Persona 5 Strikers review: Already memorable characters get even more depth in this rich spinoff

Save the day with the help of a smartphone app and plenty of snacks.

Persona 5 Strikers Explosion
(Image: © Windows Central)

Early in Persona 5 Strikers, the Phantom Thieves, a group of teenagers with the power to change the hearts of wicked people, befriend a strangely powerful AI. Sophia, who desires only to prove herself worthy of being humanity's companion, travels with them to learn what it is to be human and soon discovers that it's not so easy.

Like the rest of the Persona series, Persona 5 Strikers is largely a story of the power of love and friendship to bring out the best in people and give them the power to overcome hardship. But Persona 5 Strikers is specifically about trauma, weaving a beautiful and complex story about how people can be driven by vengeance, fear, and self-loathing when what they really want is for someone to believe in them.

What I like about Persona 5 Strikers

Persona 5 Strikers Rain Of Desires

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
Swipe to scroll horizontally
TitlePersona 5 Strikers
PublisherAtlus and Sega
GenreAction RPG
PlatformsPC, PS4, Nintendo Switch
PlayersSingle player

Persona 5 Strikers kicks off a few months after the events of Persona 5 with the Phantom Thieves reuniting for summer vacation. When they discover that people around the country are using a new smartphone app dubbed Emma to control others, the Phantom Thieves borrow an RV and hit the road to set things right.

While you don't need to have played Persona 5 or Persona 5 Royal to enjoy Persona 5 Strikers, you should because Persona 5 is one of the best RPGs on PS4 and will give you a better grounding in the world, characters, and mechanics used in the new title. But even if you don't get all of the callbacks, you're still likely to be charmed by the premise and elegant gameplay.

In Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves fought monsters who horrifically abused people for their own gain. The bad guys in Persona 5 Strikers are just as dangerous but far more complex, each driven by a defining trauma that the characters must uncover and force them to confront.

"Trauma is like an invisible wound in a person's heart," the Phantom Thief Haru explains to Sophia. "It comes from living through painful experiences." In Persona 5 Strikers, the combination of those traumas and Emma's power manifests in Jails, twisted realms ruled by Monarchs who steal the desires of others resulting in those people worshipping the monarch in the real world.

It's a deep narrative that tackles topics like toxic fandom, the price of political power, and bullying while pushing each of the protagonists to examine their lives and choices by looking at a dark mirror of themselves. Each Jail is impressively realized with gorgeous visual details and thrilling boss fights such as the model Alice's Wonderland-themed realm filled with candy and carnival rides or the mayor of Sapporo, a city famous for its annual Snow Festival, who sees her home as a desolate but beautiful frozen palace.

You'll explore these realms stealthily, avoiding unnecessary fights by jumping around and hiding until you can ambush foes, finding hidden treasure by shimmying over wires, blinding enemies through shooting out spotlights, and using your special ability to find the unseen to discover invisible platforms. The terrain is also a powerful tool in combat, where you can blow up cars, throw swords, drop hanging objects, and find plenty of other creative ways to hurt your foes besides using your standard array of powers.

Persona 5 Strikers Joker Showtime

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While mainline Persona games use turn-based combat, Persona 5 Strikers employs a hybrid system where you mix hack-and-slash attacks with pauses that let you select items or special powers without pressure. You'll need to have a solid grasp of both techniques to make it through the tougher fights or just to endure the waves of enemies that come at you in some timed sequences.

Persona 5 Strikers employs a hybrid system that is surprisingly fun.

The blend is surprisingly fun. You feel satisfied when you can nail the timing to hit a powerful combo while paying attention to prompts from the AI controlling the rest of your squad to swap characters to let someone else show off. All of the Phantom Thieves are playable characters in Persona 5 Strikers and each has their own move set and special attacks. They make the characters feel distinct and your team will also offer shouts of encouragement to whoever is taking the lead that add extra charm to the fights.

While it's easy to lean on Joker, the protagonist of Persona 5, because he has the most diverse special attacks, alternating between characters will unlock new moves and allow you to unleash devastating attacks faster. It's also a good idea to utilize other characters to conserve Joker's resources in areas where you can't quickly return to the real world. The combination forces you to have the strategy of the turn-based combats without making any one battle feel like a slog. If you're stressed about having to make real-time decisions, you can turn down the difficulty to easy while upping the challenge level will give you a more traditional action RPG experience by forcing you to really care about evading attacks.

Persona 5 Strikers ditches the time management aspect of Persona 5 in its real world segments, but it replaces that content with incredibly charming explorations of cities throughout Japan. You'll tour local sights and eat your way through the country collecting recipes that Joker can cook to provide helpful items to the party and improve his relationships with the team, making them more powerful. This sort of game would make me dream of taking a vacation with my buddies at any time, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it produces an extremely powerful sense of longing.

What I don't like about Persona 5 Strikers

Persona 5 Strikers Futaba Typical Fetch Quest

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The one complaint I have about the game is that it can be a bit repetitive. Each dungeon is extended by forcing you to achieves some set of objectives before you can progress, a trope amusingly lampshaded in the second Jail which is packed with references to manga and video games.

That aspect is even worse in the game's Requests, tasks that take you back to Jails you previously cleared to replay boss fights or kill some number of enemies in order to get a reward. While some of these can just be ignored, others are pretty necessary to complete in order to unlock new gear and power for your party.

Luckily there's a silver lining to the requests in that they're occassionaly extremely charming. Your companions will also ask you to help them in the real world with things as simple as finding the best dessert in a city which involves eavesdropping on conversations to learn a secret password to secure a legendary parfait.

Should you buy Persona 5 Strikers?

Persona 5 Strikers Morgana And Sophie Freezing

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you've played and enjoyed Persona 5, or really any other Persona game, picking up Persona 5 Strikers is a no-brainer. The move from fully turn-based to a hybrid action system might be a bit jarring, but the mechanics have been well translated to provide thrilling combats that give you the feel of making use of the full range of powers and strategies found in the core games.

Even if you haven't played a Persona game before, the shorter duration and removal of time-management pressures in Persona 5 Strikers makes it a strong point of entry. Getting to know the charming characters and watching them try to help even the people they're fighting will give you an idea of why this is one of the most beloved RPG franchises ever. It's also the closest you're likely to get to a delicious and relaxing road trip around Japan anytime soon.

Samantha Nelson