Farewell Persona 5 Strikers – Discussing the Pros and Cons of Every Phantom Thief

At the time this article is posted it will have been one week since my last post about Persona 5 Strikers. In that article I had wrapped up the game’s third Jail (read: dungeon) and was preparing to move into the next section of the game. In the week since, I’ve finished the game’s main story and rolled credits on Strikers. I wanted to write one final article to say farewell to the game, but a review didn’t feel like quite the right call – last week’s article pretty well sums up how I feel about Strikers from a gameplay and story standpoint. So I thought about what aspects of the game I still wanted to talk about and landed on the characters, specifically how each one operates mechanically. I have my preferences when it comes to their fighting styles but this is a game where you really need to invest time into every character – having a party member or two falling way behind the others may not make the game impossible, but it will make the final leg of the game a lot more difficult. So today in my farewell to the Phantom Thieves, I’ll be looking at each character one by one to share my suggestions for playing them and also to highlight which ones I enjoyed playing as the most.

A quick note: I will be discussing the characters in menu order so be aware that the bottom two on the list will include spoilers.

The leader of the Phantom Thieves and the main character of Persona 5 Strikers, Joker has some serious protagonist syndrome and is designed to be the baddest ass in the party. This comes in the form of his Wildcard ability which allows him to have more than one Persona at a time. This skill is important because you can only ever have four characters in battle at once with no ability to switch them out, so if you don’t have the elemental specialist you need in order to cover a particular enemy’s weakness, Joker is going to have to fill that role. When you’re fusing Personas for him to use, you’ll want to make sure that he has access to all of the different elements so you’ve always got at least one character who can hit an enemy weak point, but there is a particular element you want to prioritize over all the others: curse. Joker is the only playable character in Strikers who can bring curse abilities to battle, which means against enemies who have that weakness he is going to be your only opportunity to put them on the ropes easily.

Joker fights with a dagger and pistol, and his strong attack is simply to fire bullets from his gun. This seems like a boring option since every character can fire bullets with the left shoulder button but as Joker unlocks his master arts, the true purpose of this function becomes more evident. Every character has limited gun ammunition, meaning that at some point you can run out of bullets during a combat encounter. After learning the appropriate master art, Joker does not lose ammunition when using his strong attack to fire, meaning he can infinitely capitalize on enemies with a gun weakness or safely fire at enemies from a range without having to worry about running out of bullets. As he gains more master arts Joker unlocks the ability to get guaranteed follow-up attacks off of his strong attack. This combines well with a late-game BOND skill that gives a character some SP back when performing a follow-up; Joker can easily generate the opportunity for follow-ups and use them to farm SP. This is essential for him because Joker is more likely than most of your other characters to need his SP restored regularly; remember, he is covering for every element that does not happen to be on your team during any given battle, so he’s going to be using his Personas a lot unless you’re using just the right team for every local random encounter.

Now for the evaluation portion: Joker is fine. You’re forced to use him and because of that the Wildcard ability ensures that he is always mechanically useful to the party. And while I appreciate the advantages that come from his unique gun skills, overall I find Joker’s playstyle a little too straightforward to really be fun. The plus of that of course is that Joker doesn’t have any combo abilities that I found outright annoying. Overall though, unless I actively needed to use Joker because he was the only character on my team with an element I needed I generally preferred to play as one of the other characters in the party. As is the case in most JRPGs, the silent protagonist schtick meant to make the character feel like a blank slate you can superimpose your personality on to instead just makes him boring.

I love Ryuji. Joker may be the leader of the Phantom Thieves but Ryuji is their soul. It is his passion and simple philosophy of right and wrong that keeps the other kids on track when the more tactical or intellectual members of the team get a little too caught up in philosophizing. Ryuji has some great character moments in Strikers and his dialogue as always is A+. But as much as I love Ryuji as a character, I cannot be persuaded to love him as a fighter. Ryuji is perhaps the least used character in my roster of heroes because everything he brings to the table is simply done better by other party members.

As the lightning specialist of the Phantom Thieves I mainly found myself bringing Ryuji along when I realized there were lots of random encounters about where Zio/Zionga/Ziodyne were necessary to get the edge against my opponents. But when it comes to magic damage output and having enough SP to cast his spells as much as I need him to, Ryuji is pretty wanting. This is offset by his high defense and physical power, but even in this area Ryuji doesn’t necessarily have a lot to offer. His physical skills aren’t a stage ahead of anyone else’s in terms of hitting power, but he does have the advantage of getting access to attack-boosting passives that increase his strength. This makes Ryuji useful for clearing mooks but less effective against minibosses and bosses.

When it comes to his regular combos, Ryuji’s gimmick is that he can hold the strong attack button during combos to charge them up and dish out a bigger hit. His standalone strong attack gives him a defensive aura that reduces his likelihood of flinching from enemy attacks and, with the help of his final master art, it also increases his defense against attacks. This is certainly helpful when fighting tough enemies for whom you do not have a weakness, but if you’re building Joker well you’re going to have at least one character on your team at any given time who can exploit weaknesses. This makes Ryuji’s role less valuable overall. Charging up Ryuji’s combo attacks does allow for big damage and since he doesn’t flinch when protected by his aura you are more likely to benefit from the payoff of a charge, but I found some of Ryuji’s attacks to have a weird strike zone that made them more difficult to implement. This is particularly true of his three-hit combo leading into a lightning strike, where the electricity actually hits a short distance away from the normal attacking range of his melee weapon and so sometimes completely bypassed the foe I was trying to target. Ryuji is great for clearing out small enemies but not much else, and even within his party role there are other characters who can fulfill it better – or at least in a way that feels more fun to play.

The Phantom Thieves mascot and also their bus and backup healer – I say backup because while a case could certainly be made for Morgana as primary healer in Persona 5, Strikers introduces a new character who outclasses him in this category. That’s not to say there’s no value to what Morgana brings to the table in terms of healing – he gets quicker access to better healing spells than other members of your party including both single-target and group-healing as well as reviving downed characters. Morgana is also the wind specialist of the group, an element that trades the ability to inflict a useful status condition for a reduced SP cost. This is a nice benefit as it generally allows Morgana to contribute as both a healer and an attacker with a bit less risk of running out of energy compared to other party members.

I’m not a huge of Morgana’s combos and fighting style, which led me not to play as him particularly often. This is partly because his standalone strong attack as well as certain combos cause Morgana to enter his cat bus form, during which you can drive around to slowly inflict chip damage on enemies. The problem is that the damage inflicted in this form is very low and the time it takes to transform back into Morgana’s normal form slows down the flow of combat and can leave you open for punishment. Morgana does have some pretty nifty master arts to take advantage of. One allows particular combos with a spinning effect to pull enemies into a group around Morgana, priming them for a big hit from a Persona ability. Another useful master art turns one of Morgana’s combos into a Miracle Punch with an elevated chance for a critical hit. Since critical hits create openings for all-out attacks, this allows Morgana to pull enemies into a tight group, down an enemy with a critical hit, and then wipe out the group with the all-out attack opened up by the critical.

The eye candy of the Phantom Thieves, because obviously that is an essential role for every team and cannot be neglected. Despite how she is treated by the devs/writers Ann is more than her cup size and Strikers gives us an opportunity to see the ways in which she has matured since the first game. Combat-wise Ann is the team’s fire expert and has the most magical firepower (pun intended). The fact that Ann has the most magical potential makes it a shame that she can’t use even one more attacking element, because her limitation makes it so that mechanically she doesn’t have a ton of applications when not facing fire-weak enemies. This is made even worse by the fact that Ann’s melee attacks also depend heavily on fire. Her standalone strong attack imbues her basic combos with fire, which is great for wearing down fire-weak enemies or ignoring the physical resistance on enemies who reduce damage from standard melee attacks. But when facing enemies who are not vulnerable to fire, Ann doesn’t bring a lot else to the table.

One skill Ann does have that we haven’t talked a lot about yet is the ability to inflict status problems, specifically sleep. Status ailments cause temporary disadvantages for the enemy that against most small-scale opponents won’t feel worth the extra effort and against most bosses turn out to be ineffective. However, there is some value in these types of ailments – setting up technicals. A technical is an attack that deals bonus damage due to a combination of factors, and they function similarly to hitting an enemy weakness in the sense that they reduce the shield gauge on bigger enemies and can make small foes vulnerable to an all-out attack. Sleep is a useful condition – when it works – because practically any type of attack can get a technical off of it. Additionally, Ann’s fire attacks can burn enemies and burned foes are vulnerable to technicals as well, particularly from wind attacks like Morgana’s.

This actually makes Morgana and Ann one of my favorite combinations to use in battle despite the fact that I don’t necessarily love either character on an individual basis. Ann compliments Morgana’s healing skills with her own – she is limited to a single target heal, but having a second character on the team who can assist with healing reduces the SP burden on any single character. Ann can heal single characters who take big damage while Morgana can focus on keeping the team healthy. Offensively, when Ann burns an opponent Morgana can then step in and deal technical damage to make his attacks even more effective. This can open up opportunities for Morgana to reduce the shield gauge on enemies that he otherwise couldn’t, or make him more effective against enemies already vulnerable to win. There are multiple battles in the game – including at least one boss battle – where making sure to take advantage of the burn and wind combo is a key part of making the battle manageable for the party. That said, while Ann and Morgana are a potent team and Ann is really powerful against fire-weak enemies, her situational nature meant she was a character that I rarely brought with me except for her tailor-made scenarios.

Every team needs an artist and someone who is completely oblivious to social conventions to the point of being eccentric and Yusuke fills both of those roles perfectly. Similar to Ann, Yusuke is another character who really gets some time in the spotlight in this game to show the ways in which he has grown as a result of the events of the first game, and it’s really neat to see how much he learned for his experience with Madarame. Yusuke is also one of my three favorite characters in the game, and of those three he is the one I most enjoy actually playing as. Not only is he mechanically useful based on the Persona skills he unlocks throughout the game, but his combat style during the action gameplay is the most satisfying to execute in my opinion.

Yusuke fights with a katana and his standalone strong attack puts him in a counter stance, allowing him to execute a powerful blow against enemies who try to attack him in this position. While this might lead you to think that Yusuke is a more defensive character, that’s really not the case – everything about him is focused on speed and combo potential, stringing together the highest number of hits as possible to maximize damage. Mashing the strong attack button during most combo finishers adds more hits to the combo, allowing Yusuke to slice a huge chunk out of enemy health bars when he has a clear opening. Yusuke is simple to use but effective; all of his combos feel good in action (in contrast to Morgana becoming a bus or Ryuji flinging lightning outside of his typical attack range) and his speed is a natural fit for an action game where dodging is the preferred method of defense for your characters.

The focus on combo potential also applies to Yusuke’s Persona, though it takes a different form there. Yusuke is the ice user for the team and ice can inflict the freeze status on enemies, temporarily stopping them in their tracks and opening them to technicals from nuclear damage or physical damage. Yusuke, like Ryuji, isn’t really a magical damage dealer and instead makes up for that with big physical skills with a high critical hit rate. Being able to reliably crit means that Yusuke has an easier time making openings for all-out attacks or chipping down the shield gauges of enemies whose weakness he doesn’t possess, and because physical skills get technicals off on frozen targets, Yusuke can set up his own combos, freezing an enemy and then immediately switching to his physical skills to deal additional damage and reduce their shield gauge. His passive skills allow him to lean harder into these strategies, increasing his chance to inflict freeze, his technical damage, and his likelihood of getting a critical hit. Like Ann, Yusuke is very good at one specific approach, but unlike Ann that approach has broader applications that make Yusuke a helpful character to use even in situations he is not explicitly “meant” to resolve.

Tactical expert for the Phantom Thieves, Makoto may look like a petite and feminine academic but looks can be deceiving. This brass-knuckles wearing motorcycle-riding badass was one of my favorite characters in Persona 5 and I was beyond excited to get to play as her in a more direct way during the events of Strikers. I think a big part of why I like Makoto so much is because I see some of myself in her. Sheltered, highly academic and skilled at interacting with adults but feeling out of touch or uncool among her peers, and largely obedient to a system that ultimately failed her until her awakening as a Persona user. She was my waifu of choice at the end of Persona 5 Royal, but do I feel the same way at the end of Strikers?

Makoto was one of two big disappointments I experienced playing the game and she is perhaps the bigger of the two. I found her fighting style to be too situational and her combos didn’t feel great to implement during combat. The strong attack button gives Makoto’s attacks the nuclear element similar to Ann’s ability, but the difference is that nuclear damage doesn’t have the ability to create an opportunity for technicals in the way that fire does. A useful comparison may be to look at Ann as a character who sets up other characters while Makoto is dependent on other characters to set her up. She combos well with Yusuke as nuclear attacks deal technical damage to frozen enemies, but Makoto can only capitalize on opportunities created by others rather than creating them herself. This makes her even more situational than Ann, who can at least create opportunities for bonus damage where there are none. I also find myself frustrated with one particular combo finisher which causes Makoto to ride around the battlefield on Johanna. It feels just as unhelpful as Morgana’s bus and reduces your control over your character in a similar way, but it is more difficult to cancel out of meaning you are trapped in the cycle longer – or should I say ON the cycle?

Makoto isn’t all bad. Similar to Ann, against enemies weak to her element Makoto has lots of opportunities to dole out damage because she can imbue her basic attacks with nuclear properties. An advantage she has over Ann is that her master arts all contribute to the usefulness of her strong attack, causing it not just to give her an elemental affinity but also to increase the damage of her combos as well as activating the benefit automatically after making follow-ups. This allows her to organically obtain her nuclear abilities and to get bonus damage from the aura even when fighting enemies who aren’t weak to nuclear. Makoto is also more effective than Ann as a back-up healer thanks to her larger SP pool and access to group healing spells instead of exclusively single-target spells. Ultimately, Makoto is great against nuclear-weak enemies and functions fine as a healer for the group but is dependent on other party members (particularly Yusuke) to maximize her potential.

Nicknamed Beauty Thief, Haru is a character who defies expectations much like Makoto. Her pampered, wealthy aesthetic belies a woman whose preferred weapon in battle is a massive axe and whose gun fires rockets rather than bullets. While most of the game’s women have at least some healing ability, Haru is a powerhouse who specializes in psychokinetic and gun attacks. She’s the next of my three favorites and for a lot of the same reasons as Yusuke, though she functins differently and has her own unique advantages and weaknesses.

Like Joker, Haru’s special fires off shots from her gun. Haru’s gun is unique though in that holding down the strong attack button allows her to launch a consecutive barrage of rockets, raining explosions on a group of enemies until she runs out of ammo. Her master arts allow her not to expend ammo using this ability, and boy is it satisfying to stand back and rain missiles on a group of gun-weak enemies in order to open them up for an all-out attack. When swinging her axe Haru can hold the strong attack button to charge up her swings similar to Ryuji, but she lacks Ryuji’s ability to become immune to flinching so it does require more care to make sure you have a clean opening. Of course, her combos are a bit easier to execute than Ryuji’s, particularly her three hit which creates a psychic maelstrom that lasts longer the longer you hold the button. While holding this attack you can move it around, pursuing enemies who were not originally caught in the blast or dealing multiple hits to a single large foe.

Haru’s Persona gives her skills related to psychokinetic attacks and gun damage. This is the closest that any character other than Joker gets to having two elements, as while there are no enemies in the game who are weak to straight up physical attacks there are a few types who are vulnerable to damage from guns. This makes Haru a little more versatile than other characters, a feature accentuated even further by the fact that psychokinesis can technical off of any mental status ailment, even ones self-inflicted by the enemy for a beneficial effect such as Rage. Because Haru can inflict the brainwash status with one of her skills, she can set up her own technical hits against enemies who are not otherwise weak to her abilities, and like Yusuke Haru has multipliers for her technical damage that make these attacks even more effective. Haru’s combo potential as well as her physical and magical hitting power make her an obvious choice to have on the team.

One of two new characters in Strikers and the final of my three favorites, Sophie is an artificial intelligence whose mysterious origins and unique abilities factor significantly into the story of the game. Sophie joins very early, making her first appearance during the tutorial section of the game, so you get plenty of time to know her and lots of opportunities to develop her skills and learn her fighting style. She has a charming personality and while her story is pretty predictable for anyone who has ever engaged with media pondering the humanity of artificial life before, it is executed in a way that feels rewarding thanks to the excellent storytelling Persona is so known for.

Sophie probably has the most unusual weapon in the game in the form of a pair of yo-yos. The unique mechanic tied to these yo-yos is the perfect catch – pressing the button for either a weak or strong attack right when the yo-yo returns to Sophie’s hand causes her to get a small boost in power, making her more powerful when you execute her combos with good timing. This is a bit tricky to use in my opinion, particularly compared to Sidon’s timing mechanic for those who have played Age of Calamity. I think that’s the result of the camera in Strikers being more zoomed out and the animation for Sophie’s catches being a lot more subtle than the timing indicator for Sidon’s boundless optimism. At the end of the day though, Sophie is a character who you will likely not be playing for her standard combos, but instead for her Persona.

Sophie is a bless-specialist offensively and she also has the best assortment of healing abilities in the game, not only getting single and group target healing as well as revival but also having boosted healing courtesy of her Divine Grace passive. Sophie’s powerful healing often makes it so that when she is in your party, you don’t have to have anybody else worrying about using healing abilities, making her the best fit for a support unit when considering your lineup. That said, Sophie functions well as an attacker too, having magical damage output on par with Ann except for bless attacks rather than fire. Bless doesn’t have a status ailment it can cause so Sophie cannot set up combos as well as Ann, but she deals big damage with her spells and her passives make them even more effective at chipping away shield gauges. Any bless-weak boss can easily lose an entire shield to a blast from Sophie, making her perhaps the best character for quickly whittling down opponents who are weak to her element. With both high-tier healing and hitting power, Sophie is a valuable asset to the team and only becomes more so as the game goes on.

This is it, the granddaddy spoiler. I was honestly expecting Zenkichi to be manipulating the party and expected a betrayal from him at some point, but instead he awakens to a Persona and joins the Phantom Thieves. It’s a nice character arc and Zenkichi is relatable for dads who are trying their hardest to parent alone after a difficult loss, or anyone who feels like they work too often and cannot put enough energy into their children. When I could tell his awakening was imminent, I wondered what Zenkichi’s fighting style would be like and eagerly anticipated what he could bring to the table. But while Zenkichi didn’t end up being as much of a disappointment to me as Makoto, I had mixed feelings about his playstyle and his reveal as the final new character fell flat for me.

The big disappointment for me come in the form of Zenkichi’s Persona. Zenkichi’s element is almighty, an element which does not strike the weakness of any enemies but as a result cannot be resisted either. The idea is that Zenkichi can reliably deal neutral damage to everything, which on the surface seems helpful but in a game SO dependent on striking enemy weaknesses instead results in a character who is practically useless against any enemy where victory depends on depleting their shield gauge. Zenkichi also has powerful physical and gun skills which does make him a little more useful, allowing him to hit the weak points of the game’s rare gun-weak enemies as well as getting technical bonuses when set up by an ally. Zenkichi can also buff allies but all of his buffs are single-target, making them way less useful than the multi-target buffs that the other characters gain. He trades variety for potency, and unfortunately it is a trade that does not treat him kindly.

What I will say for Zenkichi is that while his schtick is lacking when it comes to bosses and minibosses, he is a fun character to use for clearing mobs and he has one of the most interesting playstyles when it comes to his melee attacks. Zenkichi’s gimmick is focused on the tradeoff between his standard mode and his fury mode. When fury is activated, Zenkichi steadily takes damage but his attacks have an increased range and they are all imbued with the almighty element. When fury is off, his combos don’t hit as many enemies but they restore his health, allowing him to recover some of the damage he sustained while in fury mode. Switching in and out of fury allows Zenkichi to stay somewhat healthy while also dishing out huge attacks to swaths of enemies. It adds a layer of complexity to playing as him that keeps things interesting, but ultimately I would have preferred to have this playstyle attached to a Persona with more useful skills. An emphasis on the curse element, for example, would have balanced the party so that every element had representation from one of the Phantom Thieves as well as Joker.

Don’t worry Futaba, you’ll always be my favorite even if none of the Persona games will ever make you playable.

My time with Strikers was a fun one and I am really satisfied with the finale of the game. As you can see from the paragraphs above, there’s a lot to appreciate mechanically about Strikers and every player will probably discover their own preferences and form a playstyle unique to them. While I primarily cut my way through the game with Yusuke and Haru with support from Joker and Sophie, the weakness system gives you an incentive to use every character and experimenting with the playstyles of even the units you don’t like keeps the experience fresh. I’ve grown to love this cast a lot over the last few years and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to spend another game with them.

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