When you love a series, there are bound to be concerns when something unexpected comes along. Persona proved it could handle variations with the musical Dancing spin-offs. Now, Persona 5 Strikers is poised to steal hearts again. It shows that yes, Persona 5 can work as an action-RPG with beat’em up elements. Persona 5 Strikers is a perfect opportunity to reunite with the Phantom Thieves.
In fact, Persona 5 Strikers begins by “getting the band back together.” It picks up after the events of the original game (and not Royal). Joker heads back to Tokyo to reunite with his friends for summer fun. Except things don’t exactly go as planned.
After Joker, Morgana, and Ryuji run into an idol named Alice while shopping for a group camping trip, they find themselves in the Metaverse again. This time, a twisted version is Alice is there, dragging in other people, and it’s considered a Jail. Fortunately, they run into “Humanity’s Companion,” an enigmatic amnesiac named Sophia, who lets them out. Since people are in danger, corrupt individuals still reign, and everyone has time to kill, the Phantom Thieves end up spending their time off traveling around Japan and saving the day again.
Now, the important thing going in to Persona 5 Strikers is to know this is a combination of everything you know about Persona and the Koei Tecmo and Omega Force Musou games. However, this doesn’t mean it is like 2020’s Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity or Dynasty Warriors. It’s far more thoughtful than that. It’s honestly executed in such a way that only the absolute best parts of a Musou game, say the combat and the approach to finding objectives while on missions, are maintained. This is to Persona 5 Strikers’ benefit, as it means things like tedious back-and-forth elements and mindless grinding against hordes of foes feel less pronounced.
For the most part, Persona 5 Strikers feels like an action-RPG approach to the series. When the Phantom Thieves are in the real world, you’ll take part in things as close to daily life as possible. For example, you’ll investigate the corrupted individual, the King, behind the Jail. You’ll shop at stores. Maybe you’ll cook up some food. You can still choose Joker’s responses when talking during event scenes, to feel like you have some sense of agency over events.
Once you head into a Jail, things largely feel like business as usual. You’ll have to try and keep the Security Level down, so you can open chests and avoid getting enemies riled up. Areas need to be scouted out, especially if they involve things that keep you from “waltzing” into an area. (An early example involves spotlights.) As in the main Persona games, you can’t jump right into the big boss fight and have to find certain items to open up the path. This can feel a little more like a fetch quest than a puzzle sometimes, but they provide effective enough motives. You’ll still collect and fuse Personas, which you can switch on the fly to have access to different movesets. And as in Persona 5 Royal, it still feels like a very active game where you’re constantly aware of the space around you. Joker can jump up onto things like streetlights and ledges, and you can take advantage of positioning to avoid or attack enemies.
Which means the really big difference is that Persona 5 Strikers is a beat’em up. When you encounter an enemy, you’re not just facing a handful of shadows. No, you’re fighting a whole group. There might be one Shadow notably stronger than the others, but in any case, you see exactly how many enemies there are and chain together light and strong attacks for basic hits. If you press a button, you can bring out your ranged weapon to exploit weaknesses. Hold down a trigger, and you get a menu of magic spells and special abilities to deal damage. And, if you hit that weakness and stun foes, you can perform the series’ trademark All-Out Attacks to finish enemies off.
What really is great about these combat segments is how the Persona elements keep them from devolving into mindless button-mashing or sessions where you constantly grind. If you’re familiar with the series, you’ll already recognize the enemies and know which elements to use. This lets you finish them off quickly. So yes, you can go in with a flurry of hits to wipe everything out quickly. But if you chose a higher difficulty level or feel like being tactical, you can approach it that way too. As long as you’re smart and keep an eye on your skills, it feels like the odds will never be against you. Especially since characters level up without too much trouble and each feel different, which means you can find a favorite or two to focus on if you’d like. And while you are facing large numbers, the fact that you’re in these bigger dungeons makes it feel more natural than the smaller groups in the Persona 5 Palaces.
It also all picks up perfectly where Persona 5 left off. Characters still have that natural connection and play well off of each other. Newcomers, like Sophia and Zenkichi, don’t feel forced into the story and instead help move the plot along. It doesn’t feel like an unrealistic sequel. Rather, it’s a fitting extension.
However, that does bring up the biggest thing that keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending it to anyone. Persona 5 Strikers is a game that has “required reading.” This is one for the fans. It is undoubtedly my favorite example of the Omega Force Musou formula being applied to another intellectual property, but you will feel lost and won’t have the same sense of connection if you haven’t played Persona 5 or Persona 5 Royal. Though, in the case of the latter, you might also feel a bit melancholy due to it not pulling from the updated rerelease.
Still, Persona 5 Strikers nails the atmosphere perfectly and doesn’t make it feel like you have to review everything beforehand. It succinctly lets you know that the areas you’ll explore are larger and you may have to do a little more research to prepare, but your team has your back. Granted, it is something that will be best enjoyed and appreciated by those who know and love these characters. But overall, Persona 5 Strikers is a fantastic fusion of what the Persona and Musou series have to offer.
Persona 5 Strikers is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC on February 19, 2021 for people who pre-order the Digital Deluxe edition. Its official release date is February 23, 2021.