Persona 5 Strikers review – Phantom Thief Warriors
The most unlikely Dynasty Warriors crossover so far is also a direct sequel to Persona 5, with a story by the original creators.
Considering the slow but steady rate of improvement in the Dynasty Warriors series, and its spin-offs, we look forward to praising one as a genuinely great game somewhere around the space year 2042. It may not have the Warriors name in the title (even Hyrule Warriors had that) but this absolutely is Persona x Dynasty Warriors, a chalk and cheese crossover that works better than you’d expect… within the normal constraints of Dynasty Warriors’ limited competency.
Persona 5 Strikers has the same developer as all the other Dynasty Warriors games and the same mindless button-mashing gameplay, where you take out hundreds of enemies in a single combo – often without expending a single conscious thought. It’s junk food gaming through and through but, compared to some of the lesser entries in the series, at least it’s Five Guys rather than a salmonella-tainted street vendor.
If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement it’s not meant to be, but just as working alongside Nintendo helped to raise standards in Hyrule Warriors, the close involvement of P-Studio, who made Persona 5, has had a similarly improving effect here. More so, you might argue, than Nintendo as this is a direct sequel to Persona 5 and so for once there’s a compelling story that helps distract from the game’s less forgivable faults.
Strikers is set four months after the events of Persona 5 and sees the Phantom Thieves reuniting in order to go on a summer camping trip. Naturally, that doesn’t go to plan and you’re quickly embroiled in a mystery involving a celebrity idol, an alternate universe version of Tokyo, and a sentient AI. This leads to a set-up very similar to the Palaces of the previous game, as the manifestations of people’s innermost desires wreak havoc in both the Metaverse and the real world.
Given how simplistic and repetitive Dynasty Warriors combat is, the real appeal here is returning to the setting of Persona 5 and getting to experience a new story with the old crew. Since P-Studio is behind the storytelling everyone acts just as you’d expect and it’s a relief to find that Strikers doesn’t try to reset their characters or story arcs in any way (which doesn’t mean you have to have played Persona 5 to enjoy this but, as with Hyrule Warriors, it’ll mean a lot more to you if you do).
More experienced and more mature than they were last time, the Phantom Thieves are presented with ordinary people in similar situations to they were last time, making it easier for them to empathise with and help them. But while it’s not as dumbed down as the Persona Q sub-series, the writing and concepts are notably more simplistic than Persona 5 itself, relying on obvious (and sometimes borderline offensive) clichés and superficial characterisation, especially in the way that most villains are nothing but a one-dimensional personification of a particular vice.
The idea at the heart of the narrative is how people’s personalities are moulded by both events and the people around them, often in the context of modern social media and technology. But the subtler points, which also deal with Persona’s usual themes of rebelling against authority and learning from and atoning for past mistakes, struggles to break the surface.
It doesn’t help that the social link system of the main games is here reduced to simply chatting together in groups. This leads to some cute character interactions, and the potential to increase your bond with another Phantom Thief, but there are no time limits or schedules to juggle, which adds to the sense of superficiality.
Exploring dungeons works similarly to Persona 5, with (very) simple stealth and puzzle obstacles leading into a fight that operates in the typical Dynasty Warriors fashion, except with lots of personae and Jack Frost demons.
Although mashing the light and heavy attack buttons is the core of what you’re doing each character has their own persona (you can still collect additional ones, just not as many as the regular games) with their own special attacks and elemental affinities and weakness. With the ability to switch control to any of your party the game’s variety of attack is even wider than Hyrule Warriors and, when all the game’s systems are turning in unison, genuinely enjoyable.
All the usual problems are still present though, with practically no artificial intelligence for any enemy who, at best, will run straight towards you or circle vaguely out of range if they use distance weapons. More likely though they’ll just stand around in the middle distance waiting for you to turn them into just another statistic on your combo meter.
This sort of mindless nonsense has been going on for decades at this point and while Persona 5 Strikers does represent Dynasty Warriors at its most complex and interesting, compared to games like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta it’s pure amateur hour.
That’s also true of the low tech graphics, which take greedy advantage of Persona 5’s gorgeously stylised presentation but frequently turn it into an incomprehensible mess, like someone puked into a kaleidoscope, whenever there’s any action going on.
At this point it becomes impossible to tell whether you’re taking damage, when you should dodge, or sometimes even where you are on-screen. The sound design is just as bad, becoming a migraine-inducing miasma of story dialogue, music (often with lyrics), and sound effects that makes it almost impossible to make out any of them individually.
The overwhelming impression created by Persona 5 Strikers, as with all Dynasty Warriors games, is one of amateurishness and a complete lack of polish. Even things as basic as movement feel skittish and unsatisfying, and this from a developer that has been making essentially the same game for almost 21 years.
And yet, for the second or third time in a row, we would say this is our favourite Dynasty Warriors game so far. It’s not very well made, and P-Studio should really have found something more constructive to spend their time on, but it is mindlessly enjoyable trash. Compared to Persona 5, which is one of the best Japanese role-playing games ever made, that’s quite the comedown, but for Dynasty Warriors it’s a career best.
Persona 5 Strikers review summary
In Short: The best Dynasty Warriors game so far is still barely competent compared to other action games but for those seeking more Persona 5 this is a fun, if trashy diversion.
Pros: The combat is the best ever in a Dynasty Warriors game, and while several steps down from a regular Persona game the storytelling still has some nuance and fun character moments.
Cons: As unpolished and amateurishly made as usual, with sloppy controls, simplistic and repetitive action, and dumbed down social elements. Graphic and sound design is a complete mess, literally.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, and PC
Developer: Omega Force and P-Studio
Release Date: 23rd February 2021
Age Rating: 16
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