Title: Persona 5 Strikers
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: February 23, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Genre: Action RPG
A year ago, I played the Japanese demo for the Persona 5 sequel, Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers, named Persona 5 Strikers in the west. While I was eagerly anticipating Strikers, my hunger for good Persona content was already satisfied by the release of Persona 5 Royal. Now that Persona 5 Strikers is here, I can see it as more of a desert to the main course.
Developed jointly by Omega Force and P-Studio, Persona 5 Strikers stars the Phantom Thieves as they reunite a couple of months after the conclusion of Persona 5 Royal. The group plans to have a good time, but it doesn’t take long for the video game plot to introduce obstacles.
“Changes of Heart” have been taking place across the country, on regular people, to their own detriment. The crime being supernatural in nature has left the police at a standstill. Until they turn their focus to the phantom thieves, with plans to arrest them whether or not they have evidence. And so begins the Phantom Thieves’ journey to clear their names by figuring out the mastermind behind these incidents.
Since they are happening nationwide, the gang won’t just hang around Tokyo this time. Luckily though, it’s summer vacation. This means that managing school won’t be an issue, and by borrowing an RV, they can turn this adventure into an action-packed road trip.
You would expect that Persona 5 Scramble to take on the Musou-style of gameplay that Omega Force is known for, a sort of hack-and-slash subgenre the developer is known. These can be typically characterized as titles where you fight swathes and swathes of enemies with screen-clearing attacks, often accentuating just how many single hit point mooks you’ve destroyed with one swing. But this is so much more than that.
So let’s break down this combat. You can lock on enemies with the R3 button, and you have six buttons for actions. These actions are a combination of attack, special, gun, summon, jump and dodge. Jump and dodge are self-explanatory, but you can double jump, and it’s possible to dodge into a sprint or in midair.
The gun button has to be held down and pauses time for you to aim your character’s ranged weapon before restarting when you press the summon button to fire your character’s ranged weapon. Summon also needs to be held down and brings up a menu that has you select which skill you want your character’s persona to use.
The special button performs an action exclusive to that character, and finally, the attack button pulls off a basic combo. The combo will either finish off on its own or restart if you keep pressing the attack button; it’s also possible to trigger a finisher at the end of a combo. These finishers vary per character, but you’ll be able to use weaker versions of Persona skills within them to trigger weaknesses, such as Yusuke dropping some ice magic at the end of his katana flurries or Ryuji bringing in the lightning.
There’s a solid amount of depth here I haven’t even gone into what differentiates it from other Musou style games. The set up is generally “what if Persona 5 was an action game?” Well, it’s rather exciting. Exploiting weaknesses, status ailments, and casting buffs and debuffs are just as vital here as it is in any other Persona title. Guns provide you with some much-wanted range and have a higher critical hit chance.
When you wail on an enemy enough or exploit a weakness with a skill, you’ll be able to trigger a “once more” that will allow you to get a decently powerful follow-up strike in for extra damage. These strikes will bring you close to the enemy to let you knock out a couple of extra combo hits in their face, or you can switch to an ally to do it. The latter is important because when you switch characters, or baton pass, as the game calls it, referencing said mechanic from the original game, a character’s showtime gauge increases more than it usually does for a short period of time.
As you land attacks, you build up showtime, which can be used in a super attack that not only does a bunch of damage, but most importantly, will interrupt enemy actions. Enemies will often attempt wide-ranging attacks, inflict status ailments or even try to exploit your elemental weaknesses themselves, but it’s possible to learn these patterns and trajectories, so you can dodge and emerge unscathed.
You can even use your environment to your advantage by breaking nearby obstacles or using them as leverage to dash off of. Dealing enough damage will break an enemy’s guard meter, which will leave them vulnerable to a classic all out attack, making it probably your best bet against mobs. All out attacks deal AoE almighty damage after all, and nothing resists almighty damage. They’re not as useful in boss fights, but have they ever been in past games?
Each member of the Phantom Thieves has a unique moveset and special that impacts the combat in different ways. You have access to the whole gang early on, along with the new light-based member Sophia. Coincidentally, that makes for three different light themed party members across Persona 5 games, with the others being Goro Akechi and Kasumi Yoshizawa. These two are not in Persona 5 Strikers in any way, and I’m slightly disappointed in that. I know Persona 5 Royal and Strikers were in development simultaneously, but I would have at least liked some sort of acknowledgment that these characters existed even if they aren’t playable. Or the reverse.
Anyway, I digress. Character specials can be as simple as Joker having a simple gun combo, Ann enchanting her melee attacks with fire, or Ryuji upping his strength and adding super armor. These generally compound with the cast members’ individual unique traits, like Ryuji being able to charge up his combo finishers, allowing them to deal more damage.
One new character restores small amounts of HP when they use combo finishers, but their special boosts their attack power considerably, nullifies the HP recovery, and slowly drains their health. This makes for some fantastic on the fly risk vs. rewards strategizing, when should I turn it on, when should I turn it off, what’s going to help me get the most use out of these. On top of these, each character has unlockable master arts, which are more passive traits that can change how you fight.
Especially notable is Joker’s master art that allows him to follow up his gunshots with melee hits akin to Kingdom Hearts 3’s airstep. This is probably my favorite master art because it gives Joker the ability to jump in close from any distance, which is not only a beneficial movement option but also Kingdom Hearts 3 muscle memory meant that I kept trying to do that in this game before I unlocked the master art out of sheer instinct.
Anyway, this all means that every character has their own playstyle that will fit different situations, just like a Persona game, and the combat never gets old. It’s stylish, fast, challenging, and very very fun.
You won’t be able to cover every situation with just three non-Joker party members, but that’s where the wild card comes in. Enemies will drop masks now and then, allowing Joker to use as an extra persona with their own strengths and weaknesses. You can then visit the velvet room to smoosh them together and fuse more persona.
If you acquire duplicate masks, you’ll obtain Persona points. These can be used to level up and increase the stats of other personas in your stock, allowing you to get all the skills on them before you fuse them off to something else. You can also try to use these points to keep Arsene viable for the entire game. It’s a trap, don’t do it; it won’t work. The velvet room in Persona 5 Strikers is very strange, all things considered. With only Lavenza, it feels empty and very supplementary to the goings-on, especially since you don’t even get to fight her as a bonus boss, unlike other games.
When you aren’t in combat, you and the Phantom Thieves will be out and about solving the mysterious change of heart incidents. You’ll have to investigate environments whenever Sophia picks up the presence of a jail, so you can figure out where it is and what to do about it. Jails are the new dungeons and take the role of palaces of the original game. Don’t worry, calling cards still exist, and they’re still cool.
Your main shop is Sophia’s online store, which she hosts by buying things from other stores. However, you cannot mass buy consumable items, which means you’ll need to grab drinks from vending machines, and food from stores in each location to replenish your reserve of items. You can talk to your friends and complete a couple of time-limited requests in each area. Otherwise, you can take as much time as you want. Leaving a jail restores your health, and store items are replenished when you beat enough enemies or whenever the date changes. This only happens when you get far enough to plot so that you can take your time with everything.
The story itself makes for a nice addition to Persona 5’s narrative but only shares some similarities with Persona 5 Royal’s additional content. This can mean the overall story feels a bit samey and it also has old jokes from past titles that have outstayed their welcome. However, there are a lot of cool moments within the tale that are a lot of fun. Focusing on the gang as a whole means they get time to actually interact with each other, with arcs dedicated to characters who didn’t get fleshed out enough in the original game or could use some extra patching up.
The camaraderie between teammates makes for many fun events and is even tied into gameplay with a bond level. Completing requests and hanging out with friends increases “Bond,” which gives you points you can put into abilities that boost money gained in dungeons, stats, or something unique. Thanks to that request system, you can also rematch the fantastic boss fights in the game at your leisure. Except, of course, the coolest one. The new characters are largely interesting, and are what ultimately make the foundations of the great aspects of the story. And I quite liked the new lab coat girl Kira Buckland voices. Kuon Ichinose…. Best girl.
Atlus cannot write police, though, and I cannot tell if they’re trying to make the police better or worse than what they were in Persona 5, or they’re just making the Phantom Thieves a bunch of do-gooders who happen to have supernatural powers and share a combined three brain cells and Yusuke is using one for his art. I love these dumbasses.
The UI becomes very tired very quickly. In combat, or when free-roaming, it’s great and captures Persona 5’s signature style. Still, the menus’ prettiness wears off when their animations end up making you take a couple of seconds every time you need to change someone’s weapon or modify your party. It’s not long, but it makes things feel slightly tedious.
You can’t change many options within the game, but you can always change the difficulty, the voice tracks, and whether you want the title optimized for frame rate or visual presentation. However, I didn’t really notice much of a difference on PS4. Maybe it has more of an impact on the Switch?
The pre-rendered cutscenes seem to have been rendered for the Switch’s handheld screen and can make them look very clunky, but luckily that only happens once or twice. The dungeon crawling is very aesthetically pleasing and fast-paced, but the run cycle feels somewhat awkward when you’re in a city, and it’s a bit slow. This is often ignorable but a bit annoying when you need to roam around to get items or when there’s one voice line playing over and over and over during this time, which occurs specifically in Sapporo.
Aside from the outstanding combat and the large replication of Persona 5’s visual flair, the music is probably the other most important part of this game. The original songs here are fantastic, and there are a ton of them. Each location has its own special theme, and the new battle tracks are amazing. Brace yourself for the power of counter strike when you eventually hear it.
The main battle theme did get a bit tired about 50 hours in, but you can alter it to either Last Surprise or Take Over from Persona 5 and Royal provided you have Save Data from those games. On the Nintendo Switch, you unlock these tracks by having the save data for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the system.
Mini-bosses and main bosses have new remixes of Last Surprise and Blooming Villian as well as other pieces from the original tracklist, and I cannot fault them at all. I enjoyed this soundtrack immensely as I blasted my way through.
I don’t think anyone expected Persona 5 Strikers to be as fleshed out as it is. There’s a massive full game here with well over 50 hours of content for you to experience. Further, it’s a way to reunite with a cast that you’ve probably already spent just as long with, if not more. The action-RPG systems make for a surprisingly fun and addictive gameloop that isn’t overshadowed by the mainline entries and it still offers more than enough unique elements that differentiate it from a Musou title.
I very much enjoyed my time with Persona 5 Strikers, and I’m very excited to see what we’ll get next. Until then, I guess I’ll replay the game? I’ve got a New Game+ run on Risky difficulty that I’m ready to continue.
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