OK Persona 5 Strikers, I’m giving you one chance to come clean. Where is my girlfriend and what have you done with her?
I’ll admit, Hifumi wasn’t at the forefront of my mind when I first returned to the world of turn-based Japanese roleplaying game Persona 5. I was more eager to catch up with my friends and fellow Phantom Thieves: Ann, Yusuke, Makoto, Futaba, Haru, Morgana — even Ryuji. Though only six months had passed for them since we attacked and dethroned god, I hadn’t properly spent time with our ragtag group in three years (barring one weird dancing fever dream). I was curious to see what they’d gotten up to in my absence, and how our experiences together might have impacted them.
We had spent an entire year supernaturally invading cruel adults’ minds, our mismatched gang of misunderstood teens literally fighting the dark desires inside people and forcing them to repent. There’s no way that doesn’t change the trajectory of your life in some way.
Fortunately, none of them seemed particularly traumatised by the experience. Reunited in Persona 5 Strikers, our gang of merry misfits were now taking our show on the road, driving across Japan to apply unsolicited mental recalibration to a new batch of unsuspecting targets — and dive into some new hack-and-slash gameplay.
However, after the initial excitement of our reunion died down, I began to wonder about my friends who didn’t moonlight as mind criminals. Café Leblanc’s curry king Sojiro was still around, allowing me to reclaim my makeshift bedroom in the shop’s attic. But I had no idea how my former teacher Kawakami was. Both Iwai’s airsoft shop and Tae’s medical clinic were closed.
And there was no sign of Hifumi, my beautiful shogi queen.
I first met Hifumi Togo in a quiet Kanda church, a peaceful sanctuary she often visited to practice shogi. She became my instructor, teaching me strategy through the Japanese board game and unwittingly sharpening my combat skills. Evening after evening I would return, and evening after evening Hifumi taught me. Eventually she grew to trust me, confiding her difficult relationship with her mother and the pressures she felt as a high-profile shogi player. I supported her, silently intervening to help with her troubles. Our relationship grew closer, more intimate, slowly budding into a fragile high school romance.
While many Persona 5 players’ hearts were stolen by badass biker Makoto, starting a romantic relationship with a fellow Phantom Thief felt too much like dating a colleague to me. Our mission to beat the living daylights out of the physical manifestations of people’s corrupt psyches was too important to compromise. I wanted to keep my love life separate from my probably illegal mind heists as much as it was possible to do so.
Shy, strange Hifumi was largely disconnected from my world of supernatural percussive psychology, and she had never met my cunning alter ego Joker. Aside from being the catalyst for a small side adventure, she had nothing to do with the Phantom Thieves. She also attended an entirely different school, so she’d never heard the rumours tarring me as a dangerous delinquent (which were absolutely false, by the way).
All Hifumi saw was my plain, unexciting, everyday self, unassuming in a standard Shujin Academy uniform and heavy framed glasses. She chose me anyway.
SEE ALSO: ‘Persona 5 Royal’ first impressions: Same same but different
Persona 5 Strikers follows a new plot, so you can technically play it without having touched Persona 5. You’ll still have fun if you’re willing to accept and run with each premise as it arises no matter how outlandish, though it will probably be confusing, like watching the Downton Abbey movie without having seen Downton Abbey. Being told the Jails you’re exploring are similar to Palaces means nothing if you don’t know what a Palace is.
Those who have already played Persona 5 will have a much easier time understanding the game, and they’ll enjoy getting back to the familiar world and the characters they love. This being a direct narrative sequel, a lot of the relationships, terminology, and basic worldbuilding carry over, helping you better understand the purpose behind your battles. The introduction of the road trip premise also keeps the setting dynamic, so you don’t get bored circling the same neighbourhoods you’ve already thoroughly explored.
Persona 5 Strikers is more of a spinoff of Persona 5 than a sequel in terms of gameplay, with significant changes that further help revitalise the series. While I personally preferred Persona 5’s strategic turn-based combat, Striker’s switch to real time hack-and-slash action offers a refreshing new challenge and faster pace. Fortunately strategy is still an important element of battles, with button-mashing only able to get you so far. Defeating stronger enemies is practically impossible unless you jump into a menu and fire off magic attacks targeted at your opponents’ weaknesses.
Even so, fans of the original will find Strikers feels slightly less robust in some areas than its predecessor, most notably when it comes to friendships. Instead of cultivating individual relationships with your friends, your bond is built with the group as a whole — a significant change considering how focused Persona 5 had been on these connections. If you were hoping to deepen your relationship with your favourite character, you’ll likely be disappointed.
And if you wanted to discuss future plans with your girlfriend, or perhaps even see her again after half a year apart? Well then, tough luck, Romeo.
We were in LOVE.
Image: Persona 5
I understand Hifumi’s absence from Persona 5 Strikers on a practical level. There had been multiple different love interests in Persona 5, so it was simpler for the developers to avoid the topic rather than choose one as canon. Players could assume their relationships continued offscreen, or that they’d broken up in the intervening months — if they turned their mind to love at all. High school romances often don’t last, and six months may as well be forever in teenage time.
Even so, I don’t believe for a second that my patient, levelheaded Hifumi didn’t wait for me. Before I left she told me this wasn’t goodbye, and we’d even promised to visit each other.
“You won’t be victorious if you take your eyes off them,” she said. “It is the same in shogi and romance, yes?”
I spent over 200 hours in Persona 5, many of them by Hifumi’s side. Now it has all been wiped away, the board reset and my girlfriend gone. Those quiet evenings spent sharing a shogi board, shy eyes flicking to each other when we thought ourselves unobserved. The peace of our shared isolation, the mutual understanding found in the sacred seclusion of the church. Our innocent, tentative affection witnessed only by her, myself, and God (not the one we dethroned).
I’m not trying to sunk-cost-fallacy this relationship, but we both invested too much for our love to be ignored.
Yet, like an overprotective parent teaching their kids to resent them, the world of Persona 5 Strikers kept Hifumi from me. I can only assume this was to drive home the unjust cruelty of this universe, which hates young love and wants to make me personally suffer. The Venus of Shogi wasn’t even mentioned before I was shuffled off to the next town, pulled away from my star and into another Phantom Thieves adventure.
It was undeniably exciting to be back doing unlicensed amateur psychology. I’ll always treasure any time spent violating people’s minds and stylishly beating up their psyches with my friends. But like most things, pushing people into mental breakdowns is simply more enjoyable when sharing it with someone you love.
Persona 5 Strikers launches outside Japan Feb. 23 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC.