Strikers has all the style and confidence of Persona 5, plastered with bold colors and glittery character animations that give each scene the liveliness of a manga panel, all the way down to the menus. A smooth, jazzy soundtrack establishes a psychedelic ’70s spy movie energy, even though we’re dealing with teens taking on criminals throughout Japan. There’s even a 30-hour story with most of the cast and voice actors returning. It walks and talks almost exactly like Persona 5, a game that isn’t even on PC yet.
But Strikers isn’t Persona 5, and the comparison isn’t flattering for it. Its social elements and combat aren’t as fully-featured or its characters as deeply considered as Persona 5’s, so any expectation of parity will lead to disappointment. Strikers is a wild, but bloated visual novel with almost no room for expression or choice, and with some of the best turn-based combat in existence swapped out for repetitive action game combat. Strikers will give Persona 5 lovers some painful whiplash.
In Persona 5 Strikers you return as the same nameless high school student and reunite with the Phantom Thieves, your group of friends that faced down the invisible psychic threats plaguing the Metaverse in Persona 5. It sounds complex, but the Persona series just dresses up social and cultural issues in surreal fantasy garb. People fight one another with physical manifestations of their psyche, which basically makes it a game of surreal Pokemon. I choose you, weird sewer monster shaped like a penis, also why are you crying?! And so on.
The big bads have shifted from greedy adults to the more intangible effect of social media on young people, with villains building massive dungeons out of ego, from Hot Topic-infused nightmare amusement parks to goofy fantasy castles ripped from the pages of contrived young adult literature. These scenes, split between a real-world road trip through Japan, make Strikers sound like the ideal side story, a special summer reunion episode. And the story is fine, it’s just missing Persona 5’s special ingredient.
In Persona 5, the social simulation was the heart of the game. Going to school, plotting out who I’ll hang with afterwards, paying attention to what my friends like and what their problems are so when the time arises I know the right thing to say—my schedule, set against the ticking clock, created the tension and forced me to make interesting decisions. Do I hang out with Ryuji today or study for my exams? With limited days between massive, story-altering deadlines, my choices determined who I made lasting friendships with and who I left as casual acquaintances.
In Strikers, the daily rhythm doesn’t exist. There are no social links to tend to carefully. I’m just occasionally gifted upgrade points after certain scenes, most of which feed into buffs for the bland combat. Dialogue choices rarely matter, and if they do, there’s no feedback saying so. Passing time in Strikers gets monotonous quickly, with endless dialogue and scene changes devoid of interaction. It really coasts on the hope that you loved Persona 5 and have bottomless patience. Besides a few limp character beats, Strikers has few reasons to hang around for 30 hours.
The premise might be the only reason I stuck around. I wish I had something so simple and cool to take a dig at the effects of social media and data collection on daily life through the lens of jazz, anime, and street art when I was younger. I mean, the first boss is an influencer who turns into a monstrous rabbit at the center of a deranged amusement park. And the rabbit’s big, fluffy tail has a damn mouth. I don’t know that it contributes to the theme other than to make Strikers more interesting to look at while characters deliver long, moralizing messages to one another about influence and popularity and the true meaning of friendship, but it works. Most of my attention was spent waiting to see Striker’s next wild monster or trippy environment take goofy jabs at insidious social media design.
Nothing about Strikers’ story is particularly sharp or deep, but for a younger audience, its critiques could feel revelatory. It’s an optimistic story, too, a roadtrip with old friends that encourages action and hope in the face of seemingly implacable, ages-old institutions. Strikers can be cute as hell, but the shine comes off while beating down the same blur of grunts and monsters time and time again.
Koei Tecmo’s here with that love it or despise-it-more-than-anything Dynasty Warriors style combat, including the finicky camera that never seems capable of highlighting the guy about to bust out a huge attack just out of sight. Tappa-tappa-tappa. Light attack, light attack, heavy attack, dodge and repeat, forever. Even the Berserk spin-off couldn’t get me to like the stuff. You’re not working through massive battlefields, murdering millions for control points this time though. In Strikers, combat is often initiated like it is in Persona 5, or most other JRPGs. You’ll see an enemy wandering around a dungeon, bump into it, and suddenly the room’s a fire hazard, packed with dozens of enemies.
Fights are just pockets of Dynasty Warriors action, repetitive melee combat propped up by a Persona summoning system that uses spirit points or precious HP on elemental area-of-effect damage, opening up enemies for special attacks. There’s some amount of strategy involved, but the action really amounts to managing a crowd, choosing the most efficient Persona attack to perform critical damage on as many enemies as possible, and repeating. Enemies respawn in dungeons too, ensuring you’ll get to know the basic combo all too well.
Strikers never slows down to truly teach whatever nuances there are in the combat, either. Most situations are easy to get through with each character’s basic combo and a dodge and elemental persona attack thrown in for good measure, and there’s nothing about the flow of combat or the context of most scenarios that specifically calls for, teaches, or rewards more advanced combos and character switching. I got through it all with the same mashy tactics I learned in Lego Star Wars 15 years ago. Sometimes I’ll stun a group of enemies and get to pull off a special move or an all-out attack, treating me to a cool animation, but then it’s back to the mines, hacking away at enemies until there are no more to hack away at.
Compare that to Persona 5, where the streamlined turn-based combat makes meaningful use of every character and their personas, forcing the player into challenging scenarios to puzzle their way out of. In Strikers, I didn’t really need to consider my team composition or think too much about what personas they were carrying. If I saw a weakness within the smudge of enemies painting the screen, I’d deploy it. If I got too trigger happy with my persona abilities and ran out of spirit points, I’d just dip out of the dungeon and back in again to rest my characters without a time penalty. I can remember many distinct fights from my 100-plus hours of Persona 5, but none from the slurry of button-mashing to delete legions of Guys in my 30 hours with Striker.
It’s odd, to make a game so faithful to the style of Persona 5 only to jam in something so clearly out of place and expect diehard lovers of the social, turn-based RPG to get along with it all like old pals. Something is wearing the skin of my friend, telling me nothing’s wrong, that, no, I’m being weird. I worry that the Persona 5 evangelizers drawn to Strikers’ warm, familiar embrace are about to hit a brick wall of boredom.
At least it’s a good port, just one clearly anchored to its console origins. The biggest bummer is the 60 fps cap, especially for an animation-heavy action game. Textures that look fine on native console resolutions stand out at much higher resolutions on PC, and not always in the best way. Awnings, vending machines, and anything that isn’t just lines and color haven’t been touched up for higher resolutions. Not devastating, but we like the royal treatment on PC.
Most importantly, it runs well. I stay huddled up against that 60 fps cap with ease, my GTX 3080 barely breaking a sweat. In a few hours of play I haven’t seen any crashes or hitching. Customizable keyboard controls are there, a nice suite of language options—the works. It’s a pretty decent port! Seeing Tokyo and the Phantom Thieves rendered at 4K with perfectly clean lines is novel and frustrating, a reminder that Persona 5 on PC still isn’t a thing even though it feels like I’m looking right at it.
Persona 5 Strikers is a novel spin-off and sorta-sequel to a great RPG that most of my friends can’t play yet. But even though it’s packing a lot of signature style in mimicking the distinct look and sound of Persona 5, Strikers is a bone thin road trip whose charm can’t make up for the time and attention it takes to weather the mindlessly repetitive combat and negligible stakes.
Strikers isn’t without merit—I had some fun in there!—it’s just carrying some of the strongest caveats I’ve attached to a review. If you haven’t played Persona 5, a pretty rad RPG and social sim hybrid, then don’t play Strikers. If you have played Persona 5 and liked it, but know that you can’t stomach Dynasty Warriors-style combat, then turn back. And even if you like Dynasty Warriors style combat and played Persona 5, Strikers is still just doing a weird, jerky dance in a Persona 5 skinsuit, and you should approach with caution.
There are far better third-person combat games out there. Better RPGs. Better visual novels. None quite look or sound quite like Strikers, except for Persona 5, but you’ll be fine letting the memory of Persona 5 stand on its own (if you can ever play it).