Last summer we saved the world from certain ruin. Sure, nobody remembers the metaverse subsuming reality, or the fact that we saved them from annihilation, but such is life for the Phantom Thieves. We don’t do it for the fame and glory — we do it to make the world a better place, one reformed criminal at a time.
Of course, in the few months since Joker went away, someone has been poking around with the metaverse again, setting in motion a new wave of ruin that only you and your Persona-wielding confidants can avert. You’re not sure who’s caused this, or what their end-game is, you just know that responsibility for stopping the end of the world falls squarely on your shoulders once more.
So begins Persona 5 Strikers — a sequel to Persona 5, but specifically not to Persona 5 Royal’s additions – and a first for the series in that it blends Koei Tecmo’s musou gameplay with the standard Persona mechanics we know and love.
As I previously wrote, Persona 5 Strikers is the action-packed spin-off you didn’t know you needed, putting a thoroughly refreshing spin on proceedings. Think the hack and slash of Dynasty Warriors coupled with the rock-paper-scissors, gotta catch ‘em all of Pokémon, and multiplied by social commentary and real-world lore and mythology instead of random ducks with headaches. You take direct control of one character at a time, switching between them to create combo attacks on the fly. While you do give over some control of the party members you aren’t currently using, it’s still wonderfully freeing to hop between Joker, Haru, Morgana and beyond, stringing together their attacks one after another.
You’ll be diving into city-sized Jails this time, instead of Palaces, facing off against Monarchs instead of Rulers. It’s action-packed, but it’s not as big a challenge as in Persona 5, thanks to the forgiving way you can jump in and out of Jails at will, giving your party a break to replenish their HP and SP.
While the gameplay is significantly different, as a sequel it’s excellent and I have absolutely loved getting to kick back and hang out with the original Phantom Thieves once again. The writing is as engaging as ever, and the music in Persona 5 is and always will be exemplary. A couple of the tracks have been slightly reworked, meaning that Rivers in a Dry Land now slaps like never before. It’s the same soundtrack you know and love, but now with extra metal. It’s basically like Makoto before and after she meets Johanna.
The most compelling reason to pick up Strikers is the chance to hang out with your friends one more time. Although you can play this as a standalone adventure with no knowledge of the series, you do yourself a massive disservice if you do this. That’s as nonsensical as trying to play Final Fantasy X-2 before Final Fantasy X. You can do it, but that doesn’t mean you should.
In a nutshell, Strikers is a road trip around Japan with your friends, and the game excels in this regard. Although you don’t quite get to go where you want in each city, you do get to see some really cool places that are pretty true to the cities they represent. Sapporo looks and feels like Sapporo, and I got a giddy kick out of seeing the Glico man on Dotonbori Street. It felt just like I was back travelling around Japan, albeit with a slightly different set of friends this time.
Persona 5 Strikers also has the bonus of not being a race against the constant march of time, as the main releases always have been. Those of you who like completing these games to 100% know the feeling of checking a walkthrough every 10 minutes to make sure you’re seeing the right person at the right time, on the right day, saying the right things to max out your relationship stats. This is not a problem in Strikers, and you can happily see the whole thing without a walkthrough or guide. There are activities and side missions restricted to each city, but it’s pretty obvious when you’re about to move on, so you can relax and just enjoy the trip.
However, this lack of focus is also to the game’s detriment.
Gone are your friends from the last game — the weapons dealer, medic and journalist who helped you attain stronger personas — along with the other NPC confidants. Gone too are your maxed out friendships with your party members. If one of them was your girlfriend by the end of the last game, they’re no longer aware of it, which feels a bit disingenuous.
Likewise, your friends from Persona 5 Royal never existed in this universe, so if you’re looking forward to catching up with Kasumi, you’re out of luck. Instead, your new characters Sophie and Zenkichi step up to the plate to steal your heart. Both are excellent and Sophie in particular will melt even the coldest goddamn heart.
As with these forgotten relationships, the maxed out Personas from the main game have also disappeared. Instead of assuming that you got to bestie status with your party members, unlocking their ultimate Persona, the game lumps you with the default throughout. If you poured as many hours into the last game as I did, seeing your hard work overlooked leaves a bit of a bad feel.
My last issue with Persona 5 Strikers is that there are a couple of quality of life tweaks that would go a long way to improving the game. Although there are some light improvements here and there, it feels in some ways like one step forward, two steps back. Some of these are little things like your friends seeing locked chests through walls, or locking you out of Level 3 lockpicking until almost the end of the game, when you will encounter Level 3 locks by the midpoint.
Other, more substantial issues are sprung up by changes to the persona system, in that you acquire Personas through enemies dying into masks, rather than negotiating at gunpoint as per franchise convention. Any masks you pick up beyond what you can carry get turned into points that you can use to strengthen your personas. That’s fine, but it doesn’t give you the option to keep a mask that you’ve just picked up if it’s one you don’t have but want — instead, it is indiscriminately ground into level-up resources, which is less useful on the whole.