Instead, the most obvious change I want to talk about is the shift to a more Musou-style, real-time battle system as opposed to the acclaimed turn-based RPG stylings of Persona 5. Coming much more from the Persona side than from the Dynasty Warriors side of this unlikely marriage, Strikers most immediately impressed me by how well it translates the tenets of P5’s battle system into a different form and remains so fun and engaging.This is in part due to Strikers’ combat not being completely real-time. Sure, you’re running around a battlefield, hitting enemies with basic, special, and ranged gun attacks, but this is still a Persona game, and at any point you can summon your chosen character’s Persona to use their abilities mid-battle. Doing so pauses the chaos temporarily, allowing you to swing your character around (without moving from that spot), choose your target area and skill, and unleash your attacks at will. That simple ability to pause battle and use your powerful moves that also drain your SP gauge is so well implemented because these elemental-based attacks are often the key to winning a battle when used well.
But the action never penalizes you for stopping to take a moment to think. And Strikers, at large, is quite forgiving. While you can bring various items into battle to heal, refill your SP, or nullify status effects, I often found myself running out of SP quite quickly. Strikers does run on a calendar system similar to Persona 5, but it moves forward in time based on story beats, rather than your actions, so you can hop out of Strikers’ Jails – a new twist on P5’s Palace dungeons – back into the real world to refill your stamina and health, and again into the metaverse without precious time elapsing. Strikers overall strips away the focus of having to really manage your time and make tough choices about whether you’re hanging out with a friend, working a job, or infiltrating the metaverse. That’s definitely a core aspect lost in translation, but given Strikers’ overall structure, I wasn’t necessarily missing out on having to make those tough calls here.
And being able to hop out and then back into the Jails is especially helpful because, while Strikers’ general battles are relatively easy, the mid- and end-boss battles are surprisingly squishy, with plenty of health and defenses that require a ton of SP-powered attacks to break through and ensure victory. I certainly enjoyed these larger-scale battles, but don’t expect to simply button mash your way through them.But in any battle, Strikers offers a lot of freedom and options, which is both a blessing and a curse, even as a seasoned Persona 5 player. Every one of the Phantom Thieves from P5 is available from the jump, plus new character Sophie. With a party max of four, you can mix and match depending on Persona elemental powers, personality, or special attack variances, which differ between each character. It’s wonderful to have so much variety from the start, rather than the developers implementing any sort of cliched beat that would have removed teammates or powers, but because of that, you essentially get a quick tutorial screen and then are thrown right back into battle any time you choose to play as a character for the first time.
This leads to a lot of experimentation with how those special moves can really make a difference – and I found they could when, say, using Ann’s special to imbue fire in her attacks is necessary because of the elemental advantage versus amusingly turning Morgana into a bus – but it’s definitely a bit like being thrown into the deep end. And that’s on top of all the other little bells and whistles present in the battle system, from ambushes to give you a head start as you jump into battle, to environmental attacks using objects around you, to all-out attacks and showtime moves to hit scores of enemies, and more.
There’s A LOT – and it’s all present largely at the start. I loved discovering how each aspect worked and how best to use them in battle, but I’d totally admit even after six or seven hours of playing I was still wondering if I was using every move in my arsenal to the best of my ability, or if I was missing something, and that led to a couple battles of trial-and-error guesswork.
Luckily, that worry aside didn’t prevent me from exploring every nook and cranny of the first Jail Strikers offers, which, like Persona 5’s palaces, has treasures to pick up, hidden chests, and a host of environmental puzzles. The bright, carnival-esque aesthetic led to fascinating discoveries as I explored more of the world, and coupled with the fantastic returning and new musical tracks the action always maintained an exciting pace. I’m eagerly excited to jump into the next Jail and see where these new mysteries, new abilities, and the same classic team take me. Persona 5 Strikers smartly melds a lot of the systems, characters, and sheer style of Persona 5 onto a new mechanical template, but doesn’t lose out on any of the charm and delight inherent in the original. Strikers may not have been the Persona 5 sequel I expected, but it’s certainly one I can’t wait to keep playing.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior News Editor, host of Podcast Beyond!, and PlayStation lead. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.