Persona 5 Strikers Preview: A lovingly crafted sequel to the JRPG classic

Persona 5 Strikers

Persona 5 Strikers is a direct continuation of Atlus’ beloved JRPG in the mould of an action experience from the creators of  the hack and slash Dynasty Warriors series. While it might look simplistic on the surface, something far deeper awaits in this beautifully stylish adventure. 

Koei Tecmo is no stranger to taking on properties and giving them the Musou treatment, having adapted The Legend of Zelda and Fire Emblem in recent years with stunning results. However, it often leaves behind what made these games special in favour of a samey combat system that puts endless crowds of enemies far above meaningful strategy and narrative.

Fans generally jump into these titles for the fan service, not expecting them to achieve the same depth as their source material. Persona 5 Strikers is an exception to this rule, adapting many of the ideas, characters and themes that made the original game so special with stunning results. It feels more like an RPG with a real-time combat system than a Dynasty Warriors clone donning a new coat of paint, and because of that it shines.

 

I’m only allowed to talk about the very first dungeon in Persona 5 Strikers as part of this preview, but that gives me more than enough to work with. The opening hours are filled with excellent story sequences, challenging battles and a stylish reverence that fits the world of Persona 5 beautifully. Taking place after the events of the original game, The Phantom Thieves have left their lives of stealing hearts behind in favour of something much scarier – furthering their education. 

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Persona 5 Strikers

Persona 5 Preview – An action-packed twist on the beloved RPG formula

While organising a summer vacation getaway to the country, our lovable group of rogues are caught up in yet another conspiracy rocking the city of Tokyo. A strange model is stealing the desires of her fans, causing them to act irrationally and turn against their loved ones. If you’re unfamiliar with Persona 5, the metaverse is another reality where dangerous creatures known as Shadows reside, and is also where all of the game’s dungeons are situated. 

Upon learning about this unacceptable tirade, The Phantom Thieves spring into action and seek to rescue those in peril. The majority of your favourite characters make a return. Joker, Ann, Ryuji and Morgana are all accounted for alongside their other classmates. Sadly, this is a continuation of vanilla Persona 5, so new characters and locations introduced in Royal are nowhere to be seen. This is unfortunate, and those just coming off the 2020 release will likely be a little taken aback.

But the narrative is still supremely engaging, thrusting The Phantom Thieves into another journey that once again depicts them as young outcasts fighting against an unfair system. Unlike the JRPG that preceded it, Strikers doesn’t dedicate a substantial amount of time to each character, because such bonds have already been established. These are a closely knit group of friends who love one another, and their connections drip through every line of expertly written dialogue. 

Sophia is a new character I’m absolutely smitten with. The red-haired girl is a humanoid AI who resides within Joker’s phone, acting as a source of knowledge for the party as they infiltrate jails and seek to uncover their targets in the real world. She’s cute, bubbly and a fish out of water for new players who may not have touched the original game. I sincerely hope her backstory is fleshed out further in the coming hours, since there’s a lot of potential yet to be tapped.

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Persona 5 Strikers

Persona 5 Preview – Reunite with a deep and nuanced cast of characters

Instead, the focus is on the gang spending time with one another, returning to a temporary state of respite before pushing forward into their individual futures. It’s a bittersweet reunion, meaning I’ve found myself holding each moment close to my heart as it passes by. Thus far, there are less opportunities to venture out into the world for optional social events, with many now tied into the linear story, but such a change doesn’t make them any less charming. 

The social aspect of Persona 5 Strikers culminates in the Bond System, a new mechanic which allows you to purchase new skills and buffs for use in battle and when exploring dungeons. These can range from increased health and defense to unlocking chests of a higher rarity. Such additions add depth to a rather simplistic dungeon layout, encouraging exploration beyond chasing each new objective. 

Dungeons are known as Jails, and unlike Palaces before them, are situated in the real world. The first one is located in Downtown Shibuya, with the shopping district now dominated with gaudy decorations and deadly enemies which fit the aesthetic of Alice’s inner turmoil. This jail’s villain is a fashion designer and model who can establish romantic dominance over men, forcing them to do her bidding at every turn. 

As a result, the locale is tacky and overbearing in a way that reflects her inner subconscious. It’s gorgeous, with the art design shining through in spite of rough textures which can litter the environment on occasion. It’s clear this is pulling from the original Persona 5 in a number of ways, since it doesn’t meet the standards set by Royal visually. 

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Persona 5 Strikers

Persona 5 Preview – Combat maintains the strategy fans will know and love

Combat in Persona 5 Strikers is blisteringly fast. You can switch between four characters at any time, each of which has their own selection of skills, abilities and Persona to command. While combat is a button-mashing affair to an extent, it incorporates elements of strategy that force you take a step back and consider the weaknesses of each new enemy. 

Every shadow has an elemental vulnerability to exploit, and acting upon it opens the way for all-out and showdown attacks for huge amounts of damage. In normal encounters you can largely ignore these techniques, but boss battles demand a level of strategic play that means, if you don’t use them your party will be wiped in a matter of seconds. It’s excellent, and does a surprisingly effective job of translating the base game mechanics into a real-time setting. 

Battles are also initiating when you’re caught by an enemy. This where Persona 5 Strikers’ heavy focus on stealth comes into play. Given their namesake, The Phantom Thieves like to stay in the shadows, only striking when the time is right. You can take cover behind walls, or pounce into the air and balance on street poles. Ambushing foes will immediately open them up to a special attack, making most casual fights a breeze. 

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Persona 5 Strikers

Strikers also has a surprising amount of platforming across its world, forcing you to think on your feet when it comes to reaching objectives and avoiding unwanted attention. It just feels more passionate than the likes of Hyrule Warriors, making a clear effort to ensure it belongs in the same lineage as the games that inspired it. The embargo prevents me from talking about certain elements I’ve come across, but it’s stupendously impressive thus far. 

While the campaign is largely linear, you will have opportunities to explore outside of jails. I was given free reign to visit various locations such as Shinjuku, Shibuya and the streets surrounding the cosy coffee house known as LeBlanc. However, beyond purchasing items for use in battle and conversing with a small number of characters, there isn’t much reason to do this. The Velvet Room returns, acting as a way to fuse and enhance personas, but takes more of a backseat this time around. 

Persona 5 Preview – Early Impressions

Persona 5 Strikers is far deeper than I expected it to be, so much so that it feels like a true successor to the RPG classic that preceded it. Most of the characters I love are here, and seeing their relationships grow fonder in the face of adversary is a rebellious joy.

While the battle system is a departure from what you might be familiar with, Koei Tecmo has translated over crucial mechanics to ensure it simply feels an evolution instead of a pale imitation. Once again, Atlus has produced what could be one of the year’s most charming games.

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