After originally releasing back Japan back in February of 2020, the Phantom Thieves’ latest adventure in Persona 5 Strikers is finally available worldwide. It’s not the first time fans have been pulled back into the metaverse – the original Persona 5 sparked not only an enhanced, extended edition in the form of Persona 5 Royal but also the spin-off Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight and even manga and anime adaptations, but this is the first direct sequel.
Six months after the events of the original game, Joker and Morgana return to Tokyo to reunite with their fellow Phantom Thieves for a summer of camping and barbeques. Of course, nothing goes to plan, and when large numbers of the general public appear to have their desires stolen, the gang become the prime suspects. They are soon approached by Public Security Officer Zenkichi Hasegawa, who informs them that if they want to clear their names, they’ll have to work with him to find the real culprit. With no other option, the gang reluctantly agree, which kickstarts their road trip across Japan to return these stolen desires and uncover the perpetrator in the process.
Throughout their journey, the Thieves come across a number of Jails – cognitive versions of the cities they visit – with presiding Monarchs that they must defeat to return the stolen desires. This is reminiscent of the Palaces from the first game, though they have some distinct differences.
The Phantom Thieves Are Back
When I played the original game, I fell in love with the characters, so I was initially apprehensive when it came to Strikers. Of course, the main cast would all be front and centre, but the confidants I spent so much time with – both in the original and Royal – would be absent. To my immense relief, I felt exactly the same way about the new characters introduced as I did about the original cast. It’s hard to sympathise with the likes of Kamoshida and Shido, but with Strikers, even the baddies were relatable. With deep-rooted trauma driving them all, it was hard to consider any of them truly evil.
The relationship between the Thieves themselves is remarkable, and it was great to see that it didn’t end after they went their separate ways when the first game finished. The bonds they built may have been mostly down to circumstance, but that shouldn’t take away from it at all. They rely on each other, and it’s clear they would do anything for each other. This is something that Strikers highlights –when you’re playing, you really feel like they can accomplish anything as long as they’re together.
You Are Stronger
Persona 5 is well known for its music and flashy graphics, having received its share of nominations and wins for these aspects, and Persona 5 Strikers is no different. The aesthetic remains pretty much unchanged, but the enemy and Jail designs are as unique as ever. The music is undeniably catchy (the introductory music ‘You Are Stronger’ in particular) and fits the themes of the game. I’d find myself humming along even after I’d turned off my console. That said, if you’re overly attached to the music from either Persona 5 or Persona 5 Roya, then you can change the battle music to the tracks from either of these two games if you have their save data on your console. As neither game is available on Nintendo Switch or PC, it can be assumed that this is only applicable for the PlayStation version.
While Strikers remains true to the essence of the original game, it departs from some of the more slice of life- type elements.
There is no longer the need to attend school or build up your social stats through different activities. Where Persona 5 stressed the importance of building up your social links with your confidants to help you in battle and create stronger Personas, Strikers replaces this with the bond system. Rather than building up your bonds individually, spending time with your friends as a group and completing certain requests causes the bond level to increase. This earns you skill points that can be spent on various skills to improve your chances in battle.
Rather than the typical turn-based combat deployed by a number of RPGs, Persona 5 included, Strikers makes use of more hack-and-slash type combat with some elements of time slowing down when you’re using your Personas. There are times you’re faced with hordes of Shadows, so it can get pretty hectic on-screen, but it flows well, and Persona combat is implemented well. There’s also much more of an emphasis on using your environment to your advantage too. You’ll come across cars you can blow up and crates you can drop to deal some pretty hefty damage. As someone who has never been all that fond of turn-based-combat, I really enjoyed this change, even if my screen did get pretty busy at times.
Strikers also makes all of the Phantom Thieves playable with their own unique styles and showtime attacks. The way you can switch between them and perform follow-up attacks near seamlessly stresses just how well they work together.
I briefly mentioned Jails earlier, but I didn’t touch on how they differ from the Palaces we’re used to. Essentially, they’re prisons run by monarchs who are stealing desires from the general public, and unlike Palaces, they remain intact, even after defeating their monarchs. This is no doubt meant to make up for the lack of mementos, and as such, any requests you take on will need to be resolved within these Jails. The good thing is that they can be completed whenever you choose, even after you’ve left the city.
There’s no real sense of urgency in Persona 5 Strikers. Rather than having to manage your time to make sure you complete a Jail in time like you had to in Persona 5, you can jump in and out of a Jail without any consequences or time passing. Personally, I enjoyed the original mechanism, but I can see how a more lax timeframe would appeal to others, especially since Strikers is much more limited when it comes to time. Everything that happens in Strikers happens over the course of a summer vacation compared to the original game, which spanned a school year. That being said, I never felt that the game was being rushed or dragged out, so the pacing was good.
With a game like Persona 5, a sequel was always a risky move. As much as I loved the 120 or so hours I spent on Persona 5 Royal and whatever I spent on the original, the developers had to do something different so we didn’t all feel like we were just playing the same game with a fresh coat of paint. With a story that takes us outside of Tokyo, the introduction of new, likeable characters and hack-and-slash combat, Persona 5 Strikers remains true to the essence of the original game while providing something different. It was great to return to the world of the Phantom Thieves and see how much they’ve grown and continue to grow since the end of the first game, making it a very worthy sequel that you should definitely check out.
Developer: Atlus, Omega Force, P-Studio
Publisher: Sega, Atlus
Platforms: PS4, PC, Switch
Release Date: 20th February 2021