Following the hugely successful Persona 5, and Royal, comes a sequel in the form of Persona 5 Strikers (known as Scramble in Japan). In a twist move, this sequel moves away from being a turn-based RPG to a more hack and slash Warriors action game. It is an intriguing change of direction, although not surprising considering it was outsourced to another studio. Nonetheless, as a lot of fans can agree it is great to see the Phantom Thieves back in action, but will they manage to steal your heart again?
Just to be safe, if you haven’t played the original Persona 5 (or Royal), or watched the anime, there will be spoilers ahead in this review as this game continues after the events of the original. Admittedly, the game does lend itself to those who haven’t played it but for the full context of the plot, I recommend playing or watching the anime before thinking of playing Strikers.
Set a few months after the original game, Joker and Morgana return to Tokyo for a Summer vacation reuniting with the Phantom Thieves. In these few months, an AI called EMMA has become hugely popular as a must-have app across the whole of Japan. On the surface, it seems like a useful companion as it is a futuristic Siri, it can quickly recommend places and even track down shops that have the items you are looking for. However Joker stumbles across a hidden feature of this app as he is sent to a place resembling Mementos, a place they recently destroyed, although this time they opt to call it a Jail. Here they come across Sophia, a strange robotic girl who has little knowledge about who she is and where she comes from. This begins the events leading to the Phantom Thieves returning, this time to conquer the jails that have sprung up across Japan whilst investigating the EMMA app.
The introduction of Sophia acts as a nice plot device to subtly recap over the lore of the world for players who may have forgotten or for those who opted to skip the base game. Where it wasn’t intended, having a story involving travelling around Japan whilst this pandemic going on is a nice escape and gives a flavour of favourite tourist spots outside of Tokyo itself. Not only that, considering Haru joins the group quite late in the first game, it is nice to have more scenes from the get-go of the whole group. Although, the stakes don’t seem as high in this game which breaks the tension a lot of the time, particularly the lack of deadlines. Where it does try to compensate by having characters relate or be directly tied to those involved in jails it feels quite forced most of the time and it isn’t helped by the fact the cutscenes are really long in this game compared to the original. At least most of the lines are voice acted which help break it up.
As already mentioned, there has been a shift from the turn-based mechanics of the base game although surprisingly there are quite a few mechanics brought forward. The main being the element types and advantages and the Persona skill system itself. There is also the return of the all-out attack that is triggered by hitting with a weakness, or for a stronger enemy wearing down defence, over downing them. Other mechanics brought over are the more side mechanics that have been changed in various ways which we will come back to a bit later. Despite the major change in direction, these work well to keep the two games aligned with each other and not feel too different.
Let’s look at what’s new, well in a similar fashion to the warriors games the combat revolves around joining normal attacks with a heavier one to form combos. Here there is a slight difference where the heavier attack is more of a technical skill in most cases, varying with each character but it is generally a way to use elemental attacks without using SP. Still, going in with the Warriors mentality of easily slicing through enemies will spell disaster. The elemental system prompts a more skill-based play as being at an elemental disadvantage will prevent a player from simply cutting through the ranks. It can be frustrating at times as there isn’t an ability to swap characters out during battle so if a player goes in without a type advantage it can spell a long battle, although areas do tend to revolve around the same three elemental weaknesses. Where it is a steep learning curve getting used to this style, it is worth it as it becomes a lot more fun. Items can also be used whenever in battle which does balance things out. On top of combo attacks and the all-out attack, there are also Showtime attacks, working differently to Royal, these are special finishers earned from defeating enemies. You can speed it up by regularly swapping characters and using items, although these aren’t as cool as the ones in Royal, mainly as they are more solo, these can help turn the tide of battle against the stronger enemies.
Outside of combat, there is a lot of general exploring like the original. Jails have a more open format, obviously to accommodate the more battle arena-style fighting, but instead of the enemies all being there on the map, the previous encounter mechanics of Shadows walking around whilst you try to sneak up on them is back. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well as there are fewer places to hide and you can’t always perch against corners making ambushes harder. Annoyingly shooting enemies doesn’t give the ambush advantage which is the only option most of the time. Still, the aesthetic of the cognitive world holds up and the real world it is pretty much the same although when you move places in Japan you cannot return (so once you leave Tokyo you cannot go to the Tokyo area). Each of these areas has different shops, this time only selling food and accessories. Sophia has her own shop you can use at the hideout which sells these items and weapons/armour. It is handy having it mostly in once place with some optional regional items. One of the few new mechanics which is an improvement is the player is much more involved in finding out about the target with investigation phases. Here the objective is to speak to people and search the area for clues. Much more engaging than being just a cutscene.
Where confidant relationships returned, it is a much simpler system called bonds. Instead of being individual, it is about the whole group. Winning battles and doing activities with the Phantom Thieves increases the Bond-level to earn points for various skills. Where it is an oversimplification, it works within the remit of the game. The skills are more basic than what you get in the original but again, as this game is more combat-focused it makes sense having it about raising individual stats and the like. Similar to this the calendar is only really there as an aesthetic. There is no time pressure to do things by a certain date, even leaving jails has no consequence and the game allows players to exploit this to heal up before continuing. Again this simplification works well with the combat focus of the game as with an RPG tactics can negate the time pressure it is harder with normal combat.
Graphics and Audio
Visually the game is fantastic, with a real high-resolution look that enhances Royal and loads quite quickly. The character models look a lot more refined and the cutscenes revolve more around them moving which makes them more dynamic. In the same vein, there are more in-game rendered cutscenes and a lot fewer anime ones. In a way, it is a shame but then on the flip side, it doesn’t really dampen the overall look. My only flaw with the visuals is some of the colours seem a bit off, such as Skull’s hair being a really bright yellow. Still these are easily overlooked, particularly with the varied locations based in different parts of Japan that look stunning. Whilst we can’t travel it still provides a nice flavour of the actual places as they overall look realistic.
Audio-wise there is a choice to carry the original 5 and Royal soundtracks over if you have the saved data, but even the new ones are just remixes so works to keep it within the realm of the series. Where the voice acting is generally good, with the cast returning from the English localisation of the original, frustratingly some of the lines seem to have audio problems and usually can be randomly quiet. One in a main cutscene seemed to have a random fade on it cutting half the line that was very strange. This probably can be penned to COVID-19 and working from home but is still annoying and loses the flow of it. Particularly the quiet lines that are quite common.
If you loved Persona 5 and Royal and want to see the characters in action, this game is definitely for you. Where the overarching plot is a bit forced, there is still a lot of enjoyment to see the characters back in action. Even for those who aren’t as keen on the warrior style games, the mechanics brought from the original game create a more tactical gameplay. Sure at times, it is rough around the edges, it is still a fun experience and is fun to see the Phantom Thieves slash through mobs of enemies. More so with how they made the game look stunning, it is a shame that working at home -due to COVID-19- impacted the localisation dub in places. Where it does live up to the original, there is still something for everyone and those who aren’t so keen into RPGs have something they can enjoy from the series as well.
Persona 5 Strikers is out now on PS4, Switch and Steam.