Persona 5 Strikers Review: A Summer Road Trip Extravaganza
In 2017, Persona 5 became a landmark title for the series, propelling it to its highest mainstream status yet. Then in 2020, Persona 5 Royal, an enhanced rerelease of Persona 5, added even more features and story bits to the already gargantuan game. Now, the Phantom Thieves return in a sequel, Persona 5 Strikers, to take our hearts once again.
Persona 5 Strikers differs quite a bit from Persona 5 in that the former uses a real-time action combat system rather than the turn-based combat system the series is known for. This change is welcome, however, as Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force and Atlus did a fantastic job taking elements from both of their respective franchises, Dynasty Warriors and Persona, and combining them into one.
Persona 5 Strikers is one of the best JRPG titles this year.
The story of Persona 5 Strikers takes place six months after the events of Persona 5. There are some new lore concepts and new characters introduced, as well. The Phantom Thieves travel all over Japan on a summer road trip to uncover the new mysterious events involving the Metaverse. The plot is a genuine delight and delivers complete character arcs that you expect from a Persona game.
Persona 5 Strikers Review: A Summer Road Trip Extravaganza
Strikers borrows more elements from Persona 5 than Dynasty Warriors, as it seems like the latter was more of just a template for the real-time action gameplay on display here, while you can feel the former’s DNA coursing through its structure and more intricate gameplay mechanics.
The story structure still follows the calendar system integral to the series, but this time around, the pacing is much faster and more on-rails than the previous game. The cast solves whatever problem is plaguing the city they’re in and then move on to the next stop on the trip.
To fit with this new pacing, the game replaces the Confidant/Social Links feature that previously expanded on worldbuilding with a new Bond Level gauge that fills every time the story progresses, or you'll complete certain requests involving the main cast. In turn, increasing the Bond Level provides you with Bond points that you can spend to increase your party’s abilities, such as recovering HP during a successful enemy ambush or gaining higher amounts of money drops after a battle.
This new mechanic works narratively since Strikers focuses much more on the Phantom Thieves as a group rather than the team trying to expand its network of alliances.
Additionally, Strikers does a great job translating the traditional Persona turn-based gameplay mechanics into real-time versions. During battle, you can pull up the Persona menu to select a special skill from your list and execute it. It works very similarly to Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s menu system. When in the menu, the game stands still, giving you time to strategize on hitting enemy weaknesses or heal/buff allies.
The game also runs very well on PlayStation 5 via backwards compatibility, with short load times and at a solid 60 FPS, with no crashes or performance issues. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic too, with new tracks and remixed versions of Persona 5 and Royal originals.
Old Thieves, New Tricks
There are some new battle mechanics unique to Strikers too. The first is Phantom Dashes, which draws inspiration from the original’s use of special background objects to inflict additional damage. It’s reminiscent of the Flowmotion mechanic in Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance.
In Strikers, you can dash onto cars and blow them up or swing around street lights to hit enemies. There’s also now a dedicated dodge button, and if you perfect the timing, you can hit enemies with a counter-attack.
Although my favorite mechanic is definitely the Master Arts, which is a set of skills unique to each character that utilizes certain button combinations to pull off. These skills make each of the characters feel distinct, and some even invoke Personas. So even when you’re not using Persona skills that consume SP or HP, it’s a nice aesthetic feature to have that makes it feel like the Personas are also participating in battle.
Characters now have a Showtime, an ultimate attack that can be unleashed once the Showtime gauge is full. It can be filled by attacking enemies, although the ability to skip the full animation of these attacks would have been appreciated. They are nice, but after seeing them multiple times, I'd like to get back to the action.
While many of Persona 5’s mechanics transition incredibly well to Strikers, not every mechanic lands; some can be a bit sloppy. I enjoyed Persona 5’s Demon Negotiation, where you convince enemies to join your side, but in Strikers, they’re replaced with a chance of a mask drop when defeated. I understand Demon Negotiation may not have been something easily replicated for real-time action, but this new mechanic seems a bit half baked.
A Royal Misstep
While you can switch members between both your reserve and main party any time outside of battle, you can't do so during battle. There are some side requests in the game that pitted me against strong mini-bosses, and it wasn’t until I got into the battle that I could see their elemental weaknesses, and I wouldn't have the right party build.
If this strong enemy nullified all Nuclear damage, for example, and I brought Makoto with me, who specializes in that element, then she might as well have been a sitting duck; I had no way to swap her out for a party member in my reserve. This feature was in Persona 5, so why isn’t it here too?
However, the biggest issue relates to Strikers' controls. It’s strange how Strikers doesn’t offer any sort of controller remapping, considering other action games like Devil May Cry 5 and the recently released Ys IX: Monstrum Nox have fully remappable buttons. On PlayStation, the “interact” button is O, and not X, much like other games, such as Persona 5 Royal. It took a bit to get used to, but being able to swap those two buttons would have made for a more comfortable experience.
Unfortunately, Strikers doesn’t reference any of the new story content featured in Royal either. While Strikers' story doesn’t contradict any of the events in either the original Persona 5 or Royal, it feels incredibly odd not to see any references to the new characters and plot points in Royal, the definitive version of Persona 5.
This is even stranger since Showtime was a new mechanic introduced in Royal, one that is also in Strikers. The new characters introduced in Strikers are great, but it would have been even better if it had included Royal’s story elements.
Persona 5 Strikers Review — The Bottom Line
- Turn-based mechanics transferred well into real-time
- Good story and good new characters
- Perfect performance on PlayStation 5
- Stellar music and aesthetic
- No remappable controls
- A few mechanics from Persona 5 aren't implemented or are a bit half baked
- For a sizeable number of fans, no Persona 5 Royal references will be disappointing
Persona 5 Strikers is a great time and a worthy sequel to Persona 5 and Royal. The franchise’s traditional turn-based mechanics are masterfully transitioned into real-time versions that retain the soul and identity of what makes the series so much fun.
Combine all of that with a heartfelt story and a great group of characters, and the Phantom Thieves’ summer road trip extravaganza is one to remember.
[Note: Atlus/Sega provided the copy of Persona 5 Strikers used for this review.]