As someone that absolutely loves RPGs, Persona 5, and the Switch, the thought of how Persona 5 Strikers was first announced still kind of burns. For those unaware, it was codenamed Persona 5S for a while, which led gamers to believe that the 2017 hit would eventually be ported to the Switch. After all, Persona 5‘s main character, Joker, would become one of the first DLC characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Additionally, seeing as how Persona 5 was also on PS3, putting it on Switch shouldn’t be all that hard right?
That’s not what happened. Instead, Atlus showed a musou-style game in the Persona 5 universe co-developed by Koei Tecmo (known for the Dynasty Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, and Fire Emblem Warriors musou games), inciting all sorts of disappointment.
Here’s the thing though… it’s not really a musou.
What Is It?
Persona 5 Strikers takes place six months after the events of the original Persona 5 (you have to assume Royal never happened, unfortunately). It’s summer vacation and the Phantom Thieves have reunited to plan an epic road trip across Japan.
As the protagonist, Ren Amamiya, and his first Shujin friend Ryuji Sakamoto venture out to buy the gang snacks before hitting the road, they come across an idol who sends them a friend request on EMMA, a smartphone app that’s both a social networking tool as well as a companion app similar to Yelp and TripAdvisor–it’s just the most convenient app ever. Upon doing that, however, they’re sent to the Metaverse (in their Phantom Thieves outfits no less) to find that a shadow version of the idol they met, and that she also has her own dungeon. They eventually escape the Metaverse with the help of Sophia, a strange child who calls herself “Humanity’s Companion” who also ends up being a guide inside Ren’s smartphone (like Siri) in the real world.
Going on elsewhere in Japan are multiple cases happening to people of importance similar to the “change of heart epidemic” that affected people in Persona 5, and the Phantom Thieves are the prime suspects. With this, the police sent Zenkichi Hasegawa to spy and eventually work with the Phantom Thieves to use them for their own questionable plans.
There’s really a lot to this story, making it more than just an epic Japanese road trip.
Why Should I Care?
While the developers put as much effort as they could at making this game accessible to newcomers, it’s just a whole lot easier to appreciate when you already understand the background surrounding all the characters, especially knowing the depth this plot goes through.
The game’s first Jail–what they call dungeons instead of the Palaces they were known as in the original game–does a solid job of walking you through the game’s flow and fundamentals. Most of your time will actually be spent spelunking these dungeons which really feel like authentic Persona 5 dungeons with a few quality of life changes here and there.
The main thing Persona 5 veterans will notice with the dungeons in Strikers is that there are a lot more save points. This allows you to seamlessly go back to the real world, and when you do, you replenish all your HP and SP (used for magic skills). The dungeons in the original game were really all about getting as deep as you could before heading back to the real world due to your depleted SP. It was an experience that was both stressful and captivating because if you chose to leave a dungeon in the original game, you’d move forward a day, but the dungeons were also so well designed that you just wanted to keep going.
While Strikers still has a calendar system, gone are activities that actually take a chunk out of your day the way they did in every mainline Persona game since Persona 3. Each day in Strikers is scripted, so when it comes to bonding with your friends, you don’t have to make anymore choices about who to hang out with. You can talk to whomever you want whenever you want without worrying about whether or not you’re wasting your day. You don’t have to worry about dialog choices impacting your relationships either. As long as you’re taking the time to talk to your confidants, you’ll fill up your Bond gauge that allots you with points to upgrade various skills in battle.
Obviously what sets Strikers most apart from Persona 5 is its battle system. Persona 5‘s well thought out turn-based battle system has been replaced with a real-time action-based battle system that’ll see the Phantom Thieves take out an onslaught of Personas. If you’ve played a musou before, you’ll be in familiar territory. It’s really just a whole lot of running around tapping square and occasionally tapping triangle to unleash combos against the armies of enemies coming your way.
To integrate more of Persona 5‘s style and flair into it, you can use the right trigger button to open a menu of spells or abilities to use that’ll deplete your HP or SP gauges, and like any Persona 5 before it, attacking an enemy with an ability they’re weak to will stagger them allowing you to use an All-Out Attack to take them out even more quickly. Before heading into a fight, you can even approach them from behind and hit Triangle to encounter the enemies at a weakened state–exactly the same way you would in Persona 5 to make these battles go quicker.
Koei Tecmo even integrated Persona 5‘s Baton Pass to the D-Pad, which allows you to seamlessly switch to any of the four characters in your party you have activated. Again, like Persona 5 before it, using a Baton Pass to switch characters will also result in a bonus for whatever your next maneuver will be. Because of all the different weaknesses, you’ll be switching characters a lot, which adds to the game’s enjoyment because each character feels different enough to keep you engaged.
It takes a few battles to get used to the system, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. The problem is that no matter how far you get into the game, your sense of strategy doesn’t change. In Persona 5, each boss fight felt distinct. In Strikers, the same strategy of simply attacking weaknesses or even using the environment to your advantage will be the main thing you do in battle, and the amount of times the game strays away from that strategy can probably be counted with one hand. It’s a bit dull, but considering the experience as a whole, especially its superb story, makes that easy to disregard.
The campaign took me just around 35 hours to finish, which is extremely light compared to the 100+ hours you’ll spend playing Persona 5. The flow is really just about going through conversations to progress the story, talking to people in the locations you’re in, and completing a Jail and its boss before going into a new city and repeating the process.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
It’s the road trip aspect to the story that most kept me into the game. I was already invested in another story featuring the same Persona 5 cast, but because I’m such a fan of Japanese culture, it was even more of a joy to see their vision of places like Shibuya, Sendai, Sapporo, Okinawa, Kyoto, and other popular locations in Japan. Not only do you get to experience these unique locales both in Persona‘s real world and Metaverse with their specific landmarks in the game’s numerous investigation and exploration sequences, but you’ll get to watch the Phantom Thieves in awe (and jealousy) as they enjoy the various cuisines in each locale. There’s also a cooking system if you decide you don’t want to buy items, too.
The careful integration of culture mostly through writing and basic level design is really what makes the game really special. I’ve been putting off my first Japan trip for years, and now since I can’t travel, Persona 5 Strikers sort of scratches that itch.
The only real complaint I have about the game’s aesthetic is that there didn’t seem to be as much of a focus with the game’s visual polish. Persona 5 is renowned for its stylish UI and modern anime art style, and almost all of that is retained in Strikers except in its anti-aliasing. There are a lot of jagged lines in Strikers, and it just doesn’t look as smooth as any of other Persona 5 games available on PlayStation. I was playing on the PS5 too, so I can only imagine how bad the game might look on the Switch.
What makes Persona 5 Strikers really succeed is the fact that while there are definitely some obvious musou elements in the game, it’s well folded into what’s actually an authentic Persona experience. Koei Tecmo didn’t make a spinoff. Koei Tecmo made a game that feels like a true direct Persona sequel, and for all intents and purposes, it is.