When I heard the gang was getting back together, the excitement bubbling up inside me was near uncontainable. After the success of Persona 5 Royal, the expanded universe version of the game, Persona 5 Strikers has big boots to fill. The Phantom Thieves are back to save the world again, and for once it won’t just be an excuse to have a dance off…
Other than the all-new combat system, the trailer doesn’t give away too much in terms of what’s going on — something is happening all over Japan, and it involves the Metaverse (the cognitive world halfway between dream and reality) once again.
You don’t need to have played Persona 5, but it will certainly help as the game is set immediately after the events of (quite specifically) Persona 5. This means that if you’ve played Royal, you can forget all about it — it doesn’t seem to be part of the canon anymore, and neither Maruki nor Kasumi are in this game. Instead, we have two new characters: the sentient AI, Sophia, and the shady detective, Zenkichi.
As an aside, if you haven’t played Persona 5, you should really go and do so — I’d easily put it in my top 3 games on the PS4, and if you’ve snapped up a PS5, it’s part of the PlayStation Plus Collection.
The premise of Strikers is relatively simple: following the events of Persona 5, the main character and leader of the Phantom Thieves, Joker, goes away for a few months. Strikers sees him back in Tokyo, looking to spend the summer holidays with his fellow thieves. Having saved the world, and the Metanav having disappeared from his phone, he’s in Tokyo purely to kick back and relax.
Unfortunately, things go somewhat awry. Rather than going off to do summer holiday things — barbecues, beaches and art museums (if Yusuke is to be believed) — Joker is dragged back into the metaverse to find a city-sized Jail where a local celebrity, Alice, is stealing people’s desires to gain notoriety in the real world.
Once a Phantom Thief, always a Phantom Thief, as they say. It’s time to drop your plans and set about trying to save humanity again.
Rather than this just being a new story tacked onto the end of the end of Persona 5, this is a brand-new experience. For a start, you’re heading into Jails and not Palaces, and rather than being limited to just Tokyo, you’ve got to get around Japan and save the whole country. The trailer, for example, shows off the parts of a mission into Japan’s northern-most main island, Hokkaido. The idea of road tripping with the Phantom Thieves is one that will send shivers of excitement down fans’ spines for sure.
Part of what makes Strikers feel so unique, however, is the new hybrid combat style. Instead of the franchise-standard turn-based combat, you now get to run around and fight in the style of the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, coupled with the combo-based gameplay of games of Monster Hunter World, and with the ambush and elemental mechanics of Persona 5. So basically, it’s all my favourite games of the past few years rolled into one.
Unlike Monster Hunter, you don’t pick a weapon, but pick a character instead, seamlessly passing the baton (control) between party members. One moment you’re Joker, flipping through the air, shooting at your enemy, the next you’re Haru, swinging an axe, then you’re Morgana, turning into a bus and running over a different enemy, before jumping over to Makoto, jumping onto Johanna so you can slam the front wheel of your bike into yet another enemy.
You’ll often find yourself swarmed by enemies, as the trailers show you, but that’s no biggie when you’re swinging off lamp posts, launching yourself into the air and blowing up the cars the enemies are gathered around. Combat is not only completely fluid, but extremely stylish and great fun to boot. It may not be what we’re used to, but it’s an excellent take on the franchise.
Obviously, it’s still a Persona game, and there are still the usual mechanics that you’re expecting. Joker can still collect all of the Personas he could before – Igor’s disappearance explains away the need to start again with a new Compendium. There’s also still the rock-paper-scissors elemental weakness system and technicals work as they did before, and the enemies are all the same — so if you see Silky about to cast Bufu on Ann, you know to either crack it with Agi or make Ann dodge out of the way. As I said, you don’t need to play Persona 5 first, but it really does help.
Fortunately, in the midst of the chaos, you can pause and plan, taking stock of the enemies around you, lining up the right elemental attacks or making sure you’re pointing in the right direction before firing your long-range weapon. Each character also has their own set of Master Arts — unique skills they learn as you use them more — encouraging you to mix up your play style and really breathing new life into characters you’ve already developed a strong bond with. Even Oracle gets new mechanics and armour in the form of ‘hacking battles’ (battles where you’re protecting her while she hacks things).
Unfortunately, the autonomy you’re forced to hand over to your comrades (as you can only control one character at a time) means that they do what they want with their SP (the Persona version of MP). Although this will likely make Persona veterans clam up with panic, it’s good to know that unlike the main game, you can pretty much jump in and out of the Jails at will, multiple times per day, to give your characters a quick break, completely replenishing their HP and SP in the process. This makes the game far less difficult than Persona 5, which will come as a major relief to some fans.
I’ve only played up to the end of the first area for this preview, but after a solid six hours, I’m itching to get back into the game and see where our journey takes us next. If Persona 5 Strikers can keep up this level of excellence, it’s sure to be a winner.