Let me get straight to the point; Persona 5 Strikers shattered all of my expectations. As a series, Persona has never been one to shy away from spinoffs. So far, however, they have strayed away from being sequels. P5 Strikers marks a first for the series as it goes far beyond a simple Musou game starring the Phantom Thieves. It’s a follow-up to Joker and Co’s story, complete with all of the familiar beats and unmistakable style found in Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal. While some of the social simulator elements of its predecessors are either simplified or omitted, Persona 5 Strikers is still a P5 game worthy of the name.

It all starts with Joker, our vessel and leader of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, who returns to Tokyo 6 months after the events of Persona 5 to reunite with his friends for summer vacation. For the sake of clarity, I’ll be referencing only the original P5 as the direct predecessor of Strikers since it appears Kasumi and Dr. Maruki are both not in the game or even referenced. The rest of the ensemble of Phantom Thieves, though, are all present and stoked for fun times with the Main Character (MC). Returning back to the dingy alleyway of Yongen Jaya and the musky indoors of Le Blanc feels as nostalgic and familiar as I’d hoped. Catching up with Sojiro and the gang while briefly reminiscing over past adventures sets the perfect tone for the rest of the game’s narrative. Each of the Phantom Thieves we know and love have all grown in their own way. Futaba is still averse to crowds yet has a newly developed sense of confidence. Yusuke continues to phrase himself in the same over-dramatic manner but has an air of wisdom about him thanks to overcoming his creative loneliness. Ryuji is still Ryuji but a lot more insightful. It’s through small nuggets of conversation that Persona 5 Strikers depicts how prior events have made our heroes better versions of themselves. That doesn’t mean, though, that the gang’s banter isn’t still there. The writing still has that familiar blend of quirky humor and impactful drama that made Persona 5 such a gripping and entertaining story.

The Thieves aren’t the only ones who’ve gone through changes. The Metaverse also returns and it’s got some new mysteries waiting to be unraveled. After much deliberation, Joker and Co. decide to go camping and need to pick up supplies. The MC joins Ryuji and Morgana in a hunt to find a camping shop they learn about through EMMA, an AI phone app that is all the rage. As they stroll through the streets of Shibuya, they stumble upon an event run by a popular idol, Alice Hiiragi. Upon acquiring her special friend keyword and inputting it into EMMA, the three find themselves back in the cognitive world while donning their Phantom Thieves attire. It’s here that they meet Sophia, another AI that appears to be sentient, who joins them in escaping this new Metaverse dungeon called a Jail. While having quite a few similarities to Palaces, Jails are bigger in scope cover a bigger space in their Monarch’s area of influence. In Alice’s case, for instance, her Jail is the entirety of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. Furthermore, instead of stealing a Monarch’s treasure, your mission is to take back the Desires of others that the Monarch has stolen. Persona 5 Strikers also improves upon the familiar P5 villain. Instead of the flatter “evil for evil’s sake” targets, P5 Strikers’ villains are people who have been consumed by personal trauma which leads them astray. It’s the perfect way to complement the Phantom Thieves’s growth who now have the wisdom to help Monarch’s become better people. Outside of these changes, Persona 5 Strikers’ dungeons are every bit as familiar as before, albeit with a bit more of an open-world feel and some verticality.

What also felt strikingly familiar was the game’s combat. Despite it being a Koei Tecmo developed game with Dynasty Warriors-style battles where you fight large hordes of enemies, P5 Strikers fluidly incorporates its predecessor’s Persona system. While dashing around the battlefield, dodging attacks, and executing combos, you can pause the action by holding down a shoulder button. Here, you can select the Persona ability you want to use as well as cycle through Joker’s multiple masks. You can even select heals, buffs, and debuffs as well as their targets. It’s an intuitive system that masterfully blends fast-paced gameplay with turn-based elements. Other aspects of Persona 5’s combat are also present, including the Baton Pass, which helps fill up the Showtime Gauge faster in order to execute devastatingly flashy attacks, and of course the All-Out-Attack. Battles are fierce, satisfying, and challenging for both good and bad reasons. Mastering a boss fight through blending environmental attacks, combos and elemental weaknesses feels highly rewarding. But, like with other aspects that have carried over from Persona 5, the dreaded SP scarcity also makes rears its ugly head in Persona 5 Strikers, and with it comes the need for annoyingly frequent return trips to the real world. Thankfully, the game doesn’t time-lock you or put you on a clock this time around. The new Bond skills system also contains a few unlocks for helping you mitigate the SP limitations.

This new system is a simplified version of Persona 5’s Confidants which are now absent in Strikers. Instead of unlocking individual skills through spending time with your friends, Bond skills are opened up over time and can be acquired and powered up through points that are acquired as the story progresses and side missions – called Requests – are completed. Even though the social connection elements aren’t there, the game still manages to throw in plenty of small moments between the MC and his crew. What effectively happens is the game cuts down on flavor in favor of keeping things moving. Some ultimately may be stung by this omission but, to me, it was a welcome simplification considering the game still can run with over 50 hours of game time if you’re doing all of the Requests and side content.

Persona 5 Strikers is a Phantom Thieves adventure through and through. Despite its simplifications, any fan of Persona 5 will find themselves right at home, even with the Musou combat replacing its turn-based system. The music, art style, menus, and story sequences all came together and drew me back into this world that I enjoyed greatly. Seeing these characters evolved without losing what made them intriguing personalities was heartwarming and added more to the closure I received after multiple playthroughs of the past games. Persona 5 Strikers is a spinoff sequel done right and if you’ve been eager to have your heart taken by the Phantom Thieves once again, then you won’t want to skip out on this game.