I don’t hide this about me. I’m a giant Persona fan. Since the first time I played Persona 4 Golden back in 2017, I fell in love with the series. Each and every game has impressed me, and in my opinion, it’s one of the most consistently good game series I’ve ever played.
But just because I’m such a giant fan does not mean I go easy on Atlus. I’m likely harder on them because I love the series. I don’t agree with some of their practices.
I don’t enjoy the fact that they re-release largely the same game at the same price. Despite having some of my favorite characters in the series, I don’t believe Persona 5 Royal needed to be a full game. I also think they do milk the franchise quite a bit.
But I don’t give them crap over that because Atlus seems to know how to make fantastic spin-off games for the Persona series. Why would I complain if the stuff they give us is good? Well, Persona 5 Strikers is no different.
Rather than just fawn over the game for 10,000 words like I easily could, I worry that would make me sound too much like the fanboy I am. Instead, I’ll save us all the time and discuss a few of the reasons why this game is not only such a fantastic sequel but a spin-off as well.
The first reason is because of the game’s story. This is a direct sequel to Persona 5 (and also Royal if, like me, you want it to be). It takes place about half a year after the original game.
What I really like is the subject matter they decided to focus on. The characters are already established at this point. We had all of P5 to introduce them to us. This sequel is a chance to see them all as friends. Not to see them become friends.
There’s no reason to tell the same story twice. It’s time to take what was established in P5 and run wild with it. That’s exactly what Strikers does. Atlus decided to flip the entire thing on its head.
Rather than have the cast hang around the same area of Japan for most of the game and taking on big baddies known worldwide, Striker revolves around the cast going on a road trip to various parts of Japan, changing hearts of smaller, more local villains.
When in P5, you’re stuck in the same area for 80+ hours, that moment you first hop in the camper and take off to another city feels so freeing. It feels like a sequel then and there. That’s why starting the game’s first dungeon in the same area was such a smart move.
It starts by giving you something familiar, nostalgic even, before showing you that you aren’t playing Persona 5, but instead its sequel. It makes visiting Kyoto, Okinawa, Sapporo, and the other cities feel like the chains have been broken. It really lets you know you’re in for a new experience. Not just more of the same.
It feels like a proper sequel. Even with the slight changes made to similar menus. With the same music mixed in with new tracks. Even hearing the same banter between the thieves as they now discuss their futures. Everything breathes familiarity yet growth at the same time.
You get the sense that nothing has changed, yet everything has changed at the same time. It’s quite a heartwarming feeling, really, if you love the cast of P5 as I do. But this theme of growth doesn’t stop there.
In P5, the villains were very cut and dry. They consisted of horribly abusive teachers, corrupt politicians, mob bosses, all pretty bad people. People who deserved their hearts changed. Strikers does away with that theme.
Pretty much every “villain” in the game is not a bad person. They do bad things, but they are far from the total scumbags of the previous game. This means the thieves have to question their justice like never before. It’s no longer just good versus evil.
Every “villain” in Strikers went through some type of trauma in their past. Something that shaped them into the person they are now. Of course, it doesn’t excuse their actions, but being used and abused by awful people forced them down this road. The thieves’ “justice” is now in a grey area.
Like the growth in the characters, their sense of justice grows. They realize that not every bad person is necessarily “bad.” And if they are, that there’s likely a reason for it. They learn that the world isn’t just good and evil, that there’s a lot more nuance to it.
If Persona 5 is about a group of teenage outsiders finding a place to belong and spreading justice along the way, Strikers is about a group of young adults learning how much damage their mindset of “changing rotten adults” can be.
What is the Heart?
For a game about stealing hearts, the thieves have never really dug into just what that is. They steal those with “corrupted” hearts, but what exactly makes a heart corrupted in the first place? What even is the heart? Of course, we’re not talking about the organ here.
Going with the theme of growth and learning that the world isn’t black and white, the new characters introduced in this game make the thieves question even more about themselves.
Sophia (humanity’s companion) is an AI. She doesn’t have a heart, not in any sense of the word. Yet her goal is to learn what the human heart is. She travels with the Phantom Thieves to do just that.
At various points throughout the story, she questions why characters say what they do, why they do one thing but mean another, why they get angry at each other. Where sadness comes from. She wonders why they act human, essentially.
And Joker does his best to explain to her, but as we see through the various dialogue options, he doesn’t quite know himself. It’s impossible to understand the human heart because it’s impossible to understand humans. We have enough trouble understanding our own actions, let alone those of others.
This now brings to light the fact that the thieves really don’t understand what they’re sticking their noses into. That what they’re doing is really fulfilling their own self-righteousness. Something that comes into play later, but I won’t discuss for the sake of spoilers.
This duality is explored deeper with the other new character Zenkichi. As a member of the police, he brings actual “justice” to the table. He’s on the right side of the law. While the Phantom Thieves are “just,” they’re no friends of the police, and they certainly aren’t lawful.
In many ways, he keeps the thieves in check, stopping them from breaking the law as much as they’d like. But because of the thieves’ “specialties,” they often drag him into their work. And so both of their “justices” blend into one.
Zenkichi also adds a bit of age and experience to the Phantom Thieves. Being the eldest by quite a bit, he can give a new, more mature perspective to many of the situations the thieves find themselves in, once again adding to that theme of growth.
Zenkichi shows them that not every cop is corrupt and that there are some things only they can do. That no matter how hard they wish it wasn’t true, that some things are just out of their reach and need to be left to the professionals. One of the last moments of the game is accomplished by Zenkichi alone, for instance.
Leaving the last job to the police is something the thieves of old would have never done willingly before, especially when you consider that Joker, their leader, almost got his life ruined multiple times because the police were corrupt.
Zenkichi showed them that there is good in the force and that everybody is trying to reform the world in their own way. The Phantom Thieves aren’t alone. The fact that they understand, and are willing to accept it, shows more of their growth.
Sophia, while bringing something completely different, is arguably more important than Zenkichi. While Zenkichi makes the thieves question their sense of justice, Sophia puts into question their methods.
As an AI without a heart trying to understand one, it forces you to look at the things you’ve been changing for so long, that much more. As you not only experience the new “villains” and learn of their trauma but also try to explain it to Sophia, you have to take a long look at what exactly you’re doing.
Is changing hearts even right in the first place? Should such a thing be tampered with? Do these people really deserve it? When you have a very impressionable character like Sophia around, it really forces you to consider every action with that much more care as to not lead her astray.
This sense of responsibility mixed in with all the other factors in Strikers forces the characters to mature in ways they never had to before. Are they still morons? Yes. But they’re morons who have learned to see the world through a slightly different lens.
Change of Genre
Above covers about all the reasons Strikers make for a good sequel, but I’ve yet to mention how it’s a good spin-off. That comes from the way it manages to take on a whole different genre without losing what makes the series Persona.
Strikers is a Dynasty Warrior-style game. These are beat-um-ups where you take on hordes of enemies at once by stringing together simple combos with each of the characters. A far cry from a slow, story-based RPG that takes some 100 hours to complete.
And the pacing of Strikers is definitely different. That’s obvious to anyone. It makes sense considering the game is only half the length. Still, the game progresses in a way similar to Persona 5, so despite its smaller playtime, it feels the same.
Strikers took the fast-paced action typical of Dynasty Warrior games and slowed the pace down to fit Persona. Still, when actually exploring the jails, all the action you would expect is present.
My biggest problem with this style of game and beat-um-ups, in general, is that I find them repetitive. Not enough changes to keep me interested. I feel like I’ve seen everything the game has to offer right at the beginning.
Strikers helps fix this by having a large cast of characters, for one, but also how each character fights differently. Most have different gimmicks, or attack speeds, making no two characters feel the same.
What Strikers does a nearly flawless job at really blending the Persona formula with the Dynasty Warrior formula. The game feels like equal parts both. It has a more Persona vibe to it, as it is a Persona game, but that doesn’t take away from the fast-paced Dynasty Warriors gameplay.
They mix the slow story Persona 5 does so well in between the jail exploration. Making the game more story-driven in general helps keep that Persona feel.
But the biggest thing that separates Strikers from other similar games is the aspects drawn from Persona with its battle system. Like in P5, the combat-based around targeting enemies’ weakness is still present.
You hit a weakness with a skill enough times, the enemy falls down, and you can deal major damage. In Strikers, this is scaled up. The same rules apply, but now with dozens of enemies of the field. The best part is how quickly you can activate your persona.
It doesn’t matter if you’re jumping in the air, dashing, in the middle of a combo, you press one button, and time freezes as you pick a skill from your respective persona. This makes the combat flow unbelievably smooth.
I can’t tell you how many time’s I’ve just felt like the coolest person alive playing this game. I pull off a really sweet combo, dodge out of the way at the last second, summon my persona, knocking the enemy down, before jumping halfway across the screen for an all-out attack.
It’s a thing of beauty, and it feels much nicer to play than your typical Dynasty Warrior game. With the addition of personas, it doesn’t feel nearly as repetitive either. As all of your characters level up, their personas learn new skills, giving them even more combat capability.
With Joker having the power of the wild card, he can use multiple personas. This gave the normal P5 variety as well, but even more so this time. Joker is versatile enough to be any type of character he wants. This alone adds much more possibilities than I’m used to seeing in the genre.
If every beat-em-up and Dynasty Warrior’s game felt similar to this, I’d love them. Strikers managed to change my mind and show me just how satisfying this genre can be. I think that’s a pretty special thing.
I was apprehensive when I first heard of this game. I was worried it would turn out to be just another Dynasty Warriors game, but it turns out that I was wrong. And I have to say. This is the happiest I’ve ever been to be wrong in a while.
Thank you very much for reading
What do you think makes a good sequel or spin-off? I think the main point is it’s important to build upon the existing thing while adding something fresh.