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Persona 5 Scramble is a true sequel to Persona 5

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Now we wait for an English release

How was your first weekend with Persona 5 Royal? Right now, I, for one, am pretty happy about having a new version of a game that is not only one of my favorite ever but also happens to be more than 100 hours long. If nothing else, it’s nice to be able to ride the Tokyo subway again, even if I’m technically not leaving my couch.

For all its tweaks and timeliness, though, Persona 5 Royal is essentially just Persona 5 all over again. I’m not saying I’m mad about playing through the game a second time, but that is more or less what I’m doing. Fortunately, here in Japan, there is another new Persona 5 game I’ve also been spending time with — and this one is wildly different.

Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers came out for the PS4 and Nintendo Switch in Japan about six weeks ago. It’s co-developed by Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force, the studio behind the Dynasty Warriors series and other “musou” games about taking on dozens or hundreds of enemies at once. Omega Force has applied that formula to lots of spinoffs over the years — games like Fire Emblem Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes are essentially just Dynasty Warriors in different franchise wrappers.

That’s what I expected from Persona 5 Scramble, which is to say that my expectations weren’t super high. I like some musou games just fine, but the repetitive combat and shallow storytelling are not what I associate with Persona. It turns out that Scramble contains most of what I like about Persona — just with musou-style combat.

Scramble is also a direct continuation of Persona 5’s story. Set in the summer after Persona 5 ends, the story sees Joker return to Tokyo to hang out with his phantom thief buddies on vacation. The plan is to go on a camping trip, but this quickly gets derailed when they get plunged into another alternate universe where they’re once again tasked with changing its ruler’s heart. This time around the mysterious worlds are called jails, not palaces, but the setup is broadly the same.

Scramble really is a direct sequel to Persona 5 in just about every way. Many of the locations are the same, the RPG mechanics are familiar, and even the distinctive menu systems remain. The game’s impeccable sense of style hasn’t changed a bit, with all-new jazz-funk jams and sharply drawn characters. The one big difference is the reduced focus on social bonding and time management, but even then, the story plays out in a similar fashion through discrete days on the calendar.

The combat is completely different, shifting from turn-based RPG battles against a few enemies to real-time action involving huge crowds. Omega Force and Atlus have done a good job of fusing trademark Persona elements to the musou formula, however. You can hold down a shoulder button to invoke your special persona attacks across a marked area of the battlefield, for example, while new abilities like zipping onto lampposts feel in keeping with Persona 5’s snappy flow. There’s obviously an inherent loss of strategy in the move to large-scale action combat, but it doesn’t feel as mindless as other musou games sometimes can.

I’ve been playing Persona 5 Scramble on the Switch, and while I’m a little baffled that Atlus still hasn’t seen fit to release Persona 5 on Nintendo’s system, this is a reasonable substitute. Persona used to feel like a portable series to me — I first played 3 on PSP and 4 on Vita — and the action combat of Scramble is just as good a fit for a handheld system today. Other than a total lack of anti-aliasing, the game looks and runs great on the Switch.

It sounds excellent, too, thanks to a smooth new soundtrack entirely in keeping with Persona 5’s unmistakable jams. I have to admit that I haven’t been listening to the new stuff as much as I could have due to a feature that unlocks various classic Persona battle themes if you have prior save data on your system (Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Switch, Persona 5 for PS4). It is pretty rare that I pass up an opportunity to hear “Mass Destruction” from Persona 3.

Don’t take this as a full review of Persona 5 Scramble. I’ve only played through the first several hours, and at this busy time when I’ve otherwise been occupied with the likes of Doom Eternal, Half-Life: Alyx, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons — not to mention Persona 5 Royal — I’m happy to wait for the English release. The only problem there is that Atlus hasn’t announced when that’ll actually happen. Still, I’ve seen enough of Scramble to know that it’s a surprisingly cool game that anyone who is into Persona 5 should check out whenever they can, and I can’t imagine that’ll be too far off.