Persona 5 Strikers Review — The Phantom Thieves’ Last Surprise
Persona 5 Strikers is an excellent return trip for The Phantom Thieves and hits all the stylish, energetic highs of its predecessor.
It’s been said in plenty of other places on DualShockers, but for me, Persona 5 is simply a stellar game; one that I wouldn’t think could be easily followed up between its exceptional music, stylish visuals, and incredible RPG gameplay. By the time I finished Persona 5 Royal last year, I knew its world and characters. Combined, they made it so easy to dedicate the dozens upon dozens of hours needed to finish it.
Friendship and connection have always been at the heart of the Persona series, and that especially has been on full display with the Phantom Thieves and their journey in Persona 5. The relationships shared between Joker and his friends were ones that truly felt close to home for me, making it all the more difficult to get to the very end of Royal and having to leave it all behind.
As its spiritual “sequel,” Persona 5 Strikers gave me the chance to spend just a bit more time with friends and characters that I’ve grown to love. Of course, “a bit more time” for a Persona game is still a lot (roughly about 40+ hours, in this case); but even then, Persona 5 Strikers is a worthwhile follow-up that is more than just a simple spin-off. Taking the best elements of the original and infusing it with the style of an action RPG, Strikers is in every way a true successor to Persona 5 while being an incredibly satisfying and fun to play experience in its own right.
Persona 5 Strikers picks up a few months after the original Persona 5, and finds Joker and Morgana as they reunite with the rest of the Phantom Thieves to take off for a summer road trip across Japan. Right from the beginning, Strikers captures all the original’s familiar beats as players stroll down Central Street, hang out with Futaba, Ann, Makoto, and the rest of the gang, and then head back to Leblanc for a night of sleep (whether Morgana tells you to or not).
Like coming back to your hometown after a long time away or catching up with old friends, the simple act of being back in this world and seeing how much (or little) it’s changed helped make the experience of jumping into Strikers even more appealing. It also helps that, for the most part, Strikers assumes that most players will have played Persona 5. It doesn’t take long for players to hit the ground running and stealing hearts once again.
However, compared to the Phantom Thieves’ first adventure, the biggest difference that sets Persona 5 Strikers apart is how it plays. Coming from Omega Force, Strikers integrates a more action RPG style of play in the vein of Musou games, taking cues from the studio’s other recent franchise crossovers like the Hyrule Warriors series or Fire Emblem Warriors. Yet compared to something like Hyrule Warriors, Strikers is aiming for something a little deeper than just giving the familiar Musou formula a fresh coat of Persona paint. For the most part, it’s much closer to a tried and true Persona game than I ever would have expected.
In nearly every way, Persona 5 Strikers’ biggest goal from the beginning is to give fans an experience that feels directly influenced by its predecessor. In most cases this would be a pretty high bar to clear to match the style and tone of Persona 5, but Strikers almost effortlessly meets or exceeds them. Nearly all the signature gameplay elements of Persona 5 are here in Strikers, even if they’re scaled down or altered to some degree, though not necessarily in a bad way. While Strikers is largely more streamlined, the core rhythm of the Persona series is there–hanging out with friends, exploring dungeons, fighting enemies–and injected with newfound energy and depth from Omega Force.
For the most part, Persona 5 Strikers moves at a quicker pace by focusing on combat and the Phantom Thieves’ trip across Japan, while being less reliant on the series’ time management and social aspects. The Confidants system is here in spirit, though in a more condensed form through the “Bond” system, which is tracked across the entire party instead of individually with each character.
In the instances where players can hang out with the different members of the Phantom Thieves, you’ll earn Bond points that can be used to unlock various upgrades and new skills for the party. It’s a bit more simplistic than the Confidants system in the original Persona 5, but for Strikers, it makes sense and gives some leeway for players to simply enjoy the company of their favorite characters without worrying about wasting a precious day.
Strikers keeps things to a minimum when it comes to managing your time and trying to get the most out of your social calendar, but it’s an understandable change to make way for the core parts of the experience: exploring Jails and combat. Functionally similar to Palaces, the Phantom Thieves explore a variety of Jails that reflect the desires and psyche of the target they’re going after.
Much like Persona 5, each Jail is densely packed with enemies to defeat and treasures to find, making it worth it for players to take their time and fully explore each area. In turn, Strikers also reinforces an emphasis on stealth for the player, as enemies that catch the Phantom Thieves off-guard will not only be able to ambush the party but will also raise the Jail’s security level and risk cutting them off from the rewards of a treasure chest. Additionally, players can make use of different objects in the environment to reach new areas or get a better vantage point to drop a stealth attack on enemies.
In the tradition of Musou games (and in place of Persona 5’s turn-based combat system), Strikers puts players into the role of four of the Phantom Thieves at a time, including Joker and three other members of your choice. Right from the beginning players have the freedom to assemble their party with any Phantom Thief they wish, giving a lot of flexibility to experiment or mix and match with each character.
While I did gravitate towards bringing some of my personal favorite characters into each Jail (like Makoto, Haru, and Yusuke), Strikers hits a great balance of making each character feel largely different from one another and with a specific purpose on the team as a whole. Combined with the fact that you can swap party members at any time (as long as you aren’t in combat), Strikers really makes the case that you should get a feel for how each Phantom Thief plays and should identify the best opportunity to bring them in might be.
Though it has the trademark hack-and-slash combat that’s expected from Musou games, Strikers in a lot of ways feels drastically different than something like Dynasty Warriors. The integration of Persona 5’s RPG elements add an entirely different level of strategy and depth to the experience, as calling upon a selected character’s Persona will stop time and let the player formulate the best attack option against a group of enemies. That goes as far as incorporating the different weaknesses and resistances of each Persona, along with all the status effects players know from the Persona series.
It’s here that I might say that Strikers maybe throws a bit too much at players sometimes in the heat of combat, as much as it does exceptionally well at bringing a more action-driven take on Persona 5’s combat. Things can escalate pretty quickly when you’re swarmed by huge groups of enemies and trying to manage not only yourself, but also keeping an eye out on the rest of your party if they’re down to only a sliver of health or impeded by a status effect.
This is especially the case during boss battles, which is where I felt Strikers really can hit some significant difficulty spikes; more often than not bosses can be a struggle if you’re not prepared for them, leading to some frustrating encounters. The turn-based RPG structure of Persona 5 lent itself a little better to give players a chance to think things through. Whereas, Strikers’ real-time combat can feel like you’re trying to catch your breath and stay above water.
But in the moments that the combat clicks into place and the music kicks in, Persona 5 Strikers is simply a blast to play. Throwing a Baton Pass to another party member and building up to All Out Attacks feels satisfying and responsive, especially when it comes to wiping out huge waves of Shadows with a character’s Showtime Attack, which are just as over-the-top as you’d expect. Strikers perfectly captures the energy and style of the Phantom Thieves, and even after dozens of encounters, I couldn’t help myself but smile when I’d hear the battle theme kick in. It feels right at home with some of the best tracks from Persona 5‘s soundtrack.
It could have been easy for Persona 5 Strikers to be an experience that simply wore the Persona franchise on its sleeve or that felt like a mismatch with its more action-oriented gameplay. However, what’s most admirable about Strikers is the fact that it aimed so high to deliver an experience that feels complimentary to the journey that fans took with these characters in Persona 5. In nearly every way, Strikers finds the right balance of integrating the style and gameplay of its predecessor while finding its own footing to bring players exciting and flashy combat that is worthy of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.
Persona 5 Strikers may look and feel a bit different from the original, but at its heart, it still revolves around the Phantom Thieves that we know and adore. As a love letter to a group of characters and setting that I quickly grew attached to, having the chance to jump back in and steal some hearts with Joker and the crew is entirely worth the return trip to Japan. For that, Persona 5 Strikers is a fitting reunion for players that are looking for one last surprise from everyone’s favorite Phantom Thieves, no matter where the road takes them next.