The Persona series is no stranger to spin-offs – especially consider the franchise began as one. We've seen everything from first-person dungeon crawling to one-on-one arena fighting, and even rhythm-based dancing games. However, there’s never been a Persona spin-off quite like Persona 5 Strikers.
The product of a collaboration between P-Studios and Omega Force, you could be forgiven at first for assuming that Strikers would be little more than a Dynasty Warriors clone with a surface level coat of Persona paint slapped on to make a quick buck off the strength of the IP, but you’d be very wrong.
Persona 5 Strikers is a clear labour of love for all involved. It’s a spin-off that truly understands what makes Persona 5 such a phenomenal game and it more than earns the right to proudly wear the Persona name.
Vacation, All I Ever Wanted
The Gang's All Here
First things first, to answer a recurring question: Persona 5 Strikers is absolutely not a suitable starting point if you’ve yet to experience Persona 5 or Persona 5 Royal.
It may technically be a spin-off, but it’s not newcomer friendly - so the decision to also launch Strikers on the Switch/PC, two platforms where Persona 5 isn’t playable, is puzzling.
Strikers isn’t a side-story, or a ‘what if’ scenario – it’s a full canonical sequel to the original game.
Picking up six months after the events of Persona 5 (the extended ending included in P5 Royal is ignored), Strikers see the Phantom Thieves reuniting for a whole summer of beach and barbecue fun.
Of course, the gang quickly find themselves in hot water after being framed for a new series of heart-changing crimes and must infiltrate a series of Jails (Striker’s combat-focused dungeons) in order to unmask the real culprit and clear their names.
The narrative does retread some very familiar territory as it primarily sees the Phantom Thieves once again setting out to stop corrupt adults through their own unique brand of justice, but that’s not to say there aren't plenty of heartfelt moments.
Thankfully all the characters you loved from P5 are back, and the simple joy of moments like returning to Cafe LeBlanc or listening to Morgana and Ryuji bicker endlessly more than makes up for the story’s more predictable beats.
The pacing of Strikers is a dramatic improvement as well, whereas the original Persona 5 takes quite a while to warm up and features a few sluggish sequences, Strikers zips about throwing you quickly into the action and moving through dramatic plot points at a much more brisk pace.
After a brief introduction where you’ll get reacquainted with your favourite locations around Shibuya, the Phantom Thieves pick up an old RV and hit the road. The rest of the game is spent hopping from location to location which is a wonderful way of ensuring there’s always new people to meet or a fresh city to explore.
Those who want to really reflect on each and every story moment might find things moving a little too fast, but if you’ve ever felt the Persona series has a tendency to unnecessarily drag things out you’ll likely appreciate the faster pace here.
The Same, But A Little Different
Outside of combat, you'd be forgiven for expecting these screenshots are from Persona 5
The Persona games have always been a wonderful marriage of visual novel storytelling and intense dungeon-crawling action (with some life-sim elements thrown in for good measure), and the formula has been well replicated in Persona 5 Strikers - granted with a few tweaks.
In fact, calling it another ‘Musou’ game would actually be significantly underselling it – Strikers mimics a mainline Persona game so well that returning players will feel instantly at home.
While the time-management aspects have been cut, there is still a calendar present, though it moves along at set story moments rather than you picking and choosing how you fill your day.
This does come with some benefits as you are given much more freedom to explore the Jails at your own pace rather than worrying that you’re going to run out of time, but it does rob Strikers of the sense of urgency that tackling Persona 5’s Palaces offered.
Confidants are also unfortunately out, however instead you have a new Bonds system which grants you extra abilities and buffs as a reward for deepening your relationship with your fellow thieves.
You can increase your bonds naturally through story progression or you can take on side activities that range from defeating tough enemies to bringing a character a set of requested items - the rewards are well worth the effort so make sure to put in the time.
Overall you’re definitely given less freedom than you are in a core Persona game. Strikers is far more structured with it regularly funnelling you along a set path rather than giving you the opportunity to spend time as you see fit but is nevertheless a surprisingly faithful Persona experience.
Of course, the biggest change to the Persona-formula here is the combat system. The classic turn-based battles are out in favour of a hack n' slash system that pits you against scores of enemies at once.
This is a radical departure from the more thoughtful battles Persona veterans are used to but smart decisions have been made to help combat still feel quintessential Persona even if it’s all in realtime.
For starters, Personas themselves are, unsurprisingly, a key part of the battle system, and a press of the right trigger will pause time to allow you to pick a persona power to use. Enemies still have elemental weaknesses and hitting a foe with their own personal kryptonite will put them in a downed state allowing you to perform an ‘all-out attack’ to (usually) finish them off.
It’s not just these familiar aspects of traditional Persona combat that have been translated but also baton passes and 1-more follow up attacks as well.
It’s very clear that Omega Force didn’t just lazily wrap a Persona skin around its pre-existing Dynasty Warrior combat, but instead have thoughtfully integrated Persona’s much-loved systems into a real-time hack n’ slash game.
The battles are fast and frenetic, though at times there’s a little too much going on at once with four party members each pulling off ridiculously over-the-top moves. The screen can become a blur of colour and visual effects and the overly cluttered UI doesn’t help matters.
Don’t think you can just button mash your way through Strikers either. Sure, if you whack the difficulty down to easy you can coast, but even on normal the game is demanding of you and requires careful consideration and understanding of the games many systems - overcoming a tough boss after exploiting its weakness and choosing the right party members for the job is as thrilling as it was in Persona 5.
Speaking of party members, the entire (original) Phantom Thieves lineup is fully playable as well as new party member Sophia - each with their own persona, unique combos and abilities.
Mixing and matching your party is great fun, though having eight characters available from the start can feel a tad overwhelming and it would have perhaps been sensible to slowly unlock more party members as you progress.
Granted, slowly drip-feeding players party members as the game unfolds wouldn’t really have made much sense from a narrative perspective so it’s understandable why everyone is unlocked from the start.
Overall, the combat is extremely layered, you’ll still be learning new tricks and abilities even after dozens of hours, and it's so enjoyable that you might find yourself actually preferring it to traditional Persona combat.
Style and Substance
Persona 5 Strikers oozes style from every frame
Based purely on visual presentation alone, Strikers is borderline identical to Persona 5 itself. If someone showed you a screenshot from each game, you’d likely be hard-pressed to identify which was which.
This is to say that Persona 5 Strikers is one of the most stylish and well-presented video games ever made.
Each and every menu pops with personality, the combat animations are wonderfully fluid and the way that each character subtly expresses themselves even with the cartoonish visual style remains extremely impressive.
Minor visual flourishes, such as Morgana transforming into his cat-bus form during certain combos (newcomers, don't ask), really displays the attention to detail and care that has clearly gone into the presentation of Strikers.
The music, as expected, is another highlight. There’s plenty of returning tracks from Persona 5 as well as a few new ones that are equally excellent.
Just like in Persona 5, you might find yourself on more than one occasion pausing just to enjoy the music. You’ll likely spend the rest of the year listening to the official OST daily.
Persona 5 Strikers is anything but a lazy spin-off – it’s a lovingly-crafted continuation of the Phantom Thieves’ story.
Some of the frills of the Persona series have been stripped back, which will be disappointing for series veterans, but the incredible new combat system and the chance to spend another 40-hours with one of gaming's greatest ensemble casts is an opportunity you simply can’t turn down.
You need to be familiar with the thieves first but if you are then Persona 5 Strikers is absolutely essential.
Review copy provided by the publisherReviewed on PlayStation 5