Musou games can be hit or miss depending how closely they follow the traditional hack-and-slash formula. Without a hearty narrative, they can often turn into mindless slugfests as you while away hours carving through hordes of enemies. But when done right, it’s an absolute treat — and Persona 5 Strikers is a prime example.
Persona 5 Strikers is triple the game I expected it to be, and any Persona fan should have an absolute blast playing it.
The first thing you should know before you jump into the game is this: Persona 5 Strikers is a direct sequel to the original game. While it’s marketed largely as a spin-off, everything here absolutely screams Persona 5. The opening chapters are drenched in typical Persona style, from jazzy menus to the game’s dialogue-heavy story. If you’ve played the first game, you’ll know what to expect here. From the low-fi beat soundtrack to the urban style of Shibuya, Strikers just gets what made Persona 5 so special.
For the purposes of this preview, I’m only able to talk about the game’s first Jail. But even this was enough to see just how well Strikers pulls off the Persona 5 charm.
The premise here is largely the same: evil deeds are running rampant, and the Phantom Thieves must change the hearts of evildoers to save the world from darkness. This go around, you’ll be exploring ‘Jails’ rather than ‘Palaces’ but it’s just a fancy, surface-level name change. The action remains the same, as does the loveable cast of characters. The only major differences stem from the game’s excellent new combat system.
As mentioned, it’s a musou game. That means rather than turn-based gameplay, combat takes place on an open plane where low-powered enemies continuously spawn until you defeat them all. You can swap between basic attacks, high-powered Persona blasts or terrain-based takedowns. There’s even an option to pause gameplay to unleash more powerful attacks and study your enemy’s major weaknesses. It’s far more nuanced than your typical musou game, and it mixes in a lot of the strategy you’ll find in typical Persona games.
While it certainly riffs from games like Dynasty Warriors, the gameplay here is incredibly refreshing. The need for tactics also makes battles feel far more compelling, as does the ability to use a skateboard to attack. You’ll need to master these techniques and discover more about your environment as you heard towards harder fights.
Which brings me to Alice, the game’s first major boss.
Alice is terrifying, and probably my favourite boss of the Persona 5 franchise so far.
On the surface, she’s a sweet young idol commanding the hearts of local men. But in reality she’s a manipulative abuser, using her status and charm as a means to get ahead. The Persona series has never been afraid to explore twisted tales, but Alice is particularly horrible with her cutesy Alice in Wonderland aesthetic and creepy sexual undertones.
Alice’s world is a neon homage to the strangeness of Alice in Wonderland, and it makes for a totally gorgeous opening Jail. Street corners are filled with lollipops and candy, unopened presents, vague melted chocolate shapes. It’s a sickly sweetness and unsettlingly creepy that makes Alice and her world hard to forget.
Conquering these enemies requires mixing musou combat and puzzle solving, with various switches and levers leading you further through the candy-coated labyrinth.
The final confrontation with Alice is more like a traditional boss battle, but like the rest of her Jail it’s incredibly unsettling. Here, she takes the form of a giant, warped rabbit with stitches in her cheeks and clawed hands. You’ll need to counter her weaknesses, use environmental baubles to attack and watch out for high-powered swipes that can spell doom for your team in an instant.
Personally, I preferred this approach to combat over Persona 5’s because it made every battle seem more epic and higher-staked. Rather than being limited to turns, players are able to jump in and attack Alice with everything in their arsenal. It’s high speed and high stress, but also deeply rewarding. You’ll need to pay attention, watch for patterns and strike when and where you can.
It’s an impressive first fight, and sets up Persona 5 Strikers for success.
If every Jail is as bright, beautiful and horrible as Alice’s kingdom, Persona 5 Strikers has the potential to eclipse even the original game. Four hours in, I’m totally hooked. Strikers is more than a worthy sequel. It’s too early to call it an improvement in every way, but the game’s combat and world design in the opening chapters is simply excellent.
Stay tuned to Kotaku Australia for a full review closer to Persona 5 Striker’s February 23 release on PS4/PS5, PC and Switch.