Like slipping back into a cozy pair of pyjamas.
I'll keep this spoiler-free for the time being, since the game was literally released today in the West, and, considering this is an Atlas game, most of your enjoyment is coming from the character interactions and story beats during the game.
In fact, I'll start-off with this first, the game so far is very chatty. But that's to be expected, and something I wanted personally. That's the whole reason I bought Dancing In Starlight, I wanted to see more of these characters, even if I suck and have no interest in rhythm games. The game doesn't feel as hand-hold-y as the first Persona 5 game, but it does do the usual intro shtick of throwing you right into the action before backing-up and slowing right down again.
But, without spoiling anything, the characters are all exactly how I remembered. Makato is still the level-headed second-in-command; Futaba is still wonderfully geeky and relatable; Morgana thankfully is much more tolerable since his arc in the first game is over; Ann is still the best waifu, Haru is still the cutest lil' floof in the party; and Yosuke and Ryuji still are hilarious getting some great laugh-out-loud moments from me, even within the first few hours. Yes - the Phantom Thieves are all back with their quirks, and I am loving every second of it.
Following the trend lately of most spin-off games, Persona 5 Strikers is a Musou-game, following the same basic gameplay of the Warriors series, like Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. They've come a long way since their debut on the PS2 and while I'm not really a huge fan of the genre, it really is not detracting from Persona's base game - a turn-based RPG and social sim hybrid.
While you can see it as a mind-numb button-masher, the combat itself has a lot of depth that I actually like. For one, all elemental weakness are back and although there can seem like a lot, it doesn't detract from the gameplay. To active Persona skills or fire your gun, the gameplay actually freezes. This is a wonderful addition and something I am so glad for - it allows you to select your targets and take a pause from the crazy action, allowing for a quick breather without disrupting the pace.
The UI and aesthetic for this game is once again an absolute marvel, although probably to be expected since it's using a lot of the same assets found in the original game. The menus, while not as snappy as before, are now slightly more 3D with more dynamic shots to really emphasize the bond of the Phantom Thieves - every sub-menu has Joker interacting in the background with one of his fellow teammates. The only nitpick I have, and this sounds so petty even as I type it, is that I don't like Jokers portrait on the dialogue choice screen. Something about the slightly hidden black-and-white hidden image really summed-up Joker to me. Now he just kinda sticks out... Just me probably.
Social Links are gone because, well, you're all a team now. But this wouldn't be a Persona game without some kind of social sim, and to make up for that you all share a Bond. Your bond levels up as you partake in events and during the fights, which in turn unlock and level up perks. This I feel is a natural evolution of the gameplay mechanics from Persona and just makes sense from a story view. The story naturally has moments with just Joker and another party member, so if you're looking for that same 1-on-1 dialogue, Atlas has you covered.
Palaces, or Jails as they're now called, are back in full force. It's a blast exploring these and I feel like the world design just feels slightly bigger. The camera itself is pulled back slightly more and what's more - Joker now has a double jump! Honestly, this was so fun to use at first and caught me off-guard but the ability to perform some of his acrobatics actually in game was admittedly very giddy for myself, even if it's just a simple button press. Treasure Chests litter the Jails and exploring and fighting is just as fun as it was back in Persona 5, albeit with a different way of fighting. And even if you're not a massive fan of Joker, Strikers even lets you switch out Joker from your party, allowing you to control another member of the Phantom Thieves in the overworld as well as during battle. So rejoice, all you Ryuji purists (myself included).
I think the whole reason they decided to name it Strikers and not Warriors is because this feels much more like a Persona game, rather than a Musuo game. Whereas you could feel Fire Emblem Warriors or Hyrule Warriors was a Musuo game with a Fire Emblem or Zelda coat of paint splashed over the top, it feels like P-Studio built everything in the same Persona 5 engine and just replaced the turn-based strategy with a much greater focus on combat. Because of this, Persona 5 Strikers really outshines its competitors and to me, works much better in the Persona Universe.
The fighting can seem overwhelming at times, with over 8 different playable characters, each with their own small quirks and such but... that's it, they're just quirks. Each do a slightly different thing when you hold down the triangle button or have different combos. Within a few battles, you'll quickly get used to the combat and it just fits like a glove.
I have had the biggest, goofiest gin on my face from ear-to-ear playing this game and I know I will for the remaining time. I know I will be wanting to get the Platinum Trophy because so far, this game is exceeding my expectations on a whole new level.
Persona 5 Strikers had massive shoes to fill - Royal is my favourite game of all time, it literally changed my life (but that's for a whole other, massive topic). But so far, it's coming pretty darn close and I'm getting the same feeling I had last April.
And it has Futaba saying boop on the menu screen. You can't argue with that.