The Persona series has been molded from RPG into many, many other genres, especially Persona 5. Dungeon crawling, dancing, though sadly no brawling; and now, with Persona 5 Tactica, it’s time for some turn-based tactics.
As I mentioned in my review-in-progress, there’s really no shortage of extra content for those who don’t want to leave the world of Persona 5. And if you want more Persona 5—more hijinks, gags, and general time spent with the Phantom Thieves—then Tactica can certainly accommodate that.
On top of that, it’s a solid tactics game that even has some interesting ideas. Persona 5 Tactica is lighthearted, fun, and even hits some solid notes near the end with its stance on fighting for your beliefs. But it also falters, often enough to note where this could have been a more rewarding tactical experience.
At the start of Persona 5 Tactica, we catch the Phantom Thieves recuperating from a recent excursion in Leblanc, before they’re suddenly pulled into another dimension, a “Kingdom.” While it somewhat acts like the Metaverse of Persona 5, it’s slightly different; here, a tyrannical ruler named Marie lords over her subjects. A rebel corps of adorable hat-guys resist, led by the seemingly human but enigmatic Erina; and soon, the gang also finds Diet member Toshiro Kasukabe trapped here, too.
Starting with just Joker and Morgana, the duo teams up with Erina and the rebels to save the other Phantom Thieves, who have been enchanted (or maybe just brain-controlled) by Marie’s magic. And then, after rebuilding the crew, it’s time to start a revolution.
You say you want a revolution?
This theme carries through the lengthy first Kingdom and onto subsequent sections, as the Phantom Thieves’ excursion doesn’t end with just one big bad. I won’t go deep into where Persona 5 Tactica goes, but it does stay focused on ideas of power and relative peace. Essentially, how a tyrannical rule can feel so oppressive that any resistance is seen as too costly, and either submission or apathy is preferable to fighting back.
It’s heartening, really, to see Persona 5 Tactica challenge those ideas, much like its Phantom Thieves did in the original game. It may feel like many of the same notes, about changing hearts and fighting for a better future, but its revolutionary ideals still feel stirring in Tactica. Newcomers Erina and Toshiro are welcome focal points, and their eventual twists and turns are pretty good.
On the other hand, don’t expect too much story on the Phantom Thieves’ side. Some of the crew, like Haru and Futaba, end up getting a little extra spotlight as their own struggles line up with the new characters’. But others, like Makoto or Yusuke, are just kind of there. Most of the Persona 5 crew is here to interact and hang out, tossing around jokes, but not necessarily taking any huge steps on their own personal journeys. Tactica is very much focused on Erina and Toshiro.
It’s told well, though the style-swapping between visual novel-like text segments, 3D-animated cutscenes, and fully 2D animated cutscenes does feel a bit odd at times. I’m not the biggest fan of the general “look” the Phantom Thieves have in P5 Tactica, but it wasn’t particularly egregious either.
The traditional P5 style is much more prevalent in the menus and UI, which includes some gorgeous transition effects and a Velvet Room abbreviation that reads, “V. Room.” You know, like a car. What? It makes me laugh.
When it comes to tactics, Persona 5 Tactica has some pretty interesting ideas. In broad strokes, this will feel familiar to any turn-based strategy fan, but especially those who have played games like the Mario + Rabbid series. You take your turn, moving your three deployed characters on the grid and attacking using a variety of abilities, then the enemy moves.
Individual units have a variety of skills available, including risky but potentially strong melee strikes, standard gun attacks, and of course, using magic through their Personas. In this game, Joker’s Wild Card status extends to all the Phantom Thieves (after clearing a certain mission), so everyone can equip a second Persona to expand their magic repertoire and bump their stats.
Most of your actions will focus around a central concept: setting up the One More. If an enemy is outside of cover, or otherwise vulnerable, then not only will a hit score full damage but it will also knock them down and give the attacker another turn. (This can work against you too, by the way.) Setting up chain reactions, where one unit can ping-pong between targets dishing out damage and zipping across the map, is crucial.
It’s also important for setting up the Triple Threat Attack, the reward for all your tactical planning. If a unit is on a One More turn, lines extend from each Phantom Thief, forming a triangle between your trio; if the triangle sits over a downed enemy, then it lights up with fire for a Triple Threat. The Thieves commence the all-out attack, damaging the downed foe and everyone else caught in the area.
The Triple Threat sounds more complex than it is. Really, it’s the combination of this move and the One More that makes Persona 5 Tactica’s strategy feel rewarding. It can feel a bit awkward at first, as you have to think several moves ahead with everyone. One unit needs to tee things up, and then you have to determine how you’re going to angle your triangle position from there.
Often, it pushed me to make some risky plays. I like how freeform it feels, while also eventually forcing you to plant three stakes in the ground and cash out as best you can. There were maps where, thanks to some smart moves and careful planning, I cleared it at two turns lower than the par goal for extra rewards. Other times, I messed up an angle somewhere, and was left to watch my units get blasted about by Legionnaires.
The enemy units do enough to make Tactica tough, too. From support units to giant, hulking brutes, and some especially annoying shielded foes, there’s a good variety on display. I felt like enemy design hit its peak with ninja units that would force-swap places with a unit after being attacked. It could put my units way out of position, but also be used as a way to cleverly navigate the map or set up big Triple Threat hits.
Nowhere is this enjoyable aspect of the strategy more evident than the Quests, Persona 5 Tactica’s optional levels that, at their best, feel like puzzle boxes. Some of my favorite missions in P5T weren’t big fights against bosses or frantic holdouts against overwhelming odds, but Quests with simple but head-scratching objectives. “Get to the target in one turn” or “clear all enemies in two turns” maps felt like little chess puzzles that I loved carefully looking over.
The bummer is those rewarding little strategy puzzles aren’t what makes up the whole of Tactica. The middle of the game is where most of my favorite tactical bouts happened; the early run of missions are heavy on tutorials, and are at least an easy on-ramp for tactics newcomers. The endgame felt almost a bit too easy, and to get into why, I’ll need to delve even deeper into the mechanics of Tactica. Specifically, its stats and guns.
A demonic arsenal
Lavenza and the Velvet Room return, mostly doing what you’d expect: facilitating demon fusion and compendium management. Making good Personas for your party to hold is worthwhile, for the stats and for the additional skills or passives they offer. But there’s another option that unlocks a decent way into the game: fusing weapons from demons.
Guns play a significant role in Persona 5 Tactica, way more than I ever felt they did in Persona 5, and initially you just have a shop for upgrading them. Each character has their own fire type too, ranging from basic pistols for Joker and Makoto to Haru’s grenade launcher, Ann’s submachine gun, and Ryuji’s shotgun. Fusing weapons adds even more properties, from changing up the range and spread of the gun to adding elemental effects and, of course, adding damage.
I haven’t really mentioned the Skills system yet, where you spend reward GP from missions and Quests to upgrade each Phantom Thief individually. Really, they’re fairly straightforward; I was hoping for some more options to customize and define playstyles for each character, but they’re all meant to upgrade what they already do. Each upgrade path felt similar for characters. Bump up their magic, give them extra movement squares and range, and unlock their signature skill.
Basically, there are a lot of avenues for upgrading your characters. And by the campaign’s end, I felt like my characters were borderline overpowered. Granted, I had finished each Quest and been utilizing the systems put in front of me to eke out the most power I could. But in exchange, the difficulty (I was on Normal) didn’t feel like it could keep pace. Heck, there were some enemies who I couldn’t knock into a downed state, because one attack to knock them out of cover and another to start the One More would take them out completely. Making Triple Threats happen became its own challenge.
In some ways, this is nice. I could see this being a very approachable strategy game for those who don’t spend a ton of time playing them. But I do wish some of the endgame stages felt like they either challenged me more, or offered greater rewards for more strategic play.
Steal your heart
Persona 5 Tactica is, by all means, a solid tactics game. It’s enjoyable, has some fresh ideas, and certainly has its own flair and character. But it also made me just a bit more aware of how this is yet another Persona 5 spin-off.
The story with Erina and Toshiro is good, but it feels like a Saturday morning excursion for the P5 gang. This is more Persona 5, but a frozen-in-time distillation of the vibes and good times with the gang, rather than a substantive addition to any of those characters’ stories. And we’ve had a lot of “more Persona 5.”
I’m not sure I’d recommend this to everyone, but for those who want this kind of mash-up anyways, I think they’re already on board. If you’re new to tactics games, Tactica might even be a nice on-ramp towards other options that get a little more in-depth.
So if the idea of a tactics game starring the Phantom Thieves, clocking in at a neat 30ish hours, sounds appealing, then Persona 5 Tactica is for you. It’s not as deep or compelling as other options, but it’s got the style and characters you like. The ending wraps up nicely too, even if getting there is a bit drawn out at the start. I’m happy I spent some time in the tactical Kingdoms of Persona 5 Tactica myself. But I also think I’m ready for a new crew to get the spotlight.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]