Persona 5 Strikers Hands-on – Phantom Warriors

Posted on January 16, 2021

It’s surreal to play Persona 5 Strikers while also, in my personal time, playing Persona 5 Royal. Royal is an updated version of 2016’s Persona 5, adding extra story content and gameplay tweaks to the beloved turn-based RPG. On the other hand, Persona 5 Strikers comes from developer Omega Force, perhaps best known for the Dynasty Warriors series, as well as last year’s Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Much like Age of Calamity, Strikers is a rocket fast hack-and-slasher that certainly looks and feels like its source material, but plays completely different. After playing through the first level of the game, here’s my initial impressions.

As someone who has played a lot of Persona 5 and not much Dynasty Warriors, I feel like I’m the perfect demographic for Strikers. Set six months after the end of Persona 5 (don’t worry, no spoilers here), the nameless protagonist returns to Shibuya to spend Summer vacation with his friends. Strikers perfectly nails the tone of the original game’s story. I got a little emotional seeing the Phantom Thieves get back together, reminisce about saving the world, and of course, argue about food.

But as they quickly discover, there’s trouble afoot. In this first chapter, the gang discovers a pop idol who is brainwashing her fans into doing her bidding. Similar to the original game, the way to change her heart is to slip into her mind palace (called Jail in this game) and defeat her Shadow Self. But instead of her Jail taking the form of a single building, you get to explore the streets of a nightmare version of Shibuya, crawling with lots and lots and lots of demons.

Outside of combat, you are able to take cover to sneak up on wandering enemies, which you’d be used to if you played the original. Once you are noticed, that one enemy summons dozens or more for you to fight. Apart from dodging and jumping, pretty much everything you do in combat is an area-of-effect attack. Normal attacks combo into special attacks, with a different result depending on how many hits were in the combo. It’s fun, but hard to master, since there’s so much going on at once. Thankfully, you are able to freeze time whenever you summon a character’s Persona (their unconscious desires taking the form of a public domain historical or literary character) in order to precisely aim spells and special abilities, provided you have enough stamina to perform them. 

I’m going to be honest, I found myself dying a few times on Normal difficulty, being a relative newcomer to the musou genre, but I was having a blast the whole time. Enemies will often outnumber and overwhelm you, but never overpower you, and it’s very satisfying mowing through foes like you’re a charismatic teenage weed whacker. Once an enemy is hit with their elemental weakness enough times, they will be staggered, letting you do a powerful All-Out Attack to enemies in range. Each character also has a Showtime gauge that fills up during battle, letting you do another powerful ranged attack. You constantly have access to many different skills and abilities, and Persona 5 Strikers is generally good with on-screen prompts to let you know when they’re available.

After the initial prologue, you find yourself entering the Jail with all eight party members from the original game, plus new character Sophia, a mysterious girl with amnesia who joins the team. Nine characters, with only four permitted in combat at once, is a lot to take in. Each character has a totally different playstyle (Ryuji is able to charge his attacks for more damage, Sophia fights with yo-yos that require precise timing, Morgana – per usual – can turn into a bus, and so on), and each of their Personas carry different abilities, strengths and weaknesses. This is on top of the protagonist being able to collect and switch between multiple Personas on the fly. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, is my point.

This led me to realise that maybe Persona 5 Strikers shouldn’t be played like a Persona game. I eventually gave up trying to learn the nuances of each and every character and Persona, and had a much better time messing around with whatever moves I could remember. Instead of making you memorise every aspect of the game’s intricate systems, the game gives you a whole heap of toys at the start, and lets you pick and choose which ones you want to play with. It’ll take some getting used to, but I have a feeling I won’t get bored playing Persona 5 Strikers any time soon.

You will spend the bulk of your time in Jail, but you are able to return to the real world at checkpoints to replenish your health and stamina. Unlike the original game, there’s no penalty for leaving Jail other than enemies respawning, so I found myself doing it a lot. Persona 5 Strikers pares back most of the social sim elements of the original game into a singular BOND gauge, which rises the more you spend time with your friends, and earns you points to buy permanent buffs with. There is an in-game calendar, but a day won’t pass until you complete all story objectives, no time management required. These changes might be disappointing if you wanted the variety and flexibility you’d expect from a Persona game, but considering how absolutely hectic the Jails are, I’m glad that’s all I have to deal with. Plus, the soundtrack to Persona 5 Strikers is absolutely stellar, with a bunch of fabulous new tracks and remixes joining the fray alongside returning songs. 

If you’ve played Persona 5 and/or Royal, love these characters, and if you wished you could go on one more adventure with them, Persona 5 Strikers might be exactly what you’re looking for. So far, it looks like Omega Force have taken the measured RPG experience the Persona series is known for and successfully translated it onto the button-heavy romp that is Dynasty Warriors. Like I said, Shibuya is only the first level – the Phantom Thieves are going on a road trip across Japan in the full game. Despite taking a bit to wrap your head around, Persona 5 Strikers makes an excellent first impression.

Stay tuned for our review of the game before it releases on February 23 for PS4 and Switch.