Game Reviewby Callum May,
Persona 5 Strikers
The Phantom Thieves are going on tour! While the original title had the gang taking down the rich and powerful within Tokyo, Persona 5 Strikers has them travel across all of Japan, looking to solve a series of “change of heart incidents”. The stakes are higher this time, with hundreds of people having their desires stolen by Monarchs and kept within their Jails, but at the same time, it's a really chill road-trip movie at a comfortable 30 hours of playtime.
Six months after the events of Persona 5 (not Royal), the Thieves have gotten back together for the summer holidays. But after meeting the AI Sophia and the police inspector Zenkichi, their plans get uprooted. While a lot of the dialogue is similar to what you'll find in the main game, with plenty of teasing and messing about, these new characters introduce refreshing new perspectives to old dynamics.
Sophia is an AI who wants to learn more about humanity. It's a cliche setup, but it helps the game focus on the theme of summer memories, and she helps reflect on the emotional core of the battles with the Monarchs. Meanwhile, Zenkichi is fun yet unsettling. He gets some of the best lines in the game with his down-to-earth wit, but he's difficult to trust, especially after the Phantom Thieves' history with the police force.
Persona 5 was a moment of transition for much of the main cast with Makoto and Haru having graduated high school and Futaba finally learning how to deal with crowds. Unlike other spinoffs, we finally get to find out how they've grown over the past 6 months, giving us the opportunity to learn more about the characters we thought we knew so well. And of course, the Phantom Thieves' notoriety has grown as well, leading to plenty of awesome calling card moments that continue to feel like a real reward for clearing a dungeon.
Strikers is a true sequel to Persona 5, but this does leave it with some baggage. Ann's portrayal in the original title has drawn much criticism; while her initial character arc was about her fighting for bodily autonomy, she's constantly subjected to sexual harassment by older characters as well as ogled by both the male members of the Phantom Thieves and the game's camera itself. This continues in Persona 5 Strikers with little criticism or condemnation. If there was any intention of commentary, it never made it into the game at all.
Persona 5 strives to explore social issues, and Persona 5 Strikers continues that tradition, specifically looking at the way trauma can inflict long-lasting harm and resentment. While this is demonstrated simplistically through boss battles and conversations with the eager Sophia, it's surprisingly empathetic.
Before you can challenge the bosses, you've got to first find your way through their Jail, the Strikers equivalent of a Palace. They're more open than Palaces but ultimately less enjoyable. Much of the exploration feels the need to mimic the mechanics of Persona 5, but they're implemented awkwardly. Instead of being able to hide around any corner and ambush shadows deftly, there are only a few locations that you can ambush from in Strikers. And because of this, you end up performing ambushes from across the map, instead of the tight, satisfying takedowns we're used to.
There are puzzles to solve, but they're insultingly simple. Some have the same solutions as puzzles in the original game, while others just show you the solution through waypoints on your minimap. It can often feel like you're on auto-pilot following markers instead of exploring for yourself. Omega Force wanted to create something that feels the same as the Palaces, but both in terms of exploration and visual design, it feels like a thin imitation.
Unfortunately, “thin imitation” can be used to sum up many aspects of Persona 5 Strikers. While the story is a highlight, and the use of the original 3D assets makes it feel like a true sequel, it puts itself into direct comparison with one of the best JRPGs of the generation. Along with the basic dungeons, the fusion system has been stripped of much of its creativity, confidants have disappeared, and there's no more time management system. Much of these exclusions make sense in regards to the length and structure of the game, but that does little to soften the disappointment, especially when everything else feels so similar.
The single largest disappointment is in the hybrid between Persona 5 and Warriors combat. It's a neat idea that feels similar to the approach of Final Fantasy VII Remake, where players have to attack in real-time while peppering enemy shadows with super-effective skills. However, the actual execution of these mechanics is wildly unbalanced. There are no cooldowns between skills, and each time you use a super-effective skill, it stuns any enemy, including bosses. Therefore, there seems to be little motivation to do anything but repeatedly spam skills to stun-lock any boss in the game.
Add in the fact that the ingredients for Joker's Kitchen, a new mechanic that lets you create SP-restoring items, are incredibly abundant, and you can beat almost every boss without ever taking a single hit. Ingredients are stocked and frequently restocked at both the local supermarket and Sophia's shop, so the only difficulty left in Persona 5 Strikers is dependent on the restrictions you place upon yourself. It's not like there's much reason not to exploit this system either; the Warriors action looks cool, but is among some of the weakest within the series, with each strike feeling weightless. Instead, the main goal of the action is to perform combos that will unleash skills with no SP cost, but it feels far too scrappy and desperate for a stylish Persona game.
There are numerous issues with the interactive elements of Persona 5 Strikers, but the story and music still make it feel like an essential entry. For those that loved the original game, this is an unmissable road-trip with plenty of opportunities to both reflect on its themes and learn more about your favorite members of the cast. But for those just looking for a satisfying Warriors game to chew through, this one is an easy skip.
Overall : B-
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : A-
Gameplay : C
Presentation : B
+ An excellent return to the story of Persona 5 with new characters who each have their own compelling arcs, stylish cutscenes, more great music from Shoji Meguro and Lyn.
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