Oh I wish the voice actors working on Persona 5 Tactica knew how to pronounce “Marie” properly. Marie is the antagonist of the game (or at least the first chunk of it), and every time any of the cast pronounces her name I want to take a cheese grater to my ears to make the pain go away. The Persona series in general is infamous for somehow ending up with voice actors that can’t get names right, but I really struggled to put this one behind me.
With that gripe out of the way, Persona 5 Tactica is such a groovy little game. It effectively melds the core qualities of Persona 5 (the use of personas to develop characters, the ability to score a “One More” attack by hitting enemies while vulnerable, and so on), with the XCOM-lite approach to tactics gameplay that we’ve seen in stuff like the Mario & Rabbids series. The result is a fast-flowing, breezily playing tactics JRPG where battle scenarios effectively work like puzzles.
What I really loved about Persona 5 Tactica is the way that it demands aggressive play and for you to put your characters at some level of risk. Cover is incredibly powerful in this game, so a core tactic is to drop in next to an enemy and hit them with a melee attack, which displaces them and leaves them vulnerable in the open. That will generally then give you “One More” attacks when you pile on to them with your other characters.
The problem with that kind of positional play is that if you miscalculate and there are still enemies around at the end of the turn, then you’ve just moved your own character out of cover and into a vulnerable position. And the game has no problem punishing you for such errors.
Too often with XCOM-likes, the impulse is to “turtle” your way through levels, and inch forward by ducking from defensive position to defensive position (at least, in the way that I play them). Persona 5 Tactica’s emphasis on aggression and picking moments to risk the all-out play give the game a dynamic energy that is just perfect, given how slick and snappily-paced the base game was with its own combat system.
In other ways Persona 5 Tactica sticks close to the core material. Visually the developers have replaced the serious anime models that we saw in both Persona 5 and the first two spinoffs (Strikers and Dancing in Starlight) with a weird spin on the chibi-and-big-head aesthetic. A few hours into the game and I’m still unsure how I feel about this approach. I like chibi – the Atelier Marie (pronounced properly) remake was a great example of just how adorable this approach can be. These characters just look… odd, though. Like the developers had a Sunday morning cartoon in mind when designing the aesthetic. That said, however, the use of saturated, deep colours and surrealistic enemy designs has been brought across beautifully, and I did like that.
The plot takes place at some point after events of the original Persona 5 (note, not Persona 5 Royal and I am immensely disappointed that “Kasumi” (no spoilers here), my favouritest of favourite girls, doesn’t seem to be in this game). The writing is a natural extension of all we loved about the original Persona 5 cast, and the characters continue to bounce off one another as well as they did in the base game. I will say that there’s a touch too much YA-style “humour” creeping in at times, and I’m not happy with how some of the characters are quipping and becoming caricatures of themselves (especially Futaba, who I didn’t much like in the first place), but that might just be because the game does hurry to set itself up. Later chapters might settle the characterisation back down.
Games like Strikers and, now, Tactica, really do a good job of shining a light on what really matters about Persona. It’s not the combat system. You don’t have to be a fan of tactics JRPGs to enjoy this one – and indeed the developers seem to have kept things very simple, mechanically, to avoid the risk of putting off people who are not fans of the genre. Stages fly by and none of them are particularly memorable in and of themselves.
This is just like how with Strikers the combat didn’t really matter, and you didn’t need to be a Musou fan to enjoy it, even though it was a Musou game. You don’t even need to be a fan of rhythm games to enjoy the way the Persona Dancing series has been put together. In all cases, what is actually appealing is the characters, and as long as the gameplay gives you an excuse to get the crew together for another adventure, then you’re in for a good time.
On that basis, while I have a lot more of this to play through before the review embargo drops, I’m quite certain that, aside from the characters being totally incapable of pronouncing names properly, you’re in for a good time with Tactica.