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Review: Persona 5 Tactica (Sony PlayStation 5)

What if XCOM were actually cool?

10 mins read

Persona 5 Tactica takes far too long to get to the point. However, once it gets there it shows itself to be a far more brilliant addition to the overall Persona 5 collection than many will give it credit for.

At first, it seems like it’ll be irreverent fan service, and a chance to play with favourite characters one more time. Where I say “fan service” I don’t mean swimsuits and T&A, but rather something more akin to the classic example of video game fan service in Final Fantasy X-2 – a chance to revisit a world and favourite characters without necessarily adding to their depth. While there are two new characters introduced in Tactica upfront, they seem like they’re a narrative tool that is just there just to add some more comic relief and extend the existing group dynamics, rather than introduce new philosophical thought bubbles to the mix.

The enemies, likewise, initially seem to be in service of the fan experience, rather than the generally intelligent examples of sociopathic malice that they were in Persona 5. Where those villains represented the evils of entrenched power dynamics in our world, and a catalyst to the rebellion that the Gen-Z group of heroes would lead, here, the first villain, Marie, is a weirdo who vaguely resembles the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. A useful and hugely entertaining fairy tale villain, to be sure. Just not as deep in concept as the base Persona 5 goes.

A screenshot from Persona 5 Tactica

That initial impression changes as the narrative slowly unravels, however. Without getting too spoilery, the alternative universe that the characters are pulled into this time is revealed to represent the psyche of an individual, the villains exist for very specific reasons to add to the particular themes of that psyche, and, ultimately Persona 5 Tactica shows itself to have that same revolutionary spirit in being just as critical of the way the entrenched power structures act to crush the Gen-Z sense of justice and righteousness.

Related reading: Another must-play spinoff is Persona 5 Strikers. Our review.

It’s just a pity that unlike Persona 5, which drove at its key themes instantly, you have to spend far too long in Tactica assuming that you’re playing a light and frilly spinoff that’s ultimately not designed to say anything worthwhile. Thankfully, the game itself is strong enough to keep your interest while the narrative meanders its way towards a point.

Tactica sits in roughly the same zone as the Mario + Rabbids series, in that it’s a slick and fast-paced take on the basic idea of XCOM. This is a quick side note, but as much as I like XCOM – and I do like XCOM – I miss the days when all the tactics spinoffs were more like Final Fantasy Tactics… Anyhow, Tactica, much like XCOM, is about moving from cover to cover, working out ways to get the enemies out of their cover, and then whaling on them mercilessly.

A screenshot from Persona 5 Tactica

What is key to understand about Tactica is that it’s all about the movement and placement of your characters. You can only have a couple in action per level, so utilising them efficiently is critical. Each character can use a combination of melee, ranged, and Persona-based magic attacks. Most importantly, if you land a critical hit on an enemy, then your character gets another turn. The most effective way of doing that is to knock an enemy out of cover (which a melee attack can do, as can some Persona abilities), and then shoot the enemy with the character’s gun. That’s an auto-critical result, and a guaranteed extra turn.

The other benefit to doing that is that it knocks an enemy down, and then you’ll see a triangle appear, linking your three characters together. If you can then manoeuvre the characters so that the enemy is within the triangle, you can do an “all in” attack that deals massive damage to that enemy, and any others that are unlucky enough to also be caught in the triangle.

All of this combined encourages really speedy, dynamic, and aggressive tactical play. I found myself constantly taking big risks in leaving my characters exposed just so I could better place them around the level. At other times I would send one character deep into enemy territory so that they could broaden that all-in attack triangle and capture more enemies within it. As someone who generally prefers a more cautious approach to tactical play I’m actually surprised myself with just how effective this game was at getting me to come out of my proverbial shell and try to finish levels in one or two turns.

A screenshot from Persona 5 Tactica

Outside of the combat there is, unfortunately, not much going on. You can fuse Personas that you earn during play, just as with Persona 5, but all the social links and side distractions are gone. There is a series of optional “Quest” sub-missions, but these just work as little puzzle rooms that test how well you’ve mastered the game’s various dynamics, and are, frankly, dull. So Persona 5 Tactica is about playing level after level after level, with reasonably streamlined cut scenes to give the narrative context.

Related reading: On Persona 5 and the perception of reality.

As mentioned, that narrative is actually genuinely good and additive to the Persona 5 mythos, but the characterisation this time around is quite borked. It’s like Atlus hired a Sunday morning cartoon or YA fiction author to write the script for this game, and there’s a faint whiff of Flanderization about some of these characters as a result. I am particularly unhappy with how they handled Yusuke this time around. He always straddled the finest of lines between a naturally horny dude, a genuine artist with a genuine artist’s soul, and a droll spin on the starving artist trope. He could have been a weird creep, but his more admirable qualities just landed him in “eccentric with a heart of gold” instead. Here, he’s just a weird creep.

I’m also disappointed that this game takes place somewhere within the midpoint of Persona 5, and entirely ignores the narrative contribution of Persona 5 Royal (unless you buy into the DLC… and I am being very generous to the game not to make a point of that). Particularly Kasumi, the best character of all. While I’m assuming there won’t be too many more Persona 5 titles (if any), Atlus should have worked harder to make Royal part of the canon. With none of the spin-offs really recognising it, in hindsight Royal comes across as all the more like a cynical ploy to sell fans the same game a second time rather than the complete vision that the press releases billed it as.

Persona 5 Tactica 2

Persona 5 Tactica is an excellent addition to the overall Persona 5 property. What at first looks like a cheerfully whimsical bonus spinoff ends up being something that adds to the core themes of the base game, and is impressive in the way it does that. It also backs up with some of the sharpest “fast tactics” play we’ve seen in the genre. I just wish the concept and theme were written better, and I honestly never thought I would say that of a Persona title.

Buy The Game From Amazon (Note: This is an affiliate link. By purchasing using this link you support DDNet with a small percentage commission from the sale).

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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