Persona 5 Strikers’ Merciless Mode Makes the Game Immensely More Satisfying But Not Without Some Caveats
After beating Persona 5 Strikers, I felt somewhat conflicted. Narrative-wise, I won’t go into specifics, but I was satisfied with the conclusion. Gameplay-wise, however, I was still yearning for far, far more. The issues I discussed prior lingered on my mind as the credits rolled.
I won’t sit here and say that the combat is incapable of enjoyment. It was fun, though it did not hit that sweet spot of character action and enemy frequency. To briefly recap my thoughts, while the movements of combat itself flowed and connected in a gratifying sense, battles rarely ever felt long enough or even challenging enough for me to really sink my teeth into what these characters were capable of.
For instance, I legitimately did not manage to ingrain various characters’ combos even after playing as them for lengthy periods of time. And that’s because most mob fights felt relatively thoughtless. Like other Musou titles, the mobs are essentially just fodder. However, that design choice did not feel like it complemented the type of enemy frequency the game provided.
I would be able to mash through with little to no thought for every battle minus boss fights and the post-game. The fights would end in a flash. Despite there being a few fights, especially near the end of the game, where more thought was required, it felt too little too late and not enough of realized potential.
It is a difficult critique for me to vocalize. Still, essentially, I find longer battles far more effective for understanding character nuance in action games, rather than short bursts of occasional mashing, which is what Strikers tends to be.
The utilities I had such as character combos, the way everyone individually felt, buffs, and debuffs; none of them were ever necessary to understand or use, even on Hard mode. Granted, the post-game content that unlocks with the extra boss battles was legitimately great. These fights were relatively simplistic but were certainly more thrilling than what the base game provided.
Still, aside from buffs and debuffs becoming far more prevalent than they were in the main game, I had this odd unfamiliarity with how each character controlled. This lack of combat time throughout most battles and the lack of needed utilization of what the game provided made the cast ultimately play like hollow shells, which did not truly differ from one another aside from their elemental affinities.
I felt a sense of morbid curiosity when beginning the game again on Merciless difficulty. This mode is only unlocked when completing the post-game, and just about every element from your prior save carries over.
Merciless mode is strictly designed for New Game Plus, which I found to be a smart decision. Rather than the developers having to limit themselves with making this difficulty beatable on a first playthrough, they instead forcefully relegated it behind New Game Plus so that they could go all out with difficulty. And, they sure did.
If you jump into Merciless mode unprepared, you will likely grow frustrated in even the first encounter. Mobs who were once mindless fodder in a normal playthrough are now forces to be reckoned with and can kill you in 2 or 3 hits.
Every enemy has been amplified tenfold, which makes prevailing in this mode a true test for the adept. I will be honest; I had no idea what the hell to do when first beginning the game here because the tutorial battle 2 shotted me. I was baffled and found the immense jump in difficulty pretty humorous, but I was also indescribably excited. Never before did the game offer a challenge of this level during its standard 3 difficulties.
I did eventually progress past that tutorial fight and completed 5 of the Jails. After doing all that, my opinion on the game is mostly the same save for a few select caveats. Persona 5 Strikers feels way too indecisive for its own good. It tries to be both a standard character action title and a Musou, but these elements’ combination fails to make either aspect prosper.
I discussed how, on the standard 3 difficulties during a first playthrough, most mob fights were thoughtless. The more Musou-esque sections should have either been the entirety of how combat was tackled or not incorporated at all, and only the boss battles provided a real sense of challenge.
On Merciless mode, I found these sections to be the game’s greatest weakness. For instance, that first tutorial fight in Shibuya Crossing was just not fun, and that holds true for all of the fights that contain hordes and hordes of enemies like how a typical Musou title would throw at you.
Enemies are far tankier and stronger, which does not suit the typical Musou fare. There is not a feasible way to keep track of each of the numerous mobs in those sections. It really just comes down to skill spamming and constant dashing if all else fails. In contrast, the battles with fewer enemies and bosses were more balanced. Instead of possibly being sniped by an enemy you can barely see and handle, you can see all of who you have to combat in a far more manageable way.
In essence, Merciless mode serves to further make Persona 5 Strikers feel like it should have embraced its traditional action elements more than Musou. The way enemies clearly telegraph their moves and the immense variety between each type feels criminally wasted when haphazardly thrown together in Musou sequences.
That is not to say there aren’t other issues with Merciless mode, however. The option to retry after death has been removed, making progression far more stressful than need be. This added sense of dread may be some players’ cup of tea to make the mode more challenging, but it is a needlessly arbitrary layer of annoyance that wastes time.
Additionally, Merciless is such a drastic uptick of difficulty from Hard to the point where it feels like there are in between difficulties missing. It will likely be a definite turn-off from fans not prepared to tackle it, and I can’t really blame those that turn away. On its earlier difficulty modes, the game does not adequately prepare players for the challenges Merciless mode provides, which is unfortunate.
Merciless mode is by far the most fun I have had with Persona 5 Strikers despite my aforementioned critiques. While the difficulty barrier was a bit too high at first, it granted me the familiarity with how the cast played that I was craving.
The fights being as long as they were finally ingrained how each character controlled with their full combos, and it felt great. Not being able to progress with mindless mashing and paying attention to the combos to understand their lag windows made each of them far more distinct than they did during my first playthrough.
The increased rewards and having the Personas you find out in the wild be in the 70s and 80s made fusing unearned Personas far less of a chore as well. There are some clear upsides to Merciless that make it a truly satisfying and engaging experience, but it is certainly not for everyone.
If you feel content with Strikers after beating it once, this mode is not for you. However, if you feel remotely similar to me and want more out of Strikers’ combat, Merciless mode will fulfill that wish and then some.
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