Persona 5 is one of the most revered RPGs of our time. After all, it had a gorgeous art style, head-bopping music, oomph-inducing gameplay in both combat and social sim, and a deep story about free will and human suffering, raising the standards for RPGs worldwide (I did not play 100 hours of it for nothing!).
The bad news? Its latest spin-off, Persona 5 Strikers, is now burdened with the daunting task of reaching the same heights as its main game, which might be a little unfair. Nevertheless, it seemed almost inevitable that the RPG-turned-hack and slash wouldn't live up to the level of Persona 5, though I still commend it for not refrying the same beans and is a worthy expansion on its plot.
Here's what I thought about Persona 5 Strikers:
Like other previous Persona spin-offs, in lieu of its signature deep social simulation gameplay and turn-based combat, Persona 5 Strikers opts for mostly real-time hack and slash, more emphasis on its main quest that takes players on a road trip across Japan, and much simpler social sim elements. Even so, Strikers didn't entirely divert from the original formula, with the return of Persona skills a nd management (both obtaining and fusing, but players can now level them up manually using Persona Points), Requests (basically side quests), and a brand new story that cements Persona 5 Strikers as more of a sequel.
Fans are hard-pressed to know whether these big change are good for the soul, and personally, they sacrificed a lot of what made Persona 5 so great.
To put it simply, Strikers' combat is a mess. Despite being a fan of the old Dynasty Warriors games (which Koei Tecmo worked on, as well as Strikers), Strikers didn't execute its frenetic battle system as well as the semi-historical series.
When the Phantom Thieves are going up against hordes of enemies (which is most of the time), it's hard to tell what exactly Joker and his teammates are doing in the heat of battle. I was button mashing half of the time and hoping for the best; and the other half executing combos that I vaguely remember, and pulling up the Persona skills menu - which pauses the game and reveals enemy weaknesses - to decimate opponents with the right magic or buffs/debuffs. Battles with fewer enemies may be less confusing, but to filter through never-ending in-battle dialogue, battle hints, and your teammates' actions, it still requires extra unnecessary focus to comprehend what's happening on the screen.
On the bright side, it was still satisfying to pull off All-Out Attacks, explosive Showtime ((an ultimate skill that deals powerful damage), 1 More combos, and exploiting enemy weaknesses, which reward players with visual treats that Persona 5 is known for. (Spider-Verse goosebumps)
What made Persona 5 so great was its wealth of quality side stories - mainly the relationships you develop with several characters through the Confidant feature - and activities that immerse you deeper into its universe. Which is why it's a huge shame that Persona 5 Strikers omitted those almost entirely.
In its place is the BOND system with your fellow Thieves, which is a much simpler Confidant that levels up via combat, optional conversations with your buddies, and your main story progression. Though the BOND system grants you perks, the benefits are pretty mundane, including increased damage, more chance for certain buffs, unlock difficult treasures etc.
Requests appear once more in Strikers, and similar to its purpose as side quests in Persona 5, they give a little more story and some rewards for completing them. Even so, they add little to the overall experience.
Initially, the new Recipes feature introduced in Strikers, where Joker can cook delicious-sounding meals by collecting food recipes in every city, seemed like a welcome addition to the game. But, it ended up just restoring your health and Stamina Points (SP), granting temporary combat perks, and increasing your BOND. It would've been more intriguing if finding and cooking food resulted in more unusual rewards and story.
If Persona 5 Strikers kept its social sim aspect intact, then I would've been able to forgive its lackluster combat.
Fortunately, it's not all dirt and grime for Persona 5 Strikers - the PlayStation exclusive still has plenty of bright sides that are worthy of pointing out.
Persona 5 Strikers' biggest strength lies in its storyline. After the destruction of Mementos and Palaces, the Phantom Thieves are now tasked with freeing people's captured Desires in Jails, by defeating the greedy Monarchs' - much like the Shadow rulers of Persona 5's Palaces - that feed upon said Desires to have power and influence over the real world. But, this time, it's not all black and white - the Monarchs are born from the traumas they endured in the past. The only way that the Phantom Thieves can accomplish their mission, is to understand what caused them to be this way and change them for good.
It's a more human story that we can relate to, told in dramatic anime fashion. Even if it can be a bit tedious going through drawls of dialogue and cut scenes, the pay off is worth it.
Finally, the art style and music of Persona 5 Strikers - of course, they're perfect! It may be awesome hearing old favourites like Last Surprise (battle theme) and Beneath The Mask (mellow as heck) again, but new songs like What You Wish For and Daredevil are fantastic additions to the overall soundtrack, not to mention that other instrumental songs flawlessly complement the bulk of the game. I only wish that they played the new vocal songs more often, and toned down on the old ones.
And, who knew a video game menu could exude so much style and confidence the way Persona 5 Strikers do? If a mundane part of a video game could be singled out for praised, then you can expect the rest of the medium to be similarly well done.
Persona 5 Strikers is a mixed bag that I would both recommend and advise against, depending on what you're looking for. If you're a newcomer or looking to enjoy more of Persona 5's greatness, it would be a good idea to sit this one out and play Persona 5 Royal. On the other hand, if you just want to gobble up more Persona 5 story and don't mind its combat, then Persona 5 Strikers is a strong yes, courtesy of its equally engaging story that remains true to its predecessor.
No matter how I feel about Persona 5 Strikers, I still respect the game for not rehashing the same old elements, and for staying faithful to Persona 5 in the thematic sense.