It’s been a real treat seeing the Persona series grow from a relatively obscure RPG franchise into a semi-mainstream hit. It’s hard to pinpoint which title thrust the brand into the limelight, but most people will point to Persona 5 as the culprit. Its eclectic cast, stylish visuals, and insane critical praise pretty much guaranteed that Atlus would become a household name for generations to come.
While it’s no surprise that a spin-off title from that game would exist (Atlus has followed pretty much the same release pattern for its predecessors Persona 3 and Persona 4), most people were shocked when Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force revealed its involvement with Persona 5 Strikers. Known more for hack-n-slash titles than complex RPGs, how exactly was the house of Lu Bu going to adapt Persona in an action title?
Well, you may be pleasantly surprised by the results if you live and breathe RPGs. Omega Force has accurately captured the feeling of Persona and has created something wildly different from the studio’s usual output. If you were expecting something more akin to the Warriors games, however, you may be in for quite the rude awakening.
The main plot of Persona 5 Strikers picks up roughly six months after the events of Persona 5. Curiously, it does not follow on from the narrative of Personal 5 Royal, meaning you won’t any references to Kasumi Yoshizawa or the extended plot from that iteration. In another odd move, there’s barely any references to the past apart from some passing mentions of “last year being crazy.” While far from a side story, you won’t need much prior knowledge of the events of the original game before diving into Strikers.
What you may find more helpful is having played a Persona title in the past, because Strikers features nearly all of the same mechanics as the main series. In an effort to not waste veteran players’ time with reintroducing a cast they should all be familiar with, Strikers begins en media res and expects the player to know what these strange concepts are. Shadows, personas, magic attacks, all-out attacks, weaknesses: it’s not taxing to figure out, but it’s surprising how little onboarding Strikers gives you when starting out.
Reeling it back a little, after battling for roughly four minutes, the game shifts to the present where the main protagonist (who players can rename at their leisure) returns to Shibuya to spend the summer on vacation. He reunites with all of his friends, meaning the “Phantom Thieves of Hearts” can get one last hurrah together before the new school year begins. Quickly, though, they realize something is wrong with a new mobile app called “EMMA” that is showing signs of repeating a trend they saw the year prior.
It’s all mostly exposition to set you up on a new adventure, which sadly follows through for the entire game. If you fell in love with Persona 5 because of its deeply personal stories and introspective themes, Strikers has absolutely none of that. There are certainly religious connotations and some sociopolitical reflection with the main plot, but this is as surface level as could be when it comes to the characters.
Having not played Persona 5 myself, I really don’t know why I should care about anyone. My main familiarity with the series comes from Persona 4 Golden where I was treated to an interesting plot that got to the roots of its heroes’ struggles. I know Persona 5 features similar themes, but Strikers is more concerned with gameplay…though you’ll have to wade through a ton of story to get to it.
Before I get back to complaining, let’s go over the aspects I did enjoy when playing through Strikers. As I said in the intro, I’m honestly shocked that this title was developed by Omega Force. Those fearing a braindead experience where you can button mash to victory will be absolutely floored by how closely Strikers feels to the main Persona games. While the battles have been shifted away from turn-based affairs into a real-time action RPG style, everything else feels like it belongs to the mainline series.
Since collecting different personas was a main feature of the series, Strikers pretty much wholesale rips that system from its inspiration. There’s not as much depth with the Arcana system, but you’ll still be collecting, upgrading, and fusing your personas together to make new ones. You also have honest to god hub areas, which take the form of small sections of different cities in Japan. Shibuya is where the journey starts, but you’ll have traveled the entire country by the time the end credits roll. It definitely has a summer vibe to it, which fits in nicely with the setup as a summer vacation.
Then there is how your party factors into battles. Much like a regular RPG, you should be concerning yourself with balancing your characters for maximum efficiency. It would be pointless to take Ryuji, who specializes in electricity, into a dungeon where all of the enemies are strong against electricity. At its heart, the battles can feel like Dynasty Warriors, but there’s much more thought required to plan out the best team composition. As I said, this is more RPG than hack-n-slash, which is something I wasn’t exactly prepared for.
There are even the investigation bits from Persona 5 in play, though hugely pared back. For a few of the dungeons, you’ll need to peruse the city you’re in and find clues about what is going on. It’s a nice touch, but with so few clues to actually find, it comes off more like paying lip service instead of actually integrating interesting mechanics from before.
Where things start to differ is with regards to the Bond system and even your character abilities. During the main Persona titles, you’ll build up social bonds with your friends and other characters that strengthen your personas in battle. For Strikers, the system is completely simplified to be a meter that fills based on you leveling up and in accordance to certain story events. You use points from that to unlock different abilities for battle, but it’s kind of superfluous and mostly feels like it was included out of obligation to series tropes.
There are certainly religious connotations and some sociopolitical reflection with the main plot, but this is as surface level as could be when it comes to the characters.
As for character abilities, these will require you to play as each character to unlock. More like Dynasty Warriors, these upgrades will increase the length of your combos or give you other special properties when attacking. It does give some sense of progression for each character, but then none of it matters when you’re not actively playing as a specific character. With protagonist Joker being the undisputed best fighter in the group, there’s rarely an incentive to swap apart from doing follow-up attacks or to fill holes in your elemental attacks.
A lot of this is all fine and dandy and even contributes to a thrilling game at times. Where it starts to fall apart is in the pacing of everything. I appreciate Persona 5 Strikers throwing you right into a battle from the moment you select “New Game,” but then after a brief battle, you’re in for roughly 60 minutes of cutscenes. Get past that hurdle, do some more fighting, and it’s back to cutscenes.
RPGs, in general, have a disproportionate Gameplay-to-Cutscene ratio, but Strikers often feels like it wants to tell you a story more than have you experience it. In my 35-hour playthrough of the campaign, I swear maybe 15-20 of those hours were just me sitting around listening to characters talk. At least when you do get into the main dungeons, Strikers pulls back and lets you loose for hours of uninterrupted gameplay.
Sadly, I just wasn’t feeling things until roughly 20 hours into the campaign. There was a rather excellent story sequence that better mimicked the depth of the regular Persona games, linking the theme of its dungeon to the struggle of a new character. I won’t reveal more to avoid spoilers, but it’s the kind of setup I wish the rest of the game had. Instead, you usually get one of the main cast members tangentially linking a new character to their past struggles almost like they’re recapping the events of Persona 5 instead of expanding on them. It feels hollow, which ultimately undoes a lot of the good that the game has.
When the game is good, though, it does accurately capture the sensation of Dynasty Warriors’ simplicity. Combos are rarely more involved than stringing different combinations of light and heavy attacks together and it’s fun to experiment with how party members can affect Joker. I love the fact that battles aren’t random and you certainly feel like a true thief since you can stealth around different sections. I would comment on how the dungeons are now called “Jails” instead of “Palaces,” but the game explains away any of the intrigues that title change may have held. Functionally, they’re the same thing as before, just with a layer of platforming involved.
As I look back at Persona 5 Strikers, I’m very conflicted with how I feel. On the one hand, I’m hugely impressed by the work Omega Force has done. With both this and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, the studio has shown that it can create high-quality experiences when given a proper budget. There’s nothing low quality about Strikers, down to the visuals, audio design, soundtrack, game feel, and even localization. On the other hand, I was expecting something more action-oriented instead of another Persona game.
A lot of the similarities are surface level and some more care could have been given to its main plot, but Persona 5 Strikers is not a bad game. It fumbles different aspects and will ultimately not be for people that aren’t big into RPGs, but die-hard fans should find themselves having a blast. I wish I could have put aside some of my own biases, but then I just grew tired of the drawn-out plot that went nowhere by the end. I also hugely missed the interactions with my party members, which are completely absent here.
Being that the length isn’t too absurdly long (the main Persona 5 is in excess of 100 hours for a playthrough), I could see some new players jumping into the series with Strikers as their entrance. It really is remarkable how closely this resembles the main titles. Just be warned that if you’re looking for a solid action game, Strikers probably won’t fit that bill.
TechRaptor reviewed Persona 5 Strikers using a Steam code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
- Excellent Soundtrack
- Fantastic Presentation
- Well Polished Game Feel
- Clunky Pacing
- Simplistic Plot
- Lack Of Depth To Certain Mechanics