There are a ton of fascinating stories within the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei universe from the fantastic to the somewhat problematic to the downright hilarious. Among them, the Phantom Thieves of Persona 5 remain a top-notch outing for the series. The idea of the usual demon-collecting romp adapted to a series of heists after the vaulted hearts of the wicked was incredible, with stylish music and art to match.
Persona 5 Strikers is technically a spinoff collaboration between Dynasty Warriors developers Omega Force, P-Studio, and Atlus set within the Persona 5 storyline. However, I think it does Persona 5 Strikers a disservice to simply call it a spinoff. With the quality of story, RPG mechanics adapted to action, and extension of all of the musical and visual style I love from the original Persona 5 all present and accounted for, Strikers seem more like a Persona 5-2 than a spinoff. That said, it also might be tough to follow if you weren’t onboard with Persona 5 before.
SPOILER WARNING: Bear in mind that as a sort of sequel/spinoff to Persona 5, there will be slight Persona 5 spoilers in this review where unavoidable.
Summer vacation canceled
Persona 5 Strikers picks up a few months after the events of the original Persona 5. The protagonist (named by you but also infamously codenamed Joker) and his talking cat pal/Persona 5 mascot Morgana return to Tokyo to get together with their friends, all the former members of a group known as the Phantom Thieves. In the previous game, the Phantom Thieves were high school kids who each discovered an ability to wield a powerful “inner self” known as a Persona to fight against shadow beings representing the dark sides of human hearts. This power was used to open the way to the souls of powerful evil individuals, infiltrate the fortress-like palaces manifested by their evil, defeat their shadows, and force a change of heart for good in their real-world counterparts. The main character in particular could wield his own signature Persona and also the power of shadows defeated by him in a sort of demonic pokemon-collecting mechanic.
In Persona 5 Strikers, the Phantom Thieves put their heart-heisting ways behind them… or so they thought. As they start to plan a summer vacation together, Joker and his friends find themselves falling headlong into the evil heart of another malevolent character. It isn’t long before they realize the power of that heart, known this time as a Jail, is stealing the desires of real-world people and making them go crazy. This wild series of events pushes Joker back into the spiritual crossroads of fate given form known as the Velvet Room where he learns from its attendants that powerful evil forces are trying to ruin the world again. With this in mind, Joker and the rest of his friends resolve to reform the Phantom Thieves, enter the Jail hearts of evil people, and free the desires they’ve stolen.
For me, having happily finished Persona 5, Strikers story is a fantastic follow-up on the original game. All of my favorite characters returned fully-voiced with new and deeply emotional missions ahead of them that lead them down the darkest corners of human nature, cruelty, and the other selves we create to seize our desires. Even side characters like Sojiro return in the periphery, though some favorites, such as Dr. Tae Takemi and airsoft weapons dealer Munehisa Iwai are absent for canonical reasons. Even so, new characters to the cast like the mysterious AI Sophia and detective Zenkichi Hasegawa make for compelling additions. Both bring interesting angles to the overall Phantom Thieves narrative.
Finally, the overall presentation and music of Persona 5 Strikers are as good as anything I’ve seen or heard in the Persona series so far. Remixed and original musical tracks like Last Surprise and Life Will Change return alongside some new absolute bangers from original contributing composer Atsushi Kitajoh and returning jazzy vocalist Lyn Inaizumi.
That said, Persona 5 Strikers also does very little to explain itself, its returning cast, and much of the events prior. As such, I feel like anyone who didn’t thoroughly explore Persona 5 is going to be very lost trying to follow most of what’s going on in Persona 5 Strikers, especially in the early hours of the game. This was definitely a narrative made altogether as a sequel that spends miniscule amounts of time looking back at the story beats of the original outside of light references.
The Phantom Thieves ride again
As a spinoff developed by Omega Force, one might go into Persona 5 Strikers thinking its simply another series of levels in which players beat up crowds of enemies and defeat bosses. It’s not tremendously far from that, but there is some massive differences from it and other Musou games. Persona 5 Strikers is built more like an action-RPG in which you do most of the same things you did in Persona 5, but with action-based battles instead of the usual turn-based affair.
Outside Jails, you still talk to friends, make dialogue choices, investigate target leads, buy items and gear to increase your stats, and more. Even the Velvet Room returns for the purpose of Persona leveling and fusion (more on that later). Inside Jails, you investigate labyrinthine palaces full of shadows you can fight or avoid. Fighting them means leveling up and possibly capturing a monster you don’t have. Plus you’ll unlock puzzles, open the way to the boss little by little, and eventually plan a heist to confront the Jail’s leader in a huge boss fight to change their heart once and for all. Fascinatingly, Omega Force kept a lot of Persona 5’s hardcore JRPG mechanics intact, though some of them are more lightened for this game than others.
Battle still takes place with groups of enemies, but these encounters are reduced from full battlefields sprawling 30 minutes to bite-size and mid-size fights in which you defeat a small group, wave of enemies, or a boss before going back to a non-battle exploring state.
I really like the way they handled combat because your ability to switch between Personas remains intact. You can call Pixie in to cast Zio and augment Joker’s abilities with electric attacks or utilize Jack-o'-Lantern for a fire-based game. Meanwhile, you can switch between playable characters in your party of four on the fly. For example, you can switch to playing Ann and using her whip and fire attacks to playing Makoto and her hand-to-hand martial arts and nuclear (yes, nuclear) motorcycle Persona attacks on the fly in a fight. Each character and Persona fights wonderfully different and utilizing them and their elements is key to overcoming some tough enemies rather than mashing your way through every fight. To me, it plays more like a Star Ocean or Tales action RPG game than it does like any Musou game, and that will probably come as a relief to most Persona fans.
Even the Velvet Room returns to properly augment your powers. You can take the Personas you’ve earned from defeating foes in combat, fuse them into more powerful Personas, level them up via Persona Points earned in combat, and register them in their current leveled states so you can resummon them if you want to later (like after you lose them in a fusion). Pretty much most of the Persona staples are here in acceptable ways. I think one of my only issues is that as an Omega Force game, it can still be very monotonously mashy, especially against strong bosses. Though bosses require some definite strategy, you’ll have to plow into them with the same combos over and over again until you drive their health bars down. A lot of bigger bosses have some unique mechanics to fighting them, but ultimately, it can still feel grindy even with all of the resources you need to defeat them. Though compared to some of the turn-based battles against strong foes in the original Persona 5, I'd argue this is just trading one type of grind for another.
Life will change all over again
I’m a big fan of Persona 5, but I couldn’t have expected how much P5 Strikers was going to bring to the table. I thought I'd be looking at a Musou spinoff fighting maps full of hundreds of the same foe over and over again. Don’t get me wrong. That is somewhat a part of Persona 5 Strikers, but there’s also so much more to it. It’s more akin to a legitimate action-RPG sequel to the original Persona 5 - a sort of Persona 5-2 as I mentioned at the beginning. If you can’t get past the mashy grind or if you didn’t play through Persona 5, you might not find as much to enjoy here because this game doesn't spend much time at all getting players up to speed. That said, the narrative quality, colorful returning and new cast, gorgeous art and music, and mix of RPG and social sim mechanics I fell in love with are all here in Persona 5 Strikers. Put it all together and I’d argue it’s a must-have for any fan who wants to go on another heart-stealing adventure with the Phantom Thieves.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 digital copy supplied by the publisher. Persona 5 Strikers launches on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC on February 23, 2021.
Persona 5 Strikers
- Great extended sequel narrative to Persona 5
- Solid returning cast plus compelling new faces
- Great mix of action, investigative, and RPG elements
- Gorgeous artistic visuals in both gameplay and cutscenes
- Great original and remixed soundtrack
- Collecting, fusing, and utilizing personas is still great
- Jumps right in with little explanation of Persona 5
- Battles are still pretty mash-heavy, especially bosses
- Some RPG elements are light versions of Persona 5