Let’s not kid ourselves, Persona 5 Strikers (Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers in Japan) has been one of the most anticipated follow-up’s in quite some time. The Dynasty Warrior’s cross Persona 5 spin-off proves that the series has a lot more going for it than the standard turn-based JRPG action story. The hype behind its reveal event almost two years ago was aided by fans across social media, clamouring for the long desired port of the original Persona 5 release for Nintendo Switch, which to this day still alludes us. Both “P5R” and “P5S” remained mysteries behind registered trademarks and calling card teasers, until April of 2019. During Day 2 of the Persona Super Live P-Sound Street 2019 concert, held at Ryōgoku Sumo Hall with a mass gathering of 15,000+ Persona fans, and over 2 Million Viewers worldwide tuning in via YouTube, Persona 5 vocalist Lyn Inaizuma, had the honour of revealing Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers to the world.
The reveal of Strikers was met with scepticism after a variety of Dynasty Warrior spin-off titles – most notably the Hyrule Warriors series – was met with lukewarm reception. Hell, even I received a DM from a friend trying to soften the blow as I was expecting us devout hardcore fans to finally be able to take Persona 5 on the go. “It’s a Musuo game, sorry bud” read the message, but I wasn’t phased until I knew exactly what ATLUS and Koei Tecmo developers had in mind. It was not until a live stream in October that same year, that we were graced with a lengthy trailer revealing many more details regarding Persona 5 Strikers, that I knew we were in for something special. From the moment we see Joker standing tall above a high rise tower in Shibuya, staring down a sea of shadows while dominating the horde, while tagging with his Phantom Thieves in tow.
The rush from just viewing the trailer alone had me elated beyond belief, and the subtle glimpse of the number “2” pouncing forward cemented the fact that we weren’t just getting a side quest or some ordinary spin-off title, we were in fact being graced with a fully fledged sequel to the Phantom Thieves’ initial foray. 2017’s Persona 5 was lauded for its evolutionary innovation, progressing overall turn-based JRPG combat with mesmerising aesthetics that inspired many established and esteemed developers such as Nintendo and HAL Laboratory’s Masahiro Sakurai, with the veteran praising Persona 5 as his favourite game that year, and by including Joker in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and taking note of the title’s UX/UI Menu by implementing mechanics and structure to the fighter’s Nintendo Switch release.
We were pleased with the title back in February of 2020, when we got our hands on an import for the Nintendo Switch, and previewed the game’s first “dungeon” with help of a translator to guide us. But now, after a year of waiting anxiously with rumours swirling that its localisation was cancelled, we finally have Persona 5 Strikers abroad, with the return of favourites and the introduction of new heroes and villains. The question that remained was, how does Persona’s gameplay loop exactly meld with W-Force’s overarching combat loop? We had sense of how hand-to-hand close ranged attacks would be the necessity, but the power of Persona’s were emphatically manifested to pace players with powerful techniques. So how exactly does Strikers ramp up something that was ultimately designed to slow things down?
Just as Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal did, the game opens with a cinematic that appropriately relays the palpable environment that the Phantom Thieves are confronted with repeatedly throughout their ongoing saga. A mass gathering of angry shadows approach a confident Joker as he scales and parkours his way to the bustling cityscape of Shibuya, ready to initiate battle. Oracle guides our hero to his destination as he carves his way through this massive sea of foes. The opening tutorial trains the player with the basics, until your showtime meter reaches its max. It’s here we’re then taken to the OP accompanied with Persona 5’s hallmark crimson overlay, with You Are Stronger by Atsushi Kitajoh and Lyn Inaizumi welcoming us to our new adventure. Following the formalities, we’re taken inside a Police station board room, where investigators from Public Security are trying to decipher a new epidemic that is sweeping the nation.
Madame Miyako Kaburagi, leads PubSec into what has been presumed to be a psychological change in behaviour within the masses, including a novelist claiming his work as garbage and a News Anchor stripping naked and confessing his love for his associate. With no recollection of events that had occurred six months earlier where Mementos had encroached reality, it is assumed that the public are being brainwashed with mind control capabilities. The disbelief of such a thing existing has PubSec officer’s question the validity of these cases and claim them as coincidence. Seated at the rear of the boardroom, Inspector Zenkichi Hasegawa makes a bold claim that The Phantom Thieves may be involved somehow. The facilitator guiding the the conference states that the entire pandemic is reminiscent of events from the year prior, noting that the perpetrator’s could indeed be The Phantom Thieves.
Persona 5 Strikers is essential gaming this year. The virtue this title carries is for everyone, not just the JRPG enthusiast.
Other officers note that there is not motive behind the Thieves themselves changing the public’s viewpoint other than “for kicks”. Madame Kaburagi shows a mugshot on file from Joker’s assault case against Masayoshi Shido, where she instructs her force to investigate the leader of the Phantom Thieves, identifying the highschool student as the catalyst. Meanwhile unbeknownst to his warrant placed, Joker rides a train racing towards Yongen-Jaya, where he plans on reuniting with the group at their old digs. Arriving to the backstreets of the small suburb, the melodic overture ofBeneath the Mask’s instrumental track welcomes you home. A warming embrace for those that have spent hundreds of hours playing the first title in the P5 franchise. The chime of LeBlanc’s bell rings as Joker walks into an unexpectedly empty shopfront, only to be met with a surprising snowfall of confetti and streamers in a surprise celebration of their leader’s return.
Ol’ “Coffee Dad” Sojiro Sakura, makes a nonchalant entrance welcoming Joker back home stating that his room was waiting for him upstairs. The ragtag rowdy group plan their Summer Vacation together, in hopes of possibly taking a trip to multiple cities across Japan. With the group listing items they may need for their tour around the country, Futaba grabs out her cell phone and activates her voice assistant app “EMMA”, to list recommended gear. Much like Siri to an iPhone or Alexa to an Amazon Dot, the AI responds with an appropriate listing and asks if the group would like to order the item. After a long day of celebrations, the rest of the group head home while Joker gets ready for some rest after his trip back. You know what that means, right? Cue the Piano keys, the blue hue accompanied with a rotation of chains trapping our hero within a small cell. We’re back in the Velvet Room.
Joker is confronted by Lavenza, assistant to her master and warden of the Velvet room, Igor. In her master’s stead, the young azure draped golden maned deity explains that a new threat looms to threaten the bond between man and matter. Not much else is divulged, but that Joker should be weary of events that spell doom for humanity but ask that he once again assumes the role of the Trickster, leading his group to salvation. The following day, Joker meets with Ryuji in Central Town, Shibuya where a crowd gathers for a surprise appearance by fashion icon Alice. A swarm flocks towards a stage set below Shibuya 705 to grace the young idol, with the teen handing out business cards with her EMMA keyword, which enables a friend request via the apps social network capabilities.
She greets both Ryuji and Joker with a card, in which they accept. The pair wonder off back to the station where Joker uses EMMA to enter his friend request. Articulating to the AI application, a familiar portal is opened in which Joker, Morgana and Ryuji are pushed through. From the Sunny blue sky’s of Japan, to the bright lights of its bustling night time cityscape, the trio question what had just happened. Joker turns over to a confounded Ryuji, garbed in his Phantom Thief attire, Skull mask and all. Morgana’s anthropomorphic appearance takes form and Joker donning his long black Jacket, vest and trademark Phantom Mask. There wasn’t any doubt about it, the Phantom Thieves were back in the Metaverse. A swarm of deadly demons march their way into the city square, authority clad and clasping patrons stealing gems that preside within each hostage. Let’s start the Game, again!
✔️A true sequel that follows-up on events from the original, six months later.
✔️Unequivocally, the absolute best in a series of Warrior spin-off titles.
✔️Retains fundamentals that made Persona 5 a fan favourite.
✔️Beckons the question, Are we done with the Phantom Thieves?
❌Some graphical/texture downgrade from the original, but nothing that spoils the experience.
It’s incredible how ATLUS and Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force has partnered to present this amalgamating construct of Japanese Role-playing meets Musou/hack-and-slash. I could not begin to fathom how the title would simply be able to bring two completely opposite genre’s together for one epic joyride. The blueprint of Persona 5’s core gameplay loop integrates with Warrior’s freeform approach at astonishing levels. Engaging in battle with a catalogue of Persona’s at your disposal truly elevates excitement once you get going. The rush of shadows that threaten to thwart your attempts in salvaging Desires from each Jail leader makes for some gratifying situations. The differences made between the source material and this new formation are subtle, yet it makes a worldly difference – no pun intended.
Gone are the long slogs through the Mementos depths, and Palaces are no more. Each area has its own antagonist leading the charge, with the alternative landscape now known as Jails. There are some striking similarities between the former overlord’s chambers and the new sandbox like exploration of this alternate reality. Hiding from shadows at street corners aids the group before ambushing, just like the original. Leaping into action, ripping off their mask and slaying the surplus of swat teams are extremely enjoyable. The action ramps up quickly unlike the turn-based steady combat that you would expect from Persona’s traditional genre. In early stages of the game, ambushing one shadow unleashes twenty or so enemies that will be on the alert to attack. The fight is subjugated to the specific area that the encounter is initiated.
Eradicating the area of these swarms, you may be rewarded with different items to use or sell later on. Be aware of your surroundings, as Shadows will be on high alert for intruders, and may sense your presence. If you aren’t cautious, you will be knocked down and surrounded by enemies that will lay in to your party. Using the left analogue stick to shake off the cobwebs, you may spring back into action and slash your way through to an easy win. Losing a battle however, you will receive a screen that will give you the option to restart the battle from the pause menu which is usually disabled during battle, warp back to the last checkpoint which has replaced Safe Rooms, or exit to title menu. The usage of Checkpoints are imperative, and should be activated without excuse while playing. It may be easy to miss a couple, but keeping track of the map located on the bottom right of the screen, you will see a small green “C” boxed icon similar to that of the Safe Room Icon from the original.
Activating them will allow you to Save your progress, visit the Velvet room or Return to real world to recharge any Health or Mana that may have depleted. The pause menu will pull up your Items that you may have collected or purchased prior to entering each jail. You can also raise the level of each Persona and Persona user with Bond points collected. Each Bond will elevate individual attributes to your entire entire party including strength, health, replenishment rate, the efficiency of each skill or move, and a litany of others. The system options are as expected, but it was the first thing I used to slightly adjust the camera speed of the game. I found it’s default setting to be a little on the slow side, so I sped it up to match that of the original camera used in P5. Another neat feature is the ability to change or customise the the in-game soundtrack to your liking. DLC will enable the entire Persona musical library, ranging from Revelations: Persona right through to Royal and Strikers.
For those that won’t be purchasing the additional content, the base game includes Persona 5, Persona 5 Royal and Strikers soundtrack to customise. Each battle will ring in a new track from composer Atsushi Kitajoh – the first Persona project without Shoji Meguro attached. In addition to melee attacks, ranged attempts come in form of using your Persona. Holding down the right shoulder button will activate your Persona and show their respective arsenal to utilise. Each move comes with varied circumference, and will depend on the amount of HP or SP they dispose. You can have up to a party of four active at one time, including Joker who remains locked. Each member can be controlled by tagging them in or out, replacing the traditional Baton Pass. There are also follow-up attacks that can be attained after executing successful combos, with a team member requesting to take the lead.
Much like a successful Baton Pass, each tag out will raise each Showtime gauge to execute a specialised finisher to a targeted group of shadows. Mirroring the exact traits of their standard actions, each Persona and their demon counterparts entail Strength’s and Weaknesses. Attacking a shadow’s weakness will allow you a follow-up attack, but mini-boss Demons harbour a greater amount of health. A gauge will appear when these Super Shadows appear. They’re easily identified as larger versions of their cohorts. Their health bars are protected by shields that you must crack through to enable an All-Out Attack. All-Out Attacks won’t work everytime, so be aware of the amount damage dealt out during these finishers. Without spoiling anything, a new character that joins you on your journey will unlock the item shop, making for accessible usage of Health and Mana potions, while outside each Jail.
The Velvet Room again allows collected masks to be fused for stronger Persona’s, and levelling up your characters. Visiting markets and local stands for ingredients in each city allows Joker the capability to cook Sojiro’s trademark coffee and delicious curry for the group, replenishing their health and stamina. Each cooking session will bank an item in your inventory for usage within the Jail. The jail’s themselves will have respective tasks in which you need to solve in order to unlock new areas and make your way to their Monarch’s headquarters. The first few retain a pattern in order to progress through the campaign, but it begins to change drastically as you continue your journey, so expect the unexpected. Confronting the monarch’s are much like a Palace’s ruler with their distorted desires mutating them into disgusting demons, ready to pounce.
Each Monarch’s resolve are also highlighted through events that are kept alive within their hearts and in the metaverse. The Thieves must track down these re-occurring nightmares and defeat the Shadow that continues to feast on the Monarch’s distortion. Each demon mutates into a Lock Keeper that guards the jail cells of their victim’s distorted desires. Defeating them reveals the Monarch’s true nature, enabling the thieves to send out a calling card and infiltrate the Monarch’s quarters. Much like a Super Shadow, a Monarch’s strength towers over a standard mini-boss but carries the same features such as a health meter and shields to protect them from an All-out Attack. Many of these bosses are quite strong and pack a punch, if anything a HP sponge would describe them perfectly.
After defeating a Monarch, the thieves then make haste towards the next city where they continue their adventure. Each city is depicted with their own aesthetic and map that will take you around hotspots and landmarks that are renowned in Japanese culture. Requests are made while exploring each town and are accessed through EMMA during each meeting you have in the “Phantomobile”. The UI retains Persona 5’s intended design with little to almost no difference, making it easy for devout fans to map out each task. Again, an outstanding performance is rendered by both vocalist Lyn Inaizumi, rearranging Meguro’s Last Surprise, River’s in the Desert and lending her talents to Kitajoh’s original pieces, which has been described by renowned musician Alex Moukala as “Funky Metal”.
As expected in a sequel, the localisation team have been hard at work reuniting the original cast of Persona 5. Erika Harlacher (Violet Evergarden, Penguin Highway), Max Mittelman (One Punch Man, Mob Psycho 100), Cassandra Lee Morris (K-On!, Sword Art Online), Matthew Mercer (Critical Role, Persona 4 Golden), Cherami Leigh (Cyberpunk 2077, Cells at Work!), Erica Lindbeck (Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Netflix Redub, FLCL: Alternative), Xanth Huynh (Sword Art Online, FLCL: Progressive), and Xander Mobus (Super Smash Bros., Yakuza Like a Dragon) all reprise their respective roles as the Phantom Thieves, Carrie Keranen (GREAT PRETENDER, The Seven Deadly Sins) as Lavenza and of course, Jamieson Price (GREAT PRETENDER, Final Fantasy VII Remake) returning as the beloved “Daddy” Sojiro. Newcomers to the franchise, Megan Taylor Harvey (Final Fantasy IV, Gun x Sword) and Tom Taylorson (God of War, Bugsnax) both introduce their respective characters with great resolve, excellent performances all round.
Have you made it this far? Awesome. Well let me conclude this review by saying, Persona 5 Strikers is essential gaming this year. The virtue this title carries is for everyone, not just the JRPG enthusiast. The only constraint here is its continuity relies on the player understanding events that took place in Persona 5. None-the-less, for the fan this is an opportunity to portray our favourite group of rascals for one final bow-out. A unique event within the Persona franchise, as usually spin-off titles within do not propose an adventure akin to its original. Primarily its Dancing titles and Q-series minimise and streamline its battle system in favour for a non-canonical narrative based visual novel. Privileged with this epic sequel, we once again explore the helpless depths of the metaverse to once again bring humanity and civilisation to justice. Persona 5 Strikers is a spectacular sequel.
Persona 5 Strikers is a hack and slash role-playing video game developed by Omega Force and P-Studio. The game is a crossover between Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors franchise and Atlus’s 2016 role-playing game Persona 5.