Review in Progress: Persona 5 Tactica

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Persona 5 Tactica Review in Progress

The Persona series has its fair share of spinoffs. In fact, there are now more Persona offshoots now than mainline Persona games, and that’s where Persona 5 Tactica finds itself: a new take on some familiar territory, showing the Phantom Thieves in a more strategic light.

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For Tactica, this means adapting the mechanics of Persona not to fighting games, dancing, dungeon-crawling or musou, but to tactics. And it does work well, even when its best sides take a little while to appear.

Persona 5 Tactica (PCPS4, PS5Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch [reviewed])
Developer: P-Studio/Atlus
Publisher: Sega
Released: November 16, 2023
MSRP: $59.99

Persona 5 Tactica is very much a side story. So really, don’t expect too much in the way of a “sequel” or new piece of info here. The Phantom Thieves, while hanging out in the Leblanc cafe, get pulled into a strange new dimension similar to (but different from) the Metaverse, called a Kingdom.

Viva la revolution

After a run-in with the ruler of this Kingdom’s ruler Marie, the empress charms everyone but Joker, Morgana, and newcomer Erina. The first Kingdom mostly involves recovering your friends, building up rebel forces, and taking down Marie while trying to find a way home. More twists, and further Kingdoms, await beyond that; but I’ll leave those story details for players to discover.

What’s important to note is that a lot of Persona 5 is here, but in a surface-level fashion when it comes to the story and characters. The social links have been discarded, in favor of side-stories called Quests, but even then, they’re not deep dives into any of these characters’ stories. I imagine someone who, for some reason, picked this up without playing Persona 5 might feel a bit lost.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Much of Persona 5 Tactica’s story so far feels like more time spent around the Phantom Thieves. And in some ways, I guess that’s fine. Their antics can still get a chuckle out of me, and their dynamic is still enjoyable, after all the hours I dumped into the original Persona 5

Some of the what-if scenarios, like a section where Joker can daydream about marrying one of the team members (including some not romanceable in the base game, a big win for all Ren x Ryuji shippers), are enjoyable. And Erina, the new ally who joins the playable cast, is already a strong addition to the crew.

But while fighting game players might gel with just the mechanics of Persona 4 Arena, I’m not sure if Persona 5 Tactica could hold open the side-door for prospective series newcomers in the same way. Then again, I could see someone picking this up just because they want a new tactics game with a distinct Persona flavor to it.

Tactical decisions

And really, the tactics are a big draw of Persona 5 Tactica. And when they click into place, they’re really interesting. By adapting the concepts of Persona 5 into a tactics setting, P-Studio and Atlus focus in on the One More and extra turn functions. It’s a key part of Persona’s combat identity, so it makes perfect sense. Catching an enemy out of cover lets characters get an extra turn, extending their possible movement range and setting up more damage; fully down an enemy and form a triangle around them, and you can commit to a Triple Threat, an all-out attack on everyone caught in the middle.

Screenshot by Destructoid

It can sound complicated when laid out in text, but it’s pretty straightforward in practice. Melee attacks and Persona skills offer opportunities to displace foes and move them out of cover, as do environmental hazards. So it’s easy to get into a rhythm: knock them out, knock them down, form the triangle and strike.

Initially, this is the whole routine, and early levels don’t always do the best job of spotlighting the flexibility of these systems. A few fights can feel a bit repetitive or rigid, as it feels like you have one game plan to work with, and things only start to open up later, as you get more varied skills and abilities. 

I felt it the most when Persona 5 Tactica introduced me to the Follow-Up Attack: if I knocked an enemy off a ledge towards an ally below, the ally would perform an extra attack and I’d get a One More on the character that did the launching. It’s a crucial, engaging tactic that emphasizes the benefit of elevation control, but it arrives a good deal of the way into Tactica’s missions. It’s a neat element that I wish Tactica had handed to me much earlier.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Characters in Persona 5 Tactica have a decent amount of variety, each bringing their own style of magic and weaponry to the field. Guns matter a good deal more here than it felt like they did in Persona 5, as different fire types can alter firefights; Haru launches grenades that hit an area, while Ann’s SMG can blanket a small area in bullets. I did find myself leaning more towards the mobile members of the crew, as having movement options feels paramount here. But I have spent some time making sure I know how every member of the Thieves lineup fights.

Getting familiar with that variety is important too, as Persona 5 Tactica encourages the player to swap up their roster mission-over-mission. Each excursion into the world might entail several maps of fights, and Phantom Thieves get a boost to their numbers if they’re joining off the bench. It’s a smart, neat way to encourage swapping around party members and experimenting with compositions. The Voltage abilities, super skills that can unleash damage and unique special effects on the field, add another dimension worth considering too. Abilities like Carmen’s bomb attack or Erina’s banner made those characters regular roster inclusions all by themselves.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Magic feels a bit strange here; maybe it’s the Devil Survivor fan in me talking, but I missed some of the elemental weaknesses that usually play a significant role in SMT and Persona games. Persona skills instead provide different effects. Bufu can freeze, or Frei can vortex enemies in, or Psi can lure enemies out. Some feel extremely powerful, others less so, but a few didn’t feel quite as conducive to the rack-em-up, tear-em-down set-ups of Triple Threats as others.

Your own personal Persona

Character customization is where I feel Persona 5 Tactica is falling a bit short for me. New guns are just number boosts, and so are a lot of the skills you can spend GP on. Several different nodes, in fact, offer either upgraded versions of a skill you already know or a boost to that family of skills (i.e. Agi Boost). There are some deeper character customization options, but I was hoping for something that could give me a way to define how I, personally, play Joker, for example, rather than further enforcing a set way to play Joker.

The way Tactica handles Personas themselves, though, is much more interesting. In the world of Persona 5 Tactica, every member of the Phantom Thieves gains access to a sort of Wild Card, allowing them to equip an additional Persona alongside their main one. This means every character can gain access to interesting abilities tacked onto those Personas, opening up cool ability combinations. Some of my favorite demon skills lean into these, offering Passives that can boost your damage when targeting multiple enemies, for example. It’s a smart move that makes for some really interesting character building, as you rack up a big collection of demons to fuse.

Screenshot by Destructoid

Where Persona 5 Tactica shines brightest is in its Quests, those side-story activities I mentioned before. Story missions are often pretty straightforward and really didn’t offer me too much challenge playing on Normal. But the Quests are like little tactical problems, with the better ones reminding me of chess puzzles. They might ask you to reach the goal with a character in a single turn, or find a way to wipe out all enemies in the time allotted, while posing limitations on which characters you can field.

These sections highlight where Persona 5 Tactica feels the most rewarding: the moment when a plan has come together, your perfect turn has been mapped out, and you execute in one fell swoop. Mapping out the way in which I could precisely position my units to knock out the enemy with no damaging reprise feels great.

My greatest hold-up, however, is that Persona 5 Tactica is not always at that peak. And I think for as often as I’ve had extremely rewarding tactical solutions so far, I’ve had a fair few missions that felt routine. With the way Tactica has been introducing new mechanics to my tool kit, I’m hopeful that it’s a backloaded tactical experience. For someone fairly new to the concepts Tactica is introducing, it might even feel like a welcome easing into the waters.

Where it stands now, Tactica is criss-crossing back and forth, oscillating between strong, interesting tactical puzzles and routine missions, with some cool story moments and fan-pleasing gags added for good measure. It’s solid enough as-is, but we’ll see if, once over what feels like the halfway mark, Persona 5 Tactica picks up some downhill steam.

About The Author
Eric Van Allen
Senior Editor - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.
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