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When we first heard “P5S” back in 2018, some thought the series might be making an appearance on the Nintendo Switch. Later, some expressed disappointment that “P5S” stood for Persona 5 Strikers, a Musou/Warriors-style game. Musou games seem to carry a certain stigma — they’re nothing but mindless button mashers that series devotees buy every year. However, I knew P5S could potentially be something special. Musou games in recent years have done a fantastic job representing the essence of their target crossover series. Persona casts are beloved by their fans, and spending more time with them is always exciting, especially if the Musou title is announced as a sequel like Persona 5 Strikers. How would a sequel to a Persona game look like outside of what’s been previously done?
A few months after the end of Persona 5 (sadly, not Persona 5 Royal), the Phantom Thieves have gathered together once again to hang out during summer vacation. However, their reunion is happening right as strange events begin to take place across Japan. They discover that the Metaverse has somehow returned, and the police are looking at the Phantom Thieves as the primary suspects for these strange occurrences. After completing their first mission in Tokyo, Public Security officer Zenkichi Hasegawa approaches them and asks the Phantom Thieves for assistance solving this new mystery. In exchange for their help, he will keep the police from arresting them. The Phantom Thieves agree, and their “vacation” begins.
Something I immediately love about Persona 5 Strikers is seeing all of the Phantom Thieves hanging out together. Being in an RV and traveling across Japan means they are constantly together on this adventure. This provides a heightened sense of camaraderie for this installment, especially given the short amount of time the Phantom Thieves spent as a whole in the original game. I’m a big fan of Haru and always lamented her lack of screen time in the original game. In Persona 5 Strikers, she finally gets her chance to shine, and she feels like someone who has been with the Phantom Thieves the whole time. She has one of the most touching arcs of the story as she reconnects with someone she knew from her childhood. What made this especially interesting is that person was one of the antagonists!
What struck me once I was past the first couple of dungeons is how much of a focus there is on human connection. Each of the Phantom Thieves applies their hardships and lessons as they go, passing them on to Persona 5 Strikers‘ antagonists. The majority of the antagonists are actual people, and not just “evil for the sake of being evil” characters like the original game. Most have personal trauma that they try to bury away underneath a new persona they’re projecting out to the public. A key part of the Phantom Thieves exploration is finding out the source of the antagonist’s trauma and understanding who they’re facing on a much more intimate level.
Not only are the Phantom Thieves saving the antagonists’ victims in this game, they’re also saving the antagonists themselves. These antagonists all started with noble goals before becoming twisted along the way. Between this game and Persona 5 Royal‘s new final boss, I genuinely like this direction of portraying villains as flawed human beings. The changes of heart the villains have don’t feel forced like in Persona 5. When the theme “Regret” plays after defeating them in battle, their confessions feel genuine. This also contributes greatly in developing Sophia, the new AI assisting the Phantom Thieves on this adventure. Her goal is to be “humanity’s companion,” so she makes understanding the human heart one of her top priorities. I wasn’t expecting such a heartfelt story to come out of this game, but it might be one of my favourite stories from Omega Force.
As a seasoned Musou/Warriors fan, I knew this wasn’t going to be a traditional Musou game once I was a few fights in. Sure, the generic enemies (represented by faceless guards) serve as traditional Musou game fodder, but once they introduce known enemies from Persona 5, the game changes.
Some Musou games, like Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem Warriors, approach “captain” level enemies differently, and in Persona 5 Strikers, captains are those familiar Persona 5 enemies. They have a decent amount of health, and some have a type of break gauge to get through before you can knock them down. They’re not enemies you can slash away at with no resistance. They require thinking and fast reaction times because, like in Persona 5, enemies can pick on your weaknesses. Being challenged like this in a Musou game isn’t at all common, since in most Musou games, you can mash buttons and still be an overpowered monster.
It did take time to get used to the difficulty and to hold back the urge to go hacking and slashing through everything. Once I got used to it, I had a blast with the combat. Later on, I began to feel like I wasn’t playing a Musou game anymore. Persona 5 Strikers started to feel more like an action RPG. Mashing buttons is not the way to approach combat in this game. You have to take time and react with consideration to what enemies are doing. Some characters had cool yet unintuitive moves, as I found I needed to be precise in this game. A few too many button presses on characters like Morgana or Makoto will result in moves that leave them open to attacks. Another control oddity is the swap of “cancel” and “confirm,” but only sometimes. Talking to another character or examining objects in the environment requires the Circle button, but going through the menus uses X to confirm and Circle to cancel, as expected here in the West. It took me a bit of time to get used to navigating through the game with this odd control scheme.
Dungeon exploration in this game is reminiscent of Persona 5, and I think Omega Force did a good job capturing the general feel of the original game’s Palaces. All of the dungeons in this game are unique and are complete with multiple areas to explore. The mid-to-late-game dungeons also have a different feel from the ones at the beginning. There’s always something new to discover that helps mix it up. While the difficulty kept pace for the most part, the first dungeon is the hardest, which seems pretty typical of Atlus RPGs.
A fun new feature added into Persona 5 Strikers is Joker’s Kitchen, which allows you to prepare various meals for your team outside of the coffee and curry from Persona 5. Recipe books are hidden throughout the various locales you visit, and picking them up will unlock new meals to create. When you pick up a recipe book and make a meal for the first time, one of your teammates will comment on what you’re making. It’s one of the small details sprinkled throughout the game that I enjoyed.
This is a Musou game with the expected visual downgrades, as it is difficult to fit multiple enemies on screen at once while keeping a steady frame rate. Persona 5 Strikers presents a “Graphics” or “Frame Rate” option if you prefer one over the other. “Graphics” will bring the game up to par with how Persona 5 looks, while “Frame Rate” will keep the game running smoothly. I played on the base PS4, so it may be entirely possible to pick “Graphics” without sacrificing the frame rate on stronger machines like higher-end PCs, PS4 Pro, or PS5. I spent most of my time with “Frame Rate” turned on. While I experimented with “Graphics,” I walked around town and the regular townspeople were causing frame drops. I didn’t even try it out during combat. The textures look off, but other than that, the game still exudes Persona 5‘s vibrant style in its menus and flashy combat.
One of the reasons for the delay with the western release of Persona 5 Strikers was delayed dubbing due to complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Launching with the English dub was, of course, a big factor in the localization process. After all, fans are used to the familiar English voice actors, and they all return to reprise their roles. Persona 5 Strikers has dual audio, of course, so fans can choose whichever dub they prefer. Both are fantastic.
When it comes to the music, Musou games will usually put their own spin on the familiar tunes from the game or series they’re drawing from. While the new regular battle themes (“Axe to Grind,” “What You Wish For”) are good quality, I found myself returning to “Last Surprise” (Persona 5) or “Take Over” (Persona 5 Royal) for that familiar Persona 5 feel. Some themes, like “Blooming Villain” and “Rivers in the Desert,” got remixes. However, some of the Persona 5 themes like “Life Will Change” kept their original versions. One of my personal new favourites is “Daredevil,” which greets you at the start of the game and plays during the base infiltration segments.
Calling Persona 5 Strikers “just another Musou game” would be a disservice. I definitely recommend giving it a shot if it was on your radar at all, since it provides an experience so removed from regular Musou games and reuniting with the Phantom Thieves for more adventures seems to guarantee a fun time. Just one more spin-off to go before Persona 5 matches Persona 4‘s record. Will we see more of the Phantom Thieves in the future? All I know for sure is that I’m on board.