At the end of Persona 5, we split with a great cast of characters we loved more and more over the course of a 100 hour story. Last year’s Persona 5 Royal gave us an excuse to repeat the same adventure with additional content, but fans longed for a completely new journey. Persona 5 Strikers brings together the cast of the original game six months later in a brand new journey through Japan. Although it drastically changes some key elements of the experience, it still feels like a real, compelling sequel to the game that stole the hearts of RPG fans almost four years ago.
Many parts of the Persona 5 experience go into Strikers. After hearing rumors of people abusing their power, control the phantom thieves as you investigate the allegations before jumping into the cognitive world of the Metaverse to break into their dungeon (which this time is referred to as “prisons”) and to change their hearts. Along the way, you’ll battle your way through tons of shadows as you approach the leader of the dungeon for a climatic showdown. While knowing the history of the original game will improve the experience, there is no need to enjoy Strikers. The familiarity of this formula is like a heartfelt homecoming for those who have played Persona 5, but once you start taking down enemies, it’s obvious that this is a different beast from the traditionally turn-based RPG series.
When it’s time to fight, Persona 5 Strikers switches from a methodical dungeon crawler to an all-out action game. The hack-and-slash fighting style of Musou games like Dynasty Warriors is implemented in small encounters. Each Phantom Thief has light and heavy attacks that you use in various combinations to perform special attacks with status effects. I liked the frenetic and intuitive action that comes with slashing hordes of enemies and seeing them fly off the edge of Joker’s knife or Panther’s whip, but the combat adds extra depth to the characters’ personas.
At any point in a battle, you can summon a character’s persona. The action pauses while you select a spell and the affected area. When you hit an enemy’s weakness, you open them up for a follow-up attack. If you hit them hard enough, you will launch a powerful all-out attack that will have the entire team pouncing on the enemies instantly. The summoning system combined with quick combat and various environmental interactions provide a smooth experience that allows you to defeat enemies in a stylish and efficient way. In my favorite battles, I would alternate between characters, rattle off various combos, exploit weaknesses with their personas, detonate explosives, drop chandeliers, and deliver devastating final blows to end the show. A steady stream of this action would be exhausting, but Persona 5 Strikers does a good job of speeding up the encounters in the prisons.
Prisons share many characteristics with Persona 5’s palaces. Both exist in the metaverse, have a ruler that you want to defeat in order to change their behavior in the real world, and are full of shadows to remove. However, prisons do not deliver the creativity of palace design. I appreciated the waypoint that always told me where to go, but when almost every prison is a point-to-point B-endeavor, I ended up feeling like I was just going through the motions to get to my destination. A prison tries to confuse the formula with a short stealth section and paths with portals that dump you into other areas, but these changes seem more like half-hearted gimmicks that I was happy to see abandoned after a gig.
Every prison is ruled by a monarch, a powerful individual in the real world who has found a way to steal the desires of everyday people in order to essentially enslave them. Instead of indulging in one of the seven deadly sins, monarchs have corrupted their hearts through some form of personal trauma. I had trouble sympathizing with the characters at times when the time came for them to change their hearts, but if that narrative thread works, the Persona 5 Strikers story delivers some really touching sequences about how trauma can transform a person. These moments are amplified by how many of them draw parallels to what a member of your team went through in the first game.
Meeting various members of the Phantom Thieves was the element I looked forward to the most in Persona 5 Strikers, and it delivers for the most part. I loved learning what they’d been up to since the first game and seeing how they grew even more through this adventure. However, I was disappointed that I had limited social simulation options. The social link mechanic is nowhere to be found in Strikers. Instead, you have a bond system that you can use to update the party. You can talk to the characters around town and invite a companion of your choice to perform certain activities throughout the story, but the conversations are usually inconsequential and unconvincing.
While every different element doesn’t come together as well as it did in Persona 5, I was more than happy to embark on another adventure with the characters I bonded with in 2017. The action may play out completely differently, but the heart of The Series remains.