The Phantom Thieves are finally set to arrive on PC, but not in the way any of us expected back in 2016 when Persona 5 launched on PlayStation 4. Persona 5 Strikers is a spinoff that delivers a sense of familiarity for fans of the series, and a small glimpse of what Persona has to offer for newcomers with only a few stumbles along the way.
The Persona series is known for its stylish menus, enchanting soundtracks, stories about high school students fighting back against corrupt adults, and at least an 80-hour commitment to see them through. Persona 5 Strikers checks all but the last of these boxes. Instead of a colossal JRPG with turn-based combat, it’s a hack-and-slash Musou game in the vein of Dynasty Warriors that can be beaten in under 40 hours.
The change to hack-and slash is a surprisingly good fit for the teenage mayhem of the series and its charismatic heroes. The main series’ turn-based combat is replaced by an action-packed real-time battle system, though it still makes use of melee and ranged attacks, elemental damage, and status effects. Mixing light and heavy attacks delivers the kind of punishing combos you’d expect from a hack-and-slash – just don’t expect it to match Devil May Cry’s complexity.
Using your Personas (essentially spirit creatures) is still the keystone of combat, although it manifests in a peculiar way. You can pause the combat at any moment to summon in your Persona, pick an ability and target, and then unleash a powerful attack. There’s no punishment for taking a breather to decide how you want to use your most devastating attacks, and while at first this seems at odds with the anime game’s faster combat, it becomes essential later on when the challenge ramps up.
It’s a bold choice. Dodging attacks and dishing out combos is really satisfying, and there are some fights where you can just smash buttons until the area is clear, but others hark back to Persona’s roots, tasking you with choosing specific spells to exploit weaknesses, healing your party, and using the right buffs and debuffs to see you through the fight.
Traversal also helps quicken the pace of Persona 5 Strikers’ combat adding a fresh dynamic to combat as you swiftly dart between corners, double-jump to reach rooftops and street lights, and dash away from environmental hazards. It’s a great tool for exploring each level, but it comes into its own in combat, when you can use damaged vehicles to set up traps for packs of enemies, leaping to safety just before a car explodes.
The biggest problem with the new combat system is that the camera can’t keep up with all of the chaos – it rarely follows the direction of your attacks, leading to plenty of carnage taking place off screen. There’s a lock-on function that works well enough, particularly during boss fights, but will still fly all over the place when you’re up against dozens of enemies in a narrow alleyway.
There’s no penalty for taking a breather to decide how you want to use your most devastating attacks
Persona’s renowned emphasis on story and social mechanics has been streamlined a little to fit the new structure. The events take place only a couple months after Persona 5 (following the original’s ending, rather than that of Persona 5 Royal) when a summer vacation for the Phantom Thieves suddenly turns into another reality-bending mystery to be solved. It’s more linear than Persona fans will be used to, and hops between smaller locations in Japan instead of letting you explore a full metropolis with subway lines, suburbs, and secondary locations.
Fortunately, there’s still plenty of downtime in the real world where you can stock up on supplies and talk to characters in your party before heading into the Metaverse, where you battle demons in a disrupted version of those same holiday destinations, but with far more nooks and crannies to explore.
The absence of the calendar system from the main series, which had you meticulously planning each day of the year, leads to a simpler experience – you’re free to return from dungeons using checkpoints without penalty, recovering HP and SP (Spirit Points) for the entire party in the process. And while there are activities like cooking and optional side quests, which range from returning to past dungeons to hunt certain enemies or helping someone get tickets for a rare ramen, the main focus is on the hack-and-slash combat.
Despite the many changes, Persona 5 Strikers maintains the charm of the original. Hanging out with this cast of characters again is a thrill, and conversations boast the same familiar blend of thoughtful introspection and goofy dialogue the series is known for. At times Persona 5 Strikers feels like a sequel rather than a spinoff. Sure, series veterans may miss some of its core elements, such as leveling up individual bonds with people instead of having a shared bond level with the whole party, but Persona 5 Strikers is still a summer trip worth taking.