Like Persona 5, but with a lot less going to bed.
The long wait for Persona 5 Strikers is nearly over, and with over a full year between its Japanese and English release dates, fans have built up a lot of expectations for the first ever canonical sequel to Persona 5. That’s not the only milestone this game is reaching though; it’s also the first Persona game to be released on Switch. Naturally this raises a lot of questions, both about what Persona fans should expect from the story and also about what Switch players should expect from the performance. We’ve had the opportunity to play the first major story arc of the game, and thankfully a lot of those questions have been answered, and I’m looking forward to playing the rest of Strikers more than ever before.
Strikers takes place half a year after the events of the original Persona 5—specifically during the summer vacation of Joker’s senior year of high school. The Phantom Thieves have reunited for a trip to Kyoto, but their plans are thrown off-track when they once again find themselves in the mysterious otherworld of the Metaverse. There they meet a brand new character: an AI named Sophia who introduces herself as “humanity’s companion”. Sophia’s origins are a mystery even to her, but through her own strange powers she’s able to create something similar to a persona, which she uses to fight alongside the Phantom Thieves as an ally.
The antagonist of the first arc is Alice, a fashion artist who is able to use the Metaverse to manipulate the populace into following her with a religious zeal. Alice’s Shadow is the ruler of a Jail; a location in the Metaverse similar to a Palace where she keeps the stolen Desires of her victims. Since Alice’s powers are similar to a change of heart, the Phantom Thieves find themselves under suspicion from law enforcement once again, and are forced to strike a deal with Zenkichi Hasegawa, an investigator with Public Security. Zenkichi offers to give them information on Alice in exchange for promising to help him solve the mystery and force Alice to atone for her crimes.
For those curious, none of the events added in Persona 5 Royal were mentioned during my playtime, and Royal-exclusive characters like Kasumi Yoshizawa and Takuto Maruki never appeared. If you’ve only played the original version of Persona 5, then you already know everything you need to know about the Phantom Thieves.
Since it was made by Warriors Series developer Omega Force, it’s easy to assume that Strikers is a full hack-and-slash spin-off in the likes of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. This is backed up by the fact that the combat mechanics are pulled directly from other Musou games, but that is where the comparison ends. With its full-fledged dungeons, lengthy cutscenes, and complex persona fusion system, Persona 5 Strikers is certainly not a Musou game. But it’s also not quite a Persona game either.
Although you spend some time in the real world gathering intel on Alice and talking to friends, the social simulation side of the Persona franchise was almost entirely missing from the first arc of the game. You don’t go to school except for one scene that happens to take place at Shujin Academy, and you won’t be deciding whether you should play darts with friends or hang out with a monk in a dance club each day. The in-game calendar only advances with story events that are triggered by your actions in the Jail, shifting the game’s focus away from Joker’s student life and more towards his antics as a Phantom Thief.
Thankfully fighting shadows and exploring the Metaverse is just as fun in an action game as it was in a turn-based RPG. Gameplay in the Jails is pretty much exactly what you’d imagine from putting Musou combat directly into Persona 5, and the ability to leap into the air between vantage points adds a level of verticality that the Warriors series has rarely explored. The simple addition of a jump button adds a lot to the flow of battle, and the elemental weakness system from traditional Persona games has been incorporated perfectly. The option to stop time in order to select your personas’ skills helps keep the frantic chaos of battle manageable, and the ability to immediately jump onto a weakened enemy with an All-Out Attack is the perfect hook to get right back into the fast-paced action after a slow, deliberate choice.
The only downside to combat is that it’s easy to run out of SP much quicker in an action game than a turn-based RPG, and with SP-restoring items as scarce in Strikers’ first arc as they are at the beginning of the original Persona 5, you’ll find yourself locked out of your persona’s abilities pretty often. This never turned into a huge problem since leaving the Metaverse via one of the many checkpoints in the Jail fully restores your HP and SP, but the need to regularly stop the action and sit through loading screens of going back and forth between the Metaverse and the real world can kill the game’s flow on a macro level pretty easily.
As for the Switch version’s performance, I’m incredibly impressed with how Persona 5 Strikers runs on Nintendo’s hybrid handheld. Though the framerate is capped at 30fps and the resolution is noticeably lower than PS4 and PC, the overall game experience is shockingly consistent. I rarely noticed any frame drops during even the most chaotic battles, and the aesthetic flair Persona 5 is known for has not been compromised to run on Switch. It’s surprising that a multiplatform game can run so much better than a Switch exclusive like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, which was developed by the same studio and released half a year later in Japan than Strikers was.
When I heard from impressions of the Japanese version that Persona 5 Strikers was more of a story-driven RPG than a musou game, I was a bit worried that the game would be a half-measure between two genres. I’m excited to be wrong about that, as Omega Force has done a great job merging two disparate genres together into an entirely new experience. It’s not quite a Musou game or a Persona game, but it’s tapped into my love of both franchises to create something that I’m looking forward to seeing more of.