Game Info:

Persona 5 Strikers
Developed By: ATLUS
Published By: SEGA
Released: February 22, 2021
Available On: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Switch
Genre: Action RPG
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence)
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $59.99
(Humble Store Link)

Note: This review is based largely on the PC version. The Switch and PS4 versions have the same content, but the Switch is limited to 30 FPS.

Koei Tecmo has proven it's possible to cross their "Dynasty Warriors" style gameplay with many other licensed properties. When they decided to try that with Atlus' Persona series, I was a tad skeptical, especially since they picked Persona 5, a game built around stealth mechanics. I was very pleasantly surprised to find Persona 5 Strikers did that very well indeed.

For those unfamiliar with either, Dynasty Warriors adapts the characters and setting of the historical novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" to a hack-and-slash game format, where you run around clearing various game maps of enemies with over-the-top flashy combat moves. The Persona series is a JRPG game where you explore dungeons in a turn-based combat engine, and Persona 5 in particular also had stealth mechanics added since the characters are themed after "Phantom Thieves". Persona 5 Strikers is a medley of these concepts.

How they did it is very interesting. While retaining the emphasis on stealth, battles still take place in hack and slash style, though it's very important to master ambushes, as the game will penalize starting fights fairly as a nod to how Persona 5 did likewise. There are still some straight-up no-stealth brawls like boss battles and some unavoidable combat sequences, but for the most part, the game will expect you to play covertly. The other elements like Persona summoning are ported over practically intact if slightly modified for a more action game format. A few elements were streamlined, such as where and how to purchase items and upgrades. Finally, given this is set after the original Persona 5 (not the Royal version, as this was developed prior, though they do toss in some late-game references to Royal anyway), they also omitted the Confidant system and a few other mechanics that just didn't work in a Warriors-style game.

The story is set a few months after Persona 5's main story. The Phantom Thieves of Hearts are merely hoping for a fun summer vacation, hopefully retired from having to explore the Metaverse of the prior game. Unfortunately, it seems the Metaverse alternate dimension in a slightly different format has returned, turning what was a summer vacation doing a road trip across Japan into a cross-country adventure in putting down the new incarnation of the Metaverse. To make matters worse, remnants of the villains from the original game combined with new threats are joined together in a new conspiracy just as bad as the one from Persona 5, meaning the corrupt hearts of the perpetrators will also need to be stolen once again.

Before we go on, this is not entirely hard for someone who never played Persona 5 to get into, but it's assumed you have at least beaten the original version, given the immense amount of story and theme callbacks. As mentioned, if you played the Royal version, while this does not seriously conflict with that revised version in terms of canon, the Striker sequel was developed based on the canon of the original, with some throwaway mentions of Royal at best.

 Persona 5 Strikers

Strong Points: Great fusion of RPG and hack-and-slash mechanics
Weak Points: Not very beginner-friendly; assumes full knowledge of original Persona 5
Moral Warnings: Action RPG violence against non-human beings; references to child abuse; a fair amount of profanity (with f*** heard a total of twice); a few sexualized outfits and some heavily sadomasochistic sexual innuendos from one character; profound displays of figures from all sorts of religions and myths; some positive reference to Shinto and Buddhist practices

The gameplay of the main story involves a lot of visual novel-style story scenes, some segments in the "real world" where the players gather equipment and information for their Metaverse excursions. The Metaverse sections are where the cast attempts to resolve the problems plaguing the real world via dealing with the influences in the Metaverse having an impact on it. To that end, while still emphasizing the stealth mechanics of the original Persona 5, the combat action involves quick use of regular actions, combos, and special moves like Persona summoning to take down various enemies and complete levels.

Graphically, the stylistic anime art of the Persona franchise is ported nigh intact, especially the emphasis on the colors red and black that Persona 5 had as a recurrent theme. Aside from mild alterations to accommodate a more action-based format, setpieces still have the shadow world look of the original Persona 5 in the combat sequences. There are a few cutscene movies that take place in prerendered anime movie style, though most are done completely in the engine.

It's worth noting I would recommend tuning the Shadow resolution to LOW. I noticed that high shadows were slightly more defined but looked worse due to much more jaggy pixels. If you are trying to play on the Steam Deck, this is especially recommended to extend battery life.

The sounds and music have a lot of the same synth, techno, and rock style beats as the slower turn-based prequel, but owing to the fact this is a more action-based game, a lot of music got some more sped up tempo to fit with the more hack and slash gameplay. Like the original, this is also fun to listen to, especially the voiced music which is still unbelievably catchy.

The game is controllable with both keyboard and mouse and gamepads. While keys are changeable for both, playing with a controller is recommended. Any Steam-compatible controller (I used an Xbox One controller and it worked great) is ideal. The keyboard is usable, but given how you'll need to reorient yourself often, a far clunkier way to play. The controls aren't too hard to understand if you've ever played a hack-and-slash and/or Persona title, but while they do provide some tutorials, they do somewhat assume you can figure out the basics on your own past the initial advice you are given.

The game stability is quite good. So long as you can comfortably meet the minimum requirements on PC, this game runs smooth as butter. Officially, this is not rated for Steam users on either Linux or the Steam Deck, but it is possible to play on both with some unofficial tweaks. There is some bonus content, accessed via a separate EXE at runtime (Steam lets you choose which to run). The bonus content includes the game soundtrack, concept art, and a few other odds and ends. Steam Deck may force you to access the bonus content manually though.

 Persona 5 Strikers
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 96%
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 46%
Violence - -5/10
Language - 4/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

Morally, this game has several themes that are a concern for younger audiences.

Violence takes place in the context of self-defense against non-human fictional beings. Some do look humanoid, but in no case do your protagonists assault or murder a real-world human for any reason. There are only a few brief displays of blood, no gore, and defeated foes disappear after their demise. It's worth noting some implied child abuse (physical assault) occurs in a cutscene at one point, but the scene purposely omits any depiction of an actual child, just a pantomime of the implications. This is shown in a flashback-style format to elaborate on the backstory of one of the characters only.

Language gets somewhat earthy. You practically hear or see every curse word, though f*** is reserved for no more than two occasions. One of the bosses has some sadomasochistic sexual innuendoes (all of which are portrayed in a negative light). There are also a few crude jokes about hits to the groin or other sensitive areas a few times as well.

Sexual depictions aren't too common, aside from one boss who dresses like a racy burlesque bunny girl and some bikinis during a cutscene of some swimming. Aside from a few costumes that are form-fitting, that's about it for sexualized outfits. There is one section with implications of cuckoldry and sexual slavery, but both of these topics are portrayed as unhealthy, demeaning, and depraved.

There is a profound depiction of supernatural and occult themes. Persona is based on various mythological figures from every religion, myth, urban legend, and so on, per Atlus tradition for all games in their Persona franchise. Many of the villains have prominent Gnostic themes like the last game, though this is portrayed in a negative light. Given this is set in Japan and the characters are Japanese, we do see some positive references to Shinto and Buddhist religious practices as well.

Morally and ethically, you to some extent play as anti-hero vigilantes who do wind up in opposition to the law to some extent. This is counterbalanced by nigh all said authorities being corrupt, with the honest and law-abiding ones being obeyed and cooperated with. One of the protagonists is a police officer with whom the cast works in close connection to bring criminals to proper legal justice (who also serves as a moral anchor for the rest of the cast).

It's also worth noting the threat they face cannot be dealt with beyond a certain point by normal mortal authority, with the Phantom Thieves of Hearts being the only organization capable of dealing with it. Family ties are a plot element, with the encouragement of healthy familial bonds being a recurring plot element. There are a few instances where themes of child neglect and abuse are touched on, which the story regards with appropriate horror and disgust.

On top of the encouragement of healthy family bonds, another commendable theme of the game is a moral that conforming to societal expectations that encourage immoral behavior is never justified. No matter how sympathetic one's reasons are for doing so, it's made flagrantly clear conforming to the expectations of society and in doing so furthering a moral wrong is unjust. If conscience and knowledge of right and wrong demand it, society at large cannot be a factor in making honest and moral choices as an individual.

Overall, this was a fun experience and a shockingly successful fusion of two different game genres into an enjoyable mix. Due to themes and moral concerns, it is a game fit for older audiences only. Thankfully, it does have some good moral lessons on healthy family ties and one's duty to one's conscience over the demands of society as a fine counterbalance. If you can get it on sale, do so. Persona fans and fans of other Koei Warriors-style fusion games will certainly enjoy this.

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