Hands-on: Persona 5 Strikers continues the story of the Phantom Thieves

Atlus was kind enough to give us a preview of the upcoming Persona 5 Strikers recently. We were able to play up through the end of the first chapter, which involves the Phantom Thieves reuniting to take down a twisted idol in Shibuya. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. Persona 5 Strikers is billed as a cross between the Persona series and the Musou style gameplay of Dynasty Warriors but it’s much more than that. 

You know the Dynasty Warriors drill. Choose a hero, wander around maps filled with tons of enemies, capture keeps, order your party members around to strategic points, level up outside of battle, mash until you win, right? Wrong! While that might be what most Warriors-style games are like, it’s nothing like what Persona 5 Strikers is like. In fact, I was picking this up shortly after playing Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and I have to say, they are nothing alike, and that’s a good thing if you are a fan of Atlus’ brand of strategic RPGs.

You aren’t sent on individual missions, or sidequests, or any of that in Strikers. Instead, you have to wander through “Jails”, the new version of palaces that are as big and complex as you might think. You’ll explore them much in the same way you did palaces from the original Persona 5, sneaking around and ambushing enemies. It’s just that getting into combat locks you into a small area and forces you into real-time action combat, rather than a turn-based battle system.

In fact, the jail that we wandered through was probably one of the most enjoyable parts of our short two-hour demo. There were a ton of puzzles to solve, secret paths to take, heck there were even some 2D platforming segments. We encountered all the personas you know and love, from simple Pixies to imposing Archangels, and it was a treat to see them all fight in real-time. In a way, this lets you see what combat might have actually looked like in the original Persona 5 beyond the turn-based abstraction.

Combat is also way more complex than you might think for a Warriors-style game. You can pause time at any time in order to use persona skills. Hit weaknesses and you’ll be able to do “one more” attacks, baton passes, all-out attacks, and more. If you are playing as Joker, you can switch between personas, and each member of the Phantom Thieves has their own gimmick. Skull has really slow and powerful attacks but has armor on most of them. Fox can do quick strikes that hit in a large area. Morgana can turn into a cat bus in the middle of combat. Everyone plays exactly as you might imagine they would play in an action game.

Oddly enough, Strikes makes Persona 5 show its age. It is a beautiful game, with smooth graphics, a solid 60FPS framerate on the PS4 version, and models that are way, way more detailed than Persona 5’s original models. It makes it very clear that Persona 5 was originally designed for the PS3, and even though it’s one of the best-looking RPGs of the last generation, we can do so much better.

That applies to environments too. You can wander around a lot of the areas you remember from Persona 5 brought to life in greater detail. From Sojiro’s Café Leblanc to the halls of Shujin, everything is here, everything is nostalgic, and everything has been given a major HD facelift.

There are probably a lot of people out there worried that Musou style gameplay just isn’t for them, and for good reason. You’d think Dynasty Warriors button mashy gameplay and the ultra-hard turn-based strategic gameplay of Persona lie at two completely different ends of a spectrum. But this is not just a Warriors game with a Persona coat of paint.

Let’s put it this way. If Hyrule Warriors was a Warriors game with Zelda characters, Persona 5 Strikers is a Persona game with Warriors mechanics. By that I mean that this doesn’t feel like playing a Warriors game, it feels like playing a Persona game with real-time combat. Everything is a little simplified, of course, but there are still all the elements of Persona here, from social links to persona fusion. It’s absolutely scratching that itch for Persona content.

Still don’t believe me? The first boss is a gigantic sexy zombie bunny in dominatrix gear with a tongue coming out of her butt. What’s more Persona than that?

Persona 5 Strikers will release for PC, PS4, and Switch on February 23, 2021. Be sure to come back here for our official review when the game goes live.