Persona 5 Strikers is the latest offshoot of Atlus' striking JRPG and while it ignores the events of Persona 5 Royal, it is yet another possibility to catch up with the old gang. The game's story begins six months after the main game ended, when the group meets to enjoy summer vacation together. While deciding what to do first, we stumble head-first into yet another case of sudden personality changes that are being reported all over Japan. Since they appear to have many parallels with last year's sudden mental shutdown cases, it stands to reason that the Phantom Thieves could be responsible for it. The friends decide to investigate what really happened but to clean up their good name, we even need the police's support.
While we find out more about our next goal both in the cognitive world as well as in reality, the game pinpoints all of the important points of contact. From a narrative point of view, the title follows the known path of the main game very closely. The first of six cases focuses on a young woman with disturbed desires who we have to hold accountable for. Because Strikers isn't yet taking any risks and offers fans more of the same, I am getting the feeling that this will likely be a very straight forward continuation of Persona 5's story.
Koei Tecmo's expertise lies within their trademark gameplay, because the Musou developers have proven several times in the past that they can bring power fantasies to life in action games splendidly. In Persona, however, we play thieves - not warriors - and that leaves many marks on their established formula. For example, the game tells us that we'd rather attack Shadows from behind and use dirty practices to get the upper hand.
In the larger battles, the Phantom Thieves are very powerful, too, but that doesn't necessarily come down to their respective Persona powers (i.e. because of the manifestation of their unwavering, rebellious will). Instead, the focus lies on the member's individual, physical abilities, which although clashing a bit with the central theme of Persona 5, fits the action-focused gameplay much better. In any case, my impression from the last hands-off preview was pretty much confirmed, as the fights are much more tactical than fans of the Musou genre might expect.
The challenge of Persona 5 Strikers isn't primarily about maintaining your own combat rhythm or completing weapon combos with impressively visualised Persona skills, it's more important to cast the right elemental magic to break tough enemies' posture. This particular RPG element supports the action-heavy gameplay base, very similar to how the Sheikah runes helped out Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity in this regard. However, the use of skills is linked to mana costs and that changes a lot because we suddenly have to budget and stock up on consumables.
Persona 5 Strikers is also a rather confusingly laid out game and that is why we have to be very careful of our surroundings. To not get hit from outside of our field of vision is the top priority in battles, but unfortunately, even charged and AOE attacks can be easily overlooked in the heat of the moment. There is a dedicated button to dodge most of what is being thrown at you, but it requires very precise timing since you cannot interrupt your own attacks, sadly. Aiming ranged attacks and spells unfortunately doesn't feel particularly precise either, despite camera focussing and slow-motion features.
Although Koei Tecmo had access to the official assets from the Atlus' Persona team, I am not very convinced with the game's looks. Persona 5 Strikers is way too cluttered and I'm not even talking about the main menu, which has fallen into a paint pot apparently. The cut-scenes could easily be mistaken with being original, but on the consoles the title simply looks outdated. It runs very smoothly on the new PS5 (even with a high number of opponents, by the way), but it is not particularly high-res, comes with many stiff animations, frequent loading times, and the impact of our attacks leaves a lot to be desired.
So far, Persona 5 Strikers reminds me more of a very detailed PS3 game than a game that debuted in 2020 (the game first launched last year in Japan). The soundtrack, however, comes off way more positive, because the title really turns up the heat acoustically. Solid Rock and Metal influences work very well in the fights, as did the more Jazzy and Lounge parts in the exploration/adventure areas.
According to Atlus, the goal of Persona 5 Strikers' production was for it to become a game that all action fans could enjoy, no matter their knowledge of the Persona series. Between making the game accessible for new players and giving veterans what they love, I don't think they've found the right balance yet. As a big fan of the series, I would have loved to hear more about what has happened to my friends over the past few months. However, these conversations take place without me, during blacked out screens. In the meantime, newcomers have to get involved in this existing group and at the same time they have to follow all of the game's complicated topics and explanations, which is no easy task. The fact that the new tutorial notifications disrupt the game every five minute in the first few hours doesn't help the flow of the game either.
If you already know about the Phantom Thieves' coups, you will most likely be able to enjoy this summer vacation trip despite one being able to tell that this product wasn't developed in-house. I am enjoying the story so far, but at the moment I just don't see a lot of arguments that could appeal to anyone whose heart wasn't already stolen by the Phantom Thieves. If you are new to the series, you should understand the main game as your entry point, even if you prefer action games. However, we'll have to wait until February 23 to experience the complete game on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PC.
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