‘Persona 5 Strikers’ sees the Phantom Thieves’ return

Images Courtesy of Atulus, Omega Force and P Studio.

Released worldwide on Feb. 23 for PC, PS4 and Switch after a Japan-only launch last year, “Persona 5 Strikers” reunites the Phantom Thieves of Heart for one more adventure.

Much like “Persona 5,” “Persona 5 Strikers” focuses on the Phantom Thieves of Heart using their supernatural powers to change the hearts and desires of evil people. However, this time their journey spans across the entirety of Japan.

“Strikers” is a canonical sequel to 2016’s “Persona 5,” taking place a few months after the initial game ends as the Phantom Thieves celebrate their summer vacation.

Yet, the celebration is put on hold as they discover the Metaverse, a reality formed by a person’s cognition, has reappeared after being destroyed during the events of “P5.”

Inside this newly formed Metaverse are Jails, large, city-scale environments inhabited by Shadows and a Monarch.

Shadows are not new to the “Persona” series and act as the basic enemy type, but Monarchs take the place of Palace Rulers. Monarchs, distorted versions of real people the gang encounters, are ultimately the same as Palace Rulers as their cognition is the one that forms the Jail, and they oversee the Shadows that inhabit the area.

Using a mysterious Siri-esque app called EMMA, the Phantom Thieves infiltrate the Jails to determine the cause of this new anomaly and change the desires of the Monarch’s real-life counterparts.

The gameplay of “Persona 5 Strikers” blends the hack and slash, crowd destroying gameplay of the “Dynasty Warriors” series with more traditional RPG elements from the “Persona” series.

Rather than being turn-based, battles take place in real time, allowing players to control characters and battle through hordes of enemies by unleashing combo moves and special attacks.

The RPG elements come into play with the traditional level-up and gear system where players increase the power of characters and the gear they use.

The weakness system that is a staple of the series is also translated over, using Persona skills to attack Shadows. When a weakness is hit by a Persona attack, the Shadow’s guard breaks, allowing the group to perform a more powerful All-Out Attack that damages the enemy as well as all surrounding enemies.

Depending on the strength of an enemy, a Shadow may have multiple guards to break before an All-Out Attack can be triggered, meaning there is still a need for normal combat rather than simply blasting Persona skills.

A team of up to four Phantom Thieves is controllable, with players able to switch between the four members at any time by performing a Baton Pass. Using the Baton Pass increases the rate at which special attacks charge and allow for the switching of a character while still dealing damage to Shadows.

Zenkichi Hasegawa, codenamed Wolf, is one of the new members of the Phantom Thieves that join the team in “P5 Striker.” Wolf and his Persona Valjean are the oldest members of the Phantom Thieves, being in his early 40s in comparison to the rest of the teenage members.

Alongside the old members of the crew, there are two new Phantom Thieves who join the fray; Sophia (Sophie), an AI the gang finds within a Jail, and Zenkichi Hasegawa (Wolf), a Public Security officer investigating the Phantom Thieves.

The hack and slash nature of the “Warriors” series works well with the powerful attacks of Personas and the Thieves, pacing battles nicely with a blend of RPG strategy. Aside from leveling up, after a character defeats a certain number of enemies, they can learn a new move or upgrade a new move, with each playable character having four new moves to learn.

Despite the small roster of new moves that characters can learn, with eight different characters to play, this allows players to unlock these new moves without spending too much time grinding for experience with any given character.

Persona fusion also returns, where players can combine two Personas to create a more powerful one, however the system is much more simplified in comparison to “Persona 5,” as the combat system does not feature as much in-depth concern on stats.

The story is certainly engaging as most stories from the “Persona” series are. However, the main drawback is the pacing of the story.

It is a bit difficult to explain, but cutscenes and dialogue seem to drag on much longer than they should, made even more odd by the shortness of the game in comparison to the main RPG.

Coming in at about a 40-50 hour completion time in comparison to the 100+ hour completion time of “Persona 5,” the story seems weirdly dragged out and this seems to be in-part due to the gameplay itself.

With a traditional turn-based RPG like “Persona 5” or “Persona 5 Royal,” players are ready to sit back, relax and spend a large amount of their time reading dialogue and planning out battles.

However, in comparison to the fast-paced combo-based battles of “Strikers,” the slower dialogue based scenes seem to pause the momentum and drag the moment on longer than they should be despite being no different than traditional “Persona” scenes.

Ultimately, this is only a minor issue once players become accustomed to these pacing differences that hinder an otherwise engaging game.

With sleek, stylish gameplay and the return of the Phantom Thieves of Heart, “Persona 5 Strikers” is a satisfying sequel that gives players more time with a franchise they enjoy under a fresh coat of game-mechanic paint.