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If there's anyone out there who could take the Musou genre popularised by the Dynasty Warriors series and add genuine depth to its hack and slash gameplay, it's Atlus and P-Studio. Persona 5 Strikers may appear on the surface to be a reskinned Dynasty Warriors game, but there's a lot more going on in this full-fledged JRPG.
The first thing you notice about Persona 5 Strikers is the style. As impossible as it sounds, Atlus have somehow managed to amp up the charisma, and it's nothing short of astounding. The in-game menus are sexier, the cutscenes are epic, and the returning Phantom Thieves of Hearts (the characters you play as) are all rocking new outfits. YouTuber Jirard Khalil once described Persona 5 as "horny for style", so, by that metric, Strikers is full-on gagging for it.
The second thing that's apparent in Persona 5 Strikers is that this game is a sequel, not another spin-off. It's also worth noting this is a follow-up to Persona 5 - not Persona 5 Royal - so don't expect to see the new characters from the expanded title again (think of that what you will).
Speaking of characters, you're no longer confined to the role of Joker, leader of the aforementioned Phantom Thieves. Now, you can choose from a wide roster of characters, who all have their own personas and combat styles. The standout to me was new character Sophia, who wields deadly yo-yos with aplomb. She's also reminiscent of cool robot lady Aigis from Persona 3, and that's just the sort of thing that draws me to a character.
So, why are the Phantom Thieves reunited? The heroic friends have met up to enjoy the summer together, going on a tour of Japan. Sadly, the best laid plans of mice and men, and talking cats, often get shafted (is that the phrase?), leaving Joker and his pals to tackle a weird phenomenon that bears many of the hallmarks of the dastardly deeds they encountered in Persona 5.
To do this, you, as the player, will have to investigate by exploring iconic Japanese locations, talking to other characters, and tearing through hordes of metaphysical enemies known as shadows. The latter forms the basis of the game's new direction, moving away from the turn-based combat of Persona 5, and unleashing real-time action. It has to be said that the game nails this with stunning confidence, with new attack, stealth and escape mechanics all flowing smoothly.
It's typically quite easy to button mash in games like this. Whether it's a classic Dynasty Warriors title, or Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (Nintendo's most recent take on the genre), there's often a sense of being impervious to almost every enemy. Strikers avoids this enough to feel like you genuinely earn your victories. It's not consistently challenging, with some skirmishes feeling like a breeze, but there's no shortage of deadly foes, even when playing on Normal mode, and this elevates the gameplay to dizzying heights.
However, great as the gameplay is, it comes second to the story. There's no shame in that. A great story is what every mainline Persona game is about, and Persona 5 Strikers is no exception. When first loading up Strikers and seeing the Phantom Thieves again, I felt like I was back with real friends. That's the power of the Persona series, although it may have been aided a tad by life in lockdown.
Either way, Strikers doesn't hold back on the story beats in the opening phases, showing without question that there's a full story Persona waiting within, and I can't wait to dig deeper.
Persona 5 Strikers releases for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC on February 23 2021. Game played on PlayStation 4 with code provided by the publisher.
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