Persona 5 Strikers Preview: Back To Take Your Heart All Over Again

Persona 5 Strikers Preview Image

Since its Japanese release early last year, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve played the opening hours of Persona 5 Strikers (referred to in Japan as Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers) around five times. Don’t ask me why, I don’t even have the excuse of quarantine to describe my unhealthy no-lifing of the Japanese version. I just loved the game that much. It’s probably my favorite Warriors/Musou style game I’ve ever played, but I’ll admit some of that could just be because I’m such a massive fan of the Megami Tensei franchise.

But no one clicks recipes online just to read the novels the author writes on their entire life story. You want to hear about the game, how it runs on Nintendo Switch, and how it lives up as a sequel to Persona 5 like the developers claimed in marketing. ATLUS has been generous enough to give us quite the head start for our review of this game, and have allowed me to share my thoughts on the English version of the game up to the end of the first Jail.

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When I played it in Japanese, I did so mainly for the gameplay. I only have a rough understanding of Hiragana, but Musou combat is a universal language so I was able to get through the game with little issue. I had heard good things about the narrative, but when I finally was able to play it in English I was pleasantly surprised to see just how it much it feels like a natural extension to Persona 5. Many Persona spinoffs take a rather silly approach to their stories, but Persona 5 Strikers is a rare exception to this. A lot of time and effort was put into not just recreating the aesthetic of Persona 5, but the story-telling style as well. 

Character writing is just as strong, if not stronger in some parts, than Persona 5. Taking place the summer after the events of the original game, Joker returns to Tokyo to go on a vacation with the Phantom Thieves. One day when Joker, Ryuji, and Morgana are out in Shibuya to buy things for their big trip they find themselves sucked into the Metaverse again. One of Tokyo’s new idols, Alice, is somehow changing the hearts of people to make them rabid fans. Her Shadow is the Monarch of Shibuya’s Jail, which are palaces but on a bigger scale. With the help of Sophia, an amnesiac AI they discover trapped in the Jail, and Zenkichi Hasegawa, a shady member of Public Security who is trying to make a deal with the Phantom Thieves, they’re about to embark on a whole new adventure across Japan to save it from this new Metaverse threat.

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It’s a very difficult task to convey how Persona 5 Strikers is so much better than the other spin-off games. Any readers like myself who have been enthusiastically buying these side titles since Persona 4 Arena should know immediately that this is on a whole other level. Characters don’t just feel like flanderized versions of themselves, but how you expect they would months after going through the hardships of the previous year. Because of this, we get to see the Phantom Thieves feel more like a friend group than ever before. Having said this, I think it’s important to mention that I might not recommend this to those not familiar with the world and characters of Persona 5. They explain a few things to Sophia to catch her up, but overall the game expects you to already know who these people are and how palaces work. If you haven’t yet played Persona 5 Royal and don’t want to play such a huge RPG right now or only have a Switch, I’d at least recommend reading the manga or watching the anime. If you can I’d certainly recommend playing Persona 5 before tackling Persona 5 Strikers, as this is made to be a sequel first and foremost.

The story so far takes the stakes of the palace formula gives it a more personal spin with the Jails and Monarchs. From a gameplay perspective, Jails take the parkour and stealth-themed dungeons of Persona 5 and give them the scale of a traditional Musou level. From a story perspective, what I’ve seen so far seems to imply that the Monarchs of these Jails will be given more of a personality than the Palace Rulers of the previous game. The Shibuya Jail shows that the Persona 5 cast has the potential for more growth, with a focus on Ann reflecting on her own experiences to motivate her to help change Alice’s heart. I hope that as the Phantom Thief road trip continues the narrative will take time to have each member of the cast have this level of self-reflection, and time will only tell how far they take this. So far, the game’s story is off to a rolling start and looks to only get better from here.

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Koei Tecmo/Omega Force is the go-to developer for action game spin-offs, and this is definitely their most ambitious project to date. This is not a Dynasty Warriors game with a Persona coat of paint. This is a Persona game with Dynasty Warriors combat. The distinction is quite different than you might imagine, and I think it serves the game better in the long run. For the Shibuya section of the game, players have the ability to explore the key areas of that city brought over from Persona 5. Koei Tecmo has done an excellent job recreating this part of the game in their own engine, the art style has been carried over almost perfectly. In these areas, I was able to roam around familiar landmarks, talk to my friends, gather information about Alice, and buy unique health items. Equipment is no longer purchased at a physical store, with the in-universe reasoning being that Iwai has temporarily closed up shop. Instead, players will be able to buy items online with the help of Sophia, who uses the dark web to express deliver them to the group. 

It was an amazing experience to roam around the Shibuya streets on the Switch, but most of the city streets are reserved for exploration in the Jail. My absolute favorite approach to how Persona 5 Strikers adapts the Musou formula is with combat encounters. Instead of just having huge spaces always full with swarms of enemies, encounters will play out just like they do in a modern Persona game. Shadow Guards will roam the streets looking for Phantom Thieves, so it’s up to you to sneak around and ambush them. Once you rip the mask off you’ll have to fight a bunch of Shadows in a little arena, with escape possible if you run outside the ring long enough. After a tutorial, you’ll be able to explore the dungeon for real, and the game gives you the freedom to play as all of the Phantom Thieves from then on. You can make a party of four characters and switch them out as you see fit, with the exception of Joker who always needs to be in the party. By Baton Passing to any members of the active party, you can play as any of the Phantom Thieves in both battles and during the exploration segment of Jails.

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The developers have taken what aspects and quirks made each of the characters unique in the original game and somehow managed to flesh these out to full action game movesets. Every single character plays differently from one another, and you’ll often be switching your party out based on the elemental weaknesses you’ll need to take advantage of. The Persona system is vital to your success in combat, with a click of the right bumper stopping time to let you use Persona-specific attacks. This works exactly how you remember it from the mainline games, giving you powerful attacks that use either HP or SP. The game encourages not spamming these attacks though, and because without SP your characters are almost useless in battle. This balance of strategy and action keeps exploring Jails exciting. Everyone also has a unique gun attack as well, and a series of special attacks that will expand the more you play as them in battle.

This wouldn’t be a Persona game without RPG elements, and Persona 5 Strikers has them in spades. In addition to everyone’s Personas being able to level up to gain better stats and abilities, you can use the Bond system to make dungeons exploring more efficient. Bond points are gained by finishing battles or seeing certain story events, and you can spend them on a wide variety of benefits. Some of these could be more health for every party member, increased item drops, discounts in Sophia’s shop, and much more.

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Joker’s nature as a wild card has also been adapted into this game, along with the fusion mechanics of the Velvet Room. Defeating special Shadows can sometimes see them drop their masks, allowing Joker to switch between any of the ones he has in his arsenal. There is a smaller overall pool than a traditional Persona game, but some of the most popular Personas seem to have made the cut. So far one of my favorite new additions to the Velvet Room is the ability to spend Persona Points, which can be gained by fusing or picking up a duplicate Persona, to increase the level of any Persona. This seemingly makes early game Personas like Arsène, who loses usefulness fast without skill cards, useful for the entire game. 

Outside of combat, the player will have to dash between cover, jump around in fun platforming segments, and solve puzzles. The fast-paced nature of the game feels great, and the frequent jumping between dungeon exploration and combat works very well. The game just feels great to play. In every way possible this is just Persona 5 as an action game, and I’m impressed with how far they took this design philosophy and how well it all came together. The only part some fans might feel disappointed to learn is that Persona 5 Strikers drops the time limit and day management mechanics, but I think this better serves the action game they were trying to make. Days will pass as the story progresses, but players will never need to worry about stressing out to finish a dungeon in time. 

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Okay, it’s time to address what many of you came here for. This is a Nintendo website, and you all want to see how Persona 5 Strikers runs on the Switch. Overall I’m impressed, but there are some downsides if you want your Persona 5 Strikers experience to be portable. The game aims for 30 frames per second and mostly hits that. There are dips when things get extra hectic on screen, but it’s one of the most consistently performing Musou-style games on the platform.

It is certainly a step up in this department from last year’s Hyrule Warriors Age of Calamity, and I think the game feels great even with the 30 frames per second cap. I played the first 7 and a half hours up until the end of the Shibuya Jail on my Switch Lite, and found it to be a great way to play the game. Parts of the environment pop in and it can be a bit jarring, but like I said before this is much less egregious than many other Koei Tecmo-made games on Switch. I don’t know the exact resolution the game aims for, but the game looks rather good on the Switch Lite screen. The characters are very aliased, but as someone who has also played the game on PlayStation 4 (and PlayStation 5) this seems to be just a part of Koei Tecmo’s engine and that exists across all the versions. If anything, the lower resolution on the Switch makes it one of the better-looking versions in my opinion, because the jaggy lines on the characters stick out much less. Some of these might be deal-breakers for people, but I see them as necessary concessions to play a Persona game like this on the go.

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One of the things I’m most impressed with is just how much voice acting there is. Almost every line of dialogue in the game is voiced, with characters vocally having conversations frequently in cutscenes and as the gameplay plays out. The English cast all returned to reprise their roles, and according to ATLUS West they recorded all of their lines remotely. The sound engineers did fantastic work with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, the last game ATLUS localized during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I feel they did an even better job here. If you have really good ears you can notice it in a few spots, and there were a couple of line deliveries that felt odd, but overall this is another fantastic English voice track from ATLUS. Fans who grew to love the English voice cast of the Persona 5 games will feel right at home, and those who prefer to play these with the Japanese audio will be able to switch any time they want.

The presentation is also incredibly on point, and I have to praise the music in particular. Both the remixes and original music I’ve heard in the opening hours are stellar. Atsushi Kitajoh, Gota Masuoka, Masayoshi Sasaki are listed as the composers. As someone who has loved Kitajoh’s sound in the spin-offs for years, this might be some of his best work. The battle themes in particular have so much energy to them, and the remix of Last Surprise might be the best version of the song. If you have a save file from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate you also unlock the battle themes from Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal, letting you have up to four battle themes the game can choose from randomly. If you’d like to pick a particular battle theme for every encounter, you can choose that as well from the configuration menu.

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With Persona 5 Strikers, Koei Tecmo seeks to not only faithfully adapt the style and story-telling of the game it’s based on, but to try to take some of the core concepts a step further. The story has been great so far, the gameplay is engaging, and the music has been a treat to the ears. It was amazing to finally play this game in English, and I can’t wait to play even more. If you’d like to see more coverage of Persona 5 Strikers as we approach the launch, make sure to keep your eyes out on Nintendo Insider.

Persona 5 Strikers will release at retail and on the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo Switch worldwide on 23rd February 2021.

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