At some point, I’m willing to bet that almost every friend group that has ever existed has at least discussed taking a road trip together. Going on a journey with your friends to seek out new places and experiences is one of the most fulfilling ways to spend time with other people, so it’s no wonder that it’s such a popular format in all popular media. And if you’re like me and are head-over-heels in love with Atlus’ masterful Persona 5, then its follow-up, Persona 5 Strikers, might just be the best road trip of all time.
Persona 5 Strikers is an action-RPG and direct sequel to Persona 5 (sorry, Royal fans). Picking up about six months after the events of that game, the Phantom Thieves reunite in Tokyo for summer break, intent on taking a road trip together after being separated for so long. Of course, it’s not long until trouble shows up, this time in the form of “Jails,” this game’s version of Palaces, filled with Shadows and the corrupt Monarchs who rule them. As the gang travels across Japan, they unravel a conspiracy that threatens all of society. Once again, it’s Phantom Thieves to the rescue.
From the moment you step back into Leblanc and see all your friends, including Sojiro, at their usual places, it’s almost impossible for fans of the first game to not be swept back into this world immediately. After spending well over 100 hours with these characters, seeing them again at a place so warm and familiar feels like coming home for the player, too. This game brings fans of Persona 5 plenty of fan service, almost all of it of the best variety. Since it’s only been six months, your friends are all about the same as when you left them.
While the story for this game retreads plenty of familiar territory (not geographically, though, as you aren’t in Tokyo for long), it has enough fresh spins to keep you invested and guessing where things will go next. Sure, you’re going from Jail to Jail taking down corrupt members of society with a little free time in-between, but strong characterizations and awesome additions to the roster keep the proceedings interesting and involving. Characters like Sophia and Zenkichi are sure to become fan favorites.
Every character in Strikers gets their moment to shine as well. Over the game’s 30-ish hour runtime, you witness the Phantom Thieves grow even more than they did in Persona 5. There is no Confidant system in this game (it was the best part of 5 and it is definitely missed here), but Strikers makes the smart assumption that you maxed out your relationships with all the members of the group and can simply enjoy being yourself around them. Even when the story hits a dry patch or two—and even less engaging parts are still very fun thanks to the characters—the strong writing and voice acting keeps the journey going.
Now, the biggest departure for Strikers from its predecessor is the combat. This game is an action RPG that features musou-style combat, meaning that the turn-based model from the previous games is gone and replaced with a hack ‘n slash style of gameplay. However, there are two twists here: you can play as any member of the Phantom Thieves at any time, and you have access to all of their Personas.
The implementation of Personas brings a surprisingly large amount of strategy to combat. When you summon your Persona, combat freezes as you select an ability to use, as well as showing the enemies it will affect. Elemental affinities are present for both friends and foes, and targeting weaknesses will allow you to unleash follow-up moves and all-out attacks, which can decimate large mobs if timed right. You can also build the “Showtime” meter by doing damage, which gives you the ability to unleash a devastating elemental attack when filled. Both all-out and showtime attacks feature a stylish and spunky splash screen after pulling them off, making you feel like a real badass in a way that only Persona can.
Every Jail is designed to take advantage of different members of the Phantom Thieves, so team selection is very important to success in combat. The ability to swap between team members on the the fly makes for frenetic and exciting combat encounters, even after 30 hours. Joker also still has his Wild Card abilities, meaning he can swap through multiple Personas while playing as him; if you cultivate your collection of masks carefully, you can become quite the powerhouse.
It’s also worth noting that Persona 5 Strikers can be a difficult game. Even playing on normal difficulty, I failed numerous fights if I got careless with my SP management or sloppy with my team’s roster. If you come across a strong foe or mini-boss without the proper people in your team, you can be in serious trouble. However, the game does a great job of slowly ramping up your abilities and giving you the tools you need to succeed; whether that’s better weapons or items from Sophia’s shop, being able to upgrade your Personas in the Velvet Room, or making use of the game’s new Bond system, which gives you some traditional RPG upgrades like increased strength and HP, as well as more unique abilities like increasing how quickly the Showtime gauge fills or giving the party an HP boost after successful ambushes. There are plenty of ways to customize and enhance your team in combat, and the ability to revisit completed Jails to grind and complete Requests (side quests which range from treasure-hunting to standard “kill this specific amount of enemies” missions) is a nice touch that ensures no stone is left unturned.
While the combat may be fast-paced and kinetic, the rest of the game encourages you to take your time, just like its predecessor. There is no deadline for completing Jails; you are free to come and go from them as much as you like, allowing you to go to stores and buy items, cook meals at the hideout to create powerful HP and SP restoring items, or wander around whatever city you are in to talk with your friends. While there isn’t as much depth to locales as Persona 5, it’s remarkable that this game is so close in style and form to that title. In many ways, it’s a much more approachable titles; the freedom to progress at your leisure and be free to return after the fact takes a lot of the pressure off the player to see everything the first time around.
Lastly, there can be no discussion of a Persona game without delving into its stylistic elements a bit. In this regard, I am glad to report that Strikers does not disappoint. As usual, the soundtrack is a standout, tastefully reusing tracks from Persona 5, as well as including remixes of some fan favorites, including a heavy rock rendition of “Last Surprise” that knocked me into orbit the first time I heard it. The game also holds “Beneath the Mask” until a moment late in the game that brought tears to my eyes. The menus and interface also retain the energetic attitude that the series is known for, creating an engrossing experience in every aspect.
While newcomers to the series will frequently find themselves lost if they choose to pick up Persona 5 Strikers, those familiar with Persona 5 will find this game to be an unexpectedly near-perfect sequel, making a strong case for more Persona games as action RPGs. Though its story may retread some familiar territory and combat can get a little predictable, this another stylish, emotional, exciting, and fun outing with the Phantom Thieves. With layered combat, outstanding characters (both new and old), and multiple systems to help customize your playstyle, Strikers is a triumphant return for the Trickster and his team. By the time the credits rolled, I was sad to say goodbye to these characters again—but I was so, so grateful to get one more ride with them.