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Game Review: ‘Persona 5: Strikers’ lets your freak flag fly in a gorgeous manga world

Persona 5: Strikers is a glorious hack and slash mash-up of Final Fantasy, Devil May Cry, and your most confusing wet dream.

It’s late enough to be early. I’m in an intense battle with a pole dancing pink bunny whose tail says “eat me” and whose primary attack is backing it up so hard and fast that my character, Panther, a whip-wielding high school student in a red zip jumpsuit and tail, gets crushed by butt.

If anyone comes into the room now, I know I’ll struggle to provide context. Welcome to Persona 5: Strikers.

Persona 5: Strikers is the seventh game in the Persona franchise, and a crossover with Koei Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors. From the title screen onwards, this game needs you to pick up what it’s putting down, and fast. You are alternately rocketed along through intensely speedy, visually explosive fight scenes, extended conversation pieces, and beautiful anime cutscenes. As an intro to the Persona franchise, it firmly sold me on the premise, and has me keen to hop back into the psychedelic/noir/manga world in whatever form that takes.

Being introduced to the Phantom Thieves of Hearts (yes, it’s a janky name, no, you don’t get used to it), I had no clue what was going on. The world of Person 5: Strikers is a confusing one. Taking some time out to brush up on various wikis, I found out what the game hadn’t told me. Your character is an unnamed 16 year old. At the start of Persona 5 he was framed for sexual assault, arrested, and expelled from school, so from the get-go you should know this is a deeply adult experience.

In Persona 5: Strikers you have left a tumultuous past behind you and reconvene with your group of friends/thieves for a breezy summer planned around getting away for a minute. This falls apart almost instantly and thrusts you, begrudgingly, back into your world-saving ways.

The Persona series’ titular Personas are a strange concept to wrap your head around. They’re strong human feelings tamed and given form while existing in the ‘Meta-verse’: a parallel reality of emotion, power, and magic. They’re used in a battle against Shadows, the wild versions of the same feelings. This allows the games to act as biting lampoons for social issues in a way that is uniquely Japanese. Think Neon Genesis Evangelion, Tokyo Ghoul, and the music video for Fantasy by DyE. The real monsters are us, and only we can tame them.

Playing within this world takes a mental shift, and an ability to ignore big exposition dumps with pretty hack-y dialogue. Putting that aside will allow you to fully invest into an interesting take on how social media deeply impacts the psyche of teenagers today. You play in the broken minds of influencers, IT moguls, and angsty teens.

While it definitely took a couple of gear shifts to get me invested, the solid voice acting, beautiful cutscenes, and lightning-fast combat pulled me in.

The Dynasty Warriors style of play is a mad leap from the turn-based combat of previous titles, and we can already tell it’s going to anger Persona purists. You are given a weak attack, a strong attack, a gun, and the ability to summon your Persona in real time to cast magic attacks, buffs, or debuffs. It’s an intense experience. You have vague combos, but most of the combat is spent furiously clicking while dodging the wind-up attacks of larger enemies. It makes you feel incredibly powerful against the grunts you normally face, but weak AF against bosses.

The largest criticism I have for this game comes from the difficulty being artificially jacked up through bloating boss health. It doesn’t take a huge amount of skill to best any of the creatures you come up against against – you can take anyone out through slapping them for minimum damage with extreme patience. I was left pretty disappointed by this, as I hoped that matching strengths of Personas against the weaknesses of the tougher Shadows would make a big difference, but instead it’s still a big slog to make it through the larger battles.

This is pretty standard for Dynasty Warriors, and if you love it, this will be right up your alley. Though it’s unlikely to convert anyone who doesn’t have the taste for it.

A minor note I had while playing was the confusing default keybindings and on-screen instructions for their use. It might be my ignorance, but the game recommends using ‘B’ and ‘H’ as your weak and strong attacks. This requires awkward management of your hand, hopping from mouse to keyboard and back. However, these attacks also start off bound to the right and left click on your mouse, which is an order of magnitude more manageable. I’d played my way through the tutorial and a solid portion of the first level, while struggling, before accidentally making the controls click into place.

For anyone unfamiliar with the noir-meets-manga art style of Persona, you are in for an absolute treat. The visuals of Persona 5: Strikers put me at ease in ways my early steps into the combat didn’t. I’ve never felt more like I was playing an anime. The visual novel style of the hefty dialogue scenes are suited towards manga fans and propped up by decent performances from the voice cast.

A disappointing factor was the lack of impact my choices seemed to have on the story. Every now and then, just to provoke interaction it seemed, you’d chuck your two cents into a discussion, only for it to make exactly zero difference, which is annoying as these discussions can be long. I was really hoping for the story to be less tracked, as the Persona franchise has always promoted strong social simulation aspects. Those aspects are not to be found here.

There are surprising moments of emotional depth that caught me off-guard in between some pretty wild emotional babble. “Trauma is a wound in the heart” was a line I found myself pondering well after playing. In contrast there’s an AI character, clearly meant to be younger than the 16-year-old main characters, who is instantly sexualised in a super uncomfortable fashion. “How old is an AI anyways?” is a dilemma I wasn’t prepared to be thrust into.

It cannot be overstated how good the game looks, which let me gaze past these grievances, and when that wasn’t enough, the jazz-rock fusion soundtrack pulled me right back into the world. We’ve spoken about Persona’s music before, but experiencing it in its rightful context tickled my ears in just the right way.

Persona 5: Strikers is an excellent dive into the world of Persona for those unfamiliar with it. It’s definitely not a game for everyone, but I can see it pulling in a new army of players who may have shied away from the turn-based combat of previous titles. It’ll also be a hard skip for some, but that was unavoidable with a Dynasty Warriors tie-in.

I’d definitely recommend it for someone who wants a decently challenging, visually exciting slasher to lose some hours in. It’s got me hooked in the world, and I’m now hyped for whenever the Persona 5 Royal PC port eventually makes its way out of the cognitive world and into reality.

 

Persona 5: Strikers is available on for pre-order now and is due for release on the PC, Switch and PS4 on February 23rd, 2021. Find out more here.