Persona 5 Tactica preserves the style and sophistication of its predecessor, offering a slick and sharp tactical experience that continues to reward after hours of play. Full of familiar Persona 5 hallmarks, fans of the series are in for a treat, but newcomers may find themselves left out in the cold.
Impressively stylish audio and visual design
Strategy mechanics which are easy to learn and hard to master
Heartfelt character interactions and cutscenes
Newcomers to the series may find the premise confusing
Linear mission structure leaves little room to maneuver
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Platform Reviewed: PC
Available on: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC
Release Date: November 16, 2023
The rapid-fire style and fluidity of the Persona series may seem at odds with the turn-based strategy formula, but Persona 5 Tactica has come out swinging. Developer Atlus's latest Persona 5 spin-off has managed to adopt deep and engaging turn-based mechanics while also celebrating the iconic visuals and fast-paced battles of the original.
Over-the-top villains, laugh-out-loud character interactions, and a palpable sense of mystery will keep fans invested in Persona 5 Tactica’s high-concept tale. However, those new to the series may feel submerged in the deep end and have with little reason to care about in the characters or setting. Though the introduction of new figures like spirited revolutionary Erina and kindly politician Toshiro provides a window through which newcomers might access the ongoing narrative, there’s simply too much baggage from the main game’s story to make Tactica’s own tale accessible.
Tactica’s main plot directly addresses the fallout of Persona 5’s action-packed finale, slotting comfortably into the series’ canon. Having defeated despotic would-be prime minister Masayoshi Shido through what can only be described as supernatural mind-robbery, the heroic Phantom Thieves find themselves called to action once more. A group of lovable misfits, these adolescents possess special powers that allow them to step into the minds of corrupt individuals and steal their dark urges.
This time, they find themselves wrapped up in the case of missing representative Toshiro Kasukabe, a well-meaning politico who was slated to replace Shido before mysteriously vanishing. Protagonist Joker and the Phantom Thieves find themselves trapped in the Kingdom, a mysterious psychological realm under threat from the tyrannical Lady Marie - a new villain on the scene who has an army of legionaries at her beck and call.
Suffice it to say, this is a lot for newcomers to take in. That said, the game’s novel and refreshing take on the turn-based strategy genre has a more universal appeal, offering players a rabbit hole of gripping tactical decisions and puzzle-solving to dive into and from which it’s difficult to escape.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Persona 5 Tactica’s elegant, self-contained engagements are satisfying and moreish affairs. Beginning with simple fundamentals, the game’s battles gradually open like a flower, revealing vivid new possibilities and ideas.
On the surface, it seems like a simple take on the tactics formula, with grid-based arenas populated by trigger-happy enemies that must be dealt with in turn-based fashion.
You control three Phantom Thieves which you select from the full roster before each fight. Each member of your squad can move a set distance around the map before taking an action. This usually involves shooting or using magic with the help of their Persona - a sort of spirit avatar that gives the Thieves their special powers. You move, take cover, and eliminate enemies, your abilities and attacks automatically hitting.
However, these bare-bones fundamentals are given plenty of flesh by the game’s frenetic action economy. Knock a foe out of cover and it’ll be vulnerable. Attack a vulnerable enemy and you’ll ‘down’ them, gaining an extra action. Not only can you chain these together, but, should you surround at least one ‘downed’ enemy with your three characters, you’ll be able to perform a ‘Triple Threat’ attack.
Marked by a flaming triangle on the ground, any foe caught between your squad’s three members will be hit with a powerful attack. Since you only need one downed enemy to trigger this special attack, myriad options for maneuvering open up, especially considering you can switch between characters mid-turn. Altogether, this makes for a satisfying strategy steak that requires plenty of chewing.
Missions themselves are mostly linear, following the sequential, story-driven structure of the likes of Fire Emblem Engage. Those looking for the flexible time management of the original Persona 5 will be disappointed here.
One particularly challenging side quest required me to defeat every enemy in a single turn using Triple Threat attacks. I finally mastered the required sequence after experimenting with several different abilities and positions, eliminating half a dozen enemies in a flurry of bullets and spells that gave me one heck of a dopamine hit.
That said, your entire roster of Phantom Thieves can be customized extensively. Each has their own skill tree and, though these don’t differentiate much between characters, they can be used to tailor each Thief to your specifications. Like Persona 5, you can capture new Personas, equipping them to gain access to new active and passive abilities. Unlike the original game, however, any of your party members can equip a new one in addition to their default.
Though each equipped Persona only offers only two extra abilities, this mechanic allows for a meaningful layer of customization. By fusing them together, you can create new ones, inheriting abilities from their previous forms and allowing you to tailor-make Personas to suit your character of choice. You can give single-target specialists extra area-of-effect attacks, or improve your healers by giving them powerful recovery buffs. In many ways, the Phantom Thieves are far more customizable in Tactica than they were in the original Persona 5.
Across the Persona-verse
Though Tactica escapes the shadow of Persona 5 when it comes to game mechanics, the same cannot be said for its narrative design.
The Phantom Thieves that make up Tactica’s core cast are delightful and well-developed characters, whose amusing banter and adolescent antics make them relatable and appealing. However, to meet these characters in Tactica without having seen them in the original game would do them all a disservice. All of them have already been through dramatic arcs of their own.
Persona 5 Tactica feels like something of a victory lap for these characters, allowing you to hang out with them once more and celebrate how far they’ve come as people. In this way, it’s reminiscent of Mass Effect 3’s famous Citadel DLC. Because of this, Tactica feels very much like DLC itself, rather than a standalone game. The strategy mechanics may be triumphant and refreshing, but Persona 5 itself offers vital context without which Tactica feels disjointed and overwhelming.
Persona 5 Tactica is an excellent strategy game with a lot to offer. However, the game is also a spin-off in every respect. It simply leans too heavily on the character development and overarching story found in the main game. If you’re a Persona 5 fan and you’re looking to revisit these characters in a brand new context, then Tactica is absolutely what you're looking for. However, if you’re new to the series or curious about Persona, it’s worth giving this one a miss until you’ve tried Persona 5.
Persona 5 Tactica offers modest accessibility options. Camera shake can be toggled on and off, as can vibration. Subtitles and captions are also available. You can also fully customize your key bindings and button layout. However, there are no accommodations for colorblind players or adjustable subtitle sizes.
How we reviewed
I played roughly 15 hours of Persona 5 Tactica on PC with a DualSense controller. During this time I played numerous main story quests and side quests. I also experimented extensively with the Persona-fusing system and the character skill trees.
I have played over 200 hours of Persona 5 making me very familiar with the series. I’ve also played a large number of strategy and tactics games, with almost 100 hours in XCOM 2 and 50 hours in Battletech. All of this experience was vital when approaching Persona 5 Tactica for review.
Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.