Persona 5 Strikers (Switch) Review
The Phantom Thieves are back! Or if you’re a Switch owner without a PS4, they’re here for the first time. Persona 5 Strikers is a canon sequel to Persona 5 — but maybe not Royal, it’s complicated — and the latest in an ever-growing list of games on the Switch that feature Persona 5’s protagonist Joker without (or perhaps instead of) Persona 5 itself. It’s also a musou, or Warriors, spin-off, with combat gameplay lifted straight from developer Koei Tecmo’s popular Dynasty Warriors. It’s similar to games like Hyrule Warriors or Fire Emblem Warriors in that way… but also quite different. Where those games were musou games first and their respective series second, Strikers goes all-in on the Persona side of things. It’s very much a Persona game first, and it’s a damn good one at that.
Quick note, as this game is a direct sequel to Persona 5, this review (and this game) contains spoilers for that game. As such, it also may be a little bit difficult to follow without having played the first game first. If you don’t have a PS4 or just don’t want to sink 100+ hours into a JRPG before jumping into this game, you can also watch the anime series to get up to speed; it contains all the same story content, and is available in Australia on Crunchyroll.
With that out of the way, let’s get stuck in.
Persona 5 Strikers takes place 6 months after the end of Persona 5. After the defeat of the Master of Mementos, and the clearing of Joker’s name, the Phantom Thieves all go their separate ways. Yusuke, Haru, and Makoto have all started university, Ryuji and Ann have moved into their third senior year in high school (though the latter also has a successful career as a model to balance), Futaba has started integrating into the community, and Joker has taken the feline Morgana and headed back to his home town, where he can live out his life in peace. After spending half a year apart, the Thieves decide it’s time to meet up again for their summer break, and all converge on everybody’s favourite cafe/secret hideout. After catching up for a bit, they decide they’re going to live their best lives and go on a summer road trip, complete with camping, beaches, and lots of food.
But of course, this is Persona, so that doesn’t quite go to plan. A spree of strange and sudden behaviour changes have taken hold across the country, spurred on by the appearance and immediate success of a new app called EMMA, which is kind of like Siri mixed with Whatsapp. The police suspect the Phantom Thieves are at fault, and send top investigator Zenkichi Hasegawa after the group. Naturally, the Thieves get dragged back into the Metaverse, discovering new Palace-like structures called Jails, and their Monarchs — ordinary people whose hearts have been manipulated, corrupted, and changed for the worst. After meeting a rogue AI/new Phantom Thief called Sophia and striking a deal with inspector Zenkichi, the gang agrees to take on monarchs across the country, shutting down their evil influence and clearing their names in the process.
As far as sequel stories go, this is pretty fantastic. While Strikers assumes a level of familiarity with these characters, it does a fairly good job of detaching their new story from the previous one, and the setup allows for a really interesting dynamic in having the Thieves travel to various real-world locations across Japan. Where Persona 5 and Royal largely take place within Tokyo city itself, Strikers spends only the first dungeon there, quickly moving onto a wide variety of interesting and accurate locales, from big cities like Sendai to sleepy little seaside villages in Okinawa. The new threat — and the Thieves’ reaction to it — feels believable and multifaceted, with the Thieves spurred on by not only the desire to do good in the world, but also by their impending arrest should they fail.
In what is perhaps a bit of a change in the Persona 5 mythos, the villains, in this case the Jails’ Monarchs, aren’t simply cartoonish Bond-level evil villains. For the most part, they’re good, well-meaning people whose reasons for corruption cross into what is very much a grey area. Where Persona 5 had you face off against a creepy teacher who’d been sexually abusing students, or a hyper-capitalistic fast food CEO who crushes those in his employ to maximise profits, Strikers takes a much more nuanced approach.
Here, we find the Phantom Thieves facing off against an aspiring fashion mogul thrust into the spotlight a little too young with little support, the grandson of a famous author who wants to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps but plagiarises under the immense pressure, and a politician who’s uncovered corruption but has to stay elected in order to help fight it. There are some Monarchs in the late game that have more of that Bond villain vibe going on, but for the most part these are genuinely good people in just really shit situations. It’s a welcome addition to the game, and it does a great job of getting you invested in the game’s smaller moments and stories. While the overarching plot is still a concern, this approach to storytelling lets you focus a little more on the issues at hand, and draws you in with characters it’s easy to feel sympathy for.
Another thing that helps contribute to that more focused feeling is the removal of a harsh time limit. Persona 5, like most Persona games, was a constant balancing act of various activities. Entering a Palace, regardless of how much progress you made, took up a day, having lunch with a friend or studying for an exam could take up an afternoon, and all of these things were necessary. Having to squeeze them all into the tight time frame of the calendar was part of the experience, but at times it was a stressful experience. Strikers takes a different approach: the date will only progress when the story does. That means you can cook as many foods as you like for your friends (in a fun little side-feature called Joker’s Kitchen), enter and exit Jails as many times as you like, explore and go shopping to your heart’s content. Until you’ve hit the next story beat, your time is your own, and there’s no chance of failing just because you decided to go get burgers with Ryuji instead of grinding a bit for the upcoming boss battle. It lets you move forward in the game at a slower, more relaxed pace — a stark contrast from its new, quicker, hectic combat, but one that really goes well with the story. You’re on a mostly leisurely road trip with your pals, and this change to how time works helps that feeling become a reality.
Let’s talk about that combat though, because oh boy — what a damn treat. I’ve sunk my teeth into quite a few Warriors games in the past, from the One Piece Pirate Warriors series to the Hyrule Warriors games, and even a bunch of the main series Dynasty Warriors games. While I’ve generally enjoyed them, all of them felt a little bit hollow, like it was missing a little something. As it turns out, that little something is Persona. Strikers’ combat system, at its core, is still the same fast-paced hack and slash goodness you’ll find in any other Warriors game, but it’s augmented with some familiar Persona mechanics. Your normal attacks will still be whacking enemies in real time, but you’re also given a few different ways to attack that fall outside of the standard musou fare. For one, every character has a gun, and can use that gun to snipe an enemy from far away, blow up a large cluster of enemies, or defend yourself by spraying bullets outwards. Each of the 9 playable characters has a different gun skill that work in different ways, but they all feel pretty situational and pretty similar. You also have access to All-Out Attacks, where the whole crew of four party members all attack at once to dish out some damage, as well as Showtime Attacks, which allow you to build up a gauge by striking opponents and then unleash a huge, single-character special attack to deal massive AOE damage.
The most major addition, however, is the skills menu — this is where your Persona’s spells and combat abilities live, and bringing it up will summon your Persona and freeze the action. From here, you can select a spell or skill (and if you’re playing as Joker, select one of many Personas too), aim it at the right enemy or group of enemies and then press A to unleash it. It adds a little flavour of Persona’s traditional turn-based combat into the mix, and since each party member has their own unique abilities to choose from, there’s a good deal of strategy to picking the right team members for the right battle — or even the right enemies within a battle, given you can switch between your four party members at any given time. It’s a heck of a lot of fun, and it feels very Persona for a system that is completely the opposite of Persona.
Collecting different Personas for Joker is similarly taken right from the main games, and it’s a lot of fun to fuse and hunt down Personas everywhere you go — though in this case, there’s no bartering to get them to join you, it’s purely just a random drop from defeating certain enemies. My only complaint about Strikers’ combat is that your AI teammates tend to be a little bit… dumb, at times. There were several instances where a teammate would use a spell on a boss enemy that the enemy absorbs, essentially giving them a free heal. To combat this, I’d usually switch to that teammate in the battle… but if Joker has a Persona with that spell type, he could add to the issue too, and you can’t take Joker out of the party. It’s a small, and forgiveable, issue though, as relatively few enemies can absorb element types, and teammates generally try to conserve SP instead of burning it on spell skills.
As for the game’s performance on Switch, that’s where things get a little more complicated. Koei Tecmo have clearly put performance ahead of appearance here, with the game running below a sub-native resolution for most of the runtime. What you get in return is a game that often looks quite jaggy, but almost always runs at a solid 30fps. That’s a step below the ideal frame rate for these types of games — 60fps is almost always going to be a better option for fast-paced action games — but it gets the job done, and the game’s signature Persona art style helps hide a lot of ugliness when all is said and done. It’s even quite fantastic to play on the Switch Lite, where those jaggies are a little less noticeable and you can get a good 6 hours of play between charges.
While it maintains that 30fps for 90% of its runtime, there are instances where the frame rate will drop a bit, particularly when using large, effects-heavy attacks in the heat of a crowded battle. It’s reasonably rare, of course, but it does happen, especially when there’s environmental effects in play too. There was one boss battle, set in the flurry of a snowstorm, where my effects and the enemy’s effects were out and about during most of the battle, and the game chugged the entire time because of that — not great, but it’s one battle in a game of thousands, and the vast majority of those thousands hold up just fine. The load times on Switch are a touch on the long side too, at least compared to what’s been reported on other platforms, but they were never long enough to be much of a hassle for me or massively interrupt the gameplay experience.
Persona 5 Strikers does the seemingly impossible in mashing up two very different genres and striking a balance that works. Beyond just its incredibly satisfying gameplay, Strikers’ story is more than a worthy successor to Persona 5, and the two together make for an experience that is going to be difficult to match going forward — either in Persona games, or in Warriors games. There are some small issues with the Switch port, but all in all there’s little to complain about. It’s a fantastic game, from top to bottom, and almost makes up for the absence of Persona 5 on the Switch.
+ Perfect fusion of Persona and Warriors combat
+ Story is interesting and thoughtful
+ More manageable 40-hour runtime
- AI teammates can be a bit dumb
- Performance takes a hit every now and then
- Seriously, still no Persona 5 on Switch yet?