Developed By: Omega Force & P-Studio
Published By: ATLUS
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch & PC
Reviewed On: PS5
One of the best games of the last generation, Persona 5 came out to universal acclaim in 2017 and managed to bring the Persona brand more widely to the masses. It was Incredibly stylish, had wonderful artwork, an addictive soundtrack and a cast of likeable characters that really resonated with old and new players alike. The popularity of the game saw the spinoff Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight release in 2018 as well as the definitive edition, Persona 5 Royal released in 2019 to give fans more of the universe they loved so much. Now 4 years later, Persona 5 Strikers comes as a collaboration from Omega Force (Dynasty Warriors series) and P Studio as a true sequel. The game also marks a shift from traditional RPG to action RPG bringing a new dimension to the beloved series.
We were granted the opportunity to review this title all thanks to our wonderful PR contacts but If I’m being honest, I walked into this review with an obvious chip on my shoulder. My first experience with the series was with Persona 4 Golden on the Vita. I got the system way back when as a birthday present from my wife and was looking at the best games to play on it. Persona 4 Golden was at the top of that list and so I got it and absolutely loved it.
When Persona 5 was announced I was there on day one and unfortunately throughout my journey with the Persona 5 crew I was going through a challenging period of my life, and I think it’s understandable how memories often attach themselves to things we experience at certain points in our lives. Objectively I still do think that although Persona 5 was a great game, it still went on for way too long and had pacing issues. On the other hand, after 100+ hours and the credits started rolling on I sat there unable to feel satisfied I had finished the game.
Even though I did find some issues in Persona 5 Strikers that were less than ideal, this time I was able to walk away from the experience in a much better light and I will do my best to relay my thoughts on how that came about in this review.
The World Isn’t Neatly Divided Into Good & Evil
Persona 5 Strikers is set four months after the events of Persona 5 where after some time apart, Joker and the gang decide to spend their summer vacation together on a camping trip. To help in the planning of their trip the group decides to use a popular new app called EMMA (which is like a combination of Alexa or Siri with social media platforms) which coincidentally brings them in the path of a popular idol Alice Hiiragi. Innocently connecting with the idol over EMMA suddenly brings the group back into the cognitive world where the Phantom Thieves are called back into action. Appropriately enough the further the group descends into the rabbit hole the bigger the threat they discover which brings them all over Japan on a road trip to once again save the world.
There is a new change of heart epidemic sweeping the nation that unfortunately brings the spotlight back to the Phantom Thieves and a brand new investigation is launched led by public sector officer, Zenkichi Hasegawa (voiced by Nolan North). This time instead of exploring Palaces, players are now fighting through Jails to get to the source of that cognitive space, the shadow versions of characters referred to as Monarchs. Along the way, players are introduced to the second new character, the sentient A.I Sophia who has no memory of herself except for the prime directive of being humanity’s companion.
The story in Persona 5 Strikers can be all too familiar (at least initially) but manages to carve enough out of its own thing to feel like a worthwhile new chapter that adds on the Persona 5 universe. To be fair, there is a lot that feels like retreading including character roles and also story progression which really put me off especially since a lot of the style, graphical assets and even loading screens are lifted straight out of Persona 5. It was compounded further by how Zenkichi and Sophia are basically playing the roles of Sae Niijima and Morgana from Persona 5 as investigator and amnesiac new team member. There is also how the renamed palaces were exactly just that coupled with the awkward first few hours it really felt like just a quick cash grab with no real intention to evolve from what fans loved in the first place.
Thankfully the game continued to pick up and got better throughout its 40-50 hour playtime. Zenkichi and Sophia really grew into their own and by the end feel absolutely essential to the continuing story of the Phantom Thieves and their adventures probably even more so than their predecessors. What I also felt was acceptable is that although Jails are essentially Palaces, and the Monarchs are one and the same as Shadow versions of the villains it worked because there is an effort from the developers to humanize them in what may seem a small and inconsequential way that pays off in the grand arc of the story. It really won me over in the end due to how neatly all the multiple threads and levels of storytelling came together in the most satisfying way. For fans of the series, this is more of what you love and for newcomers, I would suggest just give it time if it didn’t win you over the first few hours. It won’t be as great as Persona 5 was but is still a worthy effort.
I Am Thou, Thou Art I
Persona 5 Strikers also manages to retain all the best stylistic qualities of Persona 5 although that might not be saying much. I mean I do enjoy how Persona 5 is stylistically, but I would think it would be normal to expect a certain level of change especially from a sequel even if it’s not a major one. Character models, menu designs, layouts, the environments and even the loading screens can really feel like it was lifted straight out of Persona 5 and I think on that front it might boil down to personal preference. If you really loved Persona 5 it’s just more of that, If you felt like you wanted an evolution of that you’re not really going to find it here. It might have bothered me initially, but I found it to be forgivable.
Performance-wise, whether on the performance or graphical mode the game ran at a rock-solid 60fps on the PS5 without any problems whatsoever. I did not encounter any graphical hitches or crashing issues but there was one kind of glaring minor issue, the lack of anti-aliasing. Once you notice it just feels off, but you eventually get used to it. Playing on the graphics mode does improve things but it is still there.
When it comes to the soundtrack, what more can I add to how amazing it is. It is still as incredible, infectious, and addicting as ever. Tracks like “Daredevil” and the remix of “Last Surprise” is just too good to not go on rotation. “Towards a Dream” is just a beautiful track that is my personal favourite. There is just so much to keep loving about the soundtrack. Voice acting is also as usual top-notch and although initially I was distracted by Nathan Drake voicing Zenkichi it ended up being a great and memorable performance by Nolan North. The great work the voice actors do just makes what is good, better, and more loveable.
Become Humanity’s Companion
The biggest question would be how well Persona 5 Strikers handles the genre shift from a more traditional RPG approach to Action RPG. Mostly everything from Persona 5 is here but some aspects have been removed or replaced with another mechanic entirely. I found that it works for the most part, but it really is not a flawless transition. There were changes that were both for the better and well not exactly for the worse but just did not really come off smoothly.
To start with, there is no time management aspect in Persona 5 Strikers. The calendar and transitions of days is still there but its mostly just for aesthetics and the player does not have to feel like they missed out on maximizing relationships which brings me to the next change. There is no social link system in the game. It has been replaced by a new Bond system which is tied to completing requests (which are back) or picking the right dialogue choices to maximize gains. Players can also “cheese” early on the Bond gains by repeating a certain activity in each location that you visit. For example, in Shibuya players can keep buying fortune tickets to get the boost, switch to a different area then come back to repeat it. It helps a lot as there are a lot of Bonds to maximise things like getting more money after battles or healing health when ambushing enemies that will greatly help the player to survive as least for the first few hours or so due to how rough it can be.
I am not a fan of how the first 10 hours or so unfolded especially when it came to traversing the Jails. Three are three difficulty settings in the game (Easy, Normal, Hard) but I found that playing on normal felt exactly right due to the difficulty spikes that can feel annoying at times. This is because of how hard it is to regain SP especially early in the game and the only way to do it would be to leave the Jail at checkpoints and come back. It just felt so tedious to have to do that constantly but luckily once you unlock Joker’s Kitchen it becomes somewhat manageable. It is a quite simple barebones aspect of the game where Joker can learn and cook dishes that can be used in battles to regain HP or SP.
One way to circumvent using up your SP for casting magic is by utilizing the new combos that Joker and the gang now have being an Action RPG. A combination of the square and triangle buttons can unleash combos that auto casts magic without using up your SP but its quite difficult due to how targeting is not your friend most times as the target area can be smaller than usual. It’s not all bad though as battles are frantic and quite enjoyable and I think I might even prefer this new approach with the exception of boss and strong enemy types. They are simply weird annoying damage sponges. The reason why I say weird is in every single boss encounter, getting the boss down to 50% health takes way too long but once you get there it just suddenly becomes a breeze (except for one boss in the Kyoto area that becomes a maniac when he has about 5% health). I also feel that recovery from getting stunned takes way too long and always results in the player getting stun locked to death so that can be frustrating.
Still, at the end of the day it ended up being a perfectly functional and fun combat system and that was good enough for me.
What I Liked
- Characters – The loveable gang is back here, and the new additions end up being essential.
- Soundtrack – It is just so damn good it’s unbelievable.
- Action RPG – I really like the switch to being more action-focused but it does seem like there is more work to be done on perfecting it.
- Story – The story for me went from being uninspired to surprising me with parallels and layers to it.
What I Wished Was Better
- Damage Sponges – It is just not fun. It just feels like it goes on for way too long in boss fights and not in a good way. Almost like I am wearing the boss down and myself.
- Growth – Maybe I am asking for too much but from a gameplay perspective I expected more but I suppose what we got in the end is just alright.
Sadness Can Hurt People But It Can Also Save Them
Is Persona 5 Strikers better than Persona 5? When it comes down to the total package it does fall short in some regards however It still managed to resonate with me on a more personal level than I expected. There was a moment in Persona 5 Strikers where I had a realization that was probably a long time coming.
Four years ago, sometime in May, I had just sent my parents off after they came to visit me for a couple of days. Then I sat on the couch trying to be careful not to further damage my fractured toe and spent the rest of the day finishing Persona 5 and when I did it was just a muted feeling. I had the whole day because I lost my job a couple of weeks earlier. The same day I found out I was being let go was also the day I accidentally fractured my toe and still reported for duty for the rest of the week. I did it because I did not want to give up but eventually, I did because not one person told me to go home or to get help.
It was such a pathetic end that really broke me because this was THE job. It was the job that I had to fight tooth and nail and endure terrible workplace experiences to get to. It ended up being the worst one not only because of what I was subjected to but also showed me who my friends really were (which became a microscopic circle).
My playthrough of Persona 5 Strikers ended up being a cathartic experience for me because it helped me face and understand my trauma a little bit better. Feeling alone, lost, and helpless but not letting it define me or erode what I stood for and that was always trying to do the right thing. It reminded me why I will always love videogames.
I would also like to dedicate this review to my wife who throughout it all was always by my side and showed such amazing strength and grace that I will always cherish.
Till next time Phantom Thieves.