Persona 5 Strikers Hands-On Preview - Don't Bring a Knife to a Persona Fight

by Callum May,

During the early development of Hyrule Warriors, the team at Omega Force wanted to have the game involve dungeons, puzzles, and all of the things intrinsic to a Zelda game. However, then general manager Shigeru Miyamoto shot down the idea, telling the team to create the sort of game they're already good at. From playing Persona 5 Strikers, I imagine this same conversation played out very differently at ATLUS.

For the most part, Persona 5 Strikers feels like a legitimate sequel to the original 2017 game. The character models and environments are the same and, unlike Persona Q2, the entire voice cast has returned. Set 6 months after the Phantom Thieves disbanded, they're now met with a new reason to enter the Metaverse, along with the mysterious new recruit Sophia.

Persona 5 Strikers is unlike any other crossover Warriors title Omega Force has developed in the past. Rather than huge fields of enemies to take down, the Phantom Thieves must instead ambush shadows and take them down within small battle arenas while travelling through the Jail (This game's version of Palaces).

Right now, I'm only permitted to talk about the Phantom Thieves' adventures through the first of these dungeons in Shibuya, but this was enough time to get familiar with the game's unique style of gameplay. Unlike the main title, players can take on the role of each of the main characters, as well as the new character Sophia, from the very start. And like Warriors games, each character has their own unique attacks and animations. For instance, Morgana can turn into the Cat-Bus to mow down shadows, while Yusuke can take down opponents with anime-like counters.

Beyond that, the gameplay is difficult to explain. Rather, it's best summed up as Persona 5, crossed with Dynasty Warriors, crossed with Final Fantasy VII Remake. The latter comparison comes in with the ability to pause the battle at any time to ready an attack spell. This is one of the game's many attempts to retain the feeling of a turn-based RPG, even while you're mowing down hordes of shadows. All three of those games are favourites for me. Persona 5 is my favourite game of all time, while Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and Final Fantasy VII Remake were two of my favourite games from the last year. And so it pains me to say that Persona 5 Strikers' attempt to blend these systems is far worse than the sum of its parts.

There are of course exciting moments, with the game's opening fight being a fun demonstration of the system's capabilities. But as you progress through the dungeon, the curtain is pulled back somewhat. The Dynasty Warriors-like action is severely nerfed, lacking the impact of other titles in an effort to encourage players to use Persona skills. But on the other hand, the Persona skills aren't overly interesting to use. In fact, the best boss strategy is to bring a bunch of super-effective Persona users into battle, and then have them continuously spam the enemy with skills. Unlike Final Fantasy VII Remake, there's no ATB system or cooldown between these. You can just continue attacking until your SP runs out.

That's how both my battles against mini-bosses and the final bosses went. I spammed until I ran out of SP, and only then did I resort to Dynasty Warriors action while waiting for Futaba to help me recover. Unlike in the main title, there is no reason not to expend all of your SP in a single battle. Several checkpoints are scattered around the map, allowing the player to leave the dungeon. In Persona 5, this means that the clock will advance, and therefore leaving you with one less day to build social links, study for an exam, or stuff yourself full with burgers. But in Strikers, Morgana won't let you sleep until you've completed the entire dungeon, meaning you can fully restore your health and skill points whenever you get to a checkpoint.

For this reason, all of the mechanics unique to each character are easily forgotten. There's really no reason to switch out of Joker until you've exhausted all of his SP targeting enemies' weaknesses with his arsenal of Persona assembled through a barebones version of the Velvet Room. From there, you'll use up your party members' SP, and then switch new characters in until you reach a checkpoint. It was almost sad to see my characters unlock new Warriors-like combos because I knew I'd never end up using them.

This all reads largely negative, but I am still having fun with it. The Shibuya dungeon took me 7 hours to complete and in that time, Persona 5 Strikers proved its strengths in both its story and characters, with the new faces Sophia and Zenkichi becoming immediately loveable. But as a fan of Warriors games, I was hoping that the combat would be as enjoyable as it looked in trailers. When Shigeru Miyamoto intervened on Hyrule Warriors, it was to make sure that Omega Force was creating the kind of game they're already good at instead of trying to mimic Nintendo's puzzle-solving adventures. Because if you're just going to try and copy the original, what's the point in a collaboration in the first place?

Copy of Persona 5 Strikers provided by ATLUS.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Also available on Nintendo Switch and Steam.
Releases February 21, 2021.

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