Release Date : February 23, 2021
Developers : Omega Force, P-Studio
Publisher : Atlus
Platforms : PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
With more than 3 million copies of Persona 5 sold worldwide, it was clear that Atlus would exploit the vein to the end. Thus, after Persona 5 Dancing Star Night and Persona 5 Royal, the publisher decided to go further by offering a true sequel to its cult RPG, but through a genre that changes in favor of the “Warriors” style of Omega Force, the situation is totally explosive for fans as the game must live up to its famous prequel.
It’s a beautiful July in Tokyo. Yaldabaoth is defeated, the society is calmed down and Joker flows peaceful days in the family’s home. You will have understood it, not for long. Strange affairs shake the political sphere: rigging of public accounts revealed in broad daylight, Sapporo city councilors who confess to fraud, a novelist who renounces his prize… The police are once again on their teeth and the suspect is in no doubt: the Ghost Thieves have returned to duty and public security intends to set the record straight this time.
Far from knowing the suspicions that surround him, Joker, passing through Tokyo, is quickly caught up by the parallel worlds, which are supposed to have completely disappeared. While attending an event of a local starlet called Alice, he and Ryûji find themselves transported in a gothic Shibuya infested with Shadows. There they are joined by Sophie, a strange inhabitant of this parallel world she calls Jail. Just like the palaces of Persona 5, Jail rots the life of the inhabitants of Shibuya. The Ghost Thieves therefore effectively decide to return to service to restore peace to the neighborhood. But of course, this is only the beginning of the investigation that will lead them to larger plots.
Quite similar to the dungeons of Persona 5, the Jails show however some major differences. First of all, there is no time limit in Persona 5 Strikers: whereas in Persona 5, each dungeon had to be completed in two or three weeks in the game, here the player can take all the time he needs, coming and going in the level as much as he wants. The date only changes when the main objective is completed. You will be able to access any unlocked dungeon afterward since unlike the Palaces in the previous title, the Jails never disappear.
You can quietly set aside side quests and complete them later. One of the new features is now you can control any character in the dungeons, not just Joker. Also note that all the characters are available right from the start, except for a new member who arrives much later. Last but not least, the Jails are all external environments, which gives a new approach to progression and is full of new animations that are fun for all team members. In other words, Persona 5 Strikers is a cooler Persona, in the sense that the player has fewer constraints… which doesn’t mean it’s easy!
So let’s move to the gameplay, which is definitely the big question mark when you go from a role-based game of such quality to an RPG-action. Let’s reassure fans right away by saying that despite the big leap into the Warriors formula, Persona 5 Strikers retains all the great principles of the original and maintains the spirit and richness of Persona 5’s combat. Surprisingly for an Omega Force game, this sequel retains the infiltration side of the original.
The Shadows wander through the dungeons just like in Persona 5, and the player has hiding places to avoid or surprise them. There are even more hiding places since you can now stand high up in the dungeons. It is only when the player is spotted or decides to attack a Shadow that the Shadow brings up one or more dozens of opponents, as the tradition of the genre requires.
Like the other Warriors-like, the “SQUARE” and “TRIANGLE” buttons offer a variety of nice combos to hit the waves of Shadows in a lively way. More particular hits or finishing moves are obtained as Master Arts by using as much as possible the desired character. This probably makes sense, but Persona 5 Strikers includes Personae, and thus magic that adds to the above-mentioned possibilities.
The many elements of Persona 5 Royal bring back to the table the game of strengths and weaknesses, the annoying random states, and one more principle. The character can also extend the current action when he hits the enemy’s weak spot, or even call the whole team to clear the area. Note that as in the previous one, Joker has several Personae, although the choice is not as wide as before. Finally, our big-hearted thieves all have a personalized Showtime (it’s no longer done in pairs) to inflict big damage with class.
But then, what difference does it make? Everything, because the rhythm of the fights is excessively fast. Imagine playing Persona 5 Royal and having to make all the decisions in half a second. Well, Persona 5 Strikers is like that: electric battles where the action happens at full speed despite the diversity of possible commands.
Even though Persona’s menu on R1 stops time like the great compromise found in Final Fantasy VII Remake, it’s singularly intense from start to finish. In addition to this, there’s a particularly tough challenge, with heroes who can be knocked out in two or three moves in normal mode. The player’s skills are sometimes violently put to the test, so calling it “Dark Souls of the Warriors games” was tempting.
But we won’t use those big words, partly because Persona 5 Strikers is, oddly enough, much harder at the beginning than at the end. The bosses (and even mid-level bosses) of the first three Jails are nightmarish so much that the slightest error of inattention leads to a general knockout. Having said that, you gradually get used to the specifics of the combat system and you resist better.
The Phantom Move, for example, allows you to jump in a flash on an element of the scenery. Not only does this speed of movement make it possible to avoid many attacks, but the element in question can also be used offensively! Blowing up a car, dropping a candlestick, throwing blades, or firing a huge laser cannon, here again, the Atlus title is not lacking in ideas to entertain the player.
BAND OF BROTHERS
The Band system also helps a lot throughout the adventure. It represents the level of “camaraderie” between the Ghost Thieves and increases either in the important stages of the adventure or in side quests, especially those issued by Joker’s buddies. The points earned in this way are used to improve the team’s statistics, among other things. Who says more strength, more defense, and especially who says more SP says much more affordable fights. In Shibuya, at the very beginning, there is just enough to heal yourself once or twice before you have to go home! At the end of the game, Sophie, Makoto, and Joker all have powerful healing spells, and the player has much more money and items. But the palette goes much further since you can add ammo for guns (not often used, but often life), resist abnormal states, or multiply promotions in the store. Maximizing the Band takes tens of hours if not two parts.
The most wonderful thing about this is that Persona 5 Strikers isn’t just a Warriors game to which you would have stupidly applied a Persona 5 skin. It’s a real Persona game that takes up the principle proposed by Koei Tecmo and improves it a lot. It’s a pure and sincere sequel with what it implies in terms of humor and narration, although some may find the overall tone much more (or even too?) light.
Each Jail has a “king” that can be compared to the masters of the palaces of Persona 5, with the famous confession scenes. On the other hand, there is no real supervillain in Persona 5 Strikers: all the antagonists are “excusable” and the overall script takes less. The conclusion, on the other hand, is strangely exactly the same as in Persona 5, that is, criticism in the background of a society that has renounced its will to power and indulges in the show.
Persona 5 Strikers still offers a lot of admirable passages and we like to sympathize with the new characters, all very successful in their story as well as in their personalities. In spite of a less skillfully constructed plot, the Persona 5 spirit is there: a strong team, where each individuality is well highlighted throughout the story. The awakening of the Personas is once again an unforgettable moment, even if there are inevitably far fewer of them.
We also find fascinating writing in the clash of ideals that the heroes have with certain antagonists, especially towards the end: perhaps even more than in the previous one, Atlus pushes back the frontier between good and evil to question the player on the ethical dimension of very real debates. We wonder once again at the design of the dungeons, very pushed in an always ingenious allegory of the moral imposture of the boss. The dungeons themselves are as crazy as ever and, as said above, very strong. Expect more scenes of madness.
THE THIEVES’ VAN
Persona 5 Strikers always includes this simply magical humor: vacations are mandatory, no classes, but on the other hand, Joker and his gang are going to borrow a camper for a delicious road trip all over Japan (because the Jails are not only in Tokyo). From Sendai to Osaka, the Ghost Thieves visit some trendy corners of the islands, such as the Sapporo Tower Park. Then certainly, it is not super big but when we already had the chance to visit these cities, it is rather amazing to come back there in the company of Joker.
The prism of the trip is very original and brings a lot of good ideas to the point that it forces admiration. For example, when you are in Osaka, Sophie (who runs an online store) says ookini instead of arigatô as the Kansai local language says. We can’t count the number of hilarious passages in Persona 5 Strikers, which has absolutely nothing to envy its predecessor in this matter!
As for the principle, there are a few drawbacks, such as the awkward empty space in the middle of the game. The dungeons are much smaller, the bosses much less elaborate… it is particularly disappointing in Kyoto because the old capital has only its dungeon… and no “city” part. But damn, if there is a city where we would have liked to walk, it is this one! The amazed fan sees his dreams of Kiyomizudera, Kinkakuji, Fushimi Inari collapsing in a video game. Don’t expect the same lifespan as Persona 5 Royal either: Persona 5 Strikers takes 30-40 hours to complete and the additional content is very limited.
A point on the technical side is also required, because Persona 5 Strikers is really very late in terms of graphics. In spite of its exceptional artistic qualities, it still looks like a PS3 game, the character design being sometimes simply mediocre when you look closely (but the game is also coming out on Nintendo Switch, so you can understand this potential generational gap).
If some of the details have clearly been refined, we’re still a long way off and Persona 5 Strikers might make PlayStation 4 owners wince, especially if they’ve played Final Fantasy VII Remake. All this to say that Atlus is now a developer with worldwide success and that choosing the lowest technology is no longer his level. If he wants to remain among the greats, Atlus must exploit to the maximum, if not the power of the PlayStation 5, at least that of the PS4. The countless fans of Persona 5 and their constant support deserve excellence at every level.
What can we say except that fans of the planetary hit of Atlus will be delighted to find in Persona 5 Strikers the real sequel they were waiting for, and maybe even not expecting it at all? Although in a different genre, the title entrusted to Koei Tecmo extends the pleasure of Persona 5 Royal in a remarkable way, making good use of the mechanics of “Warriors” games. It perfectly preserves the spirit of the original, in the atmosphere as well as in the gameplay. So many qualities largely compensate for a realization far below the current standards, hoping that Atlus will progress on this plan in the years to come.