Connect with us
Persona 5 Tactica review
Sega

Gaming

‘Persona 5 Tactica’ offers solid yet simple strategy and lovable characters

Persona 5 Tactica is a fun and worthy entry in the wonderful Persona series.

During the heaviest parts of the 2020 era of the COVID-19 pandemic, Persona 5 Royal was one of my go-to ways to spend time. Over that year, between job hunting and dodging the novel coronavirus, I played it to completion twice — acquiring the platinum trophy on my second run. If the Persona series is the breakout player in developer Atlus’ overarching Shin Megami Tensei project, 5 is the breakout’s breakout — even compared to the similarly well-loved Persona 4. Consequently, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts — outcast teens who fight the cruel and corrupt — have starred in multiple spin-off games, like Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth and Dynasty Warriors-riff Persona 5 Strikers. And last November, they tried their hand at a grid-based tactical RPG with Persona 5 Tactica.

As someone who loves 5‘s cast, it’s always fun to spend a game with them. This time, the Phantom Thieves are supporting players. While they’re Tactica‘s viewpoint characters, narratively, they’re the more knowledgeable, more together foils to Tactica‘s newcomer protagonists — big-hearted, driven, extradimensional revolutionary Erina and cowed, hurting, better-than-he-thinks-he-is young politician Toshiro Kasukabe.

Persona 5 Tactica, Atlus/SEGA
I challenge you to a duel.” It’s an infamous phrase in the greater Shin Megami Tensei fandom, and Joker here has more than earned the right to use it.

Narratively, Tactica starts awkwardly — the initial antagonist brainwashes most of the Phantom Thieves. Consequently, a big hunk of the early story is dedicated to rescuing them at the expense of Toshiro and Erina’s screen time. And since the Thieves have, for the most part, completed their individual and collective character development, taking place after Persona 5 Royal, most of Tactica‘s early going is dedicated to resetting its status quo rather than playing with the shake-up of most of the cast being turned against their friends or giving Erina and Toshiro’s tale the space it needs to start.

This awkwardness also extends to Persona 5 Tactica‘s initial gameplay — its early levels are dedicated to rescuing the mind-controlled Thieves (by beating the stuffing out of them), locking the player to a limited initial party. While Persona 5 introduced its cast and mechanics over an extended period of play, that gradual accumulation of strength is a key building block of turn-based RPGS. Tactical RPGs, on the other hand, thrive on giving the player options and a variety of tools. Their strength and resources will still increase, but (broadly speaking), those increases manifest more in increased player flexibility. By dedicating the early game to rebuilding the party with a toolkit that doesn’t come together fully until everyone’s free of the Hypnotoad (a cruel would-be queen who will have Toshiro’s hand in marriage, and no, he doesn’t get a say in that—she has a tank), Tactica stops itself from putting its best foot forward as a game and a story.

Once the Thieves are back together, though, Tactica gets its groove going. Each of its eight selectable playable characters (completing Repaint Your Heart will add two more characters to the roster on a New Game Plus) has a different set of skills. As with 5, the Phantom Thieves can boost their stats, drop their enemies’ stats, and attack with various elemental magics—many of which can inflict damaging status effects. In Tactica, those status effects are the key to victory, as they tie into the grid and enemy movement. For example, Yusuke “Fox” Kitagawa can freeze enemies where they stand. If left alone, frozen enemies will be unable to act the next turn, cutting into the collective enemy’s ability to act. If the player attacks them, they’ll be broken free of the ice — but because they’re frozen solid, any attack will be a guaranteed critical hit, increasing damage and granting the attacker one of the Persona series’ trademark One Mores (additional turns awarded for targeting weaknesses or landing critical hits).

Persona 5 Tactica
Controlling the flow of turns has long been a part of player strategy in Persona. Tactica deftly translates this to extending the length of player turns and stretching the map they can cover while limiting the enemy’s ability to act during their turns.

Barring Erina, each of the Thieves can equip swappable Personas (the series’ title entities, essentially the manifestation of someone’s innermost self and will) to augment their innate abilities and mix up their individual kits. The overall name of the game is spatial control — whether laying waste to piles of goons, like vaguely French legionnaires and murderous upper-crust samurai, or engaging massive bosses. Bosses introduce light puzzle elements to combat, as they’re too big to knock around and, in several cases, removed from the conventional grid. Bringing them down is as much a question of getting to them as it is overpowering them.

Persona 5 Tactica‘s main campaign on normal difficulty is zippy, enjoyably varied, and tricky in places without ever hitting the brutal threshold that Shin Megami Tensei and its cousins can pass. Sidequests offer greater challenges, including turn-limited battles that turn on knowing the ins and outs of the Thieves and their foes’ toolkits. The Repaint Your Heart DLC adds an additional layer (pun intended) with a paint-based territory control mechanic similar to the Splatoon series — combat spreads paint. Standing on your paint grants you buffs. Standing on the enemy’s paint leaves you vulnerable.

Persona 5 Tactica, Atlus/SEGA
Toshiro Kasukabe occupies ground that Persona‘s players haven’t walked for a while (an adult protagonist who’s still relatively young). Between his goofiness and his gradual rediscovery of his courage and drive to do good, he’s very lovable.

Mechanically, Tactica is a good time once past the doldrums of its opening rescue arc. Narratively, it’s a very fine character study for Erina and especially Toshiro. Where the Thieves have figured out who they want to be as people and what they fight for, Erina wants to know who she is beyond her fight against a tyrant — and then what drives her to stand up against the callous and cruel even if they haven’t personally wronged her. Where the Thieves are teenagers who’ve overcome lions and conspiracies and gods (oh my!), Toshiro’s an adult who’s been all but swallowed up by self-loathing and almost completely resigned himself to being everyone else’s punching bag and/or pawn. His friendship with the Thieves leads to a gradual emergence from his morose shell. It’s a rediscovery of the best parts of himself — parts his life had withered. It’s a realization that, for all his failures and regrets, like Professor X sez to Logan, he still has time to use. It’s compelling work, well-told and well-performed in both its dramatic and comic moments.

Persona 5 Tactica, Atlus/SEGA
In addition to being a moving tale of pulling someone back from the brink of despair, Repaint Your Heart also offers an interesting side meditation on how we react to art.

The same holds true for Repaint Your Heart‘s new players — power-fighting-grafitti-artist-inexplicably-turned-would-be-mass-murderer Guernica and Luca, the mysterious young woman who’s vowed to save her before she can fall. As far as the Phantom Thieves go, if 5 (and by extension Royal) is their story, Tactica and Repaint Your Heart are the stories of their effects on the people they share the world with and the ways they push folks to step up.

Given its rough opening hours and the Phantom Thieves’ status as a supporting ensemble who’ve largely finished their character development, I wouldn’t recommend Persona 5 Tactica as someone’s first Persona 5 or Persona as a whole game. Moreover, while its combat is fun, it’s on the lighter side of tactical RPGs — folks who dig intricate layers of options and building massive armies with a host of different character classes might be better served by a Fire Emblem or an Ogre Battle. But it is fun to play, and the way the development team translated the main game’s one more system into a key component of its well-realized grid control system is an impressive, elegant piece of work. Storywise, Toshiro and Erina (and with Repaint Your Heart, Luca and Guernica) are likable, distinct, interesting additions to the greater Persona 5 cast. Their tale is one worth playing. Tactica isn’t the best Persona game, but it is worthy and a recommendable title.

Join the AIPT Patreon

Want to take our relationship to the next level? Become a patron today to gain access to exclusive perks, such as:

  • ❌ Remove all ads on the website
  • 💬 Join our Discord community, where we chat about the latest news and releases from everything we cover on AIPT
  • 📗 Access to our monthly book club
  • 📦 Get a physical trade paperback shipped to you every month
  • 💥 And more!
Sign up today
Comments

In Case You Missed It

'Uncanny X-Men' #1 variant covers give new looks at Wolverine, Gambit and more 'Uncanny X-Men' #1 variant covers give new looks at Wolverine, Gambit and more

‘Uncanny X-Men’ #1 variant covers give new looks at Wolverine, Gambit and more

Comic Books

Ubisoft Star Wars Outlaws The Crew Ubisoft Star Wars Outlaws The Crew

Ubisoft continues to lose the trust of gamers after Star Wars Outlaws and The Crew controversies

Gaming

‘Hellboy: The Crooked Man’ director Brian Taylor confirms film did not use AI ‘Hellboy: The Crooked Man’ director Brian Taylor confirms film did not use AI

‘Hellboy: The Crooked Man’ director Brian Taylor confirms film did not use AI

Comic Books

New 'Hellboy: The Crooked Man' film utilized AI for creature design New 'Hellboy: The Crooked Man' film utilized AI for creature design

New ‘Hellboy: The Crooked Man’ film utilized AI for creature design

Comic Books

Connect
Newsletter Signup