I was bitter about Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers, and I had only myself to blame. For weeks, months even, I'd managed to convince myself this was a port of Persona 5 to the Switch (as had half the internet). Why I arrived at the conclusion that Atlus was porting a historically PlayStation franchise to a new system, I'll never know.
But Phantom Strikers is more than just a simple port. Instead, it's a Dynasty Warriors-like game taking place in Persona 5's Tokyo. And if the trailer that dropped late last week is any indication, it's going to be great.
Granted, on the surface the core gameplay of the Dynasty Warriors games doesn't exactly gel with the mechanics of Persona 5, which is more focused on stealth attacks from the shadows and turn-based tactical battle scenarios than hack-and-slack action. But Persona 5 Scramble features its own twists on the well-worn formula, adding in new layers like Makoto running down enemies with her motorbike, and Koei Tecmo utilizing the All-Out Attack to deliver stylish finishers.
Still more interesting is how it approaches its story. 2014's Hyrule Warriors and 2017's Fire Emblem Warriors both take place outside the events of the games on which they're based. Hyrule Warriors features Link, Zelda, Ganon, and others coming together for an entirely new adventure devised by Koei Tecmo, but not one that's linked to the main games. Dragon Quest Heroes features protagonists pulled from multiple games in the series.
For Persona 5 Scramble, there's no such deviation from the game's original story. Koei Tecmo's game picks up six months after the "true" ending of Persona 5, with our heroic Phantom Thieves reuniting for a brand new adventure. It's a pleasant surprise that Persona 5 Scramble doesn't ignore the events of the original game. When I first saw Persona 5 Scramble, I largely wrote it off as an inconsequential spin-off for the main game that would have little impact on the group of characters that I'd come to love over hundreds of hours. I think a portion of the Persona fan base also wrote it off, partially because the 'P5S' teaser didn't actually turn out to be a Nintendo Switch port of Persona 5.
Spin-offs continuing an established story in the Persona universe isn't anything new, of course. Arc System Works and Atlus collaborated on Persona 4 Arena in 2012, a 2D fighting game set after the true ending of Persona 4, which reunited Yu, Chie, Yosuke and even Teddie for a new story presented in visual novel form. As recently as 2018, Atlus were still putting out spin-off Persona games like Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight and Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight, each of which expanded on the stories of the original games. It's nice for Koei Tecmo to follow in the footsteps of Atlus taking established characters and providing new story angles to them, instead of forgoing story completely in favor of smacking people around.
Persona 5 Scramble just gives us more adventures with the characters we love (and loathe?—looking at you, Yusuke). It's a reunion for the group that also feels like your own reunion with each of the characters. What have they all been up to in the six months since the game ended? Has Yusuke actually painted anything else? Does Ryuji have a stable future?
There's charm running deeper than the hacking and slashing around Japan in The Phantom Strikers. Ren can actually cook up dishes for his comrades in the camper—a lovely little expansion on when he was given the option to occasionally cook up a curry in Persona 5. Spending time with characters, even if it's doing nothing at all, was one of the reasons Persona 5 resonated so strongly with me in 2017, so I love the inclusion of downtime activities like this for Scramble.
Persona 5 Scramble might not have been what everyone wanted when it was revealed, but it's been nothing short of a pleasant surprise since. Atlus is working in partnership with Koei Tecmo on this adventure, instead of handing off the reins of the franchise. The result is a Dynasty Warriors game that actually matters for the universe in which it takes place. To call Persona 5 Scramble a spin-off isn't doing it justice; it's a continuation of the story that resonated strongly with millions of players around the world.