Inverse Game Reviews

Persona 5 Strikers is a spinoff that never lives up to the original

Inverse Score: 6/10

Persona 5 Strikers is the supposed sequel to 2017’s widely acclaimed Persona 5.

That role-playing game follows a group of Tokyo-based high schoolers who moonlight as agents of change called "The Phantom Thieves." When the player isn't fighting the proverbial “man,” they're navigating the challenges of a typical high schooler — making friends, studying for exams, and becoming a well-rounded human being. The blend of high-concept modern fantasy with intricate social-sim elements makes P5 an unforgettable ride.

Unfortunately, Strikers strips away much of what distinguishes P5 from other games, other than the endearing main cast. All that social-sim stuff has been pruned away because the Phantom Thieves are on a road trip for summer vacation. P5’s deeply strategic combat system has been replaced with rapid-fire Dynasty Warriors-style battles. Gratifying RPG elements from P5 — like relationship building and character progression — have been removed.

While marketed as a sequel, Strikers feels more like a reunion special rather than the next logical step in the Phantom Thieves’ story. You need to have played P5 to understand the game, but there’s not quite enough meat on the bone here to satisfy diehards. The new combat system is fantastic and fresh, but everything else just feels scattered.

A retread of old ground

The story mostly sees the Phantom Thieves rehashing a lesser version of their last adventure. The Metaverse app that allowed them to enter Palaces has been replaced by EMMA, a new Alexa-esque virtual assistant that lets them enter Jails. Both Palaces and Jails are essentially dungeons you must clear to progress the game. For some reason, Strikers spends far too long explaining this concept, which doesn’t make sense when the target audience is already familiar with P5.

Jails don’t carry the narrative weight that Palaces did in the original game, either. Palaces were domains ruled by repugnant humans like serial abusers, corrupt politicians, and evil businessmen. P5’s opening act centers around an attempted suicide, really bringing home the life-or-death stakes of these dungeons. By completing a Palace, the evildoer would change their ways, making it feel like your efforts were crucial to improving the world as a whole.

Joker and his Persona, Arsené in the new format.Atlus

The stakes in Strikers feel far less important. For example, the opening Jail is ruled by a pop idol who makes obsessive fans purchase all her merch. These lightweight consequences make the game feel like it progresses at a glacial pace, performing almost a halfhearted imitation of what a Persona game should be.

The pacing picks up significantly around the halfway point when Jails become more distinct from one another. On the bright side, Strikers is a rather short game, taking around 35 to 50 hours to complete compared to P5’s 100+ hour runtime. The first ‘good’ Jail came around hour 25, which is too long to wait.

The Phantom Thieves remain exactly how you remember them

When you begin Strikers, the Phantom Thieves’ are exactly how you remember them – like they’re in stasis. That’s because they are! Strikers replaces the dynamic character growth you remember from P5 with basically cardboard cutouts of the characters.

It’s in the story’s character-focused moments that Strikers’ grating clip-show vibes begin to grate. We’re excessively reminded of everyone’s most memorable quirks. Futaba gingerly knocked on the fourth wall throughout P5 but tears the whole thing down in Strikers. A recurring line of hers references the song “Last Surprise” from the P5 soundtrack, and the lab-engineered fan service is an irritating distraction. Other Phantom Thieves fall into similarly grating patterns, designed to remind the audience why they originally adored the character without the nuance.

Alice, an early villain in Persona 5 StrikersAtlus

Another drawback is that Strikers seldom feature spaces to bond with characters removed from the noise of the main story. You’ll occasionally get invited to share a meal with a character, but these moments are spent, again, showing off their most obvious quirks. Something that P5 did so well was focus on the little things — like how Makoto clenched her fists from excitement during action movies. That’s lost here.

Strikers also nixes the entire supporting cast. There’s no reappearance from characters like Takemi, Iwai, or Akechi. This is a Phantom Thieves-only adventure. Nearly every major conversation has full voice acting, since there are so few side activities on offer, but I would’ve preferred to see at least a few old faces.

Dynasty Warriors is the name of the game

On a brighter note, the new Dynasty Warriors-style combat is incredible. Everyone moves fluidly and with purpose. Each Phantom Thief plays distinctly enough to show personality, with natural expansions to their techniques. (For instance, Mona can transform into his car form to whack a few enemies.) I’d love to see a mainline Persona game with this combat system. Pulling off elemental interactions and dodging attacks deliver thrills that truly feel earned. It compares favorably to Omega Force’s other licensed games like Hyrule Warriors, Pirate Warriors, and Fire Emblem Warriors.

Mona using his truck form to deal damage. Atlus

Numerous small changes to the P5 formula make the combat feel satisfying. You can switch characters whenever you like, and the game pauses if you need to use items. Strategic elements of P5’s turn-based combat translate surprisingly well to the 3D arena environments of Strikers. Each character also gets a massive, flashy attack called “Showtime.” These feel great to perform, and very character-specific, but they’re not powerful enough to steamroll through the game.

When you’re not in combat, the lack of RPG elements is really apparent. All social sim components have been replaced by the BOND system, which is basically an XP bar for friendship. Leveling it up feels arbitrary compared to developing personal relationships in previous Persona games. Arbitrary is the name of the game in Strikers. Although a calendar is present, all time management pressure has been removed. You can enter and exit a Jail as many times as you want in a given day. This is a constant, unflattering reminder that P5 was actually a much better game.

Persona 5 Strikers plays it way too safe on all fronts, sticking with known quantities rather than taking bold leaps. It spends too much time revisiting classic moments from Persona 5, rather than telling its own unique story. Strikers' new features often work really well, but the game doesn’t embrace them fully enough. While Strikers has the makings of an incredible game, it struggles to stop leaning on Persona 5. 6/10.

Persona 5 Strikers will be released on PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC on February 23, 2021.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)
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