Persona 5 Tactica PS5 Review: A Squandered Spin-Off
Persona 5 has received a lot of love and affection from its developer, Atlus. It has gotten not one but four spin-offs in the form of Persona 5 Strikers, Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, and now Persona 5 Tactica. The critically acclaimed JRPG certainly deserves that love, as, despite some questionable elements, it is a triumph blending complex storytelling with compelling life-sim and turn-based combat gameplay. Unfortunately, while Strikers proved to be a natural extension of the formula, Tactica feels like an afterthought, the fumes quickly running out, threatening to spoil the goodwill accumulated by the original title. While it isn’t awful by any means, it proves that perhaps there truly can be too much of a good thing.
“Surprisingly, Persona 5 Tactica is hardly about its original cast, nor is it about any of the core elements, gameplay stylings, or even visual flair that made Persona 5 great.”
Persona 5 Tactica is set during the events of Persona 5, with Joker and the Phantom Thieves hanging out in Cafe LeBlanc before being whisked away to the Metaverse. It is here that they encounter Kingdoms, realms between realms in which the darkest thoughts of their tyrannical rulers run rampant. It’s a familiar setup, not least because it’s practically identical to Persona 5, albeit with slightly twisted rules and world-building.
However, that shouldn’t deter newcomers, who will be able to enjoy this roughly 30-hour story as much as the hardcore fans. Surprisingly, Persona 5 Tactica is hardly about its original cast, nor is it about any of the core elements, gameplay stylings, or even visual flair that made Persona 5 great. It’s so far removed from the original game that it feels as much an entry point as the original game did.
This is largely because the focus is on the two dual protagonists, Erina and Toshiro. These two new characters are exclusive to the metaverse, one originating from there and the other trapped like the Phantom Thieves. They’re moderately interesting, although in typical Persona fashion feel interchangeable, never really getting simultaneous development but rather taking it in turns to be the most important person. Unfortunately, their inclusion has meant that the original Phantom Thieves are little more than background actors.
They get no meaningful development, instead spending most of the game playing catch-up and complaining that they’re still stuck in the metaverse. Their character traits and behaviors are copied over from Persona 5, but they don’t expand beyond them. If you were hoping for more interactions between them, then you’ll get that in droves. However, if you want to see them grow as independent characters, you’re out of luck.
“It is this contrast between Erina and Toshiro that fuels much of Persona 5 Tactica’s emotional core.”
Persona 5 Tactica is not a Phantom Thieves story. Largely, this isn’t an issue, as the aforementioned Erina and Toshiro are interesting. Erina is a badass leader of the Rebel Corps, the revolutionary group fighting back against the game’s first villain. Her hotheadedness clashes with her ideals, leading her to recklessly charge into battle, risking everything for potentially little reward. She’s noble, fearless, yet vulnerable, a somewhat nuanced character who is often effortlessly funny.
Toshiro, on the other hand, gets more play than you may first expect. He’s against the Phantom Thieves, disapproving of their acts from the original game. While in the real world, he’s a politician and supposed-born leader, in the metaverse, he’s timid, more interested in escape routes than figuring out how to win the battle.
Of course, it is this contrast between Erina and himself that fuels much of Persona 5 Tactica’s emotional core. There are some genuinely affecting sequences concerning them and their connection to the Metaverse, but they never reach quite the same heights as any of the original cast’s struggles. That’s not to say that either Erina or Toshiro are uninteresting, and their relationship, as well as development, make Tactica’s narrative so worthwhile. However, don’t expect quite the same level of quality present in Persona 5 or even Strikers.
“Persona 5 Tactica’s largely text-based narrative deals with even some of its most emotionally charged scenes in a fairly static way.”
Persona 5 Tactica’s main story involves you taking out the leader of each Kingdom, who is in some way ruining the lives of their people. Marie, the first big bad, is oppressive in the literal sense, capturing her subjects and beating them, openly murdering or enslaving them. Yoshiki, the second ruler you’ll encounter, is a little more subtle, enslaving his people through lies and manipulation. It’s hardly nuanced storytelling, and the most emotionally impactful content comes from their connections with the main cast, much like Kamoshida or Madarame from Persona 5.
Unfortunately, it also feels incredibly repetitive. Each Kingdom largely follows the same formula, introducing an evil villain with nefarious goals and a connection to Erina or Toshiro, who is promptly defeated before the cast moves on to the next one. It becomes tiresome, especially without any of the social interactions or side content found in the other Persona 5 titles. To make matters worse, the game’s pacing whiplashes between glacial and tirelessly fast. The first Kingdom will take upwards of 6 to 7 hours to beat, whereas subsequent Kingdoms feel much shorter and therefore less developed.
It also doesn’t help that 90% of the narrative is told through visual novel-esque cutscenes, which see barely animated character portraits bicker about why they’re in the Metaverse and what to do about it. While there are both in-game animated cutscenes and hand-drawn animated sequences, they are few and far between. What this results in is a largely text-based narrative that deals with even some of its most emotionally charged scenes in a fairly static way. This issue is exacerbated further by the repetitious gameplay that you’ll spend around 40% of your time doing.
“While the game can prove to be difficult if you play too recklessly, Persona 5 Tactica never takes advantage of its core mechanics in unique or interesting ways.”
Persona 5 Tactica’s gameplay is incredibly inconsistent, owing to the fact that the wealth of depth in its turn-based tactics gameplay is squandered thanks to the repetitive nature of its mission structure and level layout. Battles themselves take place across small arenas, with the player controlling three characters at any given time. You’ll be able to freely move each character within a limited space each turn before taking an action such as shooting, attacking, or activating a Persona ability. Each level has cover of varying heights that offer more or less protection, as well as elevated platforms that offer advantageous firing positions.
Perhaps the most interesting mechanic found in Persona 5 Tactica’s battles is the concept of downing an enemy. If you hit an enemy out of cover, you’ll down them, inflicting a lot of damage, stunning them, and granting yourself another go. You can chain these attacks together to, in theory, have unlimited goes with one character. It’s immensely satisfying, especially when executed right, as it can see you lay waste to an entire battlefield in one fell swoop. Additionally, should you down an enemy, you’ll get to use the Triple Threat ability. Anything caught within the space between your three characters will be attacked and likely killed in one hit.
However, outside of side challenges, the game’s mission structure rarely makes use of these mechanics. You won’t ever need to alter your strategy of brute forcing your way through legions of enemies. Hiding behind cover and taking potshots is equally effective, especially once you’ve upgraded your Persona abilities to deal devastating amounts of damage. While the game can prove to be difficult if you play too recklessly, Persona 5 Tactica never takes advantage of its core mechanics in unique or interesting ways.
“The very nature of Persona 5 Tactica’s gameplay feels at odds with the core design philosophy of the original game.”
Unfortunately, much like the narrative’s glacial pacing, Persona 5’s gameplay takes too long to become interesting. For almost half of the runtime, you’ll be facing the same handful of enemies, with level layouts rarely consisting of more than a few lanes and elevated platforms stitched together. You’ll approach the first 20ish missions in the exact same way, with few diversions beyond the occasional boss battle to discourage you from doing so. When the game eventually introduces unique gameplay elements and enemy types, it becomes a more engaging experience. However, not only does it take too long to get to this point, but it also feels too little too late.
Enemy variety isn’t distinct enough, with the most unique encounter in the early game being a bullet sponge sumo wrestler that can launch units at you. The more puzzle-centric levels can feel frustrating, especially when you’re timed, as the limited movement often results in you missing out on a bonus or failing the mission entirely because you didn’t reach the location in time. The very nature of Persona 5 Tactica’s gameplay feels at odds with the core design philosophy of the original game, making the rare attempt at squeezing in its elements, such as puzzles and even the Personas, feel inconsistent.
Personas are heavily underutilized, acting more as interchangeable special abilities than anything notable. You’ll unlock them randomly at the end of each stage without needing to do more than what the mission already requests of you. Gone is the requirement to talk to a Persona before capturing it. You can fuse them together to create new Personas, but I found this to be extremely messy and unnecessary, especially as the powers you gain from them are never as powerful or useful as the ones you already have.
“Side quests are the game at its most mechanically competent, offering genuinely interesting challenges that would have heightened the main story had they not been relegated to side content.”
When you’re not engaged in the narrative-focused sequences or main missions, you’ll have very little else to do. There are Quests, which are essentially puzzle missions that require you to complete an objective in a very specific way. For example, you may need to clear a room full of enemies in one turn, utilizing the downed mechanic to give yourself multiple goes. These are Persona 5 Tactica at its most mechanically competent, offering genuinely interesting challenges that would have heightened the main story had they not been relegated to side content.
You will also unlock optional conversations that range from hilarious to somewhat somber. These are interesting and help flesh out the dual protagonists as well as the Metaverse. However, it’s more or less additional dialogue to slog through, so if you weren’t enticed by the game’s already dialogue-heavy main story, you’re unlikely to enjoy these as well.
“Perhaps the game’s greatest downfall is its squandered potential, as the core foundation that these 60+ missions are built upon is strong.”
Unfortunately, that leaves very little gameplay variety to busy yourself with. You won’t get to explore any of the environments you visit, such as Queen Marie’s castle. Rather, missions will come one after the other to simulate you progressing through a space. Furthermore, there are no social aspects to Persona 5 Tactica, no relationships to build, or relationship-specific cutscenes. There are no other meaningful activities to do, such as visiting restaurants, batting cages, or cinemas, that were present in Persona 5.
It results in a very one-note gameplay experience that divides its time between the somewhat interesting narrative and mechanically deep yet endlessly repetitive tactics gameplay. It isn’t abominably dull, nor is it ever gripping, toeing the line between being perfectly serviceable and occasionally frustrating. Perhaps its greatest downfall is its squandered potential, as the core foundation that these 60+ missions are built upon is strong.
“It feels as if little consideration has gone into making each Kingdom, and by extension, the Metaverse, a genuine place.”
Visually, Persona 5 Tactica is rather distinct, offering a far more cartoonish aesthetic when compared to the other games in the series. The chibi-esque character designs are rather excellent, with the attention to detail captured in Persona 5’s exceptionally unique art style translated effortlessly here. Despite the new aesthetic, which fans of the Persona series will notice resembles that of the Persona Q series, the series’ trademark style is not lost. Rather, in many ways, it is heightened, the exaggeration afforded by the cartoonish aspects of each character allowing for more dynamic cutscenes and effortless comedic moments.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the game’s environments, which often feel static and flat, with little variation between levels. While each Kingdom has its own distinct look, the level layouts within each one feel copied and pasted. In the first Kingdom, you’ll frequently encounter outdoor spaces with barrels and white walls haphazardly scattered around or dungeon interiors with seemingly purposeless placements of wooden fences and boxes.
It feels as if little consideration has gone into making each Kingdom, and by extension, the Metaverse, a genuine place. It’s hard to pinpoint where in a Kingdom you’re supposed to be at any given time, something that simply cannot be said for the excellent Palaces in Persona 5. That sense of exploration and place that made Persona 5’s Palaces such memorable and exciting environments to visit is completely absent in Tactica.
“Persona 5 Tactica isn’t a terrible game, it just isn’t a remarkable one, either.”
One might read this seemingly overwhelming negative review and surmise that I hated my time with Persona 5 Tactica. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In many ways, Tactica is a remarkable game, offering in-depth tactics gameplay, a compelling narrative with two extremely likable new characters, and more opportunities to hang out with the already-established Phantom Thieves.
However, it is equally fair to say that my overall experience was extremely underwhelming, largely due to my prior experience with the far better spin-off Strikers and triumphant original game. Persona 5 Tactica is a repetitive and oftentimes uninspired game that can feel as if it is piggybacking off the good graces of its namesake. Its lack of meaningful side content, coupled with its dull mission structure and dogmatic dedication to dialogue, make it a slog to get through at times.
Had the lack of side content and repetitive gameplay been reflected in the game’s price, it would be perhaps a little easier to justify. Unfortunately, it is being sold at a premium price of $59.99/£54.99. For that much money, Persona 5 Tactica is only recommendable to truly diehard fans of the series who will relish the chance to spend time with the Phantom Thieves more than anything else. However, for anyone else, I would highly recommend you wait for a sale. Persona 5 Tactica isn’t a terrible game, it just isn’t a remarkable one, either.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PS5; code was provided by publisher.
Persona 5 Tactica Review
Persona 5 Tactica is an interesting spin-off title. It takes the characters from Persona 5 and little else, planting them in a game that doesn't quite seem to respect their origins. While the story is interesting and the new characters great, it can get repetitive, and without any meaningful development of the original cast, it seems to alienate both newcomers and diehard fans. The turn-based combat has a surprising amount of depth, but is tied up in repetitive mission structure and bland level design. Without the inclusion of sub-activities such as dungeon exploration or social interactions present in the previous games, Persona 5 Tactica quickly loses steam. It's not a complete washout, but often feels like an exhausting game to play at times. For fans of the series, it's a nonbrainer despite its seeming lack of elements from those games. However, regardless of whether you're a fan or not, you're best waiting for a sale.