‘I am thou, thou art I’ is a phrase you’d be all-too-familiar with if you’ve the last 3 installments of Atlus’ Persona. And it looks like they’ve taken this phrase to heart even when coming up with spinoffs.
One of the recurring themes of the Persona series is how an alternate version of the main characters always exist, presented as the same character. While the personas are actually mythical beings, or people from legends, they share similarities with the characters they’re affiliated with.
I think the same is true for their spinoffs, where they jump into completely different genres. When translated into a fighting game, each character received a move set that matches what we know about them, whether they tilt more towards offense or defense or what have you. It’s a bit more difficult to say if it quite lands the same way in the rhythm games since that’s not really my field of expertise, but I think they’ve done a lot to translate the style and personality of Persona 5 into their collaboration with Koei-Tecmo, which is Persona 5 Strikers (Scramble if it’s the JP version).
While I have my reservations about the Dynasty Warriors formula, my curiosity of how they would translate a turn-based jRPG into a relentless action game got me to pick this up. Seeing our favorite Phantom Thieves again was a nice enough, but having a virtual tour of Japan also a nice plus because I… can’t really go out? (Help me). Who would’ve thought I’d finally be able to tour Japan this year, but through a PlayStation 4?
Anyway, we return to Tokyo to see some familiar faces again, though some are gone for the season. Still, our friends are quick to plan a little road trip. However, there are those moving in secret, and have plans of their own, and you’re inevitably caught in it. Now, you and your friends must set out to investigate and stop whatever seems to be threatening Japan and its citizens, while enjoying the sights, scenes, and cuisines of wherever you end up in.
The faces of both allies and enemies look pretty familiar if you’ve played either version of Persona 5. Well, looking at old playthroughs tell me that some faces have improvements on them in terms of how they could animate. But I can’t really say what else looks vastly different. There’s still the same old anti-aliasing issue, which doesn’t really bother me because I’m playing on a PS4. Though props to them for not having any frame drops even when I set the game to resolution mode.
Anyway, impressions change when you get to see how each character moves. No longer are they bound to just a fixed set of attack animations, they now have several combos that show off how they stand out from each other. Personal favorite would be the flashy and quick slashes from Yusuke and his flurry of cuts for each combo. They’re all great as they reflect the characters quite well. Joker shows his versatility by being capable both in ranged and melee combat. Ryuji is an upfront bruiser. Ann is more of a technical mid-range type. And Haru is a fun, walking contradiction.
The locations are pretty well crafted, while it’s not nearly as dense as the cities, crosswalks, and streets you get in the original game, the many tourist areas in Japan is much appreciated. Getting to see the Persona Universe’s version of towers, bustling shopping arcades, and watching your favorite characters interact with it was a refreshing experience. The dungeons also have their own respective themes going on that sort of has a relation to not only the boss you’re taking on but a bit about what makes the area popular. I’d also have to say it’s not as thorough and intricate as the dungeons of its predecessor as they all have to be designed in such a way that each place you can fight in can quickly turn into an open-space arena, but due to that it’s easy to see each area as just another room with a different wallpaper.
The menus and the interface also carry the same style and attitude as the original game, perhaps uplifted even by a little bit. I never got tired of browsing the in-game menu because of the little animations and character poses you see while going through the motions of checking for items or skills that you’d like to look at. Unfortunately, this doesn’t carry very well when the action game is bringing in the action.
Now, I’d say watching these guys in battle is a pleasure but the truth isn’t quite so charitable. Once the traditional Koei-Tecmo cannon fodder arrives and the slashing begins, the resulting spectacle is hard to make sense of. You see attack effects, you see numbers, but you’re not quite sure where you are. In fact, you’re not quite sure what exactly is happening on the screen. The camera is too close by default, the effects are too big and prominent to see if you’re actually hitting, and the moment you move you’re completely obstructed by enemies. The real surprising part is that while all of this is going on, the game isn’t really dropping frames on the PS4. Still, it’s pretty difficult to keep track of things unless you change the camera settings a bit so it doesn’t follow you around too closely like a lovesick puppy.
While I have issues with what the game is trying to show me, what it let me hear is something completely different. I’m sure we’re all familiar with how music of this series since Persona 3 is simply just skillfully done. I personally believe that the English dub actually does better than the Japanese dubbing, particularly for Ryuji, Futaba and Yusuke. Music has also been touched up to match the faster tempo of the action genre. While they are enjoyable to listen to, listening to them repeatedly can get old, but who am I kidding? I’d play this stuff on loop during a long drive.
Mechanics (4 / 5)
When you hear a ‘dynasty warriors spin-off’ it’s likely that you know what to expect. Taking on armies of baddies that die in a few swings and a rather simple control scheme to go with it. Fortunately, Atlus and KT have worked together to make sure that this is much more than Dynasty Warriors with some Persona paint on it.
You get the standard deal action controls, with weak/strong attacks and a dodge button. But there’s a few things thrown in here to mix up the formula. First would be the Phantom Dash mechanic, which allows you to interact with objects within the field, either to move to them or to just trigger a special action while using said object. It actually feels a lot like something from Kingdom Hearts, particularly with poles.
The other unique mechanic here is how Persona abilities are used, simply by holding the button for it you get to take your time in what ability to use as time pretty much stops. Adding to that how you can freely swap personas as well as between your 4 party members, this feels like it took some inspiration from the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and I welcome it.
Progression is a bit different this time in terms of developing your characters. You have the usual grinding to get everyone their levels as well as getting them mastery points to unlock more of their combos. Next to that is the bond system which is replaced by a simplified single bar that pretty much works for everyone. So no, no more touching sagas to share on a one-on-one basis for each of them. You already kinda went through all that last time, after all, twice if you also played Royal. When the bond levels up, you gain a certain number of points for new perks, which can range from getting discounts in shops, making farming easier, or just boosting your combat functions or stats. They’re not really very creative perks when you think about it, but they’re paced in such a way that they’re welcome additions as you play the game.
Forging personas is also rather simplified. Experimenting with the fusions isn’t really something you get to do at this point, you simply choose one you already want to get. The only requirements are that you have the correct personas in your stock and that you are at the appropriate level.
Content (3.5 / 5)
I’m not going to comment much on the story, because when you finally kinda simmer it down to what it’s really about. It’s nothing really new. You pretty much get the usual jRPG questline of part 1: buy groceries, final part: defeat god. And it uses characters and tropes that are fairly apt for the present world, as the story takes place in pretty much our time period. The assortment of baddies feeling very close to the ones we dealt with from Persona 5 in terms of flavor is, I guess, okay? They mostly serve as characters to show off how much our group of friends have really matured. Personally, I find this as the natural next step for what you can do with them, which they’ve done a fairly good job with.
On top of this, we get treated two new playable characters. Which I think are hands down, the best parts of Persona 5 Strikers. It really helps that you interact with more or less polar opposites as the new additions to your team, giving you some very different perspectives in every situation you deal with. Even their own stories really stuck with me, and got me coming back to them to just savor the best moments each of them had.
Now, in terms of what you get to play, I’ll let you know that it’s safe to assume that at least half of the fights you play will be more or less brainless. Having almost all of the characters available from the get-go makes it easy to swap with a party that’s ideal for whatever you’re about to face. Boss encounters are a bit different because you’ll have to learn how to deal with their attacks as well as the unique mechanics that come with them. Now, it’s nothing like Dark Souls where it’s a tense match from start to finish, but you’ll want to be able to read and react to the tells of at least their bigger attacks. This isn’t particularly hard to get a hang of, given you pay attention. It’s more or less the same deal with the much stronger, optional bosses, only they sponge up so much more damage than the regular bosses.
There’s about 5 or 6 dungeons in total, and the only reason you’ll want to revisit most of them is to clear side-quests that open up to you as you progress through the game. Which is alright since most of them aren’t too much trouble, and the rewards are worth it. Though I have to admit, it’s quite annoying to see how the dungeons you spent a good amount of hours grinding through suddenly gets much too easy to clear when you come back. It’s telling how just strangely this game is balanced. Yes, it’s fun to feel powerful, but I’d like to avoid becoming a One-Punch Man case where clearing enemies becomes really boring because they’re literally just 2 button presses. This also makes it a bit difficult to clear certain quests where you might want your enemies to survive at least 1 or 2 hits.
Features (3.5 / 5)
Remember when I said hearing the same song play over and over can get old? This really gets apparent as you maybe get into your 30th straight battle in the same dungeon. And this is where the pre-order stuff comes in. Having access to songs from previous games, and even some of them being remixed to fit the genre better, really keeps the action fresh when you put all of these on and the common battle themes within the shuffle of what songs to play.
Beyond that, well there isn’t really much. While the game is quite packed, it’s not really vast. I have to reiterate the issue I had with the camera though. They could have avoided this simply by setting the camera a little higher, I know the characters look great, but I need to see the battle, not somebody’s shoulders.
Persona 5 Strikers manages to bring new things to an already huge universe, but not on the same scale. While it presents a much more active, thrilling way of fighting monsters and demons in a cognitive world, I’d have to say it lacks polish. Being unable to understand what’s happening in the fight can be a real challenge sometimes. This particularly sticks out when boss’ attacks have poor tells or you get constantly blindsided by enemies out of your field of vision. But once you’ve darted around the shadows enough times roaming a chaotic battlefield effectively becomes more natural.
The summer vacation also brings us to new places and allows us to learn a bit more about Japan whilst trying to save the world. The beaches, the parks, and all sorts of cultural landmarks as well as cuisine is featured through the game. I’d actually say that this is borderline a tourism ad for that country. And that in turn, makes me really want to visit Japan soon.
How it decided to be basically a road trip with our favorite gang of thieves is fitting for the excursion this turned out to be. While the start felt slow and repetitive, they eventually mixed up the formula of clearing dungeons well enough to keep me interested. Once you got to the stories that involved our newer members, watching them play it out and mature became captivating.
In general, I enjoyed the game, ending up to be much longer both in terms of gameplay and story than I had anticipated. But it’s so different from the Persona series we know that I can’t instantly recommend this to all of its fans. But if you enjoyed any of the other titles I mentioned, such as FF7R, Kingdom Hearts, as well as Persona, then do consider picking this up. Or at least, listen to the new songs that came out because of game.
Persona 5 Strikers manages to steal the spotlight for a little bit, scoring a 3.8 / 5
This title is available on PS4, PC, and Switch.