First there was Hyrule Warriors, then Fire Emblem, and now the Musou button has been pressed once more and another beloved series gets the Omega Force treatment. But that would be selling it a little short, there’s more to this game than your traditional Dynasty/Samurai Warriors “pressing X till everyone falls down” style of gameplay. This is a Persona game more than anything else it seems. And I’m down for it.
I’m not saying that there isn’t an element of that classic musou style here, but it’s been wrapped around with a ton of mechanics that you’d find in Persona 5. Being a shorter game than an 80+ hour JRPG (final playtime clocked in around 25 hours) a lot of that is frontloaded in the first couple of hours, which compared to the slow build up of gameplay found in vanilla P5, can be overwhelming.
So during those big battles with multiple enemies, you have Persona’s which you activate by pressing a button (freezing the battle while you select the attack). Persona’s themselves obtained by winning certain fights which can then be fused into more powerful Persona’s using the Velvet Room. Then there’s the stealth aspect that has also been incorporated. Attacking enemies from behind while knocking them down allowing you to complete an All Out Attack, which potentially has the power to kill everything with one hit. Enemies also coming with their own elemental weaknesses, which are displayed on screen when you select the correct attack. It’s all very streamlined. It’s like Omega Force looked at the gameplay mechanics of P5 and thought about how they could include them into a more fast paced actioner. And it works. Even the Velvet Room, which could potentially take ages in P5 is a lot simpler to use with it just giving you a simple menu of Persona’s you could potentially create, including ones where you would need to pull a Persona from the compendium for a fee.
So while the gameplay is impressive, personally I’m here for the story. I came to Strikers just so I could spend more time with those characters I got to know in Persona 5 (though nobody from Royal is featured or even mentioned sadly). The game begins with a reunion of the Phantom Thieves over Summer break as the protagonist returns to the city. What starts off as a welcome back party soon turns into a new adventure as the Metaverse returns and our cast has to go on a roadtrip across Japan solving the mystery.
A big thing from the JRPG series were the Social Links, being able to hang with your buddies in order to build up ranks and unlock new abilities. This is the thing that has changed the most in the transition. There are moments where you can hang with your friends outside the crucial story content, but this is done mostly through the Requests tab. Here you obtain requests from people, ranging from doing stuff in the Metaverse (killing enemies, finding items etc) to quests outside in the real world. While completing these can unlock new items, they can also give you Bond XP. Bonds are brand new here, and as you rank up by doing story or side content, you unlock points that can be spent on simple things like increasing health or strength, or they can be used in more unique instances, like making Treasure Demons show up more frequently or allowing you to unlock higher level treasure chests.
While one on one moments with your cast are more infrequent here, the group story content is still as plentiful as you’d want. The humour is still in tact thanks to the clever writing, and the new main characters add something different to the world. There’s awkward detective Zenkichi who needs the Phantom Thieves’ help to solve the case. And Sophia, the AI companion who can fight alongside you in the Metaverse, but is trapped on your mobile phone when in reality. New boss characters are also fully fleshed out and give you a reason as to what has happened in their life to make them become corrupted by the new “big bad” of the game. But that’s enough about the story, it’s really best experienced going in cold like I did. A little warning though, if for some reason you’re interested in this despite never playing P5, then don’t. Strikers takes place after the events of the original and there is no “Previously On…” for you to catch up. The game does expect you to already know these characters and their relationships. But honestly you should really play P5 , or even better, P5: Royal, because they’re great.
Everything about Strikers is stylish, from the menu’s to the remixes of musical tracks. It’s a damn fine looking game, though it comes with one glaring mistake. For some reason the developers changed the “Check/Inspect” button from X to O and I cannot tell you much it threw me right at the start. It’s something that’s bound to upset Persona purists. More of a non-jokey complaint I have is the difficulty can be a little uneven. Small, incidental battles are usually not that difficult, but it became all too common for the bosses to require a lot more thought and grinding. It doesn’t help that they can be lengthy and one mistake and it can be right back to the beginning again. In the end I whacked the difficulty on Easy and honestly, I think that’s the best way to experience Strikers. At least if, like me, you’re here mostly for the story.
If Persona 5 is your jam then you’ll already be playing this because who cares what I think? But after a tentative start (seriously why did they change the Interact button?!?) I grew to really enjoy my time with Strikers. Here’s hoping there are many more adventures with this crew to come.