Holiday/feature-length specials are a fairly common concept in the world of television, especially when it comes to series that have strong fandom followings. Whether they exist to fill in the time between seasons, to signal an end to a show or to momentarily revive one that’s long since over, they typically serve to give fans extra time with beloved characters and worlds through self-contained stories with a little more breathing room and creative liberty. Persona 5 Strikers feels like one of those TV specials. It’s a reunion story full of returning characters and locales that riffs on the same themes that made Persona 5 memorable while playing with ideas of its own over a narrative that’s wrapped up nice and neatly by the end. It’s also a musou-inspired spinoff developed in collaboration with the studio behind Dynasty Warriors, so there’s that.
First things first – as vocal as developer Atlus has been that Strikers can be enjoyed without having played and finished Persona 5 previously, I personally wouldn’t recommend it. Not only is Persona 5 bloody excellent and well worth playing to begin with, but Strikers’ narrative value lies mostly with the strength of its established characters and the chance to see how they’ve developed in the time following.
Taking place roughly six months after the conclusion of Persona 5, Strikers begins with a well-meaning reunion of the Phantom Thieves that quickly sees them dropped back into the swing of things when they’re framed for a mysterious new crop of cognitive breaks in the public of Japan. The problems are revealed to stem from a handful of high-profile public figures who possess ‘Jails’, a new Metaverse variant not unlike Persona 5’s Palaces, though slightly different in structure and purpose. While it starts in the familiar surrounds of Tokyo, Strikers eventually takes its heroes to a host of new locations all across Japan on an RV-powered road trip to investigate a string of these Jail incidents and ultimately toward uncovering the parties at the centre of it all.
Despite the (comparative) brevity and the potential for a spin-off set post game to feel tacked on, the narrative here is top notch Persona and does a decent job of challenging its protagonists’ values without undoing any of the good the base game did. The most important narrative success is that it retains the spirit of what came before, tackling real-world issues and ideas through the lens of a ton of very enjoyable, very anime batshit nonsense. By the game’s appropriately bonkers climax, it touches on everything from social media addiction and reliance on assistant AI tech to ponderisations of human desires, personal agency and moral classism while its teen protagonists shoot airsoft guns at enormous, sexy bunnies and ogle each other in the requisite beach scenes. It’s a real good time.
Persona 5 Strikers maintains a very familiar balance of real-world exploration and lengthy dialogue sequences versus infiltration and action inside of its Jails over the roughly 30-40 hour story. Each of the game’s Jails has a distinct style, both visually and in the way they’re structured. Some are more open, or more vertical while others tend to be more maze-like, and most have a unique gimmick like badly-written fantasy novel riddles or misleading portals. Jails are definitely a little more sparse and lower in detail than fans will be used to, but that’s largely down to the space and performance overheads needed to accommodate the game’s densely-populated battles. The Jails are almost all equally fun to explore though, and live up to the standard set by Persona 5’s Palaces. Pseudo-platforming and stealth elements still play a big role, even more so in some aspects, and you’ll still increase the level of security by getting yourself caught too often. In a neat touch, your chosen party members dart around on-screen with you, often highlighting nearby hiding places or ledges by using them ahead of you.
There’s a lot less anxiety in progressing through Jails too, as Strikers doesn’t penalise players for hopping out of a Jail and back to the real world to rest and recuperate. There’s no time-based penalties at all, in fact, with none of the time-based social gameplay from Persona 5 present. Whether you’re infiltrating a Jail, fusing new Personas for Joker or out seeing the sights in places like Sendai, Osaka and Sapporo time only moves forward with story progress. You’re even able to return to previously-completed Jails (for reasons we can’t divulge) and the game regularly offers up extra incentive to go back and explore them further. The only unfortunate issue is a lack of an auto-save, which could have dire consequences if regular saving doesn’t quickly become a habit.
This all leads to Persona 5 Strikers’ biggest departure from the original game. Omega Force wasn’t brought onto the scene for nothing – this game trades the series’ tradition turn-based JRPG battles for musou-inspired combat that sees the Thieves square off against literal hordes of enemies in real time. It’s built on a foundation of button-bashing hack and slash but it’s also the developer’s least recognisable crossover project, tipping the scales more toward the source material than Dynasty Warriors. Fans will recognise and appreciate the many reinterpretations of core mechanics from the use of Personas and their abilities to Baton Passes, All-Out Attacks and guns.
Of course the real treat is being able to directly control and play as (almost) the entire Phantom Thieves squad. Every Thief has their own distinct playstyle, with special attacks and abilities based on their unique Personas. It’s entirely possible to pick your favourite and roll with them 100% of the time (yes, you can run around Jails as Morgana!), but to excel in combat it pays to experiment with party setups and switch between members frequently. Your teammates do a bang-up job even under AI control though, and their constant battle cries are actually helpful a lot of the time, or at least entertaining (“Umm, how do I call my Persona again??” when someone is hit with a Forget spell is one of my favourites).
When you’re in the thick of battle, lining up Follow Up and All-Out attacks, exploiting enemy weaknesses, jumping between characters and taking advantage of contextual environment attacks all without breaking a sweat it’s an absolute thrill. Combat demands far more attention and mental dexterity than most of Omega Force’s other catalogue, and poses a nice level of challenge throughout. There’s an Easy difficulty for those that aren’t interested in learning the nuances and just want to see the story through and smack some Shadows down, but on Normal difficulty and higher sitting on one character and spamming attacks won’t get you far. There’s a nice, high skill ceiling (although we don’t talk about the post-game Merciless difficulty in this house), and it’s rewarding both to master and to see in action.
It all comes together impressively given how many disparate elements are being crammed into a fairly standard action format, making for some of the most fun I’ve had in a game like this in a while. It’s not without a few small nuisances, like a camera that doesn’t always play nice and a tendency for things to get lost in a cacophony of visual feedback when fights get hectic, but those issues rarely intrude on the fun. Any complaints quickly fade away when that same, unmistakable satisfaction of ambushing an enemy party and wiping them out in one fell swoop hits just as hard as it does in the turn-based equivalent.
From narrative to exploration and combat, there’s not a single bit of Strikers that doesn’t feel just like a direct sequel to Persona 5. This isn’t a watered-down spinoff or genre experiment, it’s a proper continuation with all of the same production values and impeccable sense of style. Fans know what to expect by now – slick and stylish presentation from top to bottom, in its characters and environments, in its dynamic UI and menus and a soundtrack that positively slaps. Plenty of characters, locations and enemies are obviously recycled from the last game but the new stuff is all just as good, especially the delightfully gaudy boss designs.
While I can’t comment on how Strikers plays on either the Switch or PC, playing the PlayStation 4 version of the game on my PS5 was a mostly-decent experience. The game offers up two visual mode choices on PS4 – one for a smoother framerate and one for better/higher fidelity visuals – though on PlayStation 5 the framerate seems to scale up anyway so it’s safe to just pick the visual option and get the best of both worlds. In either instance, it’s definitely not as sharp as Persona 5 is on PS4/5 but that’s forgivable with how much busier things get on-screen. It’s all very nicely put together though, and fans will be happy to know the original English voice cast returns, alongside the option for Japanese audio should that be a preference.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON A PS5 FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Playing Persona 5 Strikers is like being blessed with a reunion special of a beloved series that ended years ago. It feels different, perhaps through a new lens or just more timely, but the characters you grew to cherish are all back for one last, terrific adventure. Omega Force's influence is clear, but the game walks a confident line between the traditional Persona format and a musou spin-off. If you're a fan, do yourself a favour and don't sleep on this – Strikers is one hell of a road trip that deserves to be considered a proper sequel.