Persona 5 Strikers is a chaotic take on a familiar formula – making for one hell of a road trip
How would you describe the perfect summer road trip? How about infiltrating an alternate universe as a bunch of phantom thieves to rescue wrongdoers from their past trauma and learn about the human heart?
Released on PlayStation, Nintendo Switch and PC, Persona 5 Strikers is a direct sequel to Atlus’ acclaimed anime RPG Persona 5, but swaps turn-based combat for Warriors-style Musou action. It’s an authentic and often chaotic take on the Persona formula that retains all the style expected from the series.
The game picks up a short while after the previous game ended, with our bunch of teenage heroes – the Phantom Thieves – planning their summer vacation. Their plans are thwarted, though, when they’re thrown once more into the metaverse (an alternate universe) to change the hearts of people corrupted by an evil tech corporation and its sinister AI.
The teens embark on a road trip around Japan that sees them square off against, among others, a twisted and eccentric idol, an arrogant author and a cold, calculated politician – Persona’s own Iron Lady. As expected there are clever parallels to reality, even if the story beats are similar to the previous game: a mysterious mobile app (this time ran by a Zuckerberg-alike), shady police, and a new character dealing with their identity.
There’s a lot of plot in a game that’s a little long-winded at times as it rolls out day-by-day, but for fans it’s a fresh take on the familiar. Newcomers, however, may struggle with the overload of information and that extends to the new battle system.
Your team of four (chosen from eight) hack and slash their way through hordes of enemies, firing off guns and magical Persona attacks, the screen littered with effects and near-constant chatter in your ears. Warriors games are often criticised for their button-mashing combat and that’s somewhat true here, but what’s clever is how almost every ability from the original’s turn-based combat translates to the surprisingly deep action combat.
Lead character Joker is able to equip multiple Personas – beings with various elemental attacks – which (like in the first game) must be individually levelled up and spliced into new forms. In battle, you can pause the action to select spells that exploit enemy weaknesses leading to a team effort all-out-attack. Switching between your party members allows you to take advantage of their own singular Persona, but when Joker is so versatile there’s little reason to swap. Still, sneaking around the jails – the game’s dungeon areas – to ambush enemies and wipe them out immediately feels incredibly satisfying.
The series is known for its stylish aesthetic and that continues in Persona 5 Strikers, with a bold and flashy take on modern day Japan and elaborate jail environments that reflect the inner-personalities of the game’s antagonists – one gothic castle level is a particularly enjoyable spoof of video games. What’s more, the J-pop rock soundtrack slaps just as much as the first game. Together, the music, visuals and fast-paced combat make for a striking rush of a game.
What is missing are the individual friendships formed between teammates. Where the first game gradually introduced new characters, here we take control of them all from the beginning. That’s reflected in how relationships are no longer individually levelled up but tied to a single Bond level that grows over time and allows for enhanced abilities.
There are also no gay characters or romances in a series with a history of homophobia. That said, the homoeroticism certainly feels dialled up at times, especially with fan-favourite himbo Ryuji. It certainly adds humour to what is already an eccentric narrative.
Yet that Bond system is just one example of the game’s streamlined approach that trims down the real world elements for a greater focus on dungeons. This is mostly the Persona you know and love, but with added pace and immediacy. It’s a welcome add-on adventure to one of the best games in recent years.
What’s more, Persona 5 Strikers is not a story of individual motivations but a group effort that highlights the importance of teamwork. It’s one hell of a road trip.
The game will be released on 23 February and is available to pre-order from Amazon here.
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