“Persona 5 Strikers” is a sequel to “Persona 5” that continues the story of a group of young people known as the Phantom Thieves. In their spare time the Phantom Thieves explore the Metaverse, a parallel reality born out of people’s unconscious thoughts. One of the principles of Jungian psychology is that people present a curated version of themselves to the world. In other words, a “persona” that masks aspects of their core identity. In turn, suppressed or ungovernable impulses — our “shadow” in Jung’s terminology — become forces of the unconscious mind that affect their behaviors in ways in which they are likely unaware.
As in the previous game, players take on the role of a Japanese high school student who is also the leader of the Phantom Thieves. The boy, a.k.a. Joker, has the unusual ability of being able to wield different personas or masks that can be used to generate powerful attacks against the dangerous entities that populate the unconscious realm. By using different phone apps — er, long story — the Phantom Thieves are able to access people’s cognitive realms to try to bring about a shift in a person’s behavior. In “Persona 5” the students worked to change the behavior of an abusive teacher as well as other individuals who were adversely affecting the society around them. In Strikers they endeavor to change the behavior of an influencer, an author and other people who wield a pernicious influence over those who look up to them.
Although “Persona 5 Strikers” retains the visual novel elements that were a part of the previous game, it replaces its turn-based combat with nuanced, hack-n-slash play mechanics. On the normal or hard difficulty level players will have to come to grips with a bevy of mechanics if they hope to help Joker and Co. brave the Metaverse. For about the first 15 to 20 hours of the game tutorials pop up regularly.
During most of Striker’s combat situations, players can switch between Joker and three of his teammates, the latter of whom can be swapped in and out with other party members between battles. Each of the Phantom Thieves has their own combo attacks and individual personas — basically superpowered avatars — that they can call on for assistance. Personas are endowed with different abilities such as fire, ice or psychic attacks which make them particularly useful (or not) against various opponents. Early fights in the game are very forgiving. However, players will have to favor strategic thinking over button mashing to weather the more advanced adversaries who are prone to inflicting party members with status ailments that can make them temporarily turn on each other, fall asleep or otherwise become less effective in battle. It is essential, therefore, that players get used to not only attacking enemies, but using power ups (or buffs) as well as consumable items to keep the Phantom Thieves in the pink.
“Persona 5 Strikers” is a good hack-n-slash game. Although the combat areas aren’t especially arresting in terms of their environmental details, the fights themselves generate plenty of eye candy. Yet I hesitate to recommend Strikers without reservation because a lot of its charm comes from observing the characters interact with each other. I thought of how different it would be if I didn’t know each of their ticks and traits which I learned from the original Persona 5. So many warm fuzzies would be missed that I can’t help but wonder if I would have had the patience to put up with Strikers’ learning curve.
There are enough in-jokes and references to the previous game that newcomers to “Persona 5 Strikers” may well feel out-of-the loop. But if you’re as keen on “Persona 5” as I am, Strikers offers a fine way to catch up with the old gang.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.