Persona 5 Strikers Review: Exceeding Expectations

Last February Atlus and Tecmo Koei released the latest spinoff of the Persona franchise: Persona 5 Strikers, combining the Musou gameplay of the Dynasty Warriors franchise and the world of Persona 5. As someone who is a huge fan of both these franchises, I was very pessimistic about this game. A long stream of Warriors spinoffs without anything from either mainline Warriors series made me very bitter towards Koei’s business practices. However after the fantastic release of Samurai Warriors 5 a few months ago I decided to suck up my pride and give Strikers a shot.

This turned out to be an incredibly good decision on my part, Persona 5 Strikers not only blew my admittedly low expectations out of the water right out of the gate, but as the game went on I kept raising those expectations higher and it kept meeting them. 

Judging this game on my usual Musou rating scale on three factors; base gameplay (the movesets, level design), the roster (Is it a good representation of the cast), and mid-stage storytelling ability is all but impossible for this game, as this is the most nontraditional Koei developed Musou we have gotten in years. This game doesn’t contain traditional Musou stages. You are not thrown into a field of war and given objectives that require you to run around the stage as the story plays out. Instead battles are encountered just like they were in the original Persona 5 RPG and last a short amount of time, often containing only a few enemies.

This one change turns the entire game on its head. Because of how few enemies there are, the difficulty has been raised. A complaint that has been rising among the older generation of Dynasty Warriors fans is how as time has moved on the franchise’s difficulty has become incredibly easy and how they wish the franchise would revert to its PS2 and early PS3 era difficulty. Persona 5 Strikers does just that, at many points throughout the game on normal difficulty I either died or came close to dying, boss fights were especially a test of endurance as I needed to either use most of my healing items or dodge to the best of my ability.

Exploiting enemy’s elemental weaknesses is as pivotal to winning battles here as in a normal Persona game, which brings me to the Party. Rosters are an important part of Musou games, they often get judged on their size, but a much more important factor to judge them on, especially for spinoffs, is if that roster is a good representation of the series. In terms of cast Persona 5 Strikers had its work made easy, as Persona 5 already set up a roster for it. Every single member of the Phantom Thieves (sans Akechi) and two newcomers are playable, each character has a unique moveset as expected from a Musou cast. However, a surprising difference between all of them is how they all have their own unique gimmick, such as Ryuji needing you to hold the triangle button to charge his specials or newcomer Zenkichi inflicting himself with an HP drain in exchange for increased attack and attack range. These gimmicks make playing as each character a different experience and add variety to many battles.

Palaces are structured as they were in Persona 5, where you can either sneak up on enemies to ambush them or they catch you and have a few free seconds to attack you as you’re stunned. Since the game doesn’t have the calendar system of the mainline Persona games retreating from the dungeon early doesn’t have any negative consequences, so feel free to recharge your SP that way. Me and a few friends were confused about this at first since the mainline Persona games had conditioned us to stay in dungeons as long as possible even when our SP has run out. However that is not the way Strikers is designed to be played. SP is very scarce, even more so than the main games, and that lack of SP leads to you having very low health quickly. The game’s design doesn’t want you to charge head on into battles, you’re expected to take a tactical retreat at every other save point to regain your health and SP and then keep continuing the palace in short bursts. 

Their structure of short action battles every few feet as you explore small worlds that feel like miniature theme parks with frequent save points doesn’t feel much like a traditional Musou game to me, instead I was reminded of another action RPG series dear to my heart, Kingdom Hearts

However even with this changed structure and increased difficulty there are still longer battles with a large amount of enemies that excellently portray the modern Dynasty Warriors feel of being a conductor orchestrating a scene of war rather than a soldier on a battlefield, just with the added feeling of pressure that if you were to make a mistake in said conduction you can be ambushed and fail. This article from Wired helps illustrate what feels so good about modern Musou games, where you feel less like a single solider on a battlefield and more like a conductor orchestrating a scene of war. In my opinion this is the best way to describe how these games feel.

This structure makes Persona 5 Strikers one of the most unique Musou games on the market, to the point where many would try to argue it doesn’t even qualify as a Musou. Personally I would still classify this as a Musou as it still has many elements I associate with the subgenre such as how movesets work and the special attack meter work as well as the occasional segment with many enemies. However I also understand the viewpoint and arguments of those who don’t consider it a Musou.

Now that I’m done talking about what I find the most interesting about the game, let’s talk about the other half of what makes the Persona games tick: the daily life segments and characters. Daily life is next to nonexistent in Strikers, elements like Social Links and social stats are not in the game at all. This can come off as a disappointment to many who wanted these elements and the closest thing to a replacement they get is a few side quests.

However while the lack of social links is disappointing do not think for a moment this game is lacking in character interactions and character depth. The plot of a road trip around the country allows the Phantom Thieves to have many scenes in every city to relax and have great moments as friends. They honestly come across more as a friend group here than in normal Persona 5. 

Persona spinoffs have a reputation of flanderizing their casts to a few character traits, just ask any Persona 3 fan how future games treated Akihiko. Persona 5 Strikers thankfully avoids this issue, none of the characters have been flanderized and the game even takes advantage of some more forgotten character traits that Persona 5 itself didn’t take advantage of like Ann being a model.

The plot itself is good, however it could have benefitted from the staff behind Persona 5 Royal and Persona 5 Strikers being in communication with each other as they end up going down similar roads once they reach their conclusion.

Overall Persona 5 Strikers was a very pleasant experience. I had low expectations going into the game as neither Persona spinoffs nor modern listened Musous had a good reputation to me at the time. Persona 5 Strikers thankfully surprised me and was an enjoyable and very unique Musou experience. If Koei were to ever get to work with the Persona license again I would love to see a sequel to this game or one starring the cast of a different Persona game.

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