While it has been available in Japan since February of 2020, the western release of Persona 5 Strikers hit the shelves roughly one month ago. Hailed as a sequel storyline to the original Persona 5, one of the other quirks about P5S heading in was a complete overhaul of the typical turn-based gameplay expected from the franchise. With Dynasty Warriors’ own Omega Force and P Studio largely being behind the game’s development, the game did indeed take on that of an action role playing game, rather than the lengthier, more methodical JRPG Persona games have historically been.
Did this leap of faith work out for Altus in the end?
Overall, it’s fair to say that it did.
Per the usual, let’s view the pros and cons of Persona 5 Strikers, starting with the former.
Unsurprisingly, the storyline is engaging and interesting
Even if the gameplay was subpar, the storyline alone makes the game worth the player’s time. It is perhaps this very element and Altus’ remarkable results in that regard over the years that left the company feeling confident about reinventing the wheel with their gameplay shift. Without getting too spoiler heavy, there are a number of well written twists and interesting characters that blend well with the typical “Persona” feel to make this game worth buying.
The gameplay is actually pretty smooth for what was expected to be a braindead button masher
While yes, the gameplay is noticeably less complex than typical turn-based Persona games, it’s actually quite smooth. Rather than turn-based variations of Persona, where the Phantom Thieves face a maximum of four opponents at a time, here the team can face off with dozens all at once, and it works pretty well. It leaves enough to do during a combat to prevent it from getting too braindead — especially in the game’s Merciless difficulty mode.
Merciless difficulty mode is actually challenging
In past Persona games, the concept Atlus has set forth of “Merciless” mode has always been a running joke within the game’s community. The idea behind Merciless mode has always been that enemies hit harder, but both the player and enemies suffer more damage when struck by an attack they are weak to. With the player always getting the first move, they have the first crack at exploiting enemy weaknesses, meaning that Merciless is generally not harder than Hard mode in practice.
Here, however, the whole “attacks which strike a weakness do more damage” dynamic is thrown out, enemies have more health, deal much, much more damage and have enhanced resistances and fewer exploitable weaknesses. Even if the player maxes out the stats of all the Phantom Thieves, then embarks upon a New Game plus, it will still be a challenging experience. In that respect, for the moment being, Merciless is no longer a total joke, which is definitely a good thing.
Persona 5 and it’s follow up Royal counterpart spent 120 hours preaching how awful evil adults are, painted the Phantom Thieves as enemies of law enforcement, then gave us Zenkichi as a major character in P5S. Zenkichi’s character is nothing if not enthralling; he openly expresses a desire to backstab the Phantom Thieves numerous times early in the game, placing a bullseye on him very early for hate from the player. He then goes on to be a progressively more useful ally, finally comes to see his own justice, and even awakens to a Persona in a bizarre plot twist later in the game.
Zenkichi was one of the most under the radar radical decisions made by Atlus from a storyline perspective. Initially, the thought that an adult police officer would become a Phantom Thief is ridiculous, but his character development is astounding and he ended up being an incredibly memorable character. Not for nothing, but his presence on the battlefield as the team’s best buff bot by far doesn’t hurt this status either.
Persona 5 Strikers was a leap of faith by Altus, and as such, not everything was perfect. Let’s have a look at what they could’ve done better:
A strange gap in content between Sapporo and Osaka
The team treks through a jail found in Sapporo, defeats Mariko Hyodo, then the next two jails are a little bit fluffy and hard to truly get interested in. Their next stop, Okinawa, has a jail without a monarch or boss, and the one after that in Kyoto has a fairly short, meager boss fight that’s easy to overcome even on Merciless mode. Considering the boss of the Kyoto jail is a doppelganger Joker, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to wonder if Altus may have run out of ideas for a good boss fight here. While we’ve seen what happens when they try to force a boss fight (looking at you, Kunikazu Okumura), one can’t help but wonder if a delay of the game’s release by a month or two, so that this could be corrected, might have helped.
Unlike the vastly superior Zenkichi, Sophia is a major new character who was featured on the cover of the game. Unfortunately, there are numerous problems with Sophia that cause her to fail to be anywhere near as memorable as Zenkichi. Her story arc towards the end of the game feels incredibly forced and drags on, and I just found it weird how the developer thought an annoying android character that looks and acts like a ten year old girl would add anything of value to the game. You could omit her from the whole game, and the game would only get better.
Neither of the two cons were major detriments to the game by any means, but they do make the game worse.
Overall, Persona 5 Strikers deserves a final grade of A-.
A solid, strong follow up to its predecessor that was overall a success in a major gameplay change. Definitely worth recommending to anyone.
Just make sure you play Persona 5 first.