Atlus is a master of weird spinoffs. In the past, the developer has revamped its RPG series Persona as dungeon crawlers, brawlers, and rhythm games. Heroes have bounded through space and time for fanfiction-worthy team-ups, all in service of giving players a reason to see their favorite characters again. Persona 5 Strikers goes one step further, turning an action-heavy adventure into a road trip that feels right at home with the original game.
Persona 5 Strikers is a direct sequel to Persona 5, set months after the Phantom Thieves hung up their masks. The gang reunites for a long-overdue vacation, only to have it interrupted by the appearance of Jails — warped versions of reality where one person rules, not unlike the Palaces they encountered in the original game. To solve the mystery of these jails, the Phantom Thieves get an RV and take their investigation across Japan.
Strikers is an action-RPG take on the game in the vein of Omega Force’s other spinoffs of popular series, like Hyrule Warriors. It trades in the careful turn-based strategy of the original for button-mashing through mobs. Players are no longer confined to controlling only the game’s hero, Joker, and can swap between party members like Makoto or Ann at will. In addition to elemental abilities specific to their personas, like nuclear or wind attacks, each has special physical attacks to help you through battle. Characters I barely used in the original Persona 5, like Ryuji, became my go-to for mobs I wanted to melee; I rarely needed Morgana’s magic but loved his ability to turn into a car and mow down shadows.
Despite being able to swap between characters, the game’s mash-heavy gameplay can become monotonous at times. On a good streak, I would string together combos, pile on follow-up and all-out attacks, and zap enemies with magic attacks — but mostly, I just spent a lot of time frantically hitting buttons. The amount happening on-screen can sometimes be dizzying if not tough to follow, between characters talking during battle and zipping around a screen smashing enemies in the face.
Persona 5 Strikers doesn’t offer as robust an experience as the original game — there are no personality traits to improve, and relationships are distilled down to a single “Bond” metric that applies to your entire team — but it offers a solid array of ways to break up your playtime. New cities mean sidequests, shops to visit, and recipes to find for you to cook with; party members often want to visit special restaurants and attractions. The constraints of a deadline are gone as well. You can pop in and out of jails as often as you wish to go hang with your friends.
The experience feels like a streamlined version of Persona, the video game equivalent of a summer vacation. It’s a way to spend extra time with a world I fell in love with over the course of dozens of hours, and a welcome expansion to the game’s mythos. Where Persona 5’s Palaces were desires pushed to their extreme and corrupted, Jails revolve around trauma. In order to defeat the monarchs of each jail, you’ll need to first uncover and understand the pain that birthed them.
It’s a welcome change, a turn that makes people’s cruelty more interesting. Persona 5’s examinations of people at their darkest sometimes ran up against the cartoonish villainy of it all. The rulers you faced were so exaggeratedly evil that taking them down needed no justification. But Strikers offers a more complex alternative: that hurt people hurt people. The monarchs have manipulated and deceived, yet they’re still a path for them to learn and grow from their mistakes.
As a sequel, Persona 5 Strikers doesn’t offer much in the way of big revelations — but it doesn’t have to. Like the series’s many other spinoffs, the allure is the opportunity to play in their world a little longer. Clearing a jail is fun, but it still can’t compare to a night out with your friends.
Persona 5 Strikers is available on Nintendo Switch, PC, and PlayStation 4.