It’s not often you find a game that truly surprises you. I’d never heard of nor played a Persona game before; I had no idea what I was missing out on. Then one day, out of sheer curiosity, I put my money down and bought it. Now, it’s one of my favourite games I’ve ever played. So much so that Persona 5 Royal was my game of the year in 2020. Now with the sequel/spinoff, we get to dive back into the world of thieves that despite some flaws, proves to be worthy of its namesake, and one I couldn’t get enough of.
Story – Thieves on Tour
Anyone who has played an Atlus game knows that story is never an issue. Often quirky and filled with a ton of heart, Persona 5 Strikers is no different. But let’s just be clear: if you want to avoid spoilers and get the best experience with Strikers, play Persona 5/Royal first. It will make this game more rewarding, and frankly, you should be playing Royal anyway; it’s amazing.
Following a few months after the original game, this entry in the series sees the Phantom Thieves reunite during Summer break to enjoy a relaxing and stress-free vacation. But, when a Kyoto detective enlists their help to investigate strange cases all across japan, those plans quickly change. With your gang of misfits back together, your Summer vacation turns into an action-filled road trip across Japan, with all the great writing that the developers are known for.
The main plot is a much shorter length than Persona 5/Royal, clocking in at around 40-50 hours; which, let’s be honest, is still pretty long. Even in that shorter time, it never fails to be engaging, hitting its story beats consistently with enough room for some lighthearted fun in-between the thievery.
This great writing shines with the main cast. Each of the main characters has a combination of troupes and unique quirks that makes them all stand out in their own way. It’s an unlikely group of friends, but they all play off each other in such organic and natural ways it’s hard not to grow attached to each of them. Not to mention the great ways that these characters interact with one another. Banter flies between characters with great dialogue that is only made better by some very touching and well-written moments between each other. It helps that both the Japanese and English voice acting superb too.
As well as the return of the loveable rogues from the original, Strikers introduces a few new faces into the mix. With the inclusion of the curious AI Sophia and detective Zenkichi, these and a few other characters blend into the established cast effortlessly. With each adding something new to the mix, it helps round out the cast a little and ultimately makes it an enjoyable experience.
It’s a shame then that one of Persona 5’s greatest story pieces, the confidant’s system, isn’t present in this entry. As a result, you’ll see more group activities rather than the unique personal stories for each member of the Phantom Thieves. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it is a shame they aren’t in this game, given just how crucial and rewarding they were.
Despite this gripe, the plot still has the same feeling and spirit as its source material. Even with its shorter runtime, Strikers manages to cramp in great character moments, pacing, and fun that made the previous game a great experience.
Gameplay – No filler, Just killer
It would be fair to say that some Warriors games are a bit… basic, to say the least, often having you participate in 1 vs. 1,000 battles that see you slash your way through hordes of enemies. But it seems Koei Tecmo has put great effort into mixing up their usual formula. Rather than reskinning their usual formulaic gameplay, Strikers proves to have a bit more depth than you might think. Ultimately ending up more like an action RPG than a Warriors game.
For one, combat isn’t a straight charge through hordes of enemies. Instead, you’ll be able to use stealth to either avoid or get the surprise attack on your foes. These then erupt into swarms of fodder for you cut through, with a few tougher baddies who require a bit more nuance.
These rely on you exploiting weaknesses to get the upper hand by using your party’s Personas, or Joker’s huge selection of them, with bosses being prime examples of this in action. Then there are all-out attacks that damage staggered enemies, follow-up attacks that make swapping party members and a few other pieces of gameplay come together to give it just that little more Persona flavour.
Yes, you still get some of the mindless hack n’ slash you would expect, and as basic as it is, it is always nice to blast through enemies looking like a badass. But even with this rather button-mashy combat, there are plenty of quirks from the original game that lift it way above the rest of the genre. With the protagonist and three other thieves active at all times, there are plenty of choices in how you want to dispatch enemies in your way. Choosing which elements and teammates can make all the difference when faced with tough foes. Plus, having all the members right from the beginning makes it easy to pick and choose who you want for each jail; this game’s version of palaces.
These jails also deserve their moment in the spotlight. The great variety of unique mechanics and level design has carried over to Strikers. Puzzles, hurdles and all that good stuff are present here, and it helps break up combat nicely. As well as injecting more Persona flavour into the game. They were a bit bland at times but still offered up plenty to see and explore as you make your way through each of them.
In some cases, there has been a bit of downsizing to accommodate the more linear, streamlined gameplay than its predecessor. One of the most notable changes being the bonds system. Replacing the confidants and social stats from the previous game, it’s best described as a level for the Phantom Thieves. It’s easy enough to level, with experience coming from combat and socializing with friends through cooking and other activities. By levelling your bond, you’ll get access to points that you spend on abilities you unlock and upgrades that improve skills in and out of combat. It’s certainly more simple than trying to level certain stats, manage your time each day, and plan around the limited time you had.
Mechanics like the velvet room have been slimmed down to a more simple version. With fewer options to deal with, it’s quicker and easier than before, even if it is at the expense of some depth that was there previously. Calendar and restricted time that would force you to choose how to use your time effectively are now much more forgiving too.
Ultimately, rather than balancing your time with meeting different characters or leveling stats, the game takes that hassle away to keep you focused on advancing the plot. As a nice little bonus, you can return to jails you have played through, something you couldn’t do before. Whether that’s to level up characters or to complete requests for new items and bond EXP, it adds just a little more replayability to some of those areas, albeit slightly lacklustre at times.
Whilst these changes took some getting used to, they in no way ruin or diminish the overall game. In the end, it’s this mixed bag of expanded hack n’ slash gameplay and Persona’s unique features that give Strikers its own identity. It’s a more streamlined approach; there is plenty to enjoy in Strikers, and it is by far the most interesting entry into the Warriors catalogue that we have seen, which isn’t saying much, but still.
Graphics and Audio – Art in motion
As expected, Persona‘s stellar flair and charm are on full display yet again with all the stylised touches that make it a visual spectacle, even on the Switch’s hardware.
First of all, you can’t play a game like this and not marvel at the sheer amount of creativity on display. Nearly every aspect of this game is a showcase of the art team’s talent. Of course, there are huge spectacles of combat, with plenty of flashy animations and effects that fill the screen. In fact, the UI and simple menus show more colour and character than some games do in their entirety.
Characters are all just as distinct as their personalities, whether in thief attire or casual clothes. They all have their own style, quirks and idiosyncrasies, and some great animation and voice acting brings them to life. The same can be said for the supporting cast and new additions, who slip in seamlessly and add just a little more variety to the already diverse array of characters. The same can be said for levels, which like the palaces, are full of their own style and charm, albeit maybe not quite as extravagant.
Coupled with great artwork is some incredible sound design. Featuring remixed tracks from Persona 5/Royal, every track sounds completely unique, blending together aspects of acid-jazz, rock, electronica, funk and who knows what else. Whether in combat or exploring the cities you visit, there is always a great soundtrack backing it up, adding character and enhancing the combat, cut scenes, and character moments with great effect. As an added bonus, Owners of Persona 5/Royal or Joker for Super Smash Bros are treated to some extra music, and you can purchase all the soundtracks from previous games.
Persona 5 Strikers was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.