Persona 5 Tactica was an unexpected game, at least for me. I suspected the Phantom Thieves would return once again after Persona 5 Strikers, but a tactics RPG in the vein of Valkyria Chronicles or XCOM wouldn’t have been my first guess. It’s not a bad idea though, and I was as excited going into Tactica as I was going into Strikers. Seeing the Persona series take on new genres and experiment with the formula is great, and I’m glad the success of Persona 5 as an IP has allowed for it. Not all experiments succeed though, so how well does the Persona series translate to the TRPG genre? Let’s have a look.
Why Are We Here?
Much like the aforementioned Strikers, Persona 5 Tactica’s story takes place following the events of Persona 5. The game assumes you’ve played the title from which it spins-off, and that’s probably a safe bet. Safe to say if you haven’t played Persona 5 you ought to get around to that first. I’m not going to discuss any details of Persona 5 Tactica’s story, but I will be talking about my thoughts on it in general terms. If you want to know absolutely nothing about the narrative then please skip ahead to the ‘Perspective Revolution’ section.
Persona 5 Tactica suffers from something of a slow start. Whilst the action gets underway almost immediately, it takes some time for the narrative foundation to build. In the early hours of the game I was struggling to get terribly invested in events. I think the main issue here is that the world of Persona 5 Tactica feels quite vague. Elements like exploration and Persona’s hallmark social sim gameplay are almost entirely absent, which is understandable for a tactics RPG, but their absence necessitates some improvements to worldbuilding and writing that Tactica doesn’t make.
Where are we? What are we doing? What is the point of our actions? These are questions that Persona 5 Tactica takes a bit too long to get to. There is, of course, nothing wrong with elements of mystery in a story. However, when some of those mysterious elements obscure the stakes and weight of the narrative, it makes it harder to get invested in the progression of the plot. I will clarify that, once it gets off the ground, Persona 5 Tactica’s narrative is pretty fantastic. It just suffers from a rough start. Luckily, we have a delightful cast of established characters to pick up the slack.
Thou Art I
The Persona series’ narratives can be a bit all over the place, but one consistent strength that has carried the series to success is its excellent character writing. Persona 5 Tactica is no exception. The game does have quite the advantage in the form of Persona 5’s widely loved cast. The Phantom Thieves are established and their group dynamic is already established. All Tactica has to do is integrate them into its narrative, and it does this flawlessly. The goofball banter between the thieves is as wonderful as ever, and I relished the chance to spend more time with them. They do get upstaged a bit though to tell you the truth.
Persona 5 Tactica introduces two new characters, Erina and Toshiro, who serve as the main protagonists of the narrative. For all it’s easy to bring a set of established characters into a new story, it’s a pretty difficult task to bring new characters in and not have them come off as tacked-on or underdeveloped. Persona 5 Tactica proceeds as if this were not a difficulty at all though. Erina and Toshiro steal the show, they carry almost all of the emotional weight of the story, and they slip seamlessly into the Phantom Thieves group dynamic. I wasn’t expecting to become so attached to these two newcomers, but I’m happy to have that expectation subverted. Perhaps we could sub these two in for future Persona 5 games somehow? Bench Morgana maybe, no one will miss him.
It’s difficult to justify or explain my delight with Erina and Toshiro without spoiling Persona 5 Tactica’s story. So I won’t. What I will offer is a summary of my thoughts on the story. Despite a rough start, and some issues with indistinct worldbuilding and stakes, I came away from Persona 5 Tactica with a lot of love and appreciation for the narrative. I think this outshines the story of Persona 5 Strikers in just about every way, and to be honest it’s quite a bit better constructed than Persona 5’s story too, though it does rely heavily on Persona 5 as a foundation so it’s not an entirely fair comparison.
A Persona game with a strong narrative and fantastic characters, whilst always impressive, isn’t all that surprising. Persona 5 Tactica’s gameplay however, did surprise me. Considering this is the series’ first foray into the TRPG genre, I was impressed by how well it executed the basics of the formula, and how well it integrates some of Persona’s core mechanics and flair. This isn’t just a tactics RPG with Persona branding.
Battles in Persona 5 Tactica will feel fairly familiar to those who’ve played other TRPGs. You’ll be dropped into a map with an objective, typically to kill all enemies or reach a certain location, and you’ll select three characters to achieve this with. Combat is turn-based and your unit’s positioning is tied to a grid. You’ve got access to a ranged and melee attack, and also a set of skills that can inflict damage on enemies with a range of additional effects. All fairly standard, where things get fun is when the Persona series’ DNA is woven in.
The series’ signature ‘One More’ mechanic is integrated into the standard TRPG gameplay, and its implementation does wonders to revolutionize an otherwise very familiar set of mechanics. If you attack an enemy whilst they’re out of cover or otherwise exposed, the attacking character gets to take another turn with their movement and actions refreshed. The game provides you plenty of tools to score those critical ‘One Mores’, with your melee attacks knocking enemies out of position, and wind or vortex skills allowing you to displace tightly gathered groups of foes.
Once a unit scores a ‘One More’ they then have the ability to initiate a ‘Triple Threat’ attack, Persona 5 Tactica’s implementation of the series’ all-out-attack mechanic. ‘Triple Threat’ is an area of effect attack that dishes out massive damage to any enemy unfortunate enough to get caught up in it. The real clever part of ‘Triple Threat’ is how its area of effect is determined. The attack covers a triangle that is drawn between your three units. By positioning your units well you can wipe out an unlimited number of enemies in one fell swoop.
When you combine the ‘One More’ and ‘Triple Threat’ mechanics with the ability to move units freely within their range until they take an action, you’ve got the ability to chain together turns infinitely. The only hard limit to what you can pull off is your skill and setup. I never tired of experimenting with different units and skills, building up long and brutal combos that let me clear out enemies before they even had a chance to move. Whilst I am a fan of the slower, more deliberate gameplay of TRPGs, I have to say I love that Persona 5 Tactica has taken a more exciting, experimental approach. Battles unfold in a fast and flashy fashion, with much of the strategizing and planning happening on the hoof, at least in my experience.
Persona 5 Tactica does provide you with the tools to methodically plan out your turns. You can tap L2 to head into analysis mode, allowing you to check enemy attack ranges, skill, and passive abilities. When you’re executing an attack that will displace an enemy the game displays an arc that will show you exactly where they’ll end up, and how much damage you’ll deal. You have these tools, but I personally found the most fun in throwing myself into the fray and working it out as I went along. There’s just nothing more satisfying than wrangling the chaos, grouping up enemies together and clearing a map with one big bang.
Whilst Persona 5 Tactica offers you a tremendous amount of freedom in dispatching of enemies, it does put plenty of challenges in your way. Each battle is laid out to test your abilities in a different way, and Tactica keeps adding new enemies and obstacles to keep gameplay feeling fresh. The enemies you’ll face in battle change in interesting ways over the course of the game, and their design complements the generous level of player freedom. In the latter half of the game there are some really unique map setups and enemy concepts. I can’t talk too much about those on account of spoilers, but I did find that I was the most engaged with gameplay in that impressive latter half.
The Velvet Foundry
Outside of battle there are a few progression systems that help to keep the Phantom Thieves fighting fit. Rather than an individual leveling system, you have one shared Phantom Thieves level that governs HP, SP, and melee strength. Each character does have their own skill tree, though they’re all quite similar. The skill tree is mostly responsible for powering up character’s skills, and also offers various abilities and bonuses that will broaden your capabilities in combat, things like regenerating HP and SP or increasing a character’s base movement.
Where progression is more interesting is the integration of Personas. In Persona 5 Tactica, Personas function as a kind of equipment. They can be equipped to characters to expand their skill pool, and bolster their HP, SP, and damage output. Personas drop as loot at the end of battles, and the classic fusion system makes a return, allowing you to combine Personas with unique skill sets. I found the implementation of Personas to be somewhat disappointing. I miss the signature flair of summoning them in battle and seeing them in action. In Tactica, Personas don’t feel like they have much of an identity. Whilst it’s necessary to keep your Personas on level for the helpful passive buffs, it doesn’t feel like there’s ever much need to consider the specifics.
A new element in Persona fusion and management is the ability to craft weapons for the Phantom Thieves by fusing a set of required Personas. I enjoyed this system, but mostly on account of my curiosity to see the various weapon designs. The actual impact on Persona 5 Tactica’s combat is minimal. It’s just stat building, which is an essential part of TRPGs of course, but to see such a fun and unique idea like the Persona system used in such a droll way is disappointing.
What isn’t disappointing is Persona 5 Tactica’s visual style. If you’ve followed the game at all you’ve probably seen the super-deformed (chibi?) artstyle, and some might be a tad put off by that. I wasn’t immediately sold on the new visual style, but after a few hours with Tactica I came to appreciate it. We’ve seen the Phantom Thieves in their usual style enough by now, it’s refreshing to see the series try something new visually. And the new look allows for a ton of fantastic work on character expressions and poses, which complement the Phantom Thieves’ overall zany vibe. Jokes and gags land all the better with this softer, squishier look.
Persona 5 set a new standard for video game menu and UI design, and Persona 5 Tactica shifts the bar even higher. Menus are slick and punchy, making something as mundane as setting equipment feel exciting. UI elements are brimming with style whilst also being clear and communicative. User interface design is so often treated as more of an afterthought, and Persona continues to impress me by putting so much passion and effort into an underappreciated element of game design.
Persona 5 Tactica’s environment design is similarly impressive. The Phantom Thieves will travel to a few different locales on their adventure, but I’m going to stay light on the details. There are some interesting surprises in store for those of you who pick the game up, and I don’t want to spoil those. I will say the game opens strong, with the first area being themed around revolution era France, which does an excellent job at setting the tone for the building narrative.
Persona 5 Tactica impressed me by going well beyond my expectations. By merging traditional tactics RPG gameplay with ideas and concepts unique to the Persona series, it creates a fresh, exciting experience. When you bundle this creative foray into a new genre with a loveable cast of characters and an engaging narrative, you get one of the best games of 2023. If you loved Persona 5, pick this up. If you haven’t played Persona 5, do that, and then pick this up.
PERSONA 5 TACTICA IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Thanks to SEGA/Atlus for providing a PlayStation 5 review code for Persona 5 Tactica.
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A man described by critics as “pretty normal” and “memorable in the abstract”. He has committed his life to the consumption of anime and games, against the advice and wishes of his family and friends. Now writing about his passions, hopefully for your enjoyment.