Persona 5 Strikers Joker And SkullSource: Windows Central

Persona 5 took up to 100 hours to complete, but the complex game, one of the best RPGs on PS4, still left fans wanting more. As a result, Atlus has produced several spinoffs including the rhythm game Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight and the more conventional dungeon-crawling RPG Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth. The latest is Persona 5 Strikers, which features a plot that feels like a true sequel while slimming down the mechanics and playtime for a faster-paced, more accessible experience.

That's a good thing since Persona 5 was a PS4 exclusive, while Persona 5 Strikers releases on PS4, Steam, and Nintendo Switch on Feb. 23. While players will definitely get more out of the experience if they've spent time with the original, after playing through the first of six zones I can say that the new title still has plenty of charm through its quirky characters, rich story, and frenetic combat to win new fans to the series.

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Change of heart

Persona 5 Strikers Header

Persona 5 Strikers

Road trip adventure

Travel across Japan helping people, cooking regional recipes, and fighting Shadows in this hack-and-slash spinoff of Persona 5.

Persona 5 Strikers: School's out for summer

Persona 5 Strikes CampingSource: Windows Central

Persona 5 combined time managment with a dungeon-crawling RPG, with players pushed to balance their attention between the real world and the Metaverse. The darkest aspects of peoples personalities manifest in the Metaverse and the game's protagonists, the Phantom Thieves, must explore the strange realm and force wicked and corrupt people to have a change of heart that translates into the real world, leading them to confess to their crimes. However, in the real world, your protagonist, Joker, is a high school student who has to do homework, work a job, and find times to hang out with his friends.

Things are a lot simper in Persona 5 Strikers.

Things are a lot simpler in Persona 5 Strikers, which kicks off with the Phantom Thieves reuniting to plan a summer vacation. Unfortunately, their dreams of a camping trip and epic barbecue are put on hold when some of their members find themselves back in the Metaverse where a fashion designer is turning residents of Shibuya into obsessed fans.

Alice, whose fashion line and Metaverse jail are both inspired by Alice in Wonderland, might not be an especially original villain, but her sadistic nature and overwhelming desire for fame feel perfectly in line with the themes of the Persona series.

The game also provides room for more heavy philosophy with the introduction of Sophia, a sophisticated AI the Phantom Thieves meet in the Metaverse who winds up living in Joker's phone and trying to learn about humanity by joining the team. Her story is pretty similar to that of Morgana, a talking cat Joker finds in the Metaverse in Persona 5, but the two characters actually bond over their shared odd nature, delivering the strange but poignant social interactions at the heart of the series.

With school out and Sophia allowing them to order pretty much all the gear and items they need directly to their hideout instead of taking the time to go shopping, the Phantom Thieves are able to stay focused on their supernatural adventures. As a result, there's no downside to leaving the Metaverse at a checkpoint to go recharge their health and skill points the way there was in Persona 5, where it would cause the calendar to tick down to a deadline that would mean game over if it wasn't met.

It all makes it easier to take the time and explore the world, eavesdropping on conversations to pick up rumors about what's going on and chatting with your party members who might reward you with items. Then, you can head back to the Metaverse to fight Shadows, find loot, and level up your team. Much like in Persona 5, you'll want to choose your fights carefully, skulking around with some light stealth and platforming to get yourself in the perfect position to ambush enemies and gain and advantage in the fight. Rush head-on into battle and you might get wailed on before you have a chance to react.

The game will likely feel confusing at first to anyone who hasn't played Persona 5 since the names of characters and concepts come fast and furious along with a rush of mechanics. Luckily, the fact that most of the gameplay elements from Persona 5 have been transformed to suit a hack-and-slash combat style actually puts everyone off on a fresh foot.

Persona 5 Strikers A smooth translation of mechanics

Persona 5 Strikers SneakingSource: Windows Central

Atlus and P-Studio have done an impressive job taking almost every mechanic featured in the main turn-based game and transforming it into something that can be used in real-time while also adding new wrinkles. Rather than only being able to navigate the Metaverse as Joker, you can choose to play any of the Phantom Thieves, and each has their own special moves and Personas — aspects of their personalities that give them access to impressive skills that are key to victory. You'll assemble a team of four and can swap between them with a button in a fight or change out the squad members any time you're out of combat.

Atlus and P-Studio have done an impressive job taking almost every mechanic featured in the main turn-based game and transforming it.

Simple fights against swarms of bad guys can largely be managed with some button mashing, spamming regular and special attacks while letting the competent AI control your companion characters. For battles against named elite foes and bosses, you'll want to lean on the hybrid battle system, where the action is paused while you aim with your gun or select one of your Persona skills, giving you the time to assess the situation and capitalize on the elemental weaknesses that have always been at the core of the series.

Use your skills right and you'll get the power to do an all-out attack, unleashing on all the enemies in an area. You'll also have to be even more keenly aware of what moves your enemies are powering up. Seeing a foe telegraph a big attack in Persona 5 meant you needed to spend a turn focusing on upping your party's defenses, but in Strikers, you have to make a quick call about whether to try and evade the move or rush in and kill the enemy before it can unleash.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker CapturedSource: Windows Central

Bonds, the links that form between you and your friends as you adventure together, have also been reworked into a more general skill system. Rather than specifically buffing some characters, building bonds in combat or the real world now gives you points you can spend on general perks like earning better rewards from battles or getting discounts on purchasing items.

Collecting and fusing Personas has also returned, though in Strikers you get new ones as random drops rather than through negotiating with defeated Shadows. This removes one of the most fun elements of the process, but it fits with the generally slimmed down and faster pace of the spinoff. It also gives you a bit more flexibility since duplicates of a Persona just translate into points you can use to level up any of your Personas up to Joker's level.

Persona 5 Strikers A long strange trip

Persona 5 Strikers Gathering InfoSource: Windows Central

The Phantom Thieves' summer vacation isn't put off for long, and after Shibuya, they'll be hitting the road to visit cities across Japan while continuing their work helping people in need. While I overall prefer the complexity of the main Persona games, I'm loving the chance to spend more time with this great cast of characters and the surprisingly strong conversion of the combat from turn-based to action-focused. I'm looking forward to sharing the rest of the Phantom Thieves' adventures, so check back here for a full review running next month.

Persona 5 Strikers is set to release on Feb. 23, 2020 on PS5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Change of heart

Persona 5 Strikers Header

Persona 5 Strikers

Road trip adventure

Travel across Japan helping people, cooking regional recipes, and fighting Shadows in this hack-and-slash spinoff of Persona 5.