It’s wild to think Persona 5 launched 4 years ago here in the United States to universal acclaim from publications and fans. The stylish RPG is considered one of the must-play titles of the PlayStation 4. Persona fans knew that the game would stand on its own story-wise and the best hope for further adventures in the world would be a game update similar to what Persona 4 got with Persona 4 Golden. While that did come in the form of Persona 5 Royal, another game was announced along with it that shocked the community.
That game was Persona 5 Strikers. A muso game developed by Koei Tecmo. Many fans wondered how the heck an RPG series could be turned into a hack and slash game and still feel like a Persona game? But after more than 20 hours of playtime, I can safely say everyone involved managed to make the combination work brilliantly. Persona 5 Strikers is the unexpected sequel to Persona 5 I thought we would never get, but I am happy that we did.
The game takes place one year after the events of Persona 5. The Phantom Thieves are meeting up for summer vacation only to be thrown into another mess within the metaverse that involves jails popping up around Tokyo instead of palaces. The gameplay has the typical muso game stylings: fast-paced hack and slash battles that emphasize button combinations and switching between members to take down large hoards of enemies. The brilliance of Strikers, though, is it manages to still feel like a Persona game in gameplay and story.
Take their hearts in style
What struck me almost immediately about Striker’s gameplay is retains the “hack and slash” combat style while incorporating RPG elements in the best way. Battles are activated by traversing the world and striking enemies to initiate a battle like a typical RPG. The minute the battle starts though, it’s slashing time as gameplay becomes frenetically fast in typical muso style. Winning battles requires being able to use strategic elements such as speed, power, and elemental attacks that can strike weak points thanks to each character’s Persona. Switching between Phantom Thieves is made easy thankfully with a simple button punch. This allows for easy access to be able to strategize on the fly, and win battles with style.
Speaking of style, one of the most recognizable elements of Persona 5 is the immense amount of style that the game had in every element. From menus, to level design, to a soundtrack that will be iconic for a very long time. Strikers knows this and succeeds in feeling like it has the same amount of style its predecessor had in its own way. All the menus have life and cool little tendencies just like Persona 5 did. It makes having to look over your stats and inventory not a complete chore, which is critical as the hours’ pile on your game time. The score, composed by Atsushi Kitajoh, Gota Masuoka, and Ayana Hira, feels like a perfect pair for the infectiously cool score Shoji Meguro gave for Persona 5. The gameplay also reinforces this idea of style as every combo and special move feels like a blast to pull off then witness as it helps out immensely on the battlefield. It seems crazy to think a completely different team managed to understand the sense of calm cool that Persona 5 had, but Strikers delivers.
The Phantom Thieves’ adventure continues
Story-wise, Strikers feels like a natural sequel to Persona 5 in character, tone, themes, and setting. Within the first couple lines of dialogue, it feels like you’re hanging out with the quirky and relatable thieves again. Ryuji is the lovable klutz, Makoto the comforting mother figure for everyone, and Yusuke the out-of-touch artist. There’s comfort getting more time with one of the strongest groups of characters to come out of an RPG in a long time. Their antics only become more fun to be a part of as the game progresses and they adventure across all of Tokyo to find out what is wrong in the metaverse.
The antics of the Phantom Thieves are only helped with the return of the whole voice cast from the original game. All the members of the English dub cast had a blast returning to the roles fans fell in love with in Persona 5. Newcomers also heavily stick out as being unique in their own ways, heroes, or villains. Two new performances that stick out are Tom Taylorson, as new ally Zenkichi Hasegawa, and Zach Aguilar as villain Ango Natsume. Taylorson, in particular, will become a fan favorite in the franchise. His performance at moments hilarious, and at others sincerely heartfelt as you learn more about his mysterious intentions.
The strongest story element of Strikers is the game does what every great sequel accomplishes. It takes the thematic elements and trappings of its predecessor and builds upon them instead of copying them. There are no palaces this time around, but instead jails. The jails have a much different connotation in the story than the palaces did, which leads to developing a new theme for Strikers to tackle compared to Persona 5. While it can be argued Persona 5‘s theme was to break out of the prison an unjust society can put on an individual, Strikers asks the question, ‘what happens when the person doesn’t break out?’ When the prison beats them, and turns them into a broken individual as well? Without spoilers, this theme is greatly compounded by the fact that each villain has eerie parallels to circumstances that members of the Phantom Thieves went through in the first game. It only drives home the overall importance of both games in not letting an unjust society beat you down.
If there are small criticisms to bring up, it should be noted that hack and slash games do tend to get repetitive. While Strikers does a great job adding in side quests and replay-ability to combat this factor, it will start to manifest as a knock if the gameplay doesn’t grab you at first. Persona fans also might be surprised that the game is shorter than they expected. Know going in that this is not the long RPG that the series is known for.
To me, Persona 5 Strikers succeeds in being one of the most unique sequels I’ve ever witnessed. On paper, a turn-based RPG as beloved as Persona 5 should have never worked as a muso game. To the credit of Koei Tecmo, they managed to take all the right elements from the original game to make a sequel that feels natural in the story, and wildly addictive and fun in gameplay. If this really is the last time we see the Thieves, I can smile happy they went out on a more stylish note than I ever expected.