When Persona 5 launched in 2017, I fell into my new RPG obsession. I loved nearly everything about the journey of the Phantom Thieves, but the characters and the story are what stuck with me long after I wrapped up the more-than-100-hour journey. So when Persona 5 Royal was announced, I couldn’t wait to jump back in and repeat the adventure with new characters, locations, and an additional story arc at the end. However, while I loved Persona 5 Royal (a lot, in fact), it left me wishing for an all-new story with the beloved cast of characters; I wanted to see how their friendships and lives evolved following the wild events of Persona 5. It may not be an RPG like the game it serves as a sequel to, but Persona 5 Strikers promises to give me the new adventure I’ve been craving since I first stepped foot in Café Leblanc nearly four years ago.
Co-developed by Atlus and the studio behind the Dynasty Warriors franchise, Omega Force, Persona 5 Strikers is hardly a direct successor to the Persona 5 I fell in love with. However, if you go in expecting it to be like what we saw Omega Force do with Hyrule Warriors, where it’s just nonstop action and a constant stream of hack-and-slash battles, you’re in for a surprise. Over the course of the first several hours I played, I felt less like I was playing some sort of strange, dissonant spin-off action game and more like I was playing a sequel to Persona 5 with action-based combat.
The similarities and differences between Persona 5 and Persona 5 Strikers are most aptly displayed through the cast of characters and the way you interact with them. The majority of my early hours were spent in dialogue with the Phantom Thieves. I loved learning more about what they’ve been up to in the months since the end of Persona 5. The passage of time was particularly exciting for characters like Makoto, who is now in college and in a different place in her life. If you’re into the style aspect of the title, nearly all the characters are sporting new looks as well.
However, while the characters and their voice actors return from the original Persona 5 (sorry, Kasumi fans), the social elements have been hugely scaled down from the mainline series. Instead of social links, you can develop bonds with characters on your team. Much like the dearly departed social links, bonds open up new stat boosts and abilities for characters. Unlike Persona 5’s system, however, you don’t earn points toward upgrades through going to a ramen shop, amusement park, or shrine with your friends, but rather by defeating enemies. I’m a little disappointed by the lack of social options since that’s such a huge part of what made me fall in love with these characters and the series as a whole in the first place, but this project was never meant to be a social simulation like the original release.
While the original characters already have strong links to one another, they welcome a new member to the Phantom Thieves’ ranks very early on in the story. Sophia is an artificial intelligence character that Joker and Skull find during their first trip back into the Metaverse. She joins the team, contributing narrative guidance on top of her skills in battle. Using her yo-yos, she can attack a wide range, while her blaster lets her hit enemies from afar.
In Persona 5, the team infiltrates a Palace by discovering a corrupt ruler, gathering information on them, and using an app on their phone to make the shift into the Metaverse. That process remains the same in Strikers; the team discovers that something strange is happening involving Alice Hiiragi, a fashion stylist and idol who has developed an oddly ardent following. As it turns out, the seemingly sweet Alice has figured out some way to capture the desires of ordinary people, turning them into obsessed fans who will do anything for her, including one man who drops to his knees and confesses his love to her in front of his own fiancé. Once the Phantom Thieves figure this out and see Alice’s true nature, they know they can’t let it stand, so they begin an investigation by talking to and eavesdropping on fans scattered throughout Shibuya.
Once the team has enough information, it’s back to the Metaverse to infiltrate Alice’s dungeon, which turns the area surrounding Shibuya Crossing into a jail. The dungeon I played, while shorter than a Persona 5 Palace, plays out shockingly similar to how they played out in the original mainline RPG; you traverse the area, ambushing Shadows as you go. The biggest difference in the entire game lies in the combat; rather than the turn-based fare of Persona 5, battles play out closer to the high-paced action of the Warriors series. While you can hack and slash to your heart’s content, taking strategy into account is crucial. Not only can you swap between your active party using the d-pad, but you can pause the action to swap Personas and use their abilities. Capitalizing on enemy weaknesses can knock them down, opening the door for a powerful All-Out Attack. I was also caught off guard by how the battles are spaced out. Based on my time with the Hyrule Warriors games, I expected the battles to be more constant. Instead, the encounters more serve to break up the exploration.
Even when you’re not in the dungeon itself, Shibuya and the surrounding areas feel like a return home if you’ve already played either version of Persona 5. Shibuya and Yongen-Jaya are laid out exactly as they are in Persona 5, and seeing the gang return to Leblanc or their hideout in the accessway brought a smile to my face. I know the team will eventually move on from Shibuya and Tokyo as a whole during the course of the story, but these callbacks to the Phantom Thieves’ flagship adventure are fun.
If my early hours are any indication, Persona 5 Strikers serves as a compelling follow up to one of my favorite role-playing games of all time. Not only am I enticed by the idea of carrying on with the lives of the various members of the team, but I’m intrigued by the directions the story is going. Persona 5 Strikers launches on PlayStation 4, Switch, and PC on February 23. To see the initial announcement trailer of its Western localization, head here.