When Atlus announced that there is going to be another spinoff for Persona 5, the fans were very excited. We are getting another new edition in the Persona series!
By then, the studio had already released Persona 5: Dancing in the Starlight (which is a rhythm-based game) and Persona 5 Royal (which is an enhanced version of the base game). In my review of the latter game, I said this and I quote,
“Persona 5 Royal is the living proof that you can make game which is already a masterpiece, better”
You can check Persona 5 Royal review right over here.
All that joy and happiness that the fans felt were turned to skepticism when they announced that the new game “Persona 5 Strikers” was not only going to be a sequel to Persona 5 but also crossover between Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors. Not the story mind you, but the gameplay mechanics.
Yep, that means everything that happened in Royal didn’t happen or didn’t exist (best girl Kasumi doesn’t exist).
Dynasty Warriors franchise is mostly known to be the father of “crowd combat fighting game” basically a type of PVE or “Player-Versus-Everyone” and that combat mechanic is completely different from the combat mechanic Persona was known for.
During my 48 hours of playtime, I have to say, at first, I did not like the game but by the end of it, I ended up loving this game so much.
The game is considered as a standalone title, but I will always see this game as a story expansion for Persona 5 and let me tell you dear readers why it is.
Throughout the review I will be using abbreviations for the games: “P5” is Persona 5, “P5R” is Persona 5 Royal and “P5S” is Persona 5 Strikers.
Phantom Thieves are Back!
In a way, the third semester of Royal could be considered as DLC of P5. It gave us one of the best bosses in the series with an epic lead up to his boss fight, the loveable date with the girl whom you chose to romance on Valentine’s Day, and that wholesome ending of Royal.
However, because of Strikers, we are not exactly sure if Royal’s ending is canon or not, as the story of Strikers doesn’t address anything new that happened in Royal.
The story of Strikers takes place the following summer after the events of P5. You play as Joker as he returns back to Tokyo to have a small reunion with the Phantom Thieves and spend the entire summer with the them.
At that point, they all have different lives. Futaba has started going to middle school, Ryuji, Ann and Yusuke are in the last year of their high schools, Makoto and Haru have started going to college. But despite this, they all make time to spend time together.
At the same time, unusual cases have started to pop up across the nation.
Due to the nature of the cases, all fingers are pointed towards the Phantom Thieves. The reason is because the offenders have a “change of heart”, or in this case, a change of personality.
The Phantom Thieves want to do a lot of things during the summer. They end up using EMMA, a widely popular AI like Siri or Cortana to get recommendations on what to do.
The following day, they all go to do some shopping. Joker and Ryuji are at the Shibuya Crossing and out of nowhere, they both were teleported to a distorted Shibuya!
Yes, the Metaverse is back, baby! And it is best Metaverse, which is in no way connected to Facebook. (Arguably the only Metaverse we should care about, but that’s a whole other topic.)
Both of them (and I, the player) are extremely confused as the Metaverse was destroyed at the end of P5! But it is now back again?!
They go forward explore but end up getting caught and brought to the ruler, Alice who is a popular idol. The dominatrix-looking Alice wants both of their “Desire” (whatever that means) but since she is unable to get it, she throws them to a pit.
As they both look for a way out, they end up finding a strange cube. When Joker touches it, a girl comes forth!
She introduces herself as “Sophia” and says that she is a “humanity’s companion”, adding that that was the mission she was assigned.
After coming back to the real world, they brief the rest of the team on what they witnessed and decide to investigate.
During the investigation, it becomes clear that this is not the same “Metaverse” as before.
The Phantom Thieves go on to meet a man named Zenkichi Hasegawa who clues them in more on what’s going on and tasks them with changing hearts of people across Japan. They accept and thus begins a journey across the country, visiting the famous cities they had wanted to see for the summer vacation.
Before I played the game, I came to know that not only did the game have an average finishing time of 50 hours but also that the story takes place during the summer vacation.
As a P5 fan, I wanted to spend more time with the Phantom Thieves and I was prematurely disappointed that because it was ‘just’ summer vacation, it wouldn’t have a gripping narrative.
However, I am happy to report that by the end of the game, I was more satisfied than disappointed. The game gives you many opportunities to spend more time with team in various scenarios, which was exactly what I wanted!
To become a Phantom Thief:
As I said before, the gameplay is the part where the crossover between Dynasty Warriors happened.
The game now uses a crowd control, hack and slash type of gameplay rather than the turn-based combat system that the series is known for.
It was kind of obvious that they wanted to bring something new to the franchise and combat system was probably the best place to do it. But that ended up being the game’s flaw.
What the developers tried to do was integrate all of the Persona combat system and gameplay mechanics in to the hack and slash combat system, and it ended feeling really strange at first.
Although you will eventually become more familiar with it over time, the sad truth is that P5/P5R players would have an easier time getting familiar with it easier than new players.
This is because having prior knowledge of the mechanics of the original game/s helps flatten the learning curve of this new game. Simply put, knowing what abilities and spells did back then can help you figure out what they do now.
If there is one thing which I didn’t like about the gameplay, it is the lock-on system.
In any other game, it might be considered one of the most useful or fundamental mechanics of the game. But here, I tried it once and immediately switched it off!
For a game where you have to fight against a horde of enemies, locking on to a single enemy is not the best idea.
Locking onto single enemies will not only limit your overall damage output but it also prevents you from being able to see enemy attacks coming.
This is why I don’t use this mechanic while fighting against a horde. But it can come in handy if you are fighting against a single enemy. And that is the only situation where I’d recommend you to use this.
Just like the original, you are able to fight with a team of four (including yourself) in your party.
In the original, each member takes a turn to fight but Strikers, your party members will fight on their own, though you are able to switch between controlling your party members as much as you like.
This is done through Baton Pass, which is something that was in the original P5 and P5R as well. Oh, and you get a small attack buff when you do it, which is is a great incentive to keep switching things up.
Every enemy in this P5S has a guard bar, which is kind of similar to the poise bar mechanic in Sekiro. You are able to break the guard using the weakness of the enemy or landing critical hits. On paper, this sounds like a fun mix of Dynasty Warriors and Persona. But in reality, you can exploit this mechanic to trivialize the game’s difficulty.
Since you are able to change your party members as many times as you want, you can just keep changing between them and attack enemy weaknesses constantly.
You can just use the members in your party to abuse the weakness of the enemy, break their guard, and then do the “all out attack” for a massive chunk of damage. Then you rinse and repeat.
This one strategy carried me through the majority of the game and removed any hope I had of a tough challenge.
P5 was not only my first ever turn-based RPG but also my first Persona game. P5 ended up being very hard for me at first because I had to learn many unfamiliar mechanics.
However, in time I ended up loving the gameplay a lot! I’m sure JRPG lovers would know what I mean when I say that it felt like playing chess with the AI. I was thinking rounds ahead and anticipating which moves the enemy will make.
I am sad to report that P5S did not give me with any sort of tactical satisfaction or the feeling like I had outwitted anything.
It ended up bothering me more than I anticipated.
Quality of Phantom Life
If there is one thing that I love about the instalments of P5, it is how each game adds quality of life improvements to improve the user experience. P5R made so many large and small improvements to P5 that you could be forgiven for thinking that there would be nothing more to do, but you would be wrong.
One of the key updates is the one that I liked the most. It is the fact that you are able to access the Velvet Room during the hideout before you enter the Metaverse.
In the original, you are able to access the Velvet Room in selected locations in the world and before entering the Palaces.
In this game, you can go to the Velvet Room directly from the hideout. I found this very helpful as I was able to manage my Persona from the hideout itself without wasting time running around. I can only hope that this feature will be there in Persona 6.
Speaking of the hideout, you are also able to access the Shop here as well!
There are no confidants from the original in P5S (although Sae makes a small cameo). Instead, Sophia decides to make her own shop. You are able to get all of the items, accessories, and weapons from this shop.
Every now and then selected items have a sale on them and you can buy them at a cheaper price. The shop does reset whenever you go back to the hideout so you can abuse this loophole to buy everything you want.
One of the major new things that is in the game, is that you are able to leave the Metaverse and go back in the very same day!
This might not sound like a big deal for a person who hasn’t played the Persona games before but it’s a big deal. The Persona series can sometimes be very stingy with how you use the time that’s allocated to you. But with this game, the limiters are off so you can do more things than before.
Due to this, you can stay in the Metaverse for as long as you want to farm experience, money ,and Bond points (more on that later). Oh, and in case any veteran Persona players were wondering, you refill your SP when you’re back at the hideout.
On the Metaverse side of things, as you progress the game you will end up with a lot of Personas to collect. When you collect the masks that these monsters drop, if there is an empty slot in your Persona party, the mask’s owner will fill it.
Normally, players wouldn’t want this at the later stages of the game as they wouldn’t want to waste time on lower level Persona. However, the developers have made this into a more useful feature.
In P5S, there is a feature called “Persona Enhancement” where you level up Persona. This feature was present in the original P5 and P5R but it is back with a new twist. You need something called “Persona Points” to level them up.
And how do you get Persona Points?
You get it when you go out and collect masks during fights. You also get them when performing Persona fusion or when you release a Persona from your collection.
All in all, the game presents old mechanics with a new twist or new mechanics with a familiar look. Sometimes it works and sometimes, it doesn’t quite get there.
The Phantom Style
The first thing that caught my eye from the very moment the opening song of the game finished was how smooth the animation was.
The menu starts with the RV van popping up to the screen and driving aimlessly. Yes, I understand that I am only talking about the animation of the main menu of the game but that’s how noticeably good it was!
I was hoping that the same animation quality would be carried forward into game itself and luckily, this was very much the case.
I played this game on my PS4 Pro and the smoothness of the game’s visuals felt like I was playing a game with a higher frame rate. The game ran between 40 to 50 fps for me on the PS4 Pro but if you’re playing on the PS5, you can get the game locked at 60 fps.
Whether you are wandering throughout the city, or fighting enemies, the smoothness of the animation remains the same. The same goes for the highly stylized menu as well.
The graphics of P5 can be considered as “cel-shaded” but for P5S, the graphics got an overhaul like they do with some remasters of older games.
The developers incorporated 3D to the already existing cel-shaded graphics and honestly, that doesn’t not feel odd at all.
Due to it being 3D, I ended up noticing a lot new things in the background.
All of the character got brand new portraits but most of them are from P5R.
Now, the mouth of the person who is talking now synchronizes with their own portrait which is a new thing.
They also show body language while talking! This is a new addition which I ended up loving because it made the characters feel more alive and responsive.
As for the visuals of the locations and environment, the developers did a great job with the cities.
They are represented very nicely and it somehow feels alive despite you not being able to interact with anyone.
The same even goes for all of the areas in the Metaverse. Each of the areas are designed based on a theme. The architecture, art style, and the mood represents the area very well.
Out of all of the 8 areas, my favourite ones visually were the Kyoto Jail and the Sendai Jail.
The former jail is based on Japanese architecture, which is something I really like. As for the latter, I thought it was one area which showcased its theme really well.
As for music, there is not much to say about it other than it been great to listen to.
However, most of the music used is from either P5 or P5R. While this isn’t a terrible thing as P5’s OST is considered by many to be a certified banger, it’s a little disappointing not to get more new and original tracks to add to our playlists.
The new music that was in the game did not disappoint and still had the signature P5 style., which only makes me wish we had more of it. In fact, the battle themes from before got updated and the new battle theme is just as good!
The background music that is played in the cities and areas of the Metaverse ended up representing that the area very well.
One thing I ended up really liking is the transition between the battle theme and the exploration music. It is very smooth and was in no way jarring or sudden.
Even before the game’s release, fans expected the game to be totally different from the original. There was as much skepticism as there was optimism.
I am here to inform you that while P5S might have significant differences from P5/P5R, it is still a very good game on its own.
The story kept me hooked and the gameplay grew on me. Just like the original, the visuals and music are the best part of the game.
Overall, I would say this is a must play for anyone after finishing Persona 5 or someone who want to get in the Persona franchise.
One thing I want to highlight is how much the game was iterated and improved upon what was presented in the previous games.
P5R was already an improved version of P5. So I was happy to see P5S further improving the gameplay experience through quality of life improvements and other minor tweaks. These tweaks, while small, left an impact on the game. As the saying goes, “the little things do matter”.
P5 showed us an incredibly clean and stylish look with its cel-shaded graphics. And now, P5S is showing us what happens when you incorporate 3D to it.
Many of the quality-of-life and gameplay updates that were done for P5S and P5R can also be used or even further be improved upon.
The reason why I am highlighting this is that, looking ahead on the future I’m hoping to seeing these improvements in the next main installment of the Persona franchise, most possibly Persona 6.
After playing the original Persona 5, Persona 5 Royal, and finally Persona 5 Strikers, I can say with confidence that this franchise is only getting better!
As for this game… I’d say it’s a must play.