Persona 5 Strikers (PS4) Review

Having loved Persona 5, mostly for the story and characters, I was all-over a Warriors spin-off. Imagine my surprise then when this is far less a Warriors spin-off and more a full blown sequel with more action-based RPG elements rather than turn-based and a lack of some of the slice of life aspects being pretty much the only differences. Now they are big differences, obviously, but it’s still far closer to Persona 5 than it is Dynasty Warriors. So, let’s take a look, shall we?

Background:

The game was originally released in Japan (as “Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers”) on February 20th 2020 for the PS4 and Switch, but thanks to a certain pandemic delaying the voice recording the English language release didn’t come until February 23rd 2021.

Gameplay:

This screenshot must look so confusing to anyone not familiar with Persona… and maybe even some who are!

This is going to take a little while, something that became obvious when I audibly groaned at the sheer amount of tutorial pop-ups during the first 90 minutes of the game… Anyway, so at its heart it tries to be as close to Persona 5 as it can, so we have the same kind of menus, music (both of which are among the best ever, to be fair) and long stretches of mostly voiced cut scenes as well as periods where you’re wandering through towns talking to people, buying items and such. Thankfully the story was good enough that this was a joy, but if you’re not into the characters / setting already you’ll be lost, or just bored as the first two or three hours of the game are 80% cut scene, 10% tutorials and only 10% gameplay, if that.

When it does settle down though it gets into a good and familiar rhythm. You fight Shadows as per, though sometimes you fight a large group in regular Warriors fashion while other times you face one really strong Shadow. You can do the square and triangle combinations like Warriors games but it won’t get you very far, instead summoning your Persona and using the skills are key as all the enemies have weaknesses and strengths to the different elements, and all the spells and skills from the original RPG are here and able to learned. Likewise Joker can collect different Personas by defeating them in battle and switch between them, as well as create them via fusion in the “Velvet Room”. Throw in gun attacks, “All Out Attacks” and “Show Time Attacks” (basically two different stylish screen-clearing specials, with different levels of effective power and range) alongside being able to sneak attack enemies or be ambushed, and each character having a special ability activated by just pressing triangle and that’s your lot… and it’s a lot! Well, for a Warriors game, which is why I said it doesn’t feel like one and why I assume it’s called “Strikers” instead of Warriors.

The flashy All Out Attacks are still a highlight!

Instead of visiting Palaces in the metaverse, you visit “Jails”, which are just like Palaces except they’re a region of a town in Japan and have several phases to them, specifically several mini-bosses guarding large bird cages called “Prison Keeps”, then facing a boss known as a “Jailer” in the Monarch’s “Trauma Room” before finally facing the Monarch him/herself in their Castle. It’s a lot of fancy talk to dungeon crawling, basically, so business as usual! You can switch between any of your party (apart from lead protagonist Joker) but their health and SP won’t recover without items, healing magic or leaving and re-entering the Jails via checkpoints scattered around. Instead of capturing the Monarch’s treasure you instead free the desires they’ve stolen from other people… it’s a long story, so I’ll get into that in more detail in the story section…

The idea of the game is an “epic road trip across Japan” and as such you start off in your familiar Tokyo setting, but soon you’re off on the road visiting different cities and their respective Jails. At each city you can do group activities that will up your single Bond Meter, and as that meter goes up you can spend the points on permanent upgrades like more health, greater chance at finding rare enemies, and the most important ones: auto-recovering some SP after sneak attacks / All Out Attacks. This is important because you can only buy one or two of each item in shops at a time and while Health was never an issue due to the abundance of different food stuffs and healing magic, SP refilling stuff was harder to come by. Now don’t get me wrong, I know that’s just good game design as having too much SP would make the game too easy as you could just spam magic of the element your foe is weak too, but I thought I’d mention it. Each character levels up in terms of melee combos as well, though this hardly seems worth mentioning as they all learn them pretty quickly.

There are still plenty of side quests to do as well, like “Defeat this specific type of enemy so many times”, “Find this item hidden in a Jail”, or “Get from this point to this point without raising the Jail’s suspicion rating”. There are also the Velvet Room challenges of “Show this Persona with this specific skill”, character specific “quests” that often involve buying stuff or talking to people in the real world and rematches with the Monarchs. These are all found under the “Requests” tab. Other things include recipes that you can buy and use to cook food for your friends (that you can then use as recovery items in battle) and “Dire Shadows”, which are extremely powerful optional boss fights found in each Jail. So there are a lot to do besides the main story, even if a lot of it is just grinding or running around the same dungeons you’ve already beaten.

Graphics and Sound:

Yusuke being a perfectionist even while destroying large amounts of Shadows.

The in-game graphics are good but won’t blow your mind or anything, but the menus and stylish specials are still among the best around. Much like the original P5 there are also a few decently animated anime cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game.

The soundtrack though… oh man. The Persona 5 OST is one of my all-time favourites and Strikers doesn’t change much, because why would you, but does add a few more energetic remixes. Honestly they didn’t need to do that much, just the original OST would be fine…

Story:

Oh Ryuji, you have no idea…

While I’ll try not to go into too much detail (retrospective spoiler: I did go into too much detail. Sorry), the story starts off with a reunion of the Phantom Thieves during the school summer break, and while they play about with a new helpful App named EMMA they find themselves transported to the Metaverse once again. Some digging finds that the leader of the Palace is a model named Alice Hiiragi, and that its no Palace. As exploration continues they soon refer to it as a Jail, with Prison Keeps and a large Bird Cage at the top of a massive castle. Instead of the head, now known as a Monarch, protecting a Treasure they most hold dear its instead protecting the stolen Desires of people who now in the real world become obsessed with them. So Alice suddenly becomes super popular and has men falling all over her. It’s soon revealed that these Monarchs aren’t evil but instead are being manipulated, the cage is a Prison for the Monarchs as much as the other people’s desires, and their prison is being guarded by a traumatic event that turned the people into Monarchs in the first place. For Alice it was school bullying, like proper over-the-top school bullying, and so the only way for her to break free of being a Monarch would’ve been to face that trauma, but she couldn’t so she was in essence trapped. The Phantom Thieves see what turned the people bad in a “Trauma Room” accessible by visiting the real world site of the trauma, and then defeat a “Jailer” boss which then makes them able to enter the cage and fight the Monarch, though the stolen desires only manifest when the real world person receives a calling card, just like the old days.

In Alice’s Jail they find a box that contains a girl named Sophia, who claims to be “Humanity’s Companion”. She quickly joins the group but is revealed to be an AI construct and therefore in the real world she exists only on our main protagonist’s phone. The Phantom Thieves meet a reasonably high-ranking officer named Zenkichi, who tells them that similar cases to Alice are happening up and down the country and unless they get more information and clear their names they’re the police’s top suspects due to past incidents. This is why they get their hands on an RV and head off on a road trip across Japan…

*Spoilers from here until the next star-pounded bold message!*

We’ve all been there… I mean wanting to be acknowledged, not crying in our underwear wearing devil horns. Or…?

Ango Natsume in Sendai is a writer who tried hard but never got anywhere, then found out his one success was due to a publishing company using the legacy of his grandfather (who was a popular author) to make money rather than thinking his writing is any good, so he became a Monarch and his book started selling like mad. Mariko Hyodo is a politician in Sapporo whose staff member hired a cheap construction company that ended up causing an ice sculpture to fall and crush a little girl to death and became a monarch because she was blackmailed into leaving office or the truth would come out, and instead she saw herself as the only hope to stop corrupted people from getting into office, stealing people’s desires in order to get votes. Alice, Ango and Mariko all directly tie-in with Ann, Yusuke and Haru, respectively, which at least in terms of Haru is nice as she didn’t get a lot of time to grow in the original game, being the last unlocked character and all. At this point the story starts becoming more streamline…

Zenkichi has all-but joined the Phantom Thieves, he started off just using them as a means to an end, but ended up liking the kids. As he tries to get closer to a politician named Owada that he believes to be at the head of it all due to his association with Medicce, the company that produces the EMMA app that is the only way to access the Monarchs and their Jails, but his personal life then comes into play. His wife was killed in a hit and run by a drunk Owada, and his daughter Akane witnessed it, but due to political string pulling an innocent staff member was killed and framed as confessing to the crime and committing suicide. The grief and anger at her father not bringing the true killer to justice led to EMMA finding and turning Akane into a Monarch, and one who captures the majority of the Phantom Thieves for being fakes because “the real Phantom Thieves wouldn’t have let all this happen”. This is where Zenkichi enters her Jail and eventually awakens his own Persona and joins the Thieves proper. I’ll say this now, Zenkichi and his tough position of wanting to nail the right person the right way by waiting for his friend to get promoted / find the right evidence, and having a daughter who hates him for not doing what a policeman should do was such a great story and Zenkichi was such a great character that I was absolutely glued to the screen during this whole thing. Having a middle-aged character as a Persona user was a unique twist too and generally his laidback and somewhat goofy nature along with the drama was brilliantly portrayed in both languages.

Zenkichi is one of my new favourite characters, from Persona and possibly full stop…

Akane is freed but CEO of Medicce and Tony Stark lookalike Akira Konoe becomes the next target after he tries to make the Thieves out as the cause of all the problems, especially after they find a dead EMMA researcher during a trip to Okinawa and Akira frames them for it. They escape long enough to get into Konoe’s Jail and change his heart / retake all the Desires he stole, but their journey doesn’t end there as it turns out the EMMA app had become sentient, was the real mastermind behind the Jails and Monarchs, and now wanted to steal all desire from everyone in order to “free them” from fear or worry. Sophie finds out she was a prototype for EMMA and their creator Ichinose was actually on EMMA’s side due to some trauma of her own. They free Ichinose from her self-imposed prison and everyone goes on to defeat EMMA, who in true Persona fashion transforms into a giant God-like being, in this case one known as Demiurge. Zenkichi gets enough evidence from the confessing Akira to arrest Owada and the rest of the thieves go their separate ways again…

*Spoilers end here!*

The story is littered with great moments of the cast hanging out together and the additions of Sophie and especially Zenkichi only add to the great ensemble. This really is one of those rare cases where I genuinely want to continue to “hang out” with these entirely fictional people, they play off each other that well.

Downloadable Content:

…. Yeah, even I’m not 100% sure what’s going on in this picture, and I took it!

Not much at the moment! A music pack where you can add songs from earlier Persona games into the rotation and an “All-Out Attack Pack” which is just one of those cheaty DLCs that give you a bunch of abilities and points right off the bat are the only two available. If you pre-ordered like myself you get a code for “Bonus Content”, but to my surprise it was a separately downloaded program with an art gallery and music player. Very odd, and not all that interesting, at least not enough to warrant an entirely separate “game” on my PS4 dashboard… though obviously the soundtrack is amazing!

Thoughts Now:

That’s some fancy shootin’!

I was pleasantly surprised by Persona 5 Strikers, in a completely different way than I was imagining. I was looking forward to a simple relaxing Warriors game with the Persona 5 cast, hoping for a story, presentation and soundtrack that would match the original game. What I got was more akin to an action RPG with nearly just as much story, presentation and music as Persona 5 had, minus the social aspects, and while at first the sheer amount of tutorials and breaks in the action made me wonder if this was going to be a slog, once I got into it and the story started picking up I was hooked. You’ll be completely lost without knowledge of Persona 5, but as long as you are familiar with that game this is a great follow up, rather than a fun spin-off. Top marks from me!

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