[Preview] Persona 5 Strikers – story, combat, and impressions
This past week, Atlus was kind enough to invite us to a pre-release event for the upcoming Switch title Persona 5 Strikers. We were able to go hands-on with the game to see the first full mission, including story, Warriors-style combat, and even the introduction to the mysterious new party member, Sophia.
The Persona series is much-loved by RPG fans worldwide, with a boom in popularity when the third and fourth titles came over for PlayStation 2. As a spin-off of the original Shin Megami Tensei games, Persona has a solid formula: the games focus on a group of high school kids that slowly unravel supernatural mysteries that surround their schools and towns, each of them learning more about themselves along the way. While many things have changed over the years from the original 1996 “Revelations: Persona“ release, the core of the series has much stayed the same – but here is where things differ, because Strikers is very much another spin-off of this spin-off, akin to the Persona Q games, or the Dancing all Night titles.
Persona 5 Strikers is a direct continuation of the original Persona 5, so previous fans can jump right back in with the characters they love and continue with an all-new story. All of the character progression, items, enemies, and familiar locales are there, along with a plethora of new content to keep players focused and engaged on progression. While the battle system is totally changed up, you’re still able to collect new Personas and mowing down hordes of shadows is exhilarating on its own.
The beginnings of Persona 5 Strikers has the player reprising the role of the protagonist from Persona 5, coming back to spend their summer vacation with their friends. While meeting up at the usual place, there’s enough of an introduction to the plucky teenagers that even new players will be able to get a good feel for their personalities and relationships within the group. The teens make plans to have a summer camping trip, complete with delicious food and time outdoors, but those plans fall short when our protagonist and his friend Ryuji stumble into a bit of a mess. Exploring over familiar maps felt right at home on the Switch, and while graphically its not the same as on the PlayStation 4, being able to have beloved locations like Shibuya and Cafe LeBlanc in the palm of my hand felt right. Even in docked mode, the graphics were noticeably less smooth, but there didn’t seem to be any freezing or slowdowns like I expected.
After initial story and catching up, you’re thrown back into the fray. The first excursion has you thrust suddenly back into the Metaverse, a cognition of the real world that is riddled with distortions and twisted desires of mankind. These first transitions into alternate worlds are always a bit jarring. The protagonist is pulled through to a dark version of Shibuya overrun by Shadows, seeing innocent civilians being beaten down. As they look about, they find that they are back in their Phantom Thief regalia, only cementing the fact that this place, though vastly different from the Palaces they were used to infiltrating, is still similar. Upon an encounter with the reason for this version of Shibuya, the player is cast down into a garbage-laden area below and attempts to find a way back to the surface world. In the process, we come across a strange box that houses a girl: Sophia, humanity’s companion. Peculiar as she is, she proves to be a worthwhile addition to the group, and the mysteries surrounding her only deepen as you explore deeper into the Metaverse.
Fighting before was a turn-based affair – even in the Q titles players would be faced with enemies that would take turns trading blows with their party. In Strikers, action combat is fast-paced and exciting. Players can cleave down multitudes of enemies at a time by chaining together attack combos and using special skills. While the change to the core of combat is vastly different, series staples like the “One More System,” are still in play: players can exploit elemental and physical weaknesses to earn extra attacks in battle. While this doesn’t exactly play out as it did on the turn-based side of things, it still has the same weight to turn the tide of battle, enabling players to string together blow after blow against enemy groups to overwhelm and overcome.
As players collect new Personas, they’ll be able to swap between different sets of skills. Making the best use of this skill arsenal is the key to victory overall, and mastering switching between your various skill sets becomes more fluid as you get used to which enemies have what weaknesses. While this can seem a bit much at first, its not long until you find yourself feeling more confident as you mow down group after group of shadows, collect more Personas, and level up to gain strength not only for yourself, but for your party members. Growing together feels great, and that’s really the core of what it is to be a Persona game, because its not just power that you gain in these games, but a better understanding of yourself, your friends, and the world around you.
Strikers has proven that a different formula can work for a well-loved series, even one as strong at its core as Persona. While you won’t be missing out on standard RPG staples, such as leveling up and upgrading your party’s gear, the shift to action combat can be a bit of a jolt. Turn-based fighting has a large focus on tactics and thinking things through. Planning every action, like when to heal, when to defend, and when to go all-out has been a reliable system for fans. With that gone, and the more fast-paced combat taking its place, it might seem a bit daunting to dip your toes into the depths of Strikers. If we think about, though, Persona games of the past have taught us that embracing change isn’t always a bad thing, and in this case, it’s outright wonderful.