Just like Persona 5, Persona 5 Strikers is a story-driven RPG. Despite what you may have heard, it is not a wall-to-wall action game similar to something like Dynasty Warriors. Just like Persona 5, it has exploration in both the real world and the realm of the mind. It has long stretches of dialogue, cutscenes, and character bonding. It's basically a sequel, and the only major, immediate difference is that it trades in turn based combat for real-time brawls.
We recently attended a digital preview event for Persona 5 Strikers, and while we didn't get to go hands-on, we did get to see around 30 minutes of uninterrupted gameplay. The footage was taken from early in the game's story (more on that in a minute), and our first impressions are very positive. In short, Persona 5 Strikers looks like a lot of fun.
Now then, the story. It's important to note that Persona 5 Strikers takes place after Persona 5 — not the superior Persona 5 Royal. As such, the events of Royal never happened in the world of Strikers. It's a real shame considering how fantastic Royal's additional plot elements and characters are, but that's just the way development of these games has panned out. Can't win 'em all.
Having said that, it looks like there'll still be a lot of story to look forward to. This is still very much a Persona title in that characters are always yapping to one another and reiterating specific plot points. There was a lot of dialogue in this demo — all fully voiced in English by the exact same actors — and the narrative itself has us intrigued.
The short version is that The Phantom Thieves are on a road trip across Japan. You'll visit different Japanese cities and other locations, each with their own set of problems. In the demo that we saw, our stylish heroes were tracking down a woman named Alice, who was apparently stealing the desires of ordinary people.
The demo ran us through a seemingly large chunk of Alice's mind palace — a distorted Japanese city complete with creepy carnival-esque decoration. It was quite a, er, striking environment, with bright, almost neon colours popping off against a muted grey and black city skyline. This was a much more open palace than the ones found in Persona 5, though. Whole streets were fully explorable, and there was a lot of verticality to the level design, with Joker able to jump across rooftops and take part in a number of platforming sections. It was all surprisingly fluid and dynamic.
Basically, this was a big old dungeon. And like any Persona dungeon, there were shadows creeping about. Just like in Persona 5, Joker could land a surprise attack on patrolling enemies, which would result in a dramatic advantage at the beginning of combat. Likewise, if Joker was spotted, security would increase, and know-it-all cat-boy Morgana said something about having to retreat should the security level max out. Again, just like in Persona 5.
Right, onto the combat itself. Upon encountering an enemy, the camera pulls back and a bunch of shadows burst into life. You can start hacking and slashing immediately, with Joker pulling off some wide-sweeping swipes with his trusty dagger. This is where the Dynasty Warriors comparison comes into play — but there's more to the combat system than just mashing square.
In fact, fights remind us of the hybrid battles in Final Fantasy VII Remake. You have full control over your character's movement and attacks, but you can also pause time whenever you want in order to summon your persona. You can then target enemies with skills, exploiting their weaknesses in classic Persona fashion. Knock all of your opponents down and you can even trigger an all-out attack.
It's hard to get a proper feel for combat when you're not actually playing the game, but we thought that the action looked enjoyable. Joker moves fast and his evasive dodge seemed a little erratic, but again, it's difficult to really pass judgement without trying it ourselves. The bottom line, though, is that the core of Persona's combat is still here. Hitting weaknesses with physical abilities or spells is still the overall goal — it's just that things are much more involved.
Although three of his allies joined Joker during these fights — Ann, Makoto, and Haru — we didn't get to see how they played. The demo stuck with Joker throughout, leaving the rest of the Thieves to be controlled by the AI. Speaking of which, the teammate AI seemed rather competent, and it looked as though you could issue set commands to your allies in order to rack up combos.
All in all, as massive fans of Persona 5, we're really looking forward to getting our hands on Persona 5 Strikers. Our big takeaway is that this isn't just some basic hack-and-slash spin-off — it's a full-on action RPG with intricate level design and a cool looking combat system. Very promising.