The perfect SRPG for Persona Fans
Winter 2014. What was going on back then? Iggy Azalea was relevant and had a hit, the Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 was everywhere, Barack Obama was still president, and it was cold as hell. Why is that relevant? Winter 2014 was also supposed to be the original release date of Persona 5 and here we are 9 years later and the Phantom Thieves are still in the possession of everyone’s hearts. This time, we’re talking about Persona 5 Tactica, released in November of 2023 on the Switch, all the other major consoles, and Steam.
I wonder if someone hit the wrong key and was trying to spell tactics and saw “tactica” and thought it was cool?…
I should let you know up front: I love Persona. I been following the series since the Shin Megami era, but I never got to play them as a kid because what parent would allow their kid to knowingly make deals with devils? I bought a Vita, and then a PlayStation TV to play Persona 4 Golden. I have a Persona 5 shrine, and I wrote my notes for this review in a Persona 5 notebook. This is my moment. I was ready for this new addition to the Persona 5 universe, but I have to be honest: I was feeling a little fatigued from the focus on this group of characters instead of getting to know a new group with Persona 6. However, Persona 5 Tactica has blown past my expectations, and it went from something that I was passively playing, to something that I missed when I wasn’t playing it. It’s filled with charm, a great battle system, style, and a story that will keep you coming back.
What is Persona 5 Tactica? Well, it’s a tactics game, in the same vein as Fire Emblem, XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics, etc., and it’s an isekai. It’s a big departure from the Persona formula, but that’s nothing new if you’re a fan of the series. There have been fighting games, dancing games, and even a hack and slash game! What sets this spin-off apart, however, is its deviation from the core Persona elements that fans adore, such as the absence of social link development, the exploration of personal relationships with classmates and city inhabitants, and activities like fishing. There’s no fishing :(.
In P5T, the Phantom Thieves are enjoying some coffee in LeBlanc and winding down after some of the events in Persona 5 Royal, when a door appears that leads them to a new part of the metaverse. Here they meet Erin and Toshiro and try to make their way back home. While I would say that it isn’t mandatory to have finished Persona 5, this game does not waste time with letting you know that it’s set after the big events of that game. I assume the target audience for Tactica is one that has finished Persona 5 Royal, but if you haven’t, be warned of spoilers! That said, for people who are new to the series it does have a nifty “Memo” system that tells you about existing and new characters, places, and enemies as they show up.
One thing you’ll notice as you go through the game is that the Phantom Thieves are not the main characters in this game, which I’m ok with, because Erina and Toshiro are great. It’s set across 4 different kingdoms, as the Thieves unravel the mystery of this metaverse. It gave me the vibes of a Scooby-Doo movie, and I mean that in the best way cause I love Scooby-Doo!
Si Vis Pacem, Te Ipsum Vince
So, it’s a strategy RPG, but what makes it different? Well, P5T figured out a great way of utilizing features made famous from the Persona 5 games and implementing them into a squad based tactics game. The big carry over is the “One More” feature from Persona 5. When you get a “One More!” in P5, it was because you’ve exploited a weakness with the enemy. In P5T, that same logic applies, except this time it’s because you caught them out of cover. When you get a “One More!” your goal is to get as many enemies as you can in a triangle to hit them with an all-out, triple threat attack. It adds a layer of strategy to the game when you’re trying to eliminate a lot of enemies at once, and so you can make sure to get 3 stars for completing a map.
One feature from the series that didn’t make it into P5T is swapping Personas during a fight, which makes sense for this type of game. Personas are still important, as is fusing personas, except now each member can equip a persona to boost their stats, give them some passive skills, and other skills that are unique to the persona. For example, you could have Ann (who is a fire user) shooting out Bufu spells (Ice spells for newcomers).
There’s also some variety with the mission types. With your party of 3, you can take on a map full of enemies together to wipe them all out – or for some missions, you simply need to get either a single member or your entire party to a destination on the map. With each mission, there are 3 optional objectives that you can shoot for to get a 3-star rating. I think this gives you rarer Personas, but didn’t really see the big difference between getting 3 stars and just surviving a level. The cool thing about the party system is that there are moments in the game where you’re fighting multiple battles back to back without going to the main hub (Leblanc), and the game rewards you by swapping in new party members, effectively giving the characters who didn’t fight in the last battle a little boost for the next fight. Of course, you can still just run your favorite trio, but there is some strategy in making sure you have the best crew for the mission at hand.
As mentioned earlier, this Phantom Thieves story is about the gang helping Toshiro, an up and coming politician, and Erin, a leader of a revolution, get back home along with themselves. As they travel through 4 different Kingdoms across 52 missions, the Phantom Thieves grow closer to Toshiro and Erin and learn about the politician’s past. It took me about 45-55 hours to complete the game, but I would say a focused player could get through it in about 30 or so hours. I’m also not ashamed to say that some of my added play time came from listening to Hymn of Soul while trying to figure out the best Persona fusions.
The best thing about the story is that, without the need of building up social links, it gives the game more opportunity to focus on the story and narrative. There’s a lot of charm and silliness to teenagers interacting with a politician, especially ones that had their own revolution in previous events.
Had To Do It To ‘Em
When you begin playing the game, one of the initial impressions that stands out is the distinctive and stylish essence characteristic of the Persona series. In Tactica, the art style is completely different than other games in the series. The characters have a grownup-ish look about them, which works better than I thought it would. It’s the perfect game to take a risk away from the traditional look of other games in the series. There’s something uniquely charming about seeing cute characters deal with themes like political corruption.
You’ll notice that the menus and UI of the game have a “vintage Russian propaganda posters in the old wars” vibe to them, too. Again, this goes super well with the base theme of revolution for the game. If there’s something that Atlus makes sure is the best of the best, it’s the presentation value of their games.
I can’t talk about Persona style without mentioning the soundtrack. While this is the first soundtrack in the series that is headed by Toshiki Konishi, he’s not unfamiliar with the series, as he has been part of some of the live shows. However, returning on vocals is Lyn, and she is once again knee deep in her bag with this one, providing banger after banger. Like I said earlier, I have added literal hours to my play time because I have my headphones on just vibing and forget that I’m playing a game until my Switch’s screen goes black and my headphones disconnect. The cool thing about P5T’s music is that on day one we can listen to it on streaming platforms! I am hoping that at some point I’ll be able to add this soundtrack to my Persona vinyl collection, too (currently, I have 3, 4, full edition for P5, and P5R).
Whip ‘Em Persona!
If you can’t tell yet, I highly recommend this game for anyone who is a fan of the Phantom Thieves and strategy RPGs. However, I can’t talk about the good without mentioning some of the bad. Because there isn’t much side stuff to do (other than some side quests that challenge you to be an expert on the new mechanics in the game), there’s a lot of mission, story cutscenes, mission, story, cutscenes – and that could get very repetitive for some. In my first couple of hours it felt like a drag, particularly when a lot of the cutscenes didn’t have any verbal dialogue. However, I felt myself get more and more into it as I got accustomed to the battles, and saw the fun of the changing layouts of the battle maps that felt like puzzles in their own right.
It’s a smaller scale game, but man my biggest issue with the game was weapon management. I couldn’t just sell a weapon at the shop, I had to go to the Velvet Room in order to sell them by disassembling them. You don’t get any weapon parts or anything, so it just felt like wasted menu navigating (especially when it can take some time for the Velvet Room to load). You shouldn’t go into this game thinking it’s like Fire Emblem or other popular tactical RPGs, but that’s ok! If you’re a Persona 5 fan and have never played a tactics style game, this is the perfect entry into the genre. I’m very happy with what they put out, but as much as I love this crew, I’m ready for the next. Give me Persona 6, you cowards.