The Phantom Thieves are finally about to arrive on PC, but not in the way neither of us expected in 2016 when Persona 5 was released on PlayStation 4. Persona 5 Strikers is a spin-off that gives fans of the series a sense of familiarity with a glimpse of what Persona has to offer newbies with just a few stumbling blocks along the way.
The Persona series is known for its stylish menus, adorable soundtracks, stories of students fighting against corrupt adults, and an 80-hour minimum commitment to sticking them through. Persona 5 Strikers will activate all but the last of these boxes. Instead of a colossal JRPG with turn-based combat, it’s a Dynasty Warriors-style hack-and-slash musou game that can be defeated in under 40 hours.
The switch to hack-and-slash fits surprisingly well with the teenage chaos of the series and its charismatic heroes. The turn-based combat of the main series is replaced by an action-packed real-time combat system, which however still uses melee and ranged attacks, elemental damage and status effects. Mixing light and heavy attacks delivers the kind of punishment combinations you’d expect from a hack-and-slash – just don’t expect them to match the complexity of Devil May Cry.
The use of your personas (essentially spirit beings) is still the cornerstone of struggle, although it manifests in a special way. You can pause the fight at any time to summon your Persona, choose an ability and target, and then unleash a powerful attack. There’s no penalty for taking a breather to decide how to use your most devastating attacks, and while this may at first seem at odds with the anime game’s faster battle, it becomes important later as the challenge increases.
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 resort to persona’s roots and instruct you to choose specific spells to weaken exploit to heal your group and use the right buffs and debuffs to guide you through the fight.
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Traversal also speeds up the pace of the Persona 5 Strikers fight, adding a new dynamic to the fight as you quickly shoot back and forth between corners, double jump to reach rooftops and street lights, and stay away from environmental hazards. It’s a great tool to explore each level, but it really comes into its own in combat when you can use damaged vehicles to set traps for packs of enemies to jump 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 the chaos – it rarely follows the direction of your attacks, which results in a lot of off-screen carnage going on. There’s a lock-on feature that works well enough, especially during boss fights, but still flies around everywhere when you’re up against dozens of enemies in a narrow alley.
There is no penalty for taking a breather to decide how to use your most devastating attacks
Persona’s familiar emphasis on history and social mechanics has been tightened a bit to match the new structure. Events take place just a few months after Persona 5 (after the end of the original and not after the end of Persona 5 Royal) when a summer vacation suddenly turns into another realistic puzzle for the phantom thieves to solve. It’s more linear than persona fans are used to, jumping back and forth between smaller locations in Japan rather than exploring an entire metropolis with subway lines, suburbs, and secondary locations.
Fortunately, there is still a lot of downtime in the real world where you can stock up on supplies and talk to characters in your party before heading to the Metaverse, where you battle demons in a troubled version of the same vacation destinations, but by far more nooks and crannies to explore.
The lack of the calendar system in the main series, with which you meticulously planned each day of the year, leads to a simpler experience: you can return from dungeons with checkpoints without penalty and restore HP and SP (Spirit Points) for the entire party in the process. And while there are activities like cooking and optional side-quests that range from returning to past dungeons to hunt down specific enemies or helping to get tickets for rare ramen, the emphasis is on the hack-and-slash battle.
Despite the many changes, Persona 5 Strikers retains the charm of the original. It’s exciting to hang out on characters with this cast again, and conversation features the same familiar mix of thoughtful introspection and goofy dialogue the series is known for. Sometimes Persona 5 Strikers feels more like a sequel than a spin-off. Sure, serial veterans may be missing some of their core elements, like balancing individual bonds with people rather than having a bond with the whole group, but Persona 5 Strikers is still worth the summer trip.