The Persona series is no stranger to spin-off games. You could even argue spin-offs are in its DNA, as the property itself began as a spin-off to developer Atlus’ long-running Shin Megami Tensei series. In the nearly 30 years since then, the studio has explored a handful of different genres using the series’ memorable characters and storylines. But while we’ve seen our protagonists and their ragtag band of misfits duke it out, dance all night, dungeon-crawl, and take on hordes of enemies in a Musou-style hack-and-slash, we’ve yet to see them venture onto the gridded field of a tactics-style game. Persona 5 Tactica, however, is here to remedy that.
I recently got the chance to play about half an hour of Persona 5 Tactica, and in that short time, I was sold on Atlus’ vision for a strategy RPG. Gameplay was not only a lot of fun but felt like such a natural extension of the series. I found myself repeatedly impressed by how well thought out its tactical challenges were and how much of the original game’s spirit came through in its style and mechanics. Whereas many spin-off titles can feel like pseudo-experimental ways for a studio to rake in more cash using an established IP, I walked away from Persona 5 Tactica feeling confident the game can justify bringing back the Phantom Thieves for another round of vigilante justice.
In Persona 5 Tactica, you get the chance to experience a new Phantom Thieves’ story as the gang gets pulled into some supernatural drama following the disappearance of a National Diet member. While my time with the game didn’t dig too deep into its background politics, it’s clear something is up. The team then finds themselves not in the Metaverse–the name given to the cerebral universe they take on baddies in in Persona 5–but rather a new, alternate world they’ve yet to nail down. In this world (or at least in this portion of the world), the charming-yet-short-tempered Lady Marie rules with an iron first and an army of Legionaries. Joker and the team quickly find themselves on the outs with this Queen-of-Hearts-esque dictator, and join up with a revolutionary named Erina to help take her down.
However, rather than the traditional turn-based battles you might be used to, the Phantom Thieves now engage in strategic position-based battle–think XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics, or the even more apt Mario + Rabbids series. This transition works extremely well, as it maintains the Persona series emphasis scheming to make the most of your turns but does so in an entirely new way.
Whereas traditional Persona battles can grow a bit repetitive, having a set area filled with environmental hazards, places to take cover, and unique enemy types completely changes the game–literally. It’s no longer a matter of exploiting elemental weaknesses, baton-passing, and dishing out All-Out Attacks, but rather infiltrating, combining allies’ unique abilities, and carefully balancing offense and defense to take down units. I found maintaining cover and paying attention to your surroundings becomes vital, as even on the default difficulty level, the enemies packed a decent punch.
Each character has their own ranged and melee attack as well as the ability to forgo their turn and focus to raise their chance to do critical damage. The series’ titular Personas come into play as unique character abilities. Morgana, for example, can use his Persona Zoro to summon a gust of wind that will knock enemies out of cover, while Joker’s Arsene doles out a hard-hitting fire attack that covers a large area. Tactica also offers a new take on P5’s All-Out Attack called a Triple Threat Attack. These are executed by triangulating your characters, which adds another element into consideration when moving your units around the battlefield. Lastly, each of these battles also has a set of unique bonus objectives, such as “complete match in x amount of turns” or “keep all characters alive.” While I’m not sure if these are purely for bragging rights or offer a reward, the mere presence of them made me want to be as efficient as possible.
All of these elements made the handful of battles I experienced feel dynamic without ever straying into “overwhelming” territory. The game’s tutorials onboard you quickly, and its straight-forward mechanics prevent confusion. That said, there is plenty of room and opportunities for battles to ramp up in both challenge and complexity, and I hope they do. While I immediately sensed and found myself appreciative of Tactica’s fresh approach to combat, it’s easy to see how it could stagnate if Atlus doesn’t up the stakes and consistently introduce new elements and tactics into the mix.
And though I didn’t get to spend a great deal of time outside this new world and its battlefields, the time I did spend was heart-warming. I was delighted to hear the original voice actors reprise their roles as the Phantom Thieves–to hear their familiar bickering and laughing as a lo-fi version of “Beneath the Mask” played in the background. While I could no longer freely roam around LeBlanc’s, I enjoyed the visual novel-style art behind the characters and how comforting it still felt. While it could be divisive, I found the game’s chibi-style character art incredibly endearing. And beyond that, it also establishes a very clear and separate identity for Tactica–one that makes it feel sincere and thoughtful rather than Atlus milking its most popular franchise.
Based on my time with it, Tactica feels like a natural companion to Persona 5 as well as a viable option for future spin-off titles. It takes the combat we know and asks that we slightly rethink it–that we see our familiar allies and attacks in a new way. There’s a lot of potential here for a lot of fun, and I am excited to see how it plays out. Persona 5 Tactica is scheduled to release for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch on November 17.
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