Persona 5 Strikers: an imperfect sequel

The Persona series is one that is close to my heart. Aside from being a veritable buffet of waifus, every game in the series is a showcase of the best parts of the JRPG genre.

But Persona 5 Strikers exposes a slight weakness in the series. It’s not the change in the combat mechanics from classic turn-based to a more action RPG format. Where the cracks start to show is in how the story holds up in a more direct sequel than we’ve gotten from the series in the past.

Just a quick warning: We’ll be talking about the plot of both Persona 5 and Strikers here. No major spoilers, but just flagging that for anyone who hasn’t played either game yet. Atlus, please don’t break my knees.

Persona 5 Strikers and the peril of choice

Persona 5 Valentines Day Scene

Persona 5 Strikers opens up a few months after the close of Persona 5. Joker, with Morgana in tow, is returning to Tokyo from his undisclosed home elsewhere in Japan. In many ways it starts out exactly how you’d want it to. It is a happy reunion at Leblanc, with coffee and curry flowing in a peculiar but oddly enticing combination, and the whole Phantom Thieves crew excited for the return of their leader.

It doesn’t take long, however, for things to go wrong, and soon the gang has got another mystery on their hands. It’s a solid opening and sets us up to start exploring the strange appearance of the Jails, and the people at the heart of them.

Your fellow Phantom Thieves all behave as they did at the end of the previous game if you developed your bond with them. Ann has rededicated herself to her modelling career, seeking to use her spotlight to shine for all the people who need strength. Futaba, while still an adorable little gremlin, has started going to school and is overcoming her social anxieties. Ryuji hasn’t changed a bit because he is best boy and doesn’t need to change for anything. Everyone is living their best lives.

Persona 5 Strikers Ann Showtime

My only issue is it ignores the choices and bonds we formed in Persona 5 — in both the baseline game, and in Royal. Everyone’s Persona is back to their base form, and no one is angry that I chose Makoto over Ann or Haru. (I’m angry you chose her over Futaba – Ed.) Gone are the repercussions of the infamous Valentine’s Day harem scene.

It resets the world to a neutral state, fresh for you to go in and make new and interesting choices — but that ignores one of the most fun aspects of the series. The freedom to choose who you will spend time with and who you want to romance is a key part of Persona, and Persona 5 Strikers exposes how that design choice in the main games makes it so difficult to create a direct sequel to any of them.

Spinoffs, like the dancing and fighting games, work because they are relatively light on plot and are able to exist in a more floating timeline, free from the burden of trying to carry the story forward. Persona 5 Strikers, from a writing point of view, had to pick and choose which aspects it would carry over — especially since it is available on platforms the original never got released for, making save data impossible to import. The result is a disconnect between my Persona 5 world and the one that Persona 5 Strikers seems to inhabit.

This doesn’t mean that the game is bad, of course. Like I said last week, Persona 5 Strikers is a fun game that feels like a worthy successor to the original, both in style and storyline.

But because the original invested so much in giving players choices as to how your relationships with the other Phantom Thieves developed and grew, it feels like a step backwards to not see those choices carry on into the sequel — even if it was unavoidable.

Persona 5 Strikers is available now for PS4, Switch, and PC.

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