In Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers, the game kicks off with a cutscene that thrusts the player into a battle skirmish set-piece showing off the title’s stylish and flashy combat, before the fading into the game’s catchy opening music, which helps to set the stage and journey to come.
While the Persona series as a whole has gained a massive following with its turn-based nature as a Japanese role-playing game or JRPG, the announcement of Persona 5 Scramble (or P5S for short) which was known as ‘Persona 5 S’ at the time, back in December 2018 had fans of the series rejoicing as they thought Persona 5 was coming to a portable system with the assumption that the ‘S’ at the time stood for ‘switch’ in the ‘Nintendo Switch’.
Sometime in April 2019, when footage of the game was shown; it created an uproar, as P5S breaks away from the series staple of turn-based strategy and is a ‘warriors-style’ action game co-developed by Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force Studio and Atlus’ P-Studio.
Warriors-style games are the polar opposite of turn-based games, where the latter involves taking turns to do actions while the former ditches this in favour for all-out hack-and-slash gameplay with numerous enemies on screen, sometimes numbering up to the thousands.
Yet, despite this contrast, P5S is not only a game that stands as the first action-RPG in the series, but also one that makes full use of its source material and gameplay mechanics.
THE PHANTOM THIEVES OF HEARTS ARE BACK
Being set six months after Persona 5, the story this time sees the protagonist returning to the city of Tokyo to meet with the whole cast from the previous game who together form the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.
As with the main plot line in the previous game, which was about changing people’s hearts, P5S follows a similar route where, despite the incidents that took place in Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts are once again thrust with the aim of changing the hearts.
P5S sees the group travelling across the country, which not only provides a change of scenery, but also serves to move the plot along.
Furthermore, another distinct difference between Persona 5 and P5S is that, instead of adding on characters slowly one at a time, P5S instantly enables you to play as the eight original members of the Phantom Thieves along with one original character specially added quite early in the game. Through story progression, one additional original character is added, bringing the total number of those playable to 10.
AN ALL-OUT ATTACK IN VISUALS AND GAMEPLAY
Each of the 10 playable characters have their own unique skills and play-style which, coupled with the game’s ingenious implementation of the mechanics from the previous games, means that the game can be enjoyed and appreciated by both fans and non-fans alike.
Like the previous entries in the series, battle encounters are only played with four members at a time, but swapping and experimenting with the various combinations will yield interesting results that culminate in not only the enemy’s life bar decreasing faster, but also in making it happen in a stylistic manner.
P5S features various gameplay mechanics from Persona 5 such as ‘Persona Fusions’ to merge two personas; ‘One More’, which enables an extra move to be made; ‘Baton Touch’, which passes the turn onto another team member; and the flashy ‘All-Out-Attack’.
In addition, the turn-based nature from the previous game is also translated well in P5S, with the press of the right bumper pausing the battle and bringing up the skill menu, which not only allows players to assess the situation, but also to plan and use their next skill.
Furthermore, the music in the game complements its flashy style with bombastic covers of tracks from Persona 5 as well as new original music, all of which further elevates the tense as well as sombre moments and encounters.
All this results in a style of game with button-mashing intersected by brief moments of calm to carry out the next plan of action, which surprisingly does not ruin the game flow.
A STORY WORTH TELLING
While the game is fully enjoyable without knowing the previous game’s plot, it should be noted that some of the story beats and cues are much more appreciated with knowledge from the prior game as it does refer to it sometimes in P5S.
In P5S, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts are travelling across Japan. As the story progresses, the group also enter a wide variety of dungeons dubbed ‘Jails’ to defeat the overseer ‘Kings’ to retrieve the locked up ‘Wish’ from those who were forcefully dragged into the dungeon. (Note that this is a rough translation as at the time of writing, the game is only out in Japan.)
This might seem similar to those who had played Persona 5, as it does thread the same line with their Palaces and Treasures. This is one of the downsides of P5S in the sense that it carries an eerily similar plot-line with the previous game, down to the twist and turns in the plot.
This is not to say the plot is bad or predictable, but rather it does feel like the developers are not taking the daring initiative to build and expand on what made Persona 5 great, but rather have chosen to lean onto it so as to not to upset fans of the series.
To that end, the game does execute its goal of continuing the story of the Phantom Thieves as a sequel of sorts, despite being first advertised as a spin-off of the Persona 5 game.
STRIKING CLOSE TO HOME AT THE HEART
Having not played through the main storyline for the previous game Persona 5, but rather enjoyed the story told through the anime version of Persona 5 The Animation; I found that P5S is successful in continuing the story of the Phantom Thieves.
Despite the recent release of Persona 5 Royal which expands on the story told before, P5S can stand on its own merit, with wildly different gameplay. If it is eventually released in the western market, then it is a hearty recommendation from me to play through it just to experience how a turn-based game can be adapted into a different genre while retaining the charm and draw of a classic Persona game.