Persona’s stats, via a currency earned by collecting more Personas. For one thing, raising your Persona’s stats has always been tedious, so it’s nice to see it made more simple. For another, Joker’s Showtime attack involves him striking a pose with his active Persona, so the onus is on you even moreso to have a cool Persona out when you use it. Arsene is the coolest looking Persona by far, but by virtue of being your first one tends to lag a bit so this feature keeps him good for those of you who value aesthetics over functionality.
Shadows also share the same weaknesses as they do in Persona games, so you’re at a huge advantage if you’re already familiar with how to down familiar enemies. Slightly bigger ones will also have a smaller-scale version of bosses’ shield mechanics, which actually work way better than they do in the bossfights since you don’t have to constantly ration your SP. That being said, facing too many of them at once will wear you down, and can lead to bad situations.
All in all, Persona 5 Strikers is a great game. It never does anything bad per se, but I think most of its flaws are more around being unable to decide between being a turn based RPG or an action spin-off.
When its playing to its strengths, the combat is a lot of fun, if not a little frustrating. Characters have a lot of depth in how they play, with counter-stances, follow-ups and even Armor moves to lead to a unique experience. Yet the fact that sometimes the game wants you to take it slow and remember every Shadows’ typing and weaknesses is a bit of a problem, and extending that gameplay into the bossfights also leads to some serious roadblocking on the game’s pace.
As a sequel to Persona 5 it’s also impressive, if anything just as a chance to experience the world of Persona without fighting Kamoshida again. Unfortunately the start of the game is just as glacial as a mainline Persona game, so it’s almost too authentic for its own good in that sense.
If you’re an action game fan first, maybe try out Strikers? Depending on how open you are you’ll either find it a refreshing change of pace or incredibly frustrating. That’s up to you and maybe any therapists you may be seeing. If you’re a Persona fan, I couldn’t recommend at least trying out Strikers enough for its boldness in changing up the Persona formula. It never gets aggressively demanding of you skill-wise, so don’t worry about having to suddenly learn what a jump-cancel is or anything like that.
|The action-based approach is refreshing||The bossfights can feel tedious|
|The Phantom Thieves are great characters||Looking like a Persona game without many of its mainline elements can leave it feeling hollow|
|Look, I just miss Persona 5 ok?|
Game reviewed on PS5. Review code provided by SEGA Atlus