After having spent hundreds of hours in Persona 5 and its complete edition Royal, it’s little surprise fans are hungry for new content set in the same universe. Enter Persona 5 Strikers, a spin-off title which blends the style, characters and story of the lengthy JRPG with the Musou gameplay framework.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a property has been given the Musou treatment, and while some have proven to be great fits for the gameplay style, others have proven middling at best.
Fortunately, we got the chance to check out this new title ahead of its release later this year, diving into the game’s first Jail; basically, its version of Persona 5’s Palaces. After this lengthy play session, we’re happy to report that Strikers is shaping up to be not only one of the better Musou games around but also a fitting sequel to its forebear.
Set after the events of Persona 5’s story, Strikers sees the Phantom Thieves reunite for the first time since the conclusion of their adventures. They all plan to spend a summer of fun together and set out to gather supplies for their upcoming activities.
Alongside this cheery reunion, though, is a new revelation unbeknownst to them: People are once again suffering sudden changes of heart, acting strangely and erratically with no clear indication as to why. As a result, the police have been tasked with bringing an end to it by any means necessary, and Joker is now squarely in their sights as the main suspect.
It’s not long after this that Joker, Ryuji and Morgana are dragged into what appears to be the Metaverse after an encounter with Alice Hiiragi, a fashion designer whose popularity has exploded in recent months. Not only that, but it happens after they enter a keyword given to them by Alice into the new AI app EMMA – an assistant app that has started seeing regular use among the citizens of Tokyo.
Within no time at all, they encounter Alice’s shadow; a ruthless sadist who delights in hurting others, and is stealing their Desires in order to control them. seeing no other choice, they regroup with their allies and return to their roles as Phantom Thieves, eager to put a stop to Alice, free those impacted by her and uncover what is causing the reappearance of the Metaverse.
It was surprising to see how much story was packed into Persona 5 Strikers’ first Jail alone, but in a good way. Just like in Persona 5, there’s a deep and twisty plot waiting to be unraveled, with several different threads dangling in front of the player.
Helping this is the fact that the cast is as strong as ever. All of the main characters, from Ann and Ryuji to Morgana and Joker, are still written with the same personalities and emotion as in the original game, with all of their original voice actors reprising their roles in this installment.
Players will have more than just the interactions between the main cast to look forward to, though. Joining them are two new characters, each with their own quirks and roles in the story.
The first is Sophia, an AI which the Phantom Thieves find in Alice’s Jail. Though she can’t remember where she came from or how she came to be in the Metaverse, she does know that she was tasked with acting as a companion to humanity. To that end, she joins the Phantom Thieves in their quest, acting as a new party member.
The second is Zenkichi, an investigator with the police department who has been put on the trail of the Phantom Thieves. Though his motives remain unclear, he seems to be a step ahead of his contemporaries; so much so that he pieces together the similarities between the events of the previous game and Strikers’ events well before his fellow officers.
Whether or not he’s an ally of the Phantom Thieves remains to be seen.
Both feel right at home among the established cast, and feel poised to serve major roles in the rest of the game’s story.
Persona 5 Strikers’ game world, meanwhile, still feels as fleshed out as it was before, with personality dripping from every aspect of the environment. The real world is still full of swaths of people wandering the streets and shops to explore, and those that have played the base game will feel like they’ve returned to their old haunts after so much time away.
The Metaverse likewise offers the usual interesting twist on these same environments influenced by the owners of the game’s Jails. For Alice’s, this means a sprawling carnivalized version of Shibuya, decked out with brightly-colored tents, hanging ornaments, and rides jutting up toward the discolored sky above.
Then, there’s the gameplay, which honestly might be where Persona 5 Strikers shines brightest. As one would expect, it centers around the Musou combat, with players slicing their way through wave after wave of enemies big and small.
Players can choose to play as any of the Phantom Thieves, with each offering their own perks and special abilities. Makoto is a high-power brawler, able to dispatch clustered groups of enemies in no time flat with Nuclear-enhanced blows, while Ann can provide crowd control with AOE whip attacks imbued by Fire magic.
Each feels great to play as, with combos that feel unique to each character despite their following the same input patterns. Likewise, the feedback of nailing enemies with attacks and sending groups flying keeps the combat engrossing.
However, the game doesn’t settle for dropping players into an enemy-filled map and letting them loose with some objectives to complete. Instead, the game plays out as a more action-heavy version of Persona 5.
In addition to a variety of melee combos they can execute, players can still sneak up on enemies to execute an ambush, giving them an advantage in battle. They can use magic attacks with their Persona to target enemies’ weak points, and when they do so, they’ll have the chance to trigger All-Out Attacks or additional hits via the Once More mechanic.
Outside of combat, players can also improve their party in a number of ways. These include buying better equipment from the game’s stores, upgrading and fusing their Personas and even unlocking new abilities by building up their Bond-level – basically a streamlined version of the Confidant system which measures the party’s collective intimacy.
This isn’t even mentioning the exploration and traversal that takes place while exploring Jails. In the process of learning more about Alice’s Shadow and preparing for the final confrontation with her, we scaled towers, platformed up and down environments and tracked down clues as to why Alice became the was she is much in the same way one would in Persona 5.
It all lends a depth to the game that, even after a few hours, helps it to stand head and shoulders above other Musou games as a legitimate successor to its source material. Musou fans will still have a blast dismantling thousands of foes per hour while Persona fans will have enough RPG mechanics to keep the gameplay feeling substantive.
There’s still a lot left to be seen of what Persona 5 Strikers offers, but based on the first Jail alone, the game has nailed a great balance between the two genres it blends. Fans of Persona 5 will finally get the new content they’ve been craving, and those who were on the fence because of its Musou gameplay will definitely want to reconsider checking it out when it drops later this year.