Persona 5 Tactica Review

The Phantom Thieves are back in a new adventure you didn’t know you wanted!

I didn’t want this. As a huge fan of the Persona franchise, more specifically the Persona 5 phenomenon, after Persona 5, then Persona 5 Royal, then Persona 5 Strikers, all games with the same characters during the same timeline, I thought I’d had enough of the Phantom Thieves. The first Persona 5 game arrived back in 2016, so it’s time to move on from them, right? Right?? 

I suspect myself and many others are starving to hear of what Atlus will have in store for us in Persona 6, not more Persona 5 Phantom Thieves’ tomfoolery in Persona 5 Tactica, and certainly not a real-time strategy game! Furthermore, I’m still sore about the fact that after releasing the Persona 3 and 4 remasters, they announced Persona 3 Reload not even a year later, which felt like a bit of a slap in the face to those who paid out for the collection, including my daughter, who is also a huge fan of the series. Even she said to me, “I’m not giving them any more of my money until Persona 6!”.

She, like me, wasn’t hugely thrilled about Persona 5 Tactica, despite the huge amount of pre-release trailers the game had before it hit store shelves. The thing is though, after playing the game, despite not feeling all warm and supportive about it, they have only gone and made me fall in love with the Phantom Thieves all over again! Persona 5 Tactica is quite simply brilliant and a must-play for any Persona fan. 

The game is set, yet again, within the Persona 5 timeline, where the game starts with the gang chilling at their base, a coffee shop called Le Blanc, when suddenly time stands still, and they enter a new Kingdom (not a Palace) when they step outside. This does lead to the first impression that unless you know or have played the previous Persona games, watched the movie, or read the manga, dropping you here does make it hard for any unfamiliar with the crew to get on board with them. From the start, the team is coming up with the same familiar banter when associating with one another, like Morgana getting upset at being called a cat, or Ryuji being the butt of any cerebral moments. 

However, upon stepping into this new world and suddenly becoming all chibi, the narrative, one of the strengths of the series, soon picks up and wraps you around its little finger with casual aplomb. Despite having many questions about what, where, when, and why, both for you, the player, and the characters themselves, I was already itching to find out more about what was going on by pushing through and playing the game to reveal the story. 

It is not long before you are introduced to two new main characters. The first new character, Erina, is the leader of the Rebel Corps who are fighting against the oppression of the kingdom ruler. While infiltrating one of the early areas, you then rescue a man named Toshiro. These two stay with you for the duration of the adventure and were excellent additions to the cast. 

It’s not long before the first enemies appear and the fight sequences begin. Again, if I was skeptical about Atlus wringing the neck of every last penny out of the Persona 5 franchise with Persona 5 Tactica, I was even MORE reticent about playing a real-time strategy game! I’ve played a few of these types of games before, and they just haven’t clicked with me in any way. Nothing is wrong with these games, like XCOM, for example, just they don’t thrill me like other games do. 

But, as you will see, and a recurring theme of this review and the game, the ease and simplicity of the tutorials and surprisingly varied options that are chocked full of tactical options, as well as an already solid RPG system, had me once again shaking my head in admiration of how Atlus have pulled this one out of the bag as I thoroughly enjoyed the combat. 

Let’s be honest, it was a HUGE gamble to turn a beloved turn-based JRPG into a real-time strategy game. There was a lot of kickback for Ryu Ga Gotoku moving Yakuza from a real-time brawler to a turn-based game with the 2018 Yakuza: Like a Dragon game, and the same happened for Atlus with the Musou version of Persona with Persona 5 Strikers. Despite this change, they have made the new systems accessible, interesting, and fun so that it ends up being magnificent!  

The game’s combat is based on a grid battlefield, where the party of three you control (for most of the time) can move around and behind objects to launch their gun, Persona, or other attacks if in range of their target. Around the battlefield are barrels to blow up, ladders to climb, and general things to hide behind for cover. 

You maneuver your team around to get them into positions to attack and destroy enemies. Certain attacks can move enemies too. This becomes useful in situations where you could flank one enemy, knock them over into an area near another enemy, and then have one of the other team members launch an area attack from a Persona that kills two birds with one stone. 

If you knock an enemy over and it falls within a triangle area of your team, then your allies can then launch an “all-out attack” on any enemy within the triangle. So, combat soon becomes not only a system of how to kill enemies but also how to position them to get in the more powerful attacks. The other layers of combat on top of this are that certain enemies react in different ways to being hit, and some give other enemies special buffs. 

Players will be encouraged to think in this manner because each level has a set of conditions not only to get bonus rewards but also to complete the level. For example, there might be a reward for completing the level in 6 turns, but if you don’t complete the level within 10 turns, then you fail. The tools to do this are heavily reliant on your ability to get a “one more” attack. Successfully landing a “one more” attack (highlighted when you target an enemy with the symbol “Get Them”) means that not only do you land that attack, but you also get another go. If you have the right character and the right enemies in the right placement, you can even stack these “one mores” attacks two or even three times! 

The only fly in the ointment for this feature is that it’s not abundantly clear how to knock enemies over to get “one more” in the first place. In Persona 5 Royal, the game helped you find the right Persona spell to target an enemy’s weakness, but that is sadly lacking here. Even more frustrating was that I found that for reasons I couldn’t fathom, some of my team’s firearms would knock an enemy over for a “one more” but others didn’t. I also couldn’t find a compendium or place in the game to explain whose weapons or spells would knock an enemy over or not. 

Thankfully, not all the missions are the same. Some involve just killing everyone as quickly as possible. Others required one or more of the team to reach a certain goal. The harder ones are the ones that needed completing within a certain number of moves. 

This meant that there was a lot of experimentation to find out which team members were more effective than others. There isn’t a huge variety of enemy types to face, so when I found my dream team of allies, I started to stick with them for those levels. However, because the game is so accessible, there is a very simple replay system that lets you go back over and try them again to either see who was more effective or pick up and challenge rewards you didn’t pick up the first time. 

The game has a solid RPG system, as well as Lavenza in the Velvet Room to upgrade or create any Personas you capture in battle. Completing certain mission tasks, like making sure no team members get KO’d, for example, will give you GP points. These points can be used in a very clear and simple upgrade skill tree for each team member. You can additionally gain GP points from conversations or completing side quests. 

There are no consumables, so balancing out the team’s abilities to include health recovery and other such buffs is imperative to consider. So, even though the systems are much simpler, there are still many things to consider and think about to achieve the best use of your team and the kind of tactics you want to employ in battle. 

Graphically, I was in awe of the game. I didn’t think the simplified “chibi” versions of the cast would appeal to me as much as they did. You still have the same Persona 5 striking red and black aesthetic in the fantastic menu and transition screens, alongside gorgeous and exciting animations of on-screen actions. This game, however, is a showcase for other game developers that really, and I mean REALLY good, simple artwork can carry the whole game on its back. Persona 5 Tactica proves you don’t have to have highly detailed graphical fidelity to be gorgeous. 

It was always a joy to watch the short cinematics of the launching of an “All-out attack” or the wind-up from a Persona spell. My favorite visual treat would be one of the many actual story cinematics. These short films of high-quality anime had me gagging for a full animated movie of the entire game to be made. 

The game’s audio, once again, is superb. The artist Lyn Inaizumi is back for more rocky, jazzy numbers, which sounded familiar but different all at the same time. The in-battle effects of explosions, launching spells, or gunshots were, again, thrilling to listen to. The game is voiced in English, and each of the voice actors was, as expected, fantastic. The only audio issue I found was that the volume of some of the characters varied when they talked. This was quite noticeable to the point that I had to turn the background music volume down so low as to be able to hear some of them. This technical detail is most unbecoming of such a polished developer.

Finally, but most importantly, is the story. One of the main draws for the Persona franchise is how the stories the games have to tell can have such simple and benign beginnings but later manifest into something wholly different and captivating by the end. As we saw in Persona 5 Royal, they are also not afraid to explore the uncomfortable areas of a person’s deranged and troubled psyche. It is the same here in Tactica. It’s hard to explain without giving away spoilers, but once again, it’s another story that will stay with you for many reasons after you have finished the game. 

So, here I am shaking my head at how P-Studio/Atlus has turned my expectation of this game on its head. I didn’t think I would like Tactica even just a little bit, but I love it. Experiencing the characters I know and love in a new art style, new setting, new gameplay, and now a new adventure made Persona 5 Tactica a game I didn’t realize I wanted. The sheer production quality of the game helped make this happen and, yet again, marks a stellar quality entry in the Persona franchise. 

 

Summary

Another wonderful game in the Persona franchise and another must-play game for any fans of the series. Because of the approachability of the game, it could also be considered a good entry point for new fans despite the lack of deep exposition of this world and its characters. 

I was dubious that another Persona 5-orientated game would be overkill of the characters and timeline I already knew too much about. Despite my reservations, Persona 5 Tactica has blown me away with its attractiveness, gorgeous simplicity, and outright quality. It’s fun to play, fun to experience, but most importantly, it’s another outstanding and interesting outing for the Phantom Thieves once again.

Developer: P-Studio

Publisher: SEGA/Atlus

Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Windows, NS, Xbox One X/S

Release Date: 17th November 2023

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