I’ll admit when I first heard about Persona 5 Scramble *cough*, I mean Persona 5 Strikers, I wasn’t too thrilled. I’m really not one for the Dynasty Warriors (or Musou) style of games. It’s too much of stuff like “The enemy is attacking in sector 3 but you’re in sector 8 so ride halfway across the map on your horse, and defeat them” type of nonsense that doesn’t appeal to me. Thankfully, Strikers elevates the genre mightily by having a defined story and rewarding battle mechanics. If only Lu Bu was made a hidden boss this would be the perfect game but I won’t hold that against it too much.
Persona 5 Strikers: The Musou That’s Actually A lot Like Persona
Title: Persona 5 Strikers
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 [Reviewed]
Genre: Musou, Action Game
Developer: Atlus, Omega Force, P Studio
Release Date: February 23, 2021
Persona 5 Strikers is essentially an action game sequel to Persona 5. While regular Persona 5 (and Persona 5: Royal) are turn-based RPGs, Strikers takes a different tact. One of being almost a straight action game, filled with dozens (and occasionally hundreds) of enemies during any fight. It is actually quite an interesting take on the Dynasty Warriors formula. Although one or two things might hold it back for some.
In general terms, the main character, Joker, although you can give him a custom name but his codename is always the same, comes back to town for summer break. On the second day of break, he, Morgana, and Ryuji get sucked back into the Metaverse, but not by the old means. Now, there is a new virtual assistant named EMMA which is what
t draws them in. While in the Metaverse they come across Sophia, who is an AI in human form who calls herself “Humanity’s Companion.” They team up with her, get the other Phantom Thieves involved, and try to find out how the EMMA program is doing this, who is controlling it, and try to stop the villains from brainwashing people by taking away their desires.
I’m mostly on board with the story here because it does a few interesting things. One, you eventually run into an adult cop character who is actually not a scumbag. In Persona 5, almost every adult/authority figure you meet was completely corrupt. While Zenkichi might not be perfect, he’s a breath of fresh air in these games by not being evil.
Another aspect I liked, at least initially, was that the Jail (dungeon) rulers, which are called Monarchs, were a bit of an inverse to the Phantom Thieves. The first one Alice is a corrupt pop-star/model, kind of like the evil version of Ann. The next is a corrupted artistic author, which is the inverse of Yusuke. Another Monarch is a bit of an inverse for Haru, and so on. They don’t keep this up for every Phantom Thief, but it at least initially was a really interesting concept.
The controls take a bit of getting used to, or at least certain actions do. The basic controls are actually fine: X is jump, Square is your basic attack, Triangle is your heavy/special attack and Circle is your “Interact” button, for lack of a better term. There are areas in levels you can Phantom Dash to, such as the top of a light pole, on top of statues, etc., and Circle is what you press to get up there automatically. You can also use Circle to perform All-Out Attacks against stunned enemies.
R2 is used to dash/evade, L2 lets you use your Third Eye (highlight important stuff) vision, R1 opens up the Persona menu, where you then select abilities/spells (don’t worry, the game pauses when you do this), and finally L1 you use to aim your gun and you use Triangle to shoot.
Most of this actually feels fine, except for the gun part. It always seems really awkward to use. Unlike with Persona usage, aiming doesn’t pause the game, it’s also kind of slow and fiddly. Also, you can’t upgrade guns or buy new ones, unlike with the melee weapons, so really, why even have the mechanic if it’s not going to be used well?
The actual flow of the jails is extremely formulaic, aside from one in the middle of the game. You go into a Jail and are instructed to basically find three objects to actually unlock the boss fight. The dungeon layouts aren’t open-ended or anything, you find the first object, then the second, then the third. Then you have to go back to the real world, wait a day, send the Calling Card then you can actually start the Monarch fight.
Along the way, you’ll encounter other obstacles though. One Jail might require you to collect keycards to advance further along, while another you’ll need to shut off generators to power off searchlights, or in another, you may need to face off against specific mini-bosses to open the path. Every Jail kind of has a gimmick like this but they all follow the same general formula and the game (mostly) does a good job of telling you where to go or what the next task is.
When I first started playing Persona 5 Strikers I wasn’t huge into the combat. However, the deeper I got, the more I started to dig it. Every character, aside from Joker, has their elemental strengths and weaknesses, just like in Persona 5. Ryuji has strong electric attacks but is weak to wind, Makoto has nuclear attacks but is weak to psychic, etc. Only the two new characters, Sophia and Zenkichi don’t really fall under this framework, so I pretty much used them for most of my playthrough of the game.
Joker’s elemental affinities actually come from holding and switching Personas. For example, you may have a Jack O’Lantern which is weak to ice but has fire attacks. But If you come across an enemy which is weak to ice attacks and immune to fire damage, you can switch to a Jack Frost (assuming it is in your reserve), because Jack Frost deals out ice attacks well. If you manage to hit an enemy’s elemental weakness, they can get stunned, where you can then do an All-Out Attack. This pretty much kills low-level enemies instantly and greatly damages bosses and other dangerous enemies.
Because of this, I generally just used Joker for my runs in the game. Each character has their own special attacks, Morgana turns into the van, Yosuke can counter, Ann can power up her whip with fire, and so on, but because of his open-ended nature, I stuck with Joker for most of the game.
Lastly, there is a Showtime attack. The more you deal damage, the more it fills the Showtime gauge, in the left-hand corner of the screen. Once full, you can activate it to do a cinematic elemental attack. For example, Haru does a massive psychic attack while Ann does a big fire one. Joker’s Showtime attack is dependent on whatever Persona he has equipped when you use it.
The framework around the daytime activities in Persona 5 Strikers and the general nature of the game is that of a road trip. While you start off in Shibuya (just like in Persona 5), you’ll eventually head off to Sendai, Sapporo, and Kyoto, to name a few other places.
You’ll have to do some (generally) really awful investigations into the Monarchs, which usually just means talking to everyone in sight. You can also buy stuff and do some side quests, but most of this is handled elsewhere. Due to this, the actual road trip element of this game becomes rather rote after a while. Each town is basically two or three areas and that’s it. And aside from a story beat or two, like a funny bathhouse scene, there’s nothing for you and your crew to actually do.
Most of the time spent during the day will be in your RV, which is like your mobile base. You can undertake requests (side quests) here, cook food, shop via Sophia’s internet store, and so on. Sophia’s Store sells weapons/armor/accessories for you to equip. You’ll also buy healing items and ingredients for cooking, though her stock is a bit random and limited to start.
Also, cooking involves you finding recipes in the world and then finding ingredients to use. Generally, cooked items are stronger healing or restorative items than the ones you can traditionally buy.
Requests make a return from Persona 5, which are side quests for you to do in the game. They typically fall into a few categories: kill X amount of enemies, find an item, kill X enemies with a certain character, make it to a place in the jail without being seen, re-kill the jail Monarch only they are harder, and so on. You’ll get a fair reward for doing requests, be it money, items, or experience, so they are generally worth doing.
Bond. Relationship Bond
Instead of the character-specific relationship system from Persona 5 and past Persona games, Persona 5 Strikers has a Bond menu. Basically, as you and the group do stuff, from doing jails, completing requests, or even beating enemies, you gain Bond Experience points.
The Bond menu has a whole bunch of passive upgrades on the board for you to buy. For example, increasing the effectiveness of healing items, increasing your magic damage, increasing the Showtime gauge fill rate, increasing how much money or items you get from battle, and so on. Some of these upgrades are more effective than others, such as the party gaining health back after a successful ambush is good. The party gaining a paltry amount of SP back after battle (six points), not so good. Some of these upgrades are also story locked, so you can’t access everything at first.
Fusin’ Persona Over Here!
Furthermore, you can and will fuse Persona in the game, just like in the regular RPG franchise. You have to go to the Velvet Room to do it where Lavenza is there, without Igor. Initially, you can only fuse two Persona but just like in the regular game, you’ll gain more options as the story unfolds.
One thing to note is that the number of Persona here is drastically reduced compared to Persona 5. I think there are over 180 Persona in just regular Persona 5. Here, it’s about 60. It still has a lot of the more fan-favorite Personas, all the “Frost” family is here, but like all the Mitama Personas (teardrop Personas of different colors) aren’t here. This reduction isn’t wholly a bad thing as if they had a lot more Persona, it would just bog down the game a lot.
PP – Persona Points
A really odd system in Strikers is how you level up your Persona. Instead of just leveling them in battles, (you can still do that, although it takes FOREVER,) you can use a new currency called Persona Points to do it. You gain Persona Points by fusing Personas, by getting duplicate masks (no negotiation or anything in Strikers), from battles, or by releasing Persona from your own stock.
Basically, you can use Persona Points to level up a Persona you have. If your Mitra persona is at level 33 but it’ll learn a new skill at level 35, you can spend the Persona Points to get it up there. Personas also have their own stats: Strength, Magic, Endurance, Agility, and Luck. You can spend Persona Points to increase these stats as well. If you do spend a lot of points on a specific Persona, the points will transfer into a new Persona if you use it to fuse, or you’ll be refunded the points if you release it.
Well, there are a few odd to negative things in the game. There are some odd controls in other situations, like climbing through air ducts that is very slow, even compared to regular Persona 5. Also, there are a lot of mid-bosses and other bosses in the game. Before almost every jail is a fairly tough boss (Lock Keeper), that is at times almost more difficult than some of the actual Monarch bosses, which is not pleasant.
Far and away the worst thing about the game, at least to me, is the PlayStation 4 trophies. I am slightly obsessive about trophies in Persona 5, I completed Persona 5 and Royal multiple times to get the Platinum Trophies. Here, most of them are fairly easy and come naturally. There are three though that make the game an incredible slog. I don’t know the specific names of the trophies but they are the following:
- Fully complete the Bond menu (reach 100 in the Bond system)
- Get all Phantom Thieves to level 70
- Fully complete the Persona Compendium
Here are a few reasons why this is bad, at least for me. When I completed the game, I had Joker around level 77, Sophia around 74, Zenkichi around 75 and Makoto around 73. That’s fine and all but characters I never used, like Haru or Ryuji were around 53. It required a lot of grinding to get everyone to level 70.
To complete the Persona Compendium, you have to do it on a New Game Plus, and be at level 90. I was level 77, so I had to grind even more to get up to 90 with Joker.
The worst one was the Bond system trophy. You really don’t get a lot of Bond experience, and the higher level you are, the more experience it takes. It’s like “Well, to get from level 29 to level 30, you’ll need 6,000 Bond points. But 30 to 31, you’ll need 7,000,” as just a general example. Going from 90 to 91 though, you might need like 200,000 points. There is basically two ways to grind this out, the first is to re-fight the last boss over and over and over again, which takes about 5 to 15 minutes, depending on your party setup.
The second is what I did. There is usually a spot in each town you visit where you can gain Bond Experience, be it doing a lotto ticket, finding a Four Leaf clover, etc. In one town, if you pray at a statue’s feet, you’ll gain either 2,000, 3,500, or 7,000 Bond Experience. You have to run out of the area then run back in to reset the statue and gain more experience. This method STILL takes hours but doing it for 6 hours is better than the 15 with the boss method.
I played Strikers on my laptop via the Remote Play functionality. With the game running, I found a PS4 Controller Macro Program online. This lets me record controller inputs for the game and replays them back. I made a loop of Joker running into the statue, praying at the feet, running out of the area then running back in. THIS STILL TOOK ME OVER SIX HOURS TO DO! But it did actually work, and I was able to watch a few episodes of Bones and John Carpenter’s The Thing while it was going on.
As someone who isn’t a fan of this genre at all, but loves Persona 5, Strikers was good enough to make me stick with it throughout at least one and a half playthroughs of the game. It’s fast, every character has their own good and bad elements and it’s linear enough to keep me sticking with it. Plus, it’s more hanging out with the Persona 5 crew and that is always a great thing.