We are the Phantom Thieves of Hearts…
That’s right everyone! Atlus have finally allowed Joker and the Thieves to come and steal the hearts of Nintendo Switch owners everywhere! Persona fans still prefer a main series title, with regular cries to port the now classic title to the Nintendo Switch. Instead, on offer is a collaboration between P-Studio and Omega Force, the minds behind the “Warriors” series of games.
The Persona games are no stranger to prolonged life, with each game having some form of additional spin-off in a series that itself is a spin-off. The canon alone is enough to make your head spin before you even consider the plot lines attached to them. So, the big question is; how does this collaboration fare up against its sisters?
Wake up, Get up, Get Out There!
Six months after the events of Persona 5 and Ren is back on the streets of Shibuya. The thieves gather at Cafe Le Blanc and start making plans for the most awesome summer vacation ever! After deciding their itinerary, they go to get hold of supplies, it’s here where the fun starts. It seems a new mobile app, “EMMA” is causing the metaverse to open up again, but these palaces look different.
Jails, like palaces before them, have a single monarch (a misguided soul who needs a change of heart) collecting the desires of their prey. This forms the “treasure” that you set out to find in each jail. These are usually split into multiple keeps to explore in order to stretch out each prison.
As you work through the game you quickly get caught over a barrel in the real world. Recruited by the public prosecutor’s office you are tasked with solving these recent changes of heart. But the events have been taking place all over Japan this time, and the police are happy to throw you under the bus unless you find the real culprits. But, on the plus side, road trip?
Life Will Change
Persona 5 Strikers demonstrates a lot of similarities and differences to its parent game. The biggest change is in the combat, with this aspect taking the biggest influence from the Dynasty Warriors games. Those looking for a button mashing “hack ‘n’ slash” adventure will have plenty to enjoy, but there is so much more to the game than this.
You encounter shadows in the same way as before, with the ability to stealth attack or power through, with any breaches of security sitting the group on their backsides at the mercy of swarms of shadows. Attacking shadows takes an action based approach, with buttons controlling your light and heavy attack functions. Using the shoulder buttons allows time to freeze while you either aim and fire the gun or use a persona.
There are a few new tricks up the Phantom Thieves’ sleeves. Along with the staple all-out attack and baton passing, you are able to perform a multitude of special moves. Depending on the character you are using at the time this produces a wide variety of animations. Even the persona being assigned to Joker will alter the “Showtime” function to their signature elemental move.
Life will Change [Reprise]
Setting the combat to one side, so much of the game reverts to the original Persona 5 formula. The social interaction mechanics and exploration of the areas are very much a Persona game, with conversations earning you points towards bonding with the characters, who get plenty of opportunity to cement themselves in the hearts of even players enjoying the franchise for the first time. However, there are a few inside jokes that have carried over from the mainline title, Inari!
There are some really good additions to the wider scope of the game though, that make up for a lot of the content that hasn’t carried over. For example, the cooking mechanic helps to replace the need to buy various items needed to replenish HP and SP in-game, allowing you to save Yen for more important things like the online shop (which also provides an outlet for one of the new characters, Sophia)
Checkpoints have replaced rooms. But, that’s OK, because there is the added bonus of not having to return to the palace entrance to rearrange your squad. A few places prevent you from changing your party, but there’s plenty of warning and Oracle reminds you to change it up often.
A fusion of mechanics
So, the big question most players would ask is which game does it play more like? Well, the truth is this is first and foremost a Persona game with altered combat. But even the combat itself has its own take on Persona strategy. When you include the interactive environments and party and persona management from previous games, you really do have to think about how you are going to take out these enemies to maximum effect, while also managing your resources for later.
Does all this suggest that “grinding” is less of a thing here? Unfortunately not. You will still want, and sometimes need, to spend time taking out enemies just for the Yen and EXP to improve a persona or buy an upgrade for your team, and its one aspect of Persona 5 Strikers that I just didn’t want. Grinding, personally, is a cheap way to force hours out of a game that could otherwise be replaced with more content. I understand it’s place, but honestly, my backlog has no time for it.
I’ve been rather quiet on the subject of Personas in-game, and unfairly so, as this has a lot of changes in place designed to streamline the experience. You can still fuse Personas to make stronger ones, but spending Yen and Persona Points can also enable you to make new Personas or strengthen existing ones. Essentially, the core fusion mechanic is there without the bells and whistles of earlier games. Also, if you wanted to barter for masks, now you are just hoping to pick them up as you go.
Beneath the Mask
The art style of Persona 5 Strikers has not changed from that of it’s preceding titles, and for good reason. This game’s art style is gorgeous! There is so much here to enjoy, be it the pop art aesthetic of the user interface or the anime aesthetic of the characters themselves. The Phantom Thieves themselves have strong personalities, and this isn’t held back in their art assets. From the hacker-chic look of Futaba, to the English country rose that is Haru, there is both style and depth to what is on offer here. The Personas themselves are largely recycled from a number of previous games, with some more noticeable pieces making an appearance, but this is no more surprising than discovering Pikachu is in the next pokemon game.
The soundtrack to Strikers again hits the mark almost perfectly. Callbacks to some of the more toe-tapping tracks are combined with new pieces from Shoji Meguro that capture the essence of Persona 5 but give it an added overdrive appeal in places. There are still gorgeous relaxing pieces and heart wrenching sections to give the listener an emotional roller coaster, but one thing is for sure is that the music is something most fans will want in their car on their own summer road trips.
Controls wise, the game is tight. No issues with changing out controllers or swapping from docked to hand-held mode. Graphically it runs exactly how you would expect an asset-heavy game to run on the switch, and certainly puts paid to the notion that the original game would have no problem with a new home. The file size is pretty large for those wanting it digitally but at 12GB it’s pretty close to Hyrule warriors for example.
Rivers in the Desert?
Not everything in Persona 5 Strikers is perfect though. Plenty of aspects from Persona 5 that weren’t the greatest have leeched into Strikers. One such issue is the length of dungeons. These are clearly designed to be tackled in multiple trips, just as in the original. However, the keeps began to feel like a tedious hoop-jumping exercise more quickly here than in other games. Like the original, there also seemed to be the addition of dungeons toward the end simply to drag out getting to the end of the story.
During combat, while you are able to “Z target” (I will never stop calling it that), the camera angles, combined with the very chaotic nature of the combat, often made it difficult to keep an eye on your team and your enemies. I found myself at times defeating a shadow only to look around and find my team at almost the opposite end of the map. The camera hasn’t changed much from Persona 5 from what I could tell, but perhaps it just hasn’t translated well to the Warriors style of combat.
Final Thoughts – The Whims of Fate
Persona 5 Strikers is a must-own game for fans of Atlus’ titles. There’s no way of denying this game merges the best of an already hit game with a new approach to its combat style, to create something that has the best of both games. As someone who was sceptical of the Warriors influence in the game, I can safely say that I enjoyed the novel approach to combat. The level of strategy demanded of the player is a large factor in my decision here. You can choose to mash your way through, but honestly, I think you’d be missing out and would probably find it hard.
It’s also a game that can be picked up by anyone. Whilst it’s clear that there are references and plot lines to the previous games, there’s little that would put new players to the series off. Unlike games like Mass Effect, there is no ability to carry over any decisions or romantic pairings, making this a new slate for those who romanced early and regretted it (Or dated every character and got what they deserved!).
My biggest issue, which isn’t Persona’s problem per say, but is a bigger issue for RPGs than developers want to admit, is grinding. Some players love it. But as you saw earlier, it is not an aspect of gameplay I am fond of, mostly because I don’t have the time or energy to devote to it in games. Considering that difficulty levels usually alter the main areas of damage, defence, exp and loot – would it not be possible to have a setting where grinding was removed? Story mode in games is great but often this is just “easy mode”. We need to be looking at what a story mode actually is because I’d much rather have a challenging game that didn’t punish me for not being able to sink hundreds of hours into it rather than a game I sail through in order to essentially have an interactive anime show.
I don’t normally comment on bonus content for games, as often they’re just nice additions to content. I tend to reserve collectors editions for franchises I am a big fan of, Persona and SMT games being one of them. So, you can imagine my thoughts when I saw the above image. The steelbook was a huge draw, but so were the soundtrack and art book.
I am also, for my many faults, someone who is pushing for a mostly digital Switch library. But for many reasons, I pre-ordered the Switch version of Persona 5 Strikers as physical. Then came the problems. Firstly, no steelbook for Nintendo Switch in the UK. Ok, no problem, I can still enjoy the soundtrack! Maybe it’ll be some kind of DLC code for popular streaming services? Or possibly a smartphone app with the content that you can access with some authentication?
No, the content is only accessible via your Switch! An icon appears just like any other game, that opens a simple menu to access features. Now forgive me, I know the Switch is portable etc. But if I want to listen to Persona 5 music on my Switch, I’ll boot up and listen while I play. This felt like such a wasted opportunity to get fans of the franchise on board before SMT5 releases. Maybe it’s a less popular market in the UK – to be honest, I don’t know – but this certainly is not worth seeking out or paying extra for.
- Captivating story that draws the player in
- Strong, fleshed-out characters
- A great fusion of two very popular gaming styles
- Grinding can be necessary at times
- Dungeons lose their novelty quickly because of their length
- Camera angles can be confusing at times