REVIEW – The heroes of Persona 5 Strikers: the “Phantom Thieves” are not fantastically powerful mutant superheroes, wealthy millionaires or super-soldiers, but ordinary, everyday high school boys and girls who battle a wide variety of horrors in a strange, alternate world called Metaverse. Coming soon to PS Plus, the Japanese action RPG was tested on PlayStation 5.
The latest instalment in the Persona series is both a sequel to Persona 5 and a spin-off, as you can take on another big adventure with the same group of youngsters in the same world, but with entirely different gameplay to the various shadows in the Metaverse – this time in real-time, rather than the tactical, turn-based combat of the past. Once again, our adventures take place partly in Tokyo: both in the real world and the twisted, comically grotesque Metaverse, another dimension of the city.
The Phantom Thieves are back
The high school gang from the previous episode is back, led by the anonymous hero we play, a young boy with the nickname Joker. The story is set roughly four months after the events of Persona 5, and is a continuation of it, and doesn’t bother to explain anything about the game’s universe, the heroes’ pasts, or their relationships with each other, so if you don’t want to get lost in it, it’s highly recommended to play through Persona 5.
Of course, the universe of the Persona games is based on much the same foundations. Behind the everyday, real-world of high school kids is the Metaverse mentioned above, where one of the cities you can visit in Tokyo, but in a different, utterly twisted dimension that looks nothing like the original and is full of ‘shadows’: ghost soldiers hiding their demonic forms.
The celebrity girl steals our desires
In this episode, one of the central protagonists is a sexy young celebrity girl called Alice Hiiragi, who in the real world, in the cosplay costume of the title character in Alice in Wonderland, is very aggressive in the seduction of her fans – literally – and in Metaverseum, she is the tyrant, the dominatrix queen.
A crucial part of the game is a smartphone app called EMMA, where Alice sucks people who are zombie fans into her dungeons and uses her shadows to slaughter those who defy her (like our heroes). She uses a peculiar tool to do this: he kidnaps people’s various desires.
Once again, the game’s story is of very high quality. However, it contains much less shocking everyday drama than the previous episode, which dealt with the abuse of minors, adult perversion and even rape. Here, such serious themes are not so much a feature. The often grotesque world and visuals of the game mirror the way people are brain-dead in their infatuation with celebrities who are so utterly depraved that they sell and promote themselves as prostitutes. Perhaps because of this more profound, subtler message, the story of all the Persona parts is so high quality, and therefore so much more than a simple anime story – for a discerning audience, of course.
Not just hack’n’slash
The fundamental difference in Persona 5 Strikers compared to the previous instalment is that you’ll now be slashing at the amazingly creative monsters in real-time. Still, it’s not like this instalment is a simple hack’n’slash. A lot of the gameplay elements from Persona 5 are back: you can summon your ‘Persons’ (a kind of ‘allied demons’ controlled by your heroes), ‘weld’ them together after a visit to the Velvet Room, reminiscent of David Lynch movies, and perform ‘All in’ and ‘Showtime’ special attacks. So there’s plenty of tactical action in Strikers, only in real-time rather than in a frozen, round-by-round fashion.
Tactical nous is needed not only in combat but also in exploring your surroundings in the Metaverse, as in many places you need to find the suitable passageways, gates and alleyways to move forward, and in an area blessed with creative minds and an amazingly overwhelming Japanese anime visual landscape, this is not always a straightforward story. At times I fell about laughing at the sight of, for example, drugged, giant, spinning teddy bears, while at others, the aforementioned creepy and grotesque David Lynch-like atmosphere came back to haunt me.
This great anime feel and highly addictive, fast-paced combat often leaves you so entranced that you tend to forget not to consume too much many energy and healing potions to replenish your magic points because when you run out, you’ll be beaten up by the stronger main monsters. Plus, it’s pointless to recharge your pre-fight stance because you’ll be facing the main monster in question again with the same amount of reserves and health, so chances are your little team will meet the same sad end. In other words, as simple and easy as Persona 5 Strikers may seem at first glance, it’s a tough nut to crack later on, and even on the medium difficulty, you’ll need to be thoroughly prepared before you even enter the Metaverse.
There are no ordinary disappointments here
Aside from the combat system, another – much more significant – change is that we can no longer participate in the everyday lives of our heroes. While the basic motif of Persona games is to accompany our heroes, usually of school age, to high schools and participate in their activities and social life there and at home, this part of the game has almost entirely dropped that. Even though the calendar now turns one a day continuously, we no longer have to deal with the “Confidence System”, hang out with friends, study for the next test, read books, or strengthen our other skills.
This is not so positive (except for those annoyed and who wanted to concentrate on the main game). However, there is still plenty of opportunities to explore our surroundings by visiting the six different locations in Japan.
All in all, this episode is as enjoyable, engaging and exciting as any other Persona episode. If you can, don’t skip the previous instalment, Persona 5, or its extended version, Persona 5 Royal, either, as you’ll get a much better feel for this incredible world and the young people who play the main characters. For me, the Phantom Thieves have once again stolen their way into my heart.
+ Enjoyable combat system
+ Some brilliant boss fights
+ Great story
– Some annoying gameplay bugs
– The story is very safe
– The in-game graphics are not very polished
Developer: Omega Force
Release date: 20 February 2020 (Japan), 23 February 2021