The Phantom Thieves are back for a summer road trip across Japan, reforming society and saving the world once again.
Persona 5 ended on a definitive note. No sequel baiting, no obvious loose ends and no major unsolved mysteries. So, it’s surprising that Persona 5 Strikers picks up directly where the original game left off. In the tradition of Persona spin-offs, Persona 5 Strikers changes things up from the original, going for a Musou-style combat system like the Dynasty Warriors games—a huge departure from Persona 5’s turn-based combat. The Phantom Thieves also make their debut on the Nintendo Switch and PC in a full Persona game, which is bound to attract tons of eager newcomers.
But Persona 5 Strikers isn’t particularly suited to new players. There are endless references to the original game, along with some huge spoilers. This is a true direct sequel to Persona 5, following many of the same story formulas and narrative beats. With a new combat system, new areas to explore and new characters to fall in love with, Persona 5 Strikers has a lot to offer on the surface.
Persona 5 Strikers starts with a simple premise. You play as the Phantom Thieves, a group of rebels seeking to right society’s wrongs. You find antagonists acting unlawfully in the real world and then infiltrate the person’s Jail—thematic dungeons representing the so-called Monarch’s twisted psyches. Progressing through these dungeons, defeating the villain’s Shadow self and convincing them to confess and repent for their crimes, it’s all a tried-and-true method from Persona 5, carried over to Strikers. Existing fans will find a number of similarities, with a few names switched around here and there.
The brand-new action combat truly distinguishes Persona 5 Strikers from its predecessor. Wrecking hordes of enemies, pulling off flashy combos and breaking out your Persona to mow down crowds and exploit enemy weaknesses is all endlessly satisfying. Battles can get hectic and chaotic at times, with enemies flying everywhere, special effects flashing and constant voice lines from different characters jumbling into a bunch of noise. However, everyone’s doing their thing and looking great while doing it, so it’s hard to fault them for the chaos. You also have the freedom to pick your main character for battle and dungeon exploration. If Makoto or Ryuji or one of the new characters are your favorites, you can play as them instead of Joker. The more you use each Phantom Thief in battle, the more bonuses you earn because the game rewards you with new Mastery combos and skills just for that character.
Outside of dungeons, the Phantom Thieves explore several brand-new locations. While Persona 5 was limited to Tokyo, Strikers takes players on a road trip across the beaches in Okinawa, the tourist locations in Osaka and plenty more. While it’s a lot of fun to see the sights, there isn’t much to do in these new places. Sometimes there are cute events where you get to hang out with your friends, like going to the beach or hitting up the hot springs at a hotel, but you’re mostly limited to buying items from shops across each location.
The gameplay loop is pretty standard. You and your friends drive in your RV to a new city, and soon after you stumble upon a high-profile figure attracting attention or even abusing people out in the open. You run around the city investigating information on this abuser, unlock their Jail and then head inside the dungeon. You progress through the Jail, learn about the evil person’s tragic backstory, defeat the Monarch’s Shadow self and then convince him to atone for his sins. Because this same formula repeats a few times in a row, the predictability can get boring. This loop switches up midway through the game, but the core concept never changes, which doesn’t bode well for the story.
Like the repetitive gameplay, Persona 5 Strikers tells a painfully similar story to Persona 5—again, with a few terms and definitions switched around. Persona 5 showcased the Phantom Thieves breaking the chains of society, taking down the oppressors and giving the oppressed their freedoms back. Persona 5 Strikers does the same thing. Unlike Persona 5, players don’t spend nearly enough time learning about these oppressors. The original game showed the villains as fuller characters, making more of an effort to flesh them out with mostly believable motivations. The antagonists in Strikers follow the same pattern every time. They started off with pure intentions, then suffered abuse at the hands of comically evil villains in their lives, so they turned around and became like their abusers, unknowingly perpetuating that cycle. While this does happen in real life, Persona 5 Strikers waters down the complicated tragedy into one-dimensional, black-and-white sob stories.
At the same time, humanity is enslaved by the conveniences of the Internet and technology, using these as an escape from their problems. They turn to the game’s shallow antagonists as false prophets, building them up as messiahs. The primary antagonists see themselves as gods cleansing humanity of their pain and suffering, but they’ve really just found an unhealthy validation from their victims’ blind worship. So, the Phantom Thieves break these cult-like attachments by convincing the antagonists to confess. The parallels between public brainwashing and the dangers of religion are no accident, as Persona 5 Strikers’ themes lean toward the Law alignments from the Shin Megami Tensei games.
Of course, it’s great to see those nods and references to the mainline franchise, but Persona 5 Strikers hammers these points home with a heavy hand full of tropes, which ends up diluting the message. The Phantom Thieves themselves don’t do the story any favors. They often spend too much time over-explaining plot points, talking in circles about their plans or non-plans or watering down those grander themes. The group did the same thing in Persona 5, so it’s no surprise to see this issue repeat itself here.
Graphics and Visuals
Persona 5 Strikers is visually similar to the original game. The standout art direction carries over from Persona 5, including the busy menus with tons of movement, and the cool and chaotic all-out attacks against groups of enemies. The Jail dungeons are each distinct, styled after the resident Monarchs in ways that reflect their worst traits and desires. Outside the dungeons, the locations across Japan look just like the cities they’re modeled after, packed with realistic details in every corner. Not to mention, characters old and new have that signature Persona 5 flair, fitting right in with the existing universe.
Music and Sound
The game’s soundtrack also stays true to Persona 5’s foundations. Persona 5 Strikers features a number of faithful rearrangements of tracks from the original game alongside new music. New, stylish acid jazz tracks, bombastic rock tunes, relaxing music for group events with the Phantom Thieves—it’s all here. Meanwhile, the English and Japanese voice acting sounds straight out of Persona 5. Everyone sounds just like their old selves, including the strange direction the English voice actors must have received at times. The unnatural way they pronounce surnames like Takamaki is jarring and makes no sense, but you can avoid the issue by simply switching to the Japanese voices in the game’s settings.
Persona 5 Strikers feels like a faithful continuation of Persona 5—flaws and all. The drastic change from turn-based to Musou-style action combat gives the game new life. The updated soundtrack works, the flashy visuals fit right in and the Phantom Thieves are still a lovable group of friends. The story takes some huge swings at the dangers of technology, including how powerful individuals can abuse these dangers for their own selfish gain. But the plot offers fairytale solutions to these issues of brainwashing, the cycle of abuse and lonely people escaping their problems online. These solutions always boil down to the power of friendship solving everything. Nothing is ever that simple. Still, the narrative is a great springboard to start thinking about these tough subjects, which all too often get swept under the rug.