Persona 5 Strikers is far from the first spinoff of a mainline Persona video game but based on our beefy preview of it ahead of release, it does feel entirely unique among the franchise. It is a direct continuation of the Persona 5 story, but not Persona 5 Royal, set several months after the events of the original video game. Something fishy is up in Japan, and it seems like the sort of thing the Phantom Thieves did previously, so naturally, they are suspect once again. What follows is a wild hack-and-slash adventure back into something resembling Persona 5's Metaverse thanks to a combination of Persona's style and Dynasty Warriors mechanics.
If you're not already familiar with the story of Persona 5, Persona 5 Strikers won't hold your hand or overly explain what happened in it, but it's also largely supplementary. No, you're not going to have context for who the Phantom Thieves are or what they can do, but the new video game does a fairly admirable job of condensing the necessary information into interactions between characters rather than a straight-up information dump.
Then again, most folks interested in Persona 5 Strikers will likely be at least somewhat familiar with the previous game's exploits. That isn't to say there isn't value in the new game on its own merits; combat can be heart-pounding and frenetic, the characters and story have all the flair you'd expect from a Persona title, and the way in which it manages to blend all of the above into something new is exciting and fresh.
If you've played other "musou" hybrids like, say, Hyrule Warriors, you might have some preconceived notions about what to expect, and while that is a fair assumption, it's also one I'd recommend jettisoning entirely. Persona 5 Strikers largely feels like a shell of a Persona title filled to the brim with gooey "musou" goodness rather than anything else, and while the main combat and exploration mechanics are directly taken from the non-Persona half of the equation, so much of what makes a Persona title a Persona title is its atmosphere and art direction and using that as the backbone here only works in Persona 5 Strikers' favor.
That isn't to say everything about that combination is sunny all the time. Exploring areas, talking with people, and all of the side activities from Persona 5 are largely curtailed or entirely absent. The veneer of what once was is still there, but it can make the world of Persona 5 Strikers seem unfortunately thin at times. This preview is specifically limited to the initial Shibuya stage, and while locations like Cafe Leblanc play a role, it isn't a major one. For the most part, navigating these areas felt like an afterthought with far more of the 7.5 hours I spent completing the stage spent inside the first "Jail," Persona 5 Strikers' version of Persona 5's Palaces.
Wandering the Jail should feel familiar to anyone that played Persona 5, but much of what was previously contained to a large, single area is distributed out across a greater location with a Monarch -- Shibuya's being Alice Hiiragi -- in charge. Shadows wander around the map and can be encountered and fought directly or ambushed, and there are even various methods of traversing that can be taken advantage of to, for example, drop down from a lamppost and spin attack enemies.
Speaking of enemies, let me first say: I am no stranger to "musou" titles, and Persona 5 Strikers still regularly kicked my butt on normal difficulty. As with Persona 5, Strikers is all about managing your party and Personas in order to effectively neutralize your opponents, but juggling all of that in a third-person action title plays out a bit differently. It can be overwhelming to keep track of enemies, baton pass to other characters for extra abilities, manage your attack combos, environment cues, showtime gauge, HP, and SP all over the course of a few moments. Now extend that to battles that can last several minutes. And while the enemies aren't particularly smart, many have special abilities or actions they can take as well.
Helpfully, if you totally beef it, the game will allow you to swap in new party members in order to try out a big fight once again. And sometimes, that's all it takes as the abilities of a specific Persona, like Ann's, might be all you need to turn the battle. Also helpful? Items seem to be relatively plentiful, and newcomer Phantom Thief (and AI) Sophia even has her own shop that you can immediately grab stuff from before entering into a Jail, so you should never feel the need to hoard resources rather than use them. Checkpoints also dot the map which allows you to dip in and out of the Jail with some regularity for healing and sanity.
If Persona 5 Royal didn't completely satisfy your itch for Persona 5 content, Persona 5 Strikers is more from where that came from with a twist. The combat likely isn't going to be for everyone, and the platforming can be annoying, but the swirl of everything that is Persona with the mechanics of Dynasty Warriors plays just fine, as far as we can tell. There's nothing here that's going to blow you away, especially if you've already spoiled yourself on information from last year's Japanese release, but it's an easy, breezy way to spend more time with some of your favorite characters.