After my recent preview of Persona 5 Strikers, I couldn't wait to dive back into the full game and see if everything held up well throughout the whole game. I am delighted to report the entire game was a blast, and I enjoyed my time with it immensely. P5S has 30+ hours of gameplay, depending on how much time is spent on optional content. Throughout, the story is exciting, and all of the Phantom Thieves feel precisely how they did in Persona 5 Royal. It was a real pleasure spending time with them again. Both of the new main characters are also well done and full of the same depth as the rest of the cast. My main gripe about P5S is that my P5R save didn't have any real impact on the game. Most notably, there was no recognition that Joker was supposed to be dating Ann in my game. That is a minor gripe, though.
P5S picks up six months after the end of the Persona 5 storyline. In fact, some of the events of that last palace are directly referenced in some story sections throughout P5S. Sadly the events during the extra semester of P5R seem to not exist in this continuity. As a result of this, Kasumi, Akechi, and Maruki aren't in this game. Initially, the Phantom Thieves gather to enjoy some relaxing vacation time together, but of course, things can't remain that simple. They quickly find themselves accidentally in the metaverse and with a whole new slate of enemies to overcome.
All of that said, players who haven't played P5 or P5R might be feeling like they will be hopelessly lost if they start with P5S. Although I recommend playing P5R because it's a fantastic game, it isn't required for P5S. Everything necessary to how P5S works and how you progress through the game is explained, with new systems opening up throughout gameplay. There are also quite a few systems in this game that weren't in the previous games. The primary deficit new players will have is not knowing what the various enemies are as soon as they see them and not knowing the main characters' backstories.
The main cast (minus Sophie and Zenkichi because they are new for P5S) grew and changed a lot throughout the previous games. As a new player, all you see is where they are now, leading to some potential misunderstandings about them. Although, when appropriate, some of their backstories are explained to give context to why they feel the way they do about certain situations, which helps.
Another significant story departure from the previous games is rather than infiltrating palaces that have been created by the warped desires of their rulers; the Phantom Thieves infiltrating jails where the rulers are hoarding the stolen desires of the general public. As I quickly learned, when someone who doesn't have a warped desire has their desire stolen, they become a bit of a slave to that person. This manifests mostly in obsessive and irrational behavior. All of this activity is on such a scale that it attracted the police's attention and is why the Phantom Thieves quickly find themselves on a road trip across Japan.
The change from palaces to jails was initially very odd to me, especially since each jail ruler is called a monarch. It just seemed like a weird change for no reason at first. However, although there are similarities, the way jails work is very different from palaces. The oddity of the jails themselves bothered me a bit while playing. However, the reasons for the differences between palaces and jails are explained in the storyline. This wasn't a change made for the hell of it.
I have to say combat is much harder in P5S than it was in P5R. In both games, knowing weaknesses and taking advantage of technical hits make a huge difference in moving quickly through fights and defeating the bosses. However, this time around, I did not have the option to consider my options leisurely. I could sort of cheese it a bit by pulling up the persona action, which would pause everything and give me a chance to look at everything around. However, learning the various enemy animations so I could dodge attacks, especially when there were a ton of enemies, was a bit harder to get the hang of. Despite the higher difficulty curve, combat was a ton of fun.
Each character played very true to their personal style, though Morgana's gimmick of turning into a bus was a bit underwhelming. It was fun but didn't feel very effective. Despite the fun of playing each character, I found myself spending most of my time on Joker. The reason for this is I always try to keep a wide variety of personas on him, so when I didn't already know an enemy's weakness, I would cycle through his personas to find it. Then once I saw the weakness, it was just easier to use him than switching up. Of course, this meant I was often running him out of SP and was dependent on items; meanwhile, the rest of the party would have full SP bars. This failing was entirely on me, as the system for switching around between characters in the active party worked well and was easy to use.
Levels and what personas Joker had available did not carry over from P5R, which is a bit weird in continuity but works well for a new game. Unlike P5R, there's no talking to shadows to convince them to join you. Instead, while fighting, each shadow can drop their persona mask, and picking up these masks is how Joker gains new personas. Picking up masks that were already obtained would net persona points instead. For the most part, I didn't even notice when a mask dropped in the chaos of battle. Instead, they'd just be passively picked up while fighting. There were occasional times when I saw a mask sitting around after a fight and would have to run over to them, but that was rare. As well as this system worked, I do miss the more active approach of P5R.
Lavenza and the velvet room also make a return, with her being just as straightforward and clear as she always is… which is to say, she's still super cryptic. She's back with her registry, and thankfully if a new persona's mask dropped when I was full on personas, I could retrieve it from the registry for free when I had space available. Persona executions also make a return and are an excellent source of gaining new personas, though I did have to be careful not to make weaker personas accidentally. If I had just mindlessly combined everything I could have, I vary easily would have ended up with a bunch of personas of far lower levels than the ones I started with. This might seem like a negative aspect of the system, but I prefer that it requires some thought to make the best use, especially since I didn't want to end up with many personas who all had the same basic skills.
I was happy to see one change in the Velvet Room was I didn't need to sacrifice personas to strengthen other personas. Instead, the aforementioned persona points are used to level them up. Higher levels cost more points than lower levels. While there were a few personas I did regularly level up, it did feel like it was more effective to do executions and hope I found a higher level persona mask when I was out and about. It never felt like I had enough persona points to keep up with how quickly I gained levels. This might have been mitigated a bit if I had spent more time doing the optional jail requests.
In addition to being the primary vector for the story of P5S, jails also fill a role similar to mementos in P5R. One of the differences between jails and palaces is, once the monarch of a jail is defeated, the jail continues to exist. Additionally, I was able to revisit old jails and could fulfill various requests for those jails. The rewards for these requests were often of far better quality items or gear than anything I had available through other options. Additionally, some would remove the locks from various bond skills, which would allow me to continue to increase those skills. Requests can come from the general public, Lavenza, or any of the other characters.
Unlike the original two games, the calendar in P5S doesn't serve any gameplay role. Entering and leaving the metaverse doesn't move time forward, and neither does participating in activities out in the real world. Time only seemed to move forward when I hit certain story milestones, so there was no pressure to get everything done by a deadline. While I miss the juggling that came from managing the calendar, not having it impose the same restrictions works well for this game. There's less to micromanage in general, so in that way, it is a more relaxed game, befitting of a summer adventure.
One of the more interesting additions for P5S is the inclusion of the Bonds skills. In a way, these take the place of the old confidant system but work very differently. Bonds work as a secondary leveling system where XP is earned through doing things with your companions. Fulfilling requests for them and helping them when they ask for it is also an excellent way to level up your bonds. Every time a new bond level is reached, bond points are awarded and can be spent on Bond Skills. These skills cover a wide variety of aspects from increasing HP & SP, healing after ambushes, increasing stats, and unlocking more formidable chests. Each skill has different levels, some of which were locked until I did either a story step or a required request. I didn't think I would enjoy this aspect much at first, but as I moved further through the story, I appreciated being able to tailor the experience more to how I was playing.
Cooking is an entirely new system that wasn't part of either of the two previous games. There was a little bit of cooking when I would make curry at Sojiro's but compared to what's in P5S, that barely counts. As I traveled around, there were many different recipes to pick up from the various cities. Sometimes talking to the various Phantom Thieves while in a town would yield different recipes as well. The one real downside from this is a few of the recipes made items that had identical or nearly identical effects as other items. This made going through the item list while fighting a bit annoying as I often had to scroll through a lot of items that weren't quite what I was looking for.
Sadly, the Airsoft Shop and Takemi's Clinic aren't available for use during this game. However, since most of P5S takes place on a road trip across Japan, a new go-to for supplies was needed. Thankfully, Sophie provides us with an online shop that supplied just about everything I needed. There are also local shops in each town, but Sophie's shop can be accessed from the hideout, which is extremely helpful, especially when jumping in and out of jails.
Persona 5 Strikers is a brilliantly executed melding of the Dynasty Warriors style gameplay with Persona 5 characters and systems. It delivers a solid story while staying true to the roots of both games. There were some small issues with how some of the systems were set up, the default sorting for the items list for one, and I wish some of the actual content of my P5R saves would have carried over. Despite these minor issues, I had a blast hanging with the Phantom Thieves again and working to make the world a better place. I would never have thought to ask for this melding, but it's a beautiful experience.
Person 5 Strikers was reviewed using a PS4 code, provided by PR, on a PS5.