Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
November 17, 2023
Rhythm games, dungeon crawlers, a 1v1 fighting game and even a Musou; it seems like at this point the Persona series has done it all. Surprisingly absent — though entirely fitting — from that spin-off repertoire has been a tactics game, but no longer. Persona 5 Tactica is here and celebrates the occasion by having it follow the beloved Phantom Thieves cast. With it comes another delightful affair for the group of teenagers, even if they’ve somewhat run their course.
Persona 5 Tactica’s narrative and premise are initially hard to get around. Taking place in the latter half of Persona 5, it’s already apparent from the get-go that there’s no status quo shift in this spin-off. Unlike Strikers before it, it won’t continue where the original left off, expanding the universe. This leaves it as an entry you can take or leave, especially so in its simple grid and turn-based encounter to encounter run sans exploration. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that – especially if you’re a weirdo like me and a fan of filler one-off anime episodes (something to which Tactia feels akin), but this still makes the onboarding process tough. Alas, it also means that fan favourites Akechi and Royal newcomer Kasumi are absent.
Cruelly ejected from the humble home of Cafe Leblanc once more, the gang are transported off to a new Metaverse. Instead of Palaces, these dungeons are now known as ‘Kingdoms.’ There are a few Kingdoms to work your way through in Tactica’s more modest 25–30-hour experience, though they function a little differently here. Yes, each is home to a villain or boss that you must overcome and help them change their heart, but now they’re all tied to a central theme and character. I’ll spare further details, but this narrative choice pans out really well, instead letting a member of the main cast grow and develop over time rather than the focus largely being on the growth of a villain you’ll never see again.
Joining the fray are the new characters in Erina and Toshiro, respectively a younger, defiant rebel girl of mystique and an older gentleman who is, oh yeah, the current prime minister of Japan in the Persona 5 universe. What on earth is going on in this new Metaverse? Why is there a Cafe Leblanc in this realm too? Who are all these Kingdom leaders and how do we overcome them and escape? These are but some of the questions answered in conjunction with the new cast members. Though a good amount of this plot and its reveals are somewhat predictable, the characterisation of the beloved Phantom Thieves and the newbies helps carry the experience the full way.
The Persona charm and style are endless, no matter the format. The HUD and visual flourishes are aplenty. As are the smooth rock and jazz fusion backing tracks found throughout. Though doing away with the literal environmental and dungeon exploration, Tactica aptly and simply situates players on tactical battlefield after tactical battlefield, breaking it up with visits back to the Cafe Le Blanc for personal optional chats and progression of the plot via traditional visual novel-style dialogue.
These are all presented with energetic and colourful sprites of the Phantom Thieves and friends, leaving both these 2D and 3D representations in environments looking chibi in nature. Seeing Joker, Ryuji, Ann, Yusuke, Futaba, Makoto, Haru and Morgana all together again feels familiar but refreshed with this slight style change, feeling like I’m coming home to a group of friends I’ve come to know so fondly.
Rarely do these moments get in the way of the good stuff; the juicy tactics gameplay. Exchanges never go on too long, keeping the ball rolling but, unfortunately as is tradition, some of the cast will say heinous stuff and be gross to their female counterparts once more. This is where it gets most in the way. Yep, expect more moments of Yusuke thinly hiding his lust for Ann via the means of his love for art and ‘beautiful imagery.’ Morgana too is the annoying and inappropriate pest they’ve always been – something still grating to this day and an odd characteristic for a literal cat.
Persona 5 Tactica takes a traditional grid-based approach, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without more modern quality-of-life implementations. Players can deploy upwards of three party members for a fight. In each of their given turns, there’s a radial surrounding the character, previewing their range and where they can be placed, something that can be adjusted however many times they like until they take their action (firing a gun, a melee attack or using a spell from their persona summon). I’m reminded of last year’s Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope with this approach. As an added stress remover, the math of it all has been removed. Gunshots will never miss their target. Enemies and the party don’t have strengths and weaknesses against element types. It’s simply down to using each individual party member’s skills and strategic placement.
Each party member has the same persona (Erina can’t use personas, they’ll cover that) they used in the original entry. Joker can cast Arsène to curse foes. Morgana uses Zorro to cast wind attacks, push enemies back and so on. However, all members save the support members in Toshiro and Futaba can equip a secondary persona to their arsenal to mix and match abilities and eliminate the competition.
On the default normal difficulty, Persona 5 Tactica is never hard. The majority of objectives in-game (save a few that will task players to get a character or party to x location in x turns) are the simple task of defeating all enemies. This leaves the door open to experimentation and maximising efficiency in battle, something fostered and celebrated by the return of ‘All-out Attacks,’ and ‘One More Turns.’ In the original Persona 5, to get One More Turns off just one foe has to be down. All-out Attacks required all foes to be down and your party present.
Here, enemies’ only resistance is when they are lined up against an object or wall of cover, no matter whether they’re in your line of sight. Knock one out of this state with a melee or persona attack and they’re vulnerable to having another companion now attack them by any means and then get a follow-up turn. This One More Turn is fantastic for making good headway on a battlefield as you can use this to leapfrog between enemies, getting that little extra bit of movement each turn. All-out attacks on the other hand are dazzling flourishes and can be fulfilled by positioning your three party members in a triangle around enemies before triggering a hail of gunfire. Adjusting each teammate ever so slightly, finding the sweet spot to maximise how many combatants you wrap up in one go feels so bloody good.
The first Kingdom takes place in a gorgeous bright pink and white regal town built of cobblestone and with a complete castle. The villain here is a mysterious, evil and gigantic woman known as Marie who is desperate to host her own wedding despite still being on the hunt for a groom. The second is a feudal Japan setting but that’s all I can tell you ahead of launch. All Kingdoms and their levels function very similarly and though I was excited to see the new aesthetics and mystery within each, I wished for more bombastic setpiece levels akin to other spin-off tactics titles. These only really come with the boss fights to wrap up each Kingdom, something worth sticking it out for but fewer and far between.
If you’re worried you’re never going to be all that stimulated or challenged with Tactica, you need only be directed to the optional missions which are more focused on completing an objective in a set number of turns. This time round, it’s less about tanking through many enemies and more about having a clever little puzzle laid out in front of you. These are super engaging thinkers, especially when it comes to difficult tasks like clearing a whole battlefield in just one turn.
This is where some of the game will be quite the timesink as you spend your time trepidatiously making moves, making sure each enemy and each companion are where they should be when they should be, to set off a masterful chain attack. These additional, optional levels do well in lengthening Tactica just that little bit, where otherwise your only real other downtime is your trips to the Velvet Room to get fusing new personas and levelling up your crew minutely.
I haven’t quite yet had that galaxy brain feeling in tactics games where I feel like I’ve succeeded in my own game of chess, watching all my assailants fall before me. These puzzle-centric levels are now the closest I’ve had to that sensation, and they made for some of my favourite moments in the game.
At one point in-game, Joker has a passing line about how he hopes he gets to hang up the mask and pass the baton on, literally. If there’s any time to do it, it’s certainly the present. Including the original and Royal, this is the sixth game that follows the Phantom Thieves, with a seventh still to come. I wish it were ending here but that doesn’t yet seem to be the case. Persona 5 Tactica feels like the furthest the gang can go at this point. It feels like a victory lap and bittersweet re-visitation of some of Atlus’ best characters they’ve ever created. I’m glad I stuck through the hard start. There’s plenty worthwhile, even if the stakes are hardly present. Still, Atlus, give us something about Persona 6. It’s certainly due.
- It's truly good to revisit the Phantom Thieves in this new art style
- All-out and One More Time attacks compliment the simplistic tactics gameplay
- Optional missions are thoroughly engaging thinkers
- A good spin on the expected Persona story
- Could've provided more setpiece levels
- Cast members will still say tired, heinous and sexist stuff
Persona 5 Tactica is another successful voyage for the Phantom Thieves. Little is better than the warm feeling inside of revisiting this cast of characters I’ve come to know so fondly and intimately in a new, but familiar style. There are small ways Atlus could’ve made this a more blown-out affair, but it’s never too much of a bother when the game is this solid and satisfying to play. Persona and the tactics genre have finally been fused with great success, creating a thoughtful and smart, but approachable affair. Love or hate how long the Phantom Thieves have stuck around at this point, they’ll at least steal your heart once more.