The phantom thieves are back in action in Persona 5 Strikers!
After unwillingly tumbling back into the metaverse and discovering it is yet again being used for nefarious purposes, they find themselves honour bound to retake their mantles as the people’s saviours. The peoples’ desires are being stolen, driving them to have but a single desire to live for, turning them into mere puppets.
Yet again the phantom thieves are being framed as the prime suspects. It is our job to clear them of the incriminating charges, return everyone’s desires on a trip that will have them sprawled across all of Japan, and smack an uncountable number of shadows back into submission. All they wanted was to enjoy their summer vacation.
Disclaimer: make no mistake, this is a sequel. As much as it is being advertised in a way that makes it appear like a standalone game. This review will likely contain spoilers for Persona 5.
P. P. Pick up a Persona!
Let me debunk some possible Persona perplexity for you. Persona 5 was the first release of recent years. Due to a phenomenally successful launch, well-received reviews and fan praise, we got Persona 5 Royal. This was the same game but with added content, DLC cosmetics, quality of life improvements, extended story, new characters, and some little tweaks to improve overall gameplay. Persona 5 Strikers is a sequel to the original Persona 5, as it was in development during the same time as P5R. This means that any characters/teammates introduced in Royal, do not make an appearance in this game. Nor do the events that take place after the original’s story gets mentioned.
Let us be honest with ourselves for a minute. We waited for the release of Persona 4 on the PS2 before we got Persona 5. Yes, THE PS2! You remember that chunky beast, right? You know, the one where you still needed a memory card to save games? And over the last few years, we have been treated to P5, P5R, Persona 4 Golden (PC), Persona 3: Dancing in the moonlight, Persona 5: Dancing in the Starlight, and now P5S.
Is that too much of Persona saturation? Maybe. Is Atlus slightly milking the current iteration of the franchise? Maybe. Is that far too many times anyone should say ‘Persona’ in any given piece of literature? Definitely. But this has not stopped me throwing my money at each release, keeping my fingers crossed for a P4G release for consoles, a potential P5RS release, and impatiently rocking back and forth in the corner whilst scratching when Persona 6? into the wall with bloodied nails.
A (debatably) needed injection of fresh gameplay has been given to the Persona franchise in Strikers. If you are a fan of the Persona games, then this release will likely be a bit of a marmite situation for you. Although, I think marmite is simply ok, so I am happy with the combat system going down any path in the future. If you are not a fan of the persona games, then, I may question what it is your doing reading this review.
So, I am sure the most important thing you are curious about is the overhauled combat system? Let me assure you, it is delicious. For me, the new combat system clicks perfectly, as I am not a fan of turn-based combat in general. Having the freedom of movement coupled with hack n slash mastery and the ability to jump just blends delectably to form the most sumptuous of gameplay smoothies. (Every game should have a jump button, fight me on it). And what is the most important ingredient for the perfect smoothie? Sugar! Flavour!
This is where the combat truly comes alive. There is a whole host of flavours to choose from. Every character has a distinct fighting style and unique persona abilities at their disposal. From the main character’s acrobatic rogue like dagger diving to Makoto’s ability to slam her motorcycle persona down on shadows, to Morgana’s ability to stun lock shadows by turning into a van and continuously running them over. Look, if you want a game that makes continual sense, and you are the kind of person who orders a boring vanilla smoothie, maybe this game is not for you.
Persona 5 was very evenly split between having you wrestle the warped perceptions of society in the metaverse and juggling an active social and school life in the real world. You could spend time with confidants and teammates on their own, develop connections with people, take part in activities like fishing or gaming. And the game managed to incorporate different ways to make what you did in the real-world effect your abilities in the metaverse.
People (like me) who really enjoyed this balancing act might be left a little disappointed however as none of that returns in Strikers. There is minimal downtime in the real world, which mainly functions as a way to stock up on useable items for the metaverse, or cook food to use in the metaverse, or buy better equipment, to use in the metaverse. The balance has shifted from improving yourself and your connections with people to develop your abilities, and those of your teammates from doing stuff in the real world; to simply acquiring things you can use in the metaverse.
I am confident that this will be a welcomed relief to a lot of gamers though. Many people struggled with the monumental time dedication that P5/R required and having this game streamline everything to simple story progression and action combat will appeal to many.
Time for Another Scientifically Proven ARPG Checklist…
- Having a massive roster of teammates and only allowed 4 in combat for no apparent reason. Check.
- The illusion of choice with dialogue options. Check.
- Each story arc is uncoincidentally written to connect to one of the team members. Check.
- Some teammates are clearly written to be shipped together for the unavoidable fan fiction. Check.
- The game features an adorably cute AI teammate who has no memory of her past, who has material form in the metaverse to help fight shadows with a pair of yo-yos and shoots beams of light damage out of AI constructed monolith things, and then in the real world lives in the protagonist’s phone and serves as a buffed-up Alexa/Cortana. Check. Wait! Not this again…
Visual and Auditory Prowess…
One thing that has not changed in Strikers (thankfully) is the anime-style graphics and the funked-up jazz soundtrack. Walking into a boss fight, knowing you need to be on point with your dodges, attacks, technical strikes, weakness exposing persona abilities etc is only heightened by the badass boss tracks that accompany you.
All the original voice actors return for the main cast, which is a massive boon for me. There is nothing worse than spending hundreds of hours associating a character to a certain voice, only to be replaced further down the line. Especially considering what an amazing job these voice actors do! All the cutscenes are also done using the same animation fidelity that its predecessor used and are an absolute delight to watch.
An interesting thing to note here is that there is an AI in the world of Strikers. Not the one I have already mentioned, A general one that is pivotal to the plot. It is referred to as EMMA and is voiced by Susan Bennett, the original voice behind SIRI that we all are so accustomed to hearing.
Is the Game Worth Picking up?
Short answer: Yes! It has ‘Persona’ in the title!
Long answer: It is incredibly easy for us to be swept up in the hype that a new release leaves in its wake. This is especially true if it is a sequel to a widely beloved game. Even more so if the games in that franchise usually take so long to come to fruition. To the point that it skips whole console generations. Triply especially true if the sequel of a game in that franchise changes the gameplay mechanics of its predecessor. Even though not a single person complained or gave anything but praise to the first. New and different do not always mean something is better. But the game is fun! It's definitely worth your time if you want to know what the phantom thieves’ next adventure is.
Super Long Answer: Final Thoughts…
Make no mistake, this game is super fun. It has an interesting story to unravel and introduces us to some new characters. It is a great plot device to have the characters exploring Japan. Both as a way to find new ‘jails’ to infiltrate and as a way for the team to at least some-what enjoy their summer vacation. However, I would not be doing you any justice if I did not tell you about some of the things that I think are important to know going in. Do not take these as negatives, more so as to information dumps.
If you are curious about the franchise and you are considering picking Strikers as your first entry, please do not. This is especially the case for Switch owners as this is the first game accessible on the Switch. As much as the game tries hard not to reference events of the past, all the characters have their own dynamics that were founded in Persona 5. If you have not played P5, then the personalities of the characters will be lost on you.
If you want this game to follow the story of not only the phantom thieves but all the supporting characters and confidants as well; then you need to know, that they are not even mentioned. Is Mishima still the phantom thieves’ biggest fan and running the phan-site? I could not tell you. Is Takemi being recognised as the disease busting mega doctor she is? I have no idea. Did Hifumi pursue her dream of being the best female shogi player? Who knows?
If you really enjoyed the side activities, the confidant system, momentos, school life, romancing, and the time management system, then all of that has gone also.
None of the things that are not in this game should detract from the experience that this game offers. And they do not. The gameplay is snappy and engaging and most importantly: a whole big heap of smoothie fun. The game needed to define itself as different enough to warrant a full sequel, and it delivers in heaps.
The game can be played as a standalone. You really would be missing a lot of history without playing the previous entry.
I am confident that no matter what your stance is on the combat style shift or the streamlined gameplay, you will still enjoy getting your hands on this game. Persona 5 Strikers is a remarkably engaging game. Even though I enjoyed all the ‘unnecessary’ parts of P5, I still find myself unable to put the controller down.
Persona 5 Strikers is definitely a great addition to the growing Persona franchise. I am hoping it is the start of a series of ARPG Persona style games!