The thieves are back in town.
What feels like an eternity ago (but what was really about year and a half ago), Atlus announced Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers, a sorta-sequel, sorta-spin-off of Persona 5 reimagined as a Warriors-style action game. For that entire period, I had my eye on the project, waiting and wondering when it would come westward. I was genuinely concerned at times that we wouldn’t get it, and I’d have to settle for crummy translations on a forum, but thankfully, the game has finally come to our shores, shortened to Persona 5 Strikers. Was it worth the wait? I dunno, do the Phantom Thieves steal hearts?
A few months after the end of Persona 5 (the vanilla version, not Royal), the former leader of the Phantom Thieves returns to Tokyo to enjoy summer vacation with his good friends. However, while out shopping for camping supplies with Ryuji and Morgana, the trio inadvertently stumble back into the Metaverse, specifically a mysterious “Jail” where unlucky souls have their desires stolen away. Those who have their desires taken become frantically devoted to the Jail’s Monarch in a manner alarmingly similar to the Phantom Thieves previous changes of heart. Knowing they’ve got a villain on their hands, the Phantom Thieves reunite to steal back the public’s desires, all while getting themselves wrapped up in a conspiracy spanning the entirety of Japan.
Compared to the Palaces of the original game, Strikers’ Jails are much larger and more labyrinthine in scale. As always, you’ll need to sneak your way through while solving the occasional puzzle to open the way further. Shadows are on patrol, and you can ambush them to get the jump on them. However, this ain’t no JRPG (at least not in terms of combat). When you start a fight with a guard, a whole hoard of Shadows appear, and using your weapons and Personas, you have to clear out large swaths of them all at once. When you first start out, it can feel a little hectic with so many enemies moving around and attacking independently, but once you get a feel for the speed of the combat, you’ll actually find that the Persona and Warriors systems mesh together surprisingly well. You can pause the action to summon your Persona and use all of the magical and physical skills from the original game, and you can baton pass to your teammates to take control of them and their diverse movesets. It’s a little button-mashy, as Warriors games tend to be, but that extra wrinkle of elemental affinities requires you to put a little more thought into how you move and play.
The Phantom Thieves have done it again! See what critics are saying about Persona 5 Strikers.
The Digital Deluxe Edition of #P5S is available now, and launches for all players on February 23rd on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Steam!
— Official ATLUS West (@Atlus_West) February 19, 2021
Outside of the Jails, you can tour various Japanese tourist destinations, buying supplies and ingredients that Joker can use to cook healing items. While there is an in-game calendar, it’s strictly for story purposes; you can come and go from the Jail freely without using up a day. There is, unfortunately, no social link system, because Igor never shows up for spin-offs, but you still get plenty of fun interactions between the Thieves, both during story beats and the occasional request for a bowl of ramen. It makes me genuinely happy to see all these characters together again, thanks heavily in part to the work of the returning English voice cast. I was only an hour in before I got at least three “for real?”s from Ryuji, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you’re not expecting this kind of fast-paced gameplay, Persona 5 Strikers can take a bit of adjusting. Once you’ve figured it all out, though, it’s a fantastic experience with a cool story and lots of fun game mechanics. As if I’d expect any less from those plucky teens who stole my heart five years ago.