Sitting down to play Persona 5: Strikers, I got taken back to 2016. The music, the art style, the characters, all a storm of nostalgia, raining down as if the game came out 20-years ago. Strikers grabs you from its first moments, pulling you back into the classic adventure with style, and a unique new take on the classic formula.
It says a lot about Persona 5 that it was my Game of the Year... twice. When it launched back in 2016, it captured my imagination and pulled me through its gripping story, with its fantastic combat and its fascinating world. When I replayed it in 2020, with Persona 5: Royal, the various changes hooked me again, and it once again consumed my lockdown-restricted life.
So, when I sat down with Persona 5: Strikers, and it grabbed me, it made me start to question: has Persona done it again, could this be a contender for my game of the year, this early into 2021? There won't be any short answer, because a summary would never do Atlus’s latest effort justice, so let's get started...
This review will not contain any story spoilers or content passed the initial Shibuya section. We received a review copy of Persona 5: Strikers on PS4, and this review was written after nearly 40-hours of gameplay.
Persona 5: Strikers Review – Getting the Band Back Together
The Phantom Thieves are back, changing hearts and minds with their metaverse antics. But this time, instead of Palaces, we find ourselves exploring what are known as Jails, where Monarch's keep their victim’s desires imprisoned. You're changing hearts, freeing souls, and having an absolute blast doing it.
The world of Persona 5: Strikers brings back tons of familiar concepts. A metaverse, Personas to help you in combat, troubled souls to save, and a band of friends to hang out with. There are some very important changes, however. Unlike in Persona 5, time passes with story notes, and not based on player action. Oh, and we venture to multiple locations outside of Tokyo.
The opening section of the game brings us back to Shibuya, as bustling as ever, but simplified to its core. Its narrative simplicity is what is most striking about Persona 5: Strikers (heh), as you follow plot points in an almost linear fashion. In between events, you have small open spaces to go supply-shopping, bond with the gang, and take in the scenery.
This new streamlined approach could easily be jarring for a Persona 5 veteran like myself, but for those of you who are skeptical, try not to worry. The diversity in environment across the game's real-world settings, and the shadow-real world dichotomy makes Persona 5: Strikers a more concise experience, and this is not a bad thing.
We won't spoil any story notes, but there are some interesting twists on the game's core concept here. We set out across Japan, changing hearts, and the cast of villains are just as much a diverse blend as the original. The game continues to explore the human concepts of love, greed, and shame in interesting and compelling ways, with each member of the gang getting the spotlight at some point throughout the campaign. There are some wonderful insights and character development here, and that does nothing but deepen our love affair with the Phantom Thieves.
However, this is where one of my core problems with Persona 5: Strikers comes in: cut scenes and dialogue. An issue that has carried over from the original here, is the seeming obsession with long-form conversations that, whilst very well written, become tedious when you realize you have gone 30 minutes without really playing. It would have been nice to cut down on these sections, or perhaps, provide an option to pause, save, and come back later (dinner's ready!).
On a more positive note, though, Persona 5: Strikers sees an introduction to two fantastic new characters. We won’t dive into who they are, but you won't be disappointed – they are the perfect addition to the Phantom Thieves, offering comedy, drama, and everything you could ever imagine in a new Persona character. That's enough story-notes, though, what's up with the actual gameplay?
Persona 5: Strikers Review – Changing Up the Gameplay
Arguably Persona 5: Striker's biggest change is its shake-up in combat. It's a 'twist and shout’ of a time, and a huge risk for such an established formula to take. I am pleased to report, however, that it works like an absolute dream.
Taking inspiration from more flashy titles like the Dynasty Warriors franchise, Persona 5: Strikers picks up the pace, introducing melee combat. The button combinations, fast and strong attacks, ranged attacks (from your firearms) and environmental items, are sublime, fastening the pace of encounters. It is a strategic, and visually stunning, affair.
Personas are still here, though, and this is where the real genius of the new combat system comes in. Almost all of the features of the original game are still here. You fuse Personas, upgrade them, and utilize each character's independent abilities to use Personas effectively, taking control of the battlefield.
The word that best describes it is ‘clever’. It keeps you on the move, and you have a huge amount of verticality in the fights, with the addition of a jump button. Stringing together physical attacks with Persona powers, items, and environmental features is the most flashy, entertaining and clever adaptation of the Persona formula that we have seen. We absolutely adored every fight we found ourselves in.
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However, this is where we begin the discussion of Striker's fallbacks. We loved every fight, but when it came to the Jails, pacing was, yet-again, the principal problem we have with the game. It would be nice if games like these only presented enemies that had a point. The constant grind, fighting easy enemies, one by one, just to progress, is outdated. It started to drain my Persona-energy, something that I hoped would never happen.
The other problem with the Jails is that they seem to show off something that I never thought I would see in a Persona game – a lack of creativity. For example: Reach the top of the tower. To get there you have to unlock three items, each at the top of their own towers. Each of these items require other things to be collected, activated, or something similar. Rinse and repeat. Fight your way through enemy after enemy as you go.
The combat is thrilling, fast, and visceral, but the progression can be slow and monotonous. The first Jail was an especially tedious affair, though subsequent Jails picked up the pace and were more varied and interesting – some of the settings were absolutely fantastic. I loved them, and I loved almost every moment of them, but at times I groaned as I discovered that the metaphorical princess was in another castle.
To step out of the mud, however: in their whole, the Jails are an absolute blast, integrating even some fun – if somewhat simple – platforming features that, at least for me, added some much-appreciated variety to the experience. The reality: Persona 5: Strikers is a masterclass in game design, combat, and story-telling. But that does not make it perfect.
Persona 5: Strikers Review: The Verdict
At the beginning of this review, I said that I got sucked right back in when I sat down to play Persona 5: Strikers. After 40ish hours of playing, I can confirm that I can't put the bloody game down. It's causing problems at home, the game's so good. The story, the setting, the characters, were all masterfully constructed, and continued to entice me through. That's right, enticed me through, not pulled me, not forced me begrudgingly, enticed calmly and sexily.
It did that through its combat, its interesting shake-ups, its new features, and its returning best-hits. Persona 5: Strikers is the perfect spinoff game, and whilst it has some flaws, that perfection does not walk away. Will it be my game of the year? Well, we've got another ten months to find that out, but what I can say is that you would be a fool to give-up the chance to change hearts with the Phantom Thieves this one last time.
- Release Date: February 23, 2021
- Developer: Atlus, Omega Force, P Studio
- Genre: Fantasy-Action
- Single Player
- Time to beat: 60-70 Hours
- Platform(s): PlayStation 4, PC, Nintendo Switch
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