Persona 5 Tactica pleasantly surprised me.
I have been anxious for a good tactical RPG all year. Fire Emblem Engage failed to live up to its title, winding up as a shallower Three Houses. (Yes, friend, Engage did indeed come out this year.) And the Advance Wars reboots bored me to tears. While I wasn’t exactly looking to Persona 5 Tactica to fill the hole Marvel’s Midnight Suns left behind — please go play that game, just...please! — nevertheless, the first handful of hours with the game have been a delight.
Persona 5 Tactica is a tactics RPG that builds upon your love of Persona 5 and its Phantom Thieves. If you’ve played Persona 5 / Royal / Strikers, you already know most what you’re in store for: personas, fusing personas, coffee, curry, a gaggle of lovely characters, and a bitchin’ soundtrack. What’s new is the setting and the combat. Instead of the turn-based RPG battles of vanilla Persona 5, or the hack n’ slash 1 vs 100 fighting in Strikers, Tactica takes a strategic approach with a flair and flavor P5 fans will be familiar with.
Combat in Tactica takes place on a map broken down into tiles same as any other tactical RPG. Your units have a set number of tiles they can move and they can take advantage of a map’s particular layout to take cover behind barriers or blow up explosive barrels and any enemies that might be nearby them. Each unit is equipped with a gun that can knock down enemies — earning them a “one more” or second attack phase — and a melee weapon that can knock enemies out of cover. Summon monsters called Personas are back armed with abilities that either support your allies or inflict status debuffs on your enemies.
I think what I didn’t enjoy about Advance Wars or Fire Emblem Engage were both games’ relative mindlessness when it came to combat. They both operated on a sort of “rock, paper, scissors” model that made fighting trivial. Tactica, with its wealth of Persona 5-specific mechanics adapted to the strategy RPG model— the “one more” attacks, Persona status ailments, triple-threat attacks, and more — features fights that require a bit more brain matter to get through. The game’s quest feature is currently my favorite aspect of the game because of this. Instead of story-progressing missions, quests are short combat scenarios that require you to defeat all enemies with a specific team composition, map layout, and turn limit.
In my first quest, I had to fight two groups of high-health enemies surrounded by impassable barriers in only two turns. While the task seemed easy initially, after a few failures, I had to dig deeper into my Persona 5-enjoyer knowledge base (and the game’s tutorial menu) to figure out the best course of action. I had to think extra carefully about ally placement and persona ability usage in order to create the circumstances necessary to win within the strict time limit. I love that kind of video game problem solving. That kind of “good brain scratch” feeling is why I enjoyed Veiwfinder and Cocoon so much, and there are elements of that in the bits of Tactica I’ve played so far.
In Tactica, the Phantom Thieves have been transported to a new cognitive world in which they must fight a tyrannical, oppressive bridezilla with the help of a rebel army of freedom fighters heavy on the revolutionary France vibes. The game’s chibi art style and wacky villain design coupled with the themes of revolution and the violent struggle against oppression (themes that are prescient AF right now) make for an engaging environment. At one point, Erina — the newest addition to the Phantom Thieves — has a spear that transforms into a banner reading, “Si vis pacem, te ipsum vince” which roughly translates to, “If you want peace, overcome yourself.” Oh yeah, this game is very much my shit.
I enjoyed just how much Tactica leans on the narratives that came before it rather than doing what other spinoffs tend to do and treat its originating property like it never happened. I expected a small chunk of the game’s story devoted to explaining to the new characters what a Phantom Thief is and was pleased to see a new character already up to speed.
I also appreciated how the Phantom Thieves themselves acknowledged the passage of time and the circumstances of each character. Makoto, one of the thieves, will be graduating soon, while Joker will have to return home. Futaba, though rehabilitated from being a shut-in, still gets awkward around new people. Tactica, like Strikers before it, has allowed these characters to grow instead of remain in suspended spinoff animation.
I should be annoyed with Atlus and its steadfast refusal to hint at anything vaguely Persona 6-shaped in favor of remakes, re-releases, and genre reboots of Persona 5. But if it keeps creating quality not-quite-sequels like Persona 5 Tactica, I can be content to wait a while longer.
Persona 5 Tactica is out now on consoles, PC, and Xbox Game Pass.