The Persona series is one of my favorite JRPGs, but I was a little nervous to hear it would be getting the Dynasty Warriors treatment. It turns out getting a spin-off in this genre actually worked pretty damn well.
I’ve been there (I think…) from the beginning. I remember playing the original Persona on the PlayStation 1 as well as the second game. Then Atlus made some huge changes to this Shin Megami Tensei spin-off when they made Persona 3 on the PS2 and firmly distinguished it as a very different game tonally from the parent SMT series. However, it was Persona 4 that really cemented this series as one that I could get deeply, emotionally invested in, and that continued with Persona 5.
There’s just something about living out the day with a bunch of idealistic high schoolers, studying, hanging out with friends, making important connections, and then running around in mystic dungeons, fighting demons with the psychic embodiment of a person’s strength and/or trauma. The Persona series has really resonated with me, especially since the third game, but Persona 5 Strikers is a very different, surprising beast.
It’s a direct sequel to Persona 5, meaning I would strongly discourage anyone from playing it without having gone through that previous game’s emotional journey. Strikers takes place six months after the events of P5 and doesn’t hold hands when it comes to reintroducing the characters, or their past adventure, so you need that base familiarity going in. However, where Persona 5 was a turn-based Japanese role-playing game firmly cut from the same cloth as previous titles, this one has been handed off to Omega Force, a developer usually associated with the Dynasty Warriors series. That franchise is not about turn-based combat or teen angst at all, but rather, historical figures kicking epic levels of ass, as single heroes wade into the middle of entire armies and kill everyone by swinging their weapons around.
The Big Surprise
I have never been a huge fan of the Dynasty Warriors series. I’ve played a few here and there, but I always found one person killing thousands of people to get monotonous after a while. I was deeply concerned that it would be the case here, and I’ve never been happier to find out how wrong I was. Omega Force got the memo, and rather than trying to force a Persona game into the Dynasty Warriors mold, they tweaked the basic DW mechanics about as far as they could go to be virtually unrecognizable in a Persona context.
So where I was expecting Joker and the rest of the crew to wade into a horde of a bazillion shadows and cut down everything in sight, I instead got something that plays an awful lot like the recent Final Fantasy VII Remake. You’re still casting spells, still exploiting elemental weaknesses, and even shooting guns. But you’re also switching characters out, physically bashing monsters, and it’s only small groups of opponents, not a vast trash mob horde.
But the biggest surprises for me are the improvements to the characters and the story. The gang from P5 are no longer struggling to define themselves, and the rapport they now have is a constant highlight. They good-naturedly trash-talk each other, and as they once again rise up against evil, they find that the evil is not so evil. In the first game, the opponents the Phantom Thieves went up against were so cartoonishly evil it was almost difficult to accept. This time around, the antagonists are nuanced, damaged people where you can understand exactly why they do what they do and even sympathize with it. It makes for a more surprisingly mature story that looks on trauma sympathetically, instead of giving the Phantom Thieves–and the audience–an easy moral out where they can bash and kill at leisure without making the conscience uneasy.
Persona 5 Strikers is an easy recommendation for fans of the first game. Don’t get scared off by the transition to a Dynasty Warriors combat system; they did it right with this game and made the DW mechanics fit Persona, not the other way around. If you missed hanging around with the Phantom Thieves and want a more action-based romp with a bit more moral complexity, just pick this up and have at it.