Persona 5 was and still is a fantastic RPG for all manner of reasons. Its story is intriguing; its characters are well-rounded and believable; it’s dripping with style and its turn-based combat system does a lot to keep things interesting. It’s not absolutely perfect, but there are so few weaknesses that it was difficult to imagine any room for improvement or alternatives. With the release of Persona 5 Strikers, however, that’s not necessarily the case anymore. It’s not that the game is any better or worse than its predecessor, but rather that it’s showing what kind of difference the choice of genre makes. As it turns out, that difference can be quite stark.
The original Persona 5 is firmly planted in the turn-based RPG genre, and it has benefitted greatly from that decision. It’s slow-paced and long-winded, allowing players plenty of time to sink into its world and get involved in the lives of its characters. There’s plenty to draw the players eyes and hold their attention, but it usually only goes just far enough to spark the imagination. After that, it’s up to players’ brains to fill in the blanks. Interactions at stores, the passage of time and character interactions all benefit from the game only showing just enough.
The same can’t be said about the combat, though. Non-standard attacks are only ever implied, with damage inflicted via stylish effects. It’s a great system that looks awesome, but it doesn’t do much to build up the Phantom Thieves as top-class combatants most of the time. This doesn’t jive with the animated cutscenes and the enthusiasm the Thieves show whenever Joker pulls-off a supposedly cool move. Persona 5 Royal addressed this somewhat by adding features such as elaborate duo attacks, but it still ends up feeling a bit dissonant in the end.
Persona 5 Strikers, on the other hand, does not have this problem. It’s an action game first and foremost, and this shift may actually suit The Phantom Thieves much better. No longer is everything implied; now the player can see exactly what the Thieves are capable of. High jump, energy blasts, lighting strikes, karate kicks, jumping-off of cars (then blowing them up) and much more are all on full display as players fight their way through hordes of shadows. All of it looks incredible, all of it is fun, and it all contributes to the image of Joker and the gang as wielding real power. It’s an image that the original game managed to convey too, but not nearly as strongly.
There are some limits to this. Joker and the other persona-users can only perform the feats programmed into the game, so players will inevitably see many of the same attacks, combos and showtime moves. Since so much is already being shown, there’s a greater risk that players’ minds won’t work to expand on it. What they’re seeing is all they’re going to get. As mentioned above though, there was room to show more; Persona 5 Strikers wouldn’t be so interesting if there wasn’t. Neither take is necessarily better, but then neither game suffers all that much either. It’s a difference of presentation.
Persona 5 and Persona 5 Strikers are the same game in many ways. They have the same setting, art style and shared mechanics, telling similar stories with the same group of characters. One is an RPG, however, while the other is an action game. The former leans more heavily on the player’s imagination, allowing them to picture the exploits of the Phantom Thieves however they want. The latter wants to immerse the player in those exploits; it wants its players to really see its characters power and have a chance to actively participate in exercising it. It’s the same game expressed in two different genres and the differences that change makes aren’t just surface-level; not at all.