Video game menus are like arseholes — every game has them and more often than not, they stink. They are often the least-pretty, least splashy part of an otherwise beautiful game, partly because they aren’t central to gameplay (unless it’s Crusader Kings or something). But Persona 5 Strikers shows us a world in which menus do not have to be soullessly utilitarian information-management systems.
Persona 5 Strikers, out today, pairs Sega Atlus with hack-and-slash genre kings Koei Tecmo for a surprisingly substantial musou-style crossover. It’s a direct sequel to Persona 5, continuing the story of the Phantom Thieves but with Koei Tecmo’s signature 1 vs. 1000 melees in place of Persona’s traditional RPG-style confrontations. The game’s pretty great. I enjoyed it both as a game with a story to experience and as a piece of art — especially the menus.
Menus in Persona 5 were already pretty fucking amazing. One need only to look at Persona 5’s unique battle UI (and all the funny-arse memes it spawned) to see how Atlus put a lot of thought into how to make UIs as fun and interesting as the games they’re a part of. Because Strikers is a kinetic action game and not a static RPG, those famous menus needed an overhaul. Luckily, Atlus was able to carry that chaotic energy and spirit over into Strikers’ new interface. Take a look.
I feel like video game menus are generally designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. After all, you’re there to play the game, not fiddle with UI. A “good” video game menu is like the transmission in your car, in that you only think about it when it’s busted. Persona 5 Strikers’ menu rejects that notion of being seen and not heard. It is a riot of colour and expression. It gets in your face with its aggressive redness in a way that screams both “Fuck yeah!” and “Fuck you!” — like those kids in high school who wore anarchy t-shirts and spiked their hair with enough gel to hang drywall.
But that chaos doesn’t mean Strikers’ menus are a mess to read. They’re still intuitive to use, and when I navigate between options, the menu doesn’t cut to the new screen but smoothly transitions in a way that’s lovely to watch. For example, as you drill down into the Equipment submenus, Phantom Thieves Joker and Ryuji move seamlessly together through an alleyway — like you’re infiltrating a Jail with them.
I also appreciate how the menus tell you more about each character’s unique personality. Makoto (aka Queen) is the smartest of the Phantom Thieves — responsible for planning their elaborate heists. To fit with her status as the brains of the operation, her menu option is Skills. You see her in the background of that menu poring over blueprints and documents, and as you choose skills to invest in it feels like you’re both working together to make the team stronger. Futaba (aka Oracle) is the team’s hacker and guide. If it involves a computer or anything technical, that’s her domain. So it makes perfect, sublime sense that when you navigate to the Options command, she’s there helping you change the difficulty or to turn on subtitles.
Persona 5 Strikers is a game about being your true, uninhibited self, ripping off the mask of politeness and gentility society forces upon you. Strikers’ menus are a perfect example of that. Rather than be restrained by neat, monochromatic boxes or small, uninspiring text, words and art explode all over the screen as if trying to escape its boundaries. Like its characters, Persona 5 Strikers’ menus refuse to be contained.