The phantom thieves will have to solve another case next year. We watched the start of the adventure.
On February 21, 2021, Persona 5 Strikers will release on PC, PS4 and Nintendo Switch - that's what Atlus finally revealed earlier this week. The latest Persona 5 spin-off has been dubbed into English and it is getting subtitles in French, Italian, German and Spanish (in addition to English) for its Western debut. If you want and can, you can enjoy the original Japanese voices that come with the game, too. Also, the publisher will grant those who order the English Digital Deluxe Edition four days earlier access to the action game, so you can start playing from February 19.
According to Atlus West, game director Daisuke Kaneda insists that Persona 5 Strikers is a game that can be enjoyed by everyone who loves action games. So in order to follow the story you don't necessary have to play the main game or the extended Royal re-release from the beginning of the year, nor be familiar with the various manga and anime adaptations. Everyone shall be able to enjoy Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers - that's the original title - at least that's the self-declared goal of the developers. Nevertheless, it should be clear that this game is primarily aimed at people who have already fallen in love with the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.
Persona 5 Strikers is a sequel to Persona 5, it does not take Persona 5 Royal into account. We accompany the Phantom Thieves on a summer vacation trip across six major Japanese cities, only a few months after the events of the main game. However, the group won't have much time to relax, because they meet so-called monarchs on their journey. Those guys are collecting human desires, which lead to their targets becoming ill-willed prisoners who are cramped in giant "Jails". We have to defeat these monarchs to get to the bottom of a new mystery, and save everyone once more.
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Because the Phantom Thieves are not actual warriors, Persona 5 Strikers is not a real Musou game either. We are fighting off a few dozen of enemies at the same time, but not hundreds of them. The group isn't confronting shadows directly either, rather exploring the area, ambushing attackers from behind or avoiding unnecessary fights entirely. If the Thieves are careless, they may end up being ambushed themselves which raises the security level of the current dungeon. If our opponents are too wary and incited, we have to withdraw entirely from the level.
The feel of the game differs significantly from other Dynasty Warriors style titles, which becomes very clear in the level design. In the stream, the developers showed us an early dungeon based on the Shibuya district controlled by a character named Alice. This area takes place in the narrow streets of Tokyo, so we didn't battle enemy shadows in the wide open. The urban 3D world is divided into several routes that we can explore independently up to a certain point. Checkpoints let you travel back and forth between different areas and they connect you to the outside world.
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The ambush mechanics from Persona 5 were taken over to Strikers, which is another big difference compared to other titles from the developer Omega Force. In the Metaverse's Jails you see individual guards that you can 'unmask' with a sneak attack or take down heads-on. As soon as the fight starts, these shadows disintegrate into their individual components, which then have to be fought. If your ambush is successful, the enemies are being stunned which gives you the time for a few hits or to place a heavy special attacks (causing area damage).
While fighting we have access to normal combos, but Persona 5 Strikers does not rely on button mashing and quick reflexes too much. Instead it makes use of Shin Megami Tensei's deep RPG systems, so you need to keep elementary weaknesses and resistances of different Personas in mind when using skills. Also, there are follow-up mechanics such as Showtime, All-Out attacks, Batton Pass and 1-More chains to increase your damage output. Certain objects on the battlefield can be interacted with to unleash even more AOE attacks.
All of these techniques create a surprisingly deep combat experience that will regularly put to the test when combatting challenging foes. Powerful enemies and mini-bosses have a high health pool, and thanks to their charged attacks, they also deal heavy damage. Our normal weapon does hardly injure them, so it is even more important to master all the game mechanics while avoiding dangerous attacks at the same time.
You can switch between your four active Persona users at any given time and even exchange your well rested reserve members between fights. For this preview event, Atlus was of course focusing on the leader of the Phantom Thieves (Joker) who uses quick melee attacks. Thanks to his own Persona Arsene, he can access the Curse element, but we also know that he can take over enemy Personas to adapt to different strategies. He will be supported by all seven core members of the Phantom Thieves, the navigator Futaba is helping out, too. Besides, there are two new additions to the cast, one of which is an artificial intelligence named Sophia.
When not fighting, we are roaming around in the real world that comes with many familiar and some new locations. The areas in Shibuya look exactly like they did in Persona 5 and therefore fans will immediately feel at home when they explore the side street in front of Café Leblanc, the roasted coffee beans aroma of the restaurant itself or our hideout (Ren's room). Unfortunately, the title is a relic of the discontinued console generation, which can be seen in the frequent loading times among others. The most areas aren't very large and similar to the main game they are also regularly interrupted by short interludes. Also, the game shows some wooden animations when it comes to gestures, but that is fortunately somewhat overshadowed by the eye-catching Persona art style. If you look closely, however, you will still notice the relative age of the game.
What I've seen from Persona 5 Strikers so far looks like an action-packed realignment of the Persona formula. If the main game's turn-based battles were too sluggish for you, maybe you find more pleasure fighting in the real-time. However, you should be aware that the phantom thieves are still talking a lot with each other and therefore, the ratio between conversations and fights (at least in the section we've seen so far) was surprisingly balanced. How deeply Persona 5 Strikers focuses on the series' strong socializing aspect and how the topic of time is reflected in Atlus' latest adventure, I cannot say at this point. But since the title releases in about three months, we don't have to wait too long for our heart's desires.