Review – Persona 5 Strikers
I call it the Final Fantasy Tactics effect. When there’s a series you enjoy, maybe even love, but there’s a spinoff that just eclipses all of its other games. It’s not a mainline entry, so purists look at you with disdain, but you just know it’s the best. FFT is the best example for me, because even after all this time, it’s still solidly above every other game for me. And that’s saying when Final Fantasy VII Remake is probably one of my favorite games of all time. That’s exactly how I feel about Persona 5 Strikers. Also known as Persona 5 Scramble in Japan, but let’s just call it P5S from now on.
I have another confession to make. Unlike seemingly the rest of the world, I wasn’t exactly enamored with Persona 5. I’m not one of those people who hates it with a passion either to be clear. I loved the concept, the soundtrack is one of the best, and it just oozes style. I put over 75 hours into it, so it wasn’t a “first hour and hated it” experience either. Rather, I just felt it never lived up to the story concept’s potential, and I found the social sim gameplay to be too monotonous and respective. One man’s lack of ambition is another’s masterpiece however, or something like that. What matters is that Persona 5 Strikers is a very different story.
For starters, every issue I had with Persona 5 is either gone or fixed in Strikers. The social sim mechanics I felt dominated too much of the game time are gone. Dungeons, which I felt were too linear and small, are now huge and expansive. The story does more with the concept of changing hearts, and is far more interesting because of it. You also start out with a full party of Phantom Thieves, so no waiting almost the whole game for everyone again. I could keep going with a list of details big and small, there’s just so many things Persona 5 Strikers does that I like.
Now for the plot. Atlus said you could play Strikers with no prior Persona 5 knowledge and be fine. I completely disagree. You need to know the basic story beats of the original Persona 5 (Royal is not canon) in order to properly appreciate Strikers. Whether it’s by playing the game, watching the anime, or reading the Wikipedia summary; it doesn’t matter how, but do it. It’s a helluva entry barrier, but it’s worth it. Anyway, the game starts during the small time skip that occurs at the end of Persona 5 (at least I think that’s the intention). Basically, there’s more trouble in the Metaverse, more twisted hearts to steal, and the Phantom Thieves are pulled back into action. There’s not really a lot I can say without spoiling something, but if you were worried this would feel gratuitous or deraritive don’t. It works. Well.
The big difference here is the combat. Strikers dropped the turn based battle system for a brand new action-based one. Or at least new-ish. Because once you get used to it and fall into your rhythm, it sure feels like Persona 5. All of the moves, mechanics, and elements of the One More system are here. They’ve just been given the proper platform to shine. After all, the system was designed to be a faster paced version of Shin Megami Tensei’s Press Turn system. Only now though was it allowed to be that properly. The base combo system is standard musou fare, but that’s it. Air combos, ranged gun combat, special abilities, One More strikes, Baton Pass, All Out Attacks, it’s all here. And it all just works, blended perfectly into one of the best action combat systems in a JRPG. Full stop.
As hard as it is to believe though, the amazing combat and story aren’t the biggest highlights here. That honor belongs to the Demon Fusion System. Unlike the combat system, it’s here mostly unchanged. The only major difference being you can’t perform Fusion by selecting demons, only by choosing the desired result. Which ultimately didn’t really matter because this system is just too damn good. Collection Personas, fusing them, mixing up abilities to make the ultimate OP team never got old. Ever. It’s Pokémon on steroids, and thanks to the new combat system, Strikers is probably the fastest most fluid way of experiencing it.
That’s not just it either, as there’s one other big change to Persona collection and advancement. Like most other musou games, you can pay to improve levels instead of grinding away. What this means is, you can take Arsene with you to the endgame. It’s always been so stupid that the flagship Persona for the main character was always gone within an hour or two for literally anything better. Now, you can just pay to keep his level up to date, and never have him leave your side. Yes, this was a big enough change to warrant its own paragraph. Arsene is S-Class in demon design, and losing him so early was a blow in Persona 5. Now no longer.
There’s also the dungeon design. Instead of Palaces, they’re called Jails now, but design-wise, they feel like the reverse. Persona 5’s Palaces were fairly linear, small, and empty to me. In Strikers however, they’re enormous and full of secrets, challenges, and extras to find and collect. They remind me a lot of Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ dungeons, and that’s a big compliment. The new action focus also takes Persona 5’s attempt at verticality and makes it genuine. The double jump, in addition to the Phantom Dash, makes traversal fun and dynamic. Being able to actually move makes all the difference when you’re trying to mimic platforming design in your dungeon crawler. Which, to be clear, is a combination I normally hate. But like so much, Persona 5 Strikers makes it work.
Persona 5 Strikers will be forever labled just another spinoff. Which is kind of ironic, given how Persona, as a franchise, is just a spin-off, but whatever. Especially since it was first described as a musou game, and came with those expectations. In the end though, it’s anything but just another musou franchise spinoff game. It takes what Age of Calamity did for Breath of the Wild (or at least tried to), and makes good on it. It does great honor to its original game, fixes its flaws, and, for me at least, does everything better. It ends up being to me, what Persona 5 seems to be to everyone else. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite MegaTen game, but it’s damn close. Your move, Shin Megami Tensei V.
It’s just as stylish and vibrant as Persona 5 is, and the performance is way better than I could have hoped.
I’d now argue that Persona’s One More battle system works better in full action than it does turn-based. And that’s the biggest compliment I can give.
All of the phenomenal music from Persona 5, except now with even more fantastic tracks.
Fun Factor: 10
It’s so good and I had so much fun with it, I think it makes a good case for the entire mainline Persona series going action-based from now on.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Persona 5 Strikers is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, and PS4.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.