Almost a year after the western release of Persona 5 Royale and four from the original title, the Phantom Thieves are back on our consoles with Character 5 Strikers. Did the musou drift of this sequel know how to steal our hearts?
Persona 5 Strikers ranks temporally a few months after the Persona 5 finale, totally ignoring the events of the Royale version as the two titles were developed almost simultaneously. Joker prepares to enjoy his summer vacation by returning to Tokyo but, once he rejoins the rest of the Phantom Thieves, things take an unexpected turn. The plot of this real sequel once again sees the cognitive plane as the protagonist, but in a different way than seen in the original title. If in the award-winning Jrpg our heroes were called to complete the Palaces to steal the hearts of the wicked, here Joker & Co. must infiltrate the Prisons, manifestations of the evil of the villains on duty - called Monarchs - which cover entire Japanese cities.
In fact, in Strikers you don't have to move only to the capital but, to eradicate the new threat, they can also be explored other famous Japanese cities like Kyoto, Osaka and Sapporo. The adventure on the road to find the Monarchs flows pleasantly, also thanks to the two new exclusive characters of the title: Sophia and Inspector Zenkichi. Both offer different points of view compared to the Phantom Thieves: the first is a mysterious Artificial Intelligence installed in the smartphones of the protagonists capable of physically manifesting itself in the Prisons, while the second is a policeman who will approach the group of heroes. The police are in fact convinced that the Phantom Thieves are behind the mysterious threat, and never miss an opportunity to stay behind the group.
Don't call him Musou
Contrary to what it might seem from the announcement trailer, Strikers is not a musou. Not in the strict sense of the word at least. Forget the typical conquest missions of the genre, as well as the dialogues for their own sake, in this game we talk - a lot - and explore. The structure does not present missions interconnected by a feeble narrative plot, but the plot is constantly present through animated cutscenes and dialogues. Precisely the latter are present in a really massive way, especially considering the genre not really famous for the narrative depth offered. Present, as in the original title, the multiple answers that can lead to comic curtains that lead us to bond even more with the characters that we should already have learned to love.
Speaking of exploration, it is possible to freely roam the streets of Tokyo districts (the same as Persona 5) and other cities, very bare and without activities.
Forget the streets full of people and mini-games, they are not present here. There is also no time planning dictated by the calendar which, although present, does not bind the player to time limits and the Social Links, replaced by the Bond.
Despite the premise inserted in the previous paragraph, even in this work by Omega Force the blows are not wasted at all. No hordes of enemies to face without a clear plan or scheme here though the Prisons are real Dungeons containing puzzles, stealth and platforming stages, just like in Persona 5.
These can be completed without following a predefined path, and include checkpoints that allow the player to move between previously explored areas of the Prison, return to the real world and save the game. The areas are not teeming with minions as happens in musou, but there are some enemies that, once attacked, will bring up a host of opponents to defeat. Excellent possibility taken from the original title to take these sentries off guard to start the battle with an extra advantage.
But then they strike their hands, or not?
Turning to the combat system, this is difficult to understand when compared to the various Dinasty Warriors and derivatives, because each character is equipped with a great variety of attacks entrusted to a mapping of the controller not very intuitive. We therefore have the melee attacks, the assaults, the firing shots with counted ammunition (but which recharge after the clashes) and, above all, the skills of the Personae.
The latter are the keystone during the clashes, as they allow you to take advantage of the elemental weaknesses of the enemies and to offer support to the characters thanks to buffs and heals. The choice of the Personae to equip will therefore be of fundamental importance to win every battle, guaranteeing a depth of gameplay that is more unique than rare within the genre of belonging. Similar speech also for the equipment which, to remind again the role-playing nature of the title of origin, can always be updated and improved thanks to the shops present in the cities. The interaction with the environment is also very good thanks to Ghost Flicker, feature that allows the player to exploit the elements of the map such as light poles, cars and overhead points to bypass or damage the Shadows present.
Really clever addition is it Clash Hacking, which is a feature that sees Futaba as the protagonist struggling with the sabotage of the security systems of the Dungeons. The player's task is to protect the girl from the hordes of enemies until the end of the Hacking maneuver. Addition needed? Absolutely not, but it gives greater depth to a character who did not have a real active role in Persona 5.
Style to sell, once again
Needless to turn around, Persona 5 Strikers fully incorporates the artistic style that led to the success of Persona 5. The visual style, despite being the fourth ATLUS title to present it, is still fresh and captivating, as is the character design of the characters.
Analogous speech for the soundtrack, characterized by great rearrangements songs born from the brilliant mind of the composer Shoji Meguro and interpreted by the recognizable Lyn Inaizumi. The Japanese and English dubbing is also excellent with the original cast of voices called again to give life to Phantom Theaves & Co. Technically the title turns to 60 fps stable on PS4, while on Nintendo Switch it reaches 30 fps for a resolution of 900p in fixed mode. Nothing striking, but in these games the important thing is the stability of the frame rate, and there is nothing to complain about.
The latest effective critique of Japanese society
Persona 5 Strikers is not only a very good hack and slash (calling it musou is really too simplistic), but it is yet another criticism by Atlus of Japanese society. If in the fifth chapter you pointed your finger at the rot that lies behind politics, school and a system that tends to standardize every individual, this sequel increases the dose in all respects over the course of the about forty hours necessary to complete it. Not wanting to spoilers I avoid going into details, just know that the first Monarch is a clear criticism of the Asian Star System and its idols sold as pure and perfect.
Note of merit to the character of Zenkichi Hasegawa who offers an adult and mature point of view on the whole story, making it the best addition from the narrative point of view of this chapter (and not only).
Despite some undeniable flaws, such as the virtually non-existent enemy artificial intelligence, a not excellent Italian translation, polygonal models that are now affected by their age and a total understanding reserved only for those who have played the original title, Persona 5 Strikers is an extremely enjoyable work. If I were to judge him as musou - an extremely limiting definition as already mentioned - he would be the best of its kind, also ousting the recent Hyrule Warriors: The Era of Calamity from the podium. But P5S is much more. We are in fact faced with the success of an extremely risky move: to continue a story that was already well finished and that had no need for a sequel.
Let's be clear, this new iteration does not add anything striking to the lore of the saga, but it allows all those who have loved Persona 5 to experience a new - and presumably the last - adventure in the company of the Phantom Thieves. If you've loved Joker, Fox, Skull Morgana, Panther, Queen and Oracle, this is the perfect opportunity to have your heart stolen again.