Persona 5 Strikers has no right to be as good as it is. By every metric, a game like this should not be so enjoyable. A self-proclaimed sequel to Persona 5, one that changes the genre, and wasn’t even mainly developed by ATLUS? There’s plenty to be skeptical about. However, since playing the Japanese version I’ve been unable to get it out of my head. The gameplay had more depth than any Musou game I’ve played, the music was great, and Koei Tecmo adapted the aesthetic of Persona 5’s engine surprisingly well. All that was left for me was seeing how the story fared. As it turns out, the story ended up being my favorite part of the entire game.
Persona 5 Strikers begins the summer after the events of Persona 5, as the Phantom Thieves have re-united to enjoy their vacation together peacefully. Of course, that doesn’t happen. While trying to gather supplies for a fun trip, the gang finds themselves thrown right back into the Metaverse. Across the country Palace-like entities called Jails are popping up, and the “Monarchs” that run these jails are changing the hearts of people to become mindless followers. With the police trying to pin it on the Phantom Thieves, they need to work together with two new allies to travel all across Japan and uncover what’s behind this new mystery.
I think what is likely to impress people the most is just how good the writing and dialogue of Persona 5 Strikers is. I’ll be frank, Persona spin-off titles aren’t the best when it comes to their storytelling. They tend to provide simplistic versions of the characters we love in wacky situations as an excuse for fun gameplay. Honestly? That’s always been fine for me. Persona Q2 was the first spin-off game to make more of an attempt to focus on character writing, but Persona 5 Strikers raises the bar so high that future games are going to have to try hard to meet it. What might further surprise you is hearing that I honestly think that Persona 5 Strikers might have a better story than almost the entirety of the original Persona 5, and often matching the quality of Persona 5 Royal’s spectacular third semester.
There were a couple of eye-rolling tropes it falls back on, but if you’re a fan of Persona 5 you’re probably already used to them. Some of the adult characters in the game fall on cartoonishly nefarious and a certain hot spring segment goes exactly as you might expect. I think the game’s introduction of Zenkichi Hasegawa was a great addition to the cast, existing as an adult with great depth and very charming dialogue. The only other thing worth mentioning about the story that might be a “negative to some” is that I don’t really feel this can be enjoyed without having experienced the original game. Most of the enjoyment from the story comes from the fact that you know and care about these characters, and it drops you right in there expecting you to have already played it.
The friendship between the Phantom Thieves feels more natural than ever, and a fantastic localization helps convey this. The dialogue between them is beyond charming, putting a smile on my face in every interaction. I think where the game excels the most is in how it uses the experiences of the characters from the original game in comparison to the struggles of the Monarchs to create a much more sympathetic cast of villains. Without getting into spoilers, each Jail is run by a Shadow of a real-world person who has suffered to various extents. Each arc in the game fleshes them out not just with their own dialogue, but by using the opportunity to have a member of the Phantom Thieves reflect on what happened to them and how it relates to the arc in question. We get more development for a cast whose arcs all wrapped, AND a better cast of villains than any we saw in the base Persona 5.
I went into thorough detail on the gameplay mechanics in my preview last month, so for the sake of brevity I won’t be repeating myself again, but I’ll definitely be talking about how I feel about the mechanics overall and what was introduced after the Shibuya segment. When you first arrive in a new city, you’ll be instantly greeted with a stunningly faithful recreation of each real-world location. These small slices of the city will serve as mini-hubs to your adventure. You can talk to your friends, take quests, buy items, and take in the sights. It’s a reviewer cliche to say a game “makes you FEEL like ____”, but it would do this game an absolute disservice to not mention that Persona 5 Strikers does a fantastic job at making you feel like a tourist. Every city will have stores packed with unique food, cooking ingredients, and accessories so it is a good idea to check them thoroughly before you leave. The group has a camper they prepare for their dives into the Jails at, letting you buy equipment from Sophia’s web shop and cooking food to help restore health and SP. Your time in each city will be limited to the arc in question, so it’s definitely a good idea to make sure you do as much as you can before you go.
As soon as you jump into the Jails, the Metaverse twists and morphs the charming cities you were given time to get so comfortable in. Combining the warped desires of the trauma of the Monarchs who run them with the gorgeous cities the Jails are based on has given this game some truly striking dungeons. They all have unique gameplay mechanics that keep exploring them fresh. I wouldn’t call my experience with them entirely perfect, however. While it’s commendable that Omega Force was able to nail the feeling of playing Persona 5 in an action game format so well, traversing dungeons slightly lacks the polish the original game was known for. This is not to say Persona 5 Strikers is a buggy game, far from it, but there were more than a few times that I found myself struggling with jumping from cover to cover and getting caught by guards. The way the game adapts the stealth-based gameplay of Persona 5 while managing to creatively innovate on how you explore the Metaverse is overall quite engaging. I’m still a big fan of the removal of the deadlines enforced by the modern Persona formula, as it wouldn’t have really worked in this context. With a convenient story addition, they’ve also made it possible to revisit Jails after you’ve already moved on to the next city. This way you never feel like you’ve missed out on anything because you weren’t thorough enough while exploring.
The main reason you can revisit Jails seems to be tied to the game’s side quest system. Many of these require you to go back and comb them to kill enemies in a certain way or find some items. While most make it very clear where you need to go to find it, a certain ongoing set of quests require you to explore the entire dungeon to find lingering desires with very vague instructions. I wouldn’t even bring this up if it wasn’t for the fact that the Sapporo version of this quest took me around two hours. This could be (see: is likely) on me though, so take that with a grain of salt. The side quests overall are a bit of a mixed bag, and it’s a bit of a shame that some of the weakest ones reward you with a significant expansion of the game’s BOND system. The side quests shine the best when you’re doing the ones coming directly from your friends, and I certainly recommend doing this as soon as they pop up.
I’m happy to say I’m just as positive as I was on the combat as when I previously previewed the game. The combination of the turn-based Persona gameplay people know and love and the simple-to-pick-up nature of Dynasty Warriors has come together much better than anyone could ever expect. Fans worried that the marrying of gameplay styles would lead Persona 5 Strikers to become a mindless action game will be happy to hear those worries are unfounded. Ambushing your foes is the key to beginning battles with a great advantage, and since you almost immediately have access to play as any of the Phantom Thieves is great. By focusing on a much smaller cast, Omega Force and ATLUS were able to give them all quite a bit of depth and growth that lasts throughout the entire game.
Joker’s Persona system is a highlight, and Koei Tecmo has added some improvements to the Velvet Room that I hope make a return in future games. If you obtain a new Persona mask with a full deck, it’s added to the compendium and can be summoned once with no cost. By fusing and collecting Personas you gain points, which can be spent to level up specific ones. About halfway through the game, you even unlock the ability to level up specific stats as well. This was great, as it allowed Personas like Arsene viable for more than just the first dungeon.
While I certainly had some favorites to play as (like Yusuke), and characters I didn’t vibe with (the second I was able to, Morgana got benched), the cast as a whole is quite a blast to play as. By compartmentalizing combat to little sections, instead of flooding the maps with enemies, they’re also able to prevent battles from getting stale or boring. The difficulty was also very engaging, which is something I tend to have a problem with almost every Dynasty Warriors spin-off. Normal, which tends to frequently be boring in its simplicity, gave me a decent challenge the entire time. Lastly, the wonderfully designed bosses are all very fun despite some overstaying their welcome just a bit.
All my criticisms of the game’s Nintendo Switch port remain, and like with my preview I think overall it’s a solid way to experience the game. Thanks to the engine, there unfortunately is no real way to play a completely crisp, anti-aliased version of Persona 5 Strikers to my knowledge. The concessions made for portable play are, in my opinion, worth it and not nearly as egregious as previously released Omega Force games to come out on Switch. It runs at a mostly solid 30 frames per second, and, as for pop-in, I think as the game goes on it relies maybe a bit too much on pre-rendered cinematics and backgrounds to recreate Persona 5’s aesthetic within the limitations and cinematics. I played almost exclusively on my Nintendo Switch Lite and found the small screen size made up for a lot of the very aliased models.
Persona 5 Strikers is my favorite spin-off game in the series. It takes the concepts of one of my favorite games, puts them in a new genre, and has a story that goes above and beyond what was expected from it. Best of all, for those who thought Persona 5 was too long, Persona 5 Strikers is presented in a much more concise package. I hope ATLUS revisits this style of game again because this is a great framework as is and it could only improve further with another attempt to iron out some of the flaws. Koei Tecmo’s adaptation of Persona 5’s aesthetic is quite impressive, they really outdid themselves.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by ATLUS