With more than an entire console generation between Persona 4 and Persona 5, the fanbase was subsided for many years through a range of spin-off games. Many of these were co-developed by different teams at ATLUS or external developers, from the Etrian Odyssey team with Persona Q to Arc System Works with Persona 4 Arena. With 2020’s Persona 5 Royal released on consoles last year, we have entered that waiting period until information on Persona 6 is rolled out, whenever that is. Until then, we finally get to see what this next wave of spin-off games has to offer, starting with Persona 5 Strikers for the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC.
ATLUS is one of the latest in a growing line of video game companies who have partnered with Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force studio to bring their 1 vs 1000 style of hack’n’slash gameplay to a franchise. We have seen it with series such as Dragon Quest and The Legend of Zelda as of late, but how does Persona 5 Strikers compare? Frankly, it results in not only one of the best games delivered by Omega Force to date, but one of the most excellent Persona series spin-offs!
The best way of looking at Persona 5 Strikers is that is strikes that balance between the core systems that made Persona 5 great and the addictive instant-satisfaction that comes from a Warriors game. This ultimately means that you do not get some core mechanics such as social links, time management or stat management to deal with, and others such as Persona fusion are limited. In return, you receive fast-paced combat and expansive open environments to explore.
Persona 5 Strikers takes place several months after Persona 5, with the self-named protagonist “Joker” returning to Tokyo to spend the summer school holidays with his fellow Phantom Thieves. This was due to be a period of relaxation for the group, with initial plans to go camping, away from the city’s hustle and bustle. But circumstances change when Joker, Ryuji and Morgana go out to shop for supplies, where they find themselves drawn into the metaverse once more. Encountering the mysterious “companion of humanity” Sophia, and discovering the link between these new “Jails” and a popular new app named EMMA, the Phantom Thieves commence a cross-Japan trip as they seek out the existence of these strange jails, change hearts and rescue the desires of citizens.
While Persona 5 was a 100-hour epic with twists, turns, and a plentiful bounty of character development – Persona 5 Strikers is considerably scaled back in its narrative, coming in at approximately 20-25 hours and a more linear progression. This means that the storyline isn’t as satisfying or as packed in as its predecessor, but it features a good mix of returning and new characters, a narrative that fits the chronology without feeling like it needs to tack on extra baggage (such as characters from previous games) and feels like a fitting successor to the main game. Moving from the confines of Tokyo and travelling across Japan is a particular highlight, giving a new bit of scenery to enjoy every few hours – carried across into the jail designs that make each unique.
In terms of gameplay, Persona 5 Strikers presents an outstanding balance between the star mechanics of each Persona series and Omega Force’s Warriors franchise. A first for the Phantom Thieves, players can opt to play as any character they wish, making up a party of four as they enter the jails (P5S’s version of Palaces). Each jail is made up of a series of areas, which are often blocked until a specific objective is reached, typically some “Defeat X” or “Collect Key Item Y” to clear goal. As jails resemble the city they are formed in, they are large in scale and provide a level of epicness to them that Palaces previously could not accomplish to the same degree. Each zone is crawling with shadows, which, when provoked, spawn waves of enemies – a majority of which are weak and a few which are more potent. It is oh so satisfying ploughing down wave after wave after wave of enemy while factoring in mob weaknesses (with all Persona 5 skill types returning), Personas to use in battle and taking advantage of environmental hazards.
Depending on which difficultly you play Persona 5 Strikers on, given the fast-paced nature of combat, you do lose a degree of challenge and trial-and-error that you do in mainline games. Even if you have no party members aligned with a bosses weakness, it can be very difficult to get a Game Over. In fact, the only time I saw a game over during my playthrough was in the middle of the first dungeon, where I was suddenly left with no backup against swarms of enemies. The challenge is also dissipated through how time is managed in the game. The dates presented to players are purely meant to symbolise progression through the story, therefore players can leave and (re)enter jails anytime they want to freely refresh their HP/SP and stock up on additional supplies.
While Futaba remains an unplayable character as the Phantom Thieves’ Navi, she does provide one of the more significant challenges in each jail. At specific points, players will need Futaba to hack through a door or other barrier and defend her against a constant barrage of enemies out to attack her. This also means that for the first time, you can equip armour to Futaba! Besides this, combat might not be the most innovative, but is oh, so much fun to play through.
In terms of audiovisual quality, the fact this is a spin-off game does not mean ATLUS has dropped the ball when it came to the graphical, musical or voice acting elements, making the series great to play. The most considerable risk with Persona 5 Strikers was whether or not the jails would be amply designed, given the need to favour large spaces during battle sequences. After all, when you look at most Warriors games, the locales are rather forgettable.
Perhaps not up to the precise level of detail of the cities or palaces in the main game, each of the jails, and in turn towns, were of a high standard. Every section of the world created exclusively for Persona 5 Strikers was well designed, offering clear landmarks to assist you in not getting lost. Plus, as the Phantom Thieves are travelling across Japan, you don’t stay at the place too long, so it helps mitigate the feeling of boredom sometimes found going from Point A to Point B. I would argue the world construction was better in the first few dungeons, but they were of a greater-than-expected quality across the board. This is especially true when you compare it against other spin-off Warriors games in the past – it feels like you are fighting through warped versions of each city rather than just locales vaguely themed around a city.
Music was also top-notch, with a new opening sequence titled “You are Stronger” performed by long-time Persona 5 Lyn Inaizumi, and a few dozen new instrumental and lyrical songs, which help get you pumped up for what lies ahead. This includes a great remix of Rivers in the Desert, one of my favourite songs from the original game. Unlike the last spin-off game ATLUS West published (Persona Q2), dual-language support is included – with all the game’s original voice cast returning, both the Phantom Thieves and supporting characters (even those who only appear for a couple of lines). Megan Taylor Harvey and Tom Taylorson join the lead cast as Sophia and Zenkichi Hasegawa, respectively, shining in their roles. The fact that Zenkichi is voiced by the same guy who portrayed Octodad, amazes me – such a difference between blub blubs and badass yet eccentric cop.
I am somewhat biased in my review of Persona 5 Strikers as I am a massive fan of the approachable and straightforward yet satisfying 1-vs-1000 gameplay that Omega Force has become known for delivering for well over a decade now. But while it is no alternative for playing the brilliant genre-defining Persona 5 (or better yet, Persona 5 Royal), there is so much fun to get out of this latest spin-off game, and it should remain a fitting extension and continuation of the broader Persona 5 chronology. And again… it is so satisfying to mow down 100s of shadows a minute, rather than two or three!
If Persona 5 Strikers is the standard we can expect from future Persona 5 spin-offs, the wait for Persona 6 will be much more tolerable.
Persona 5 Strikers will be released outside Japan from 23 February 2021 on the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Windows PC. Purchasing its Digital Deluxe Edition on any digital distribution platform will grant you access to it from right now!