It has somehow been over six years since Persona 5 first released, and though Persona 6 has yet to materialize, that has in no way stopped developer Atlus from continuing to push out new spinoff entries that have some connection to the fifth mainline title. There's been the dungeon crawler Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, the musou title Persona 5 Strikers, and even Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, which is exactly what it sounds like. And new game Persona 5 Tactica continues this trend by bringing the themes and cast of Persona 5 into an entirely new genre for the franchise, the tactical RPG.
Release date: November 17, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Switch, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
It's a bit of a simplification, but Persona 5 Tactica really just is as much of Persona 5 as possible crammed into a new tactics game. The Phantom Thieves are present in full, there are Personas you can summon and fuse, and the stylish One Mores and All-Out Attacks are back, albeit mechanically different. If you're at all acquainted with Persona 5, a lot is going to feel familiar while playing differently, and if you're not at all familiar with Persona 5, what are you doing playing Persona 5 Tactica?
Ignite the flames
Helpfully, Persona 5 Tactica is fairly liberal with its signposting, and the narrative isn't super reliant on Persona 5's own story. It doesn't hurt to have some understanding of what happened, but it's not entirely necessary. The important thing to know is that Persona 5 Tactica ostensibly roughly takes place after some key Persona 5 events, such that the Phantom Thieves have been fully assembled – though Royal's Violet is seemingly relegated to DLC – but all of the details are covered in a constantly updated journal if you're unfamiliar or it's been a minute since you delved deeply into the intricacies of the original.
The short version is that, while having a nice hang at Persona 5's cafe of choice, Leblanc, the Phantom Thieves are somehow pulled through into a world that resembles the Metaverse and Palaces that they are used to – fighting outfits and Personas included – with some key differences in the form of the mysterious rebel Erina and her, well, rebelling Rebel Corps as well as the fact that basically nothing lines up with how Palaces previously appeared. In other words, there's clearly a relationship of some sort between the dungeons players previously explored and whatever's going on in Persona 5 Tactica, but how exactly that all connects is one of the core mysteries of the game.
While the finer points of the story are, in classic Persona style, something it will take anyone a bit to wrap their head around, the actual mechanical gameplay is extremely straightforward. Brief interludes in a hideout ultimately conclude with players heading off to battle across a number of maps with a relatively small variety of enemy types in the name of rebellion against the tyrannical dictators that oversee these "Kingdoms," as they are called.
The maps themselves aren't particularly expansive, but neither do they feel claustrophobic. Though each individual element is often limited in scope – number of enemies, number of characters you control, actions per round, positioning in general – it's the way in which each complicates each other that can make combat sing. Do you move a character to where they can knock an enemy into the open so a second character can gain an extra action after attacking, leaving the first character open to an attack? How about if that initial attack could trigger an All-Out Attack (downed enemies within a triangulated position between your three units trigger this) for the second that could really turn the tide of battle?
Now extrapolate this out to the rest of the game's mechanics, which are similarly simple when taken on their own but slowly layer themselves into a complex structure that, by the end of the game, would likely be inscrutable to anyone that hadn't played through it. There are ailments like Despair and Dizzy to inflict or cure, a multitude of weapons to buy or craft, Personas from level 1 to level 99 to find, fuse, and equip, a whole set of skills for each character from Futaba to Erina, and more.
The heart of revolution
Outside of combat and preparing for combat, however, there's not much to really do or explore in Persona 5 Tactica. If you were hoping for something like the downtime activities from Persona 5 or even attending class or, well, anything of the sort, you're going to be disappointed. It's a fairly linear endeavor with a straight path forward from beginning to end, only interrupted by the occasional quest for rewards – points to invest in skills or the ability to replay previous missions to grind, which in my experience isn't even necessary on Normal difficulty.
It does help that the story at the core of Persona 5 Tactica feels particularly poignant and resonant with that of Persona 5 itself. Without spoiling anything, it gets to the heart of what it means to stand up to oppression and why it's important even when it's difficult – especially when it's difficult. It is, in part, an exploration of how even the smallest acts of defiance can be meaningful and inspiring, and it accomplishes this without ever becoming saccharine or overbearing. Persona 5 Tactica exemplifies actions speaking louder than words, but it also acknowledges that words have their own power when used appropriately.
While not particularly revolutionary despite the theming, Persona 5 Tactica is certainly moving. It's easy to imagine it fanning the flames of rebellion (to use the game's own parlance) in the hearts of players. It's not as all-encompassing as a mainline Persona, and lacks some of the charming odds and ends usually present in them, but it's hard to fault a new kind of spinoff that is mechanically competent and features a compelling narrative.
Persona 5 Tactica was reviewed using code provided by the publisher on a Nintendo Switch OLED.