Persona 5 Tactica Review – A Stale Revolution

When I venture on a spinoff, I try to set my mindset at one of two levels of expectation: either envisioning that the spinoff should be as incredible as the work that spawned it or, more likely, assuming that it will be an amusing game but not entirely on par with the original. It’s a defeatist mindset, but it has worked so far.

And in this specific title, the irony is not lost on me. The Persona series was born as a spinoff of Shin Megami Tensei, and, dare I say, it was so successful that it became a rare case of surpassing the original work.

Persona 5 is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. Because of that, I was hesitant to play its spinoffs and potentially tarnish the image of the Phantom Thieves. I know the original will always be there, but come on. If you enjoyed watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, how did you feel about The Hobbit? So, there lies my fear.

Still, I played Persona 5 Tactica from start to finish. I understood that the proposal was different, as were its graphics, gameplay, and take on well-established mechanics. Overall, I had fun. However, it was a spontaneous experience that will likely fade into oblivion once I indulge in more enjoyable games.

Without further ado, here is RPG Informer’s Persona 5 Tactica review, played on the PlayStation 5.

Rebels and Revolutionaries

Persona 5 Tactica takes place between the second and third semesters of Persona 5, after the original game’s ending and before the extra content of the Royal Edition. The Phantom Thieves, our beloved protagonists, are pulled into a realm distinct from what they know and embroiled in a war for revolution led by Erina, the new party member.

persona 5 introduction erina
That’s how I imagine most newcomers to the series will feel – Image by Murillo Zerbinatto

This mysterious introduction is famous in any Persona game, which then sees the mysteries being solved with each new sprinkle of information distributed throughout the narrative.

However, Persona 5 Tactica has a more convoluted start due to being a spinoff. Being a sequel, the game assumes you are already familiar with the Phantom Thieves and their modus operandi. Hence, their (re)introduction lacks any formalities and is straightforward.

And here lies my first caveat. I’m not saying playing the base game before delving into Persona 5 Tactica is an utmost obligation. But the spinoff doesn’t go out of its way to explain terminologies, such as Metaverse or the whole cognition thematic, to those unfamiliar with Persona 5. To be fair, the game tries.

It comes with a Memo feature, activatable by pressing a button during cutscenes – pretty similar to the Active Time Lore seen in Final Fantasy XVI, which I utterly love.

In the Memo, you can read notes about people, places, and other stuff. While the feature tries its best to explain what the hell is happening or previously happened, it feels more like a workaround than anything.

persona 5 memo
The Memo feature tries its best, but you can’t explain some topics in a tweet (or a X-eet) – Image by Murillo Zerbinatto

You may be someone who loves tactical RPGs and wants to enjoy this stylish and slick new game that just arrived on your GamePass, and you don’t want to chunk 100-plus hours into Persona 5. Well, good, but tough luck. You’ll still need to search the internet for some burning questions that will undoubtedly arise during your gameplay.

Yet, Persona 5 Tactica’s plot begins to stand on its own from the game’s second act. The central theme is rebellion, a new yet familiar proposal to Persona 5. From the outset, we see characters defying their status quo or those who already did, incentivizing new ones to do the same. It will be a back-and-forth of “I can’t do that!” to “Yes, you can!”

The Phantom Thieves of the Sideline

The text-heavy identity of the series is also present in Tactica. In my 30 hours of gameplay, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that nearly 50% of it was split between chatboxes and cutscenes that lasted 15-20 minutes.

Most flew by because the interaction between the Phantom Thieves is delightful to witness, especially when you are already acquainted with them.

But this justifies the case for my second caveat. This time, our favorite band of thieves plays the role of side characters in the story, making room for Erina and Toshiro, the new members, to shine.

persona 5 phantom thieves
This “Get Em!!” is the equivalent of weakness damage on mainline Personas – Image by Murillo Zerbinatto

It’s easy to like the Phantom Thieves with their unorthodox chemistry akin to The Breakfast Club. So, when I realized that the game was leading me to focus on Erina and Toshiro, I frowned. Why was it robbing me of my favorite high schoolers? This change of protagonism opens up a precedent for a pitfall.

If the player doesn’t relate to the two new, the whiplash from both the expectation of not having Joker in the spotlight and not liking the new protagonists can harm the entire experience from the get-go.

In my case, fortunately, Erina and Toshiro were captivating and convinced me that they deserved the spotlight. Still, throughout the game, there was that lingering feeling that I wanted the true protagonists to return to the center stage.

Through Palaces and Kingdoms

Sorry for the constant comparison to the base game, but well, Tactica set itself up for it. In Persona 5, dungeons are called Palaces, and each theme pertains according to the villain we are facing. In Persona 5 Tactica, we now have Kingdoms, a terminology that only serves to say that they are not Palaces.

While the game doesn’t have chapters per se, it’s partitioned by different arcs with their own theme and region. Each Kingdom drastically changes its visuals and theme, introducing a separate presentation in each of its four. Explaining why would be a spoiler, but I’m satisfied with how each environment lived up to the proposed narrative context.

persona 5 despair spell
Despair is one of the many debuffs every spell can cause. It always hits the enemies – Image by Murillo Zerbinatto

The framework of Tactica is very standard for tactical RPGs. You engage in battle, then return to an intermission base where the story is discussed, set up and equip your party if necessary, jump into more battles, rinse, and repeat until the credits roll. Everything is menu-based, and there’s almost no secret whatsoever to explore.

The battles are also quite basic. We choose three members to compose a battlefield separated by grids that dictate the movement of allies and enemies.

We can use guns for long-distance shots, a melee attack, or Persona’s spells. Features like One More return, but instead of being triggered by attacking an enemy’s weakness, it occurs when hitting a target that isn’t covered behind an object.

One of the things I most enjoyed was that I could move my units freely on their turn because it only ended after attacking an enemy.

Positioning is vital to trigger some special attacks, such as the All-Out Attack, which is now called Triple Threat. The combo can activated by an ally in their One More Turn.

By triangulating the position of this ally with the other two, all enemies within the triangle area take massive damage, a technique that I replicated practically in every mission given its power.

Each party member has their elemental specialty, but instead of aiming for the enemy’s weaknesses, they cause a debuff, like Frozen or Burning. To provide some dynamics to the gameplay, this time, every other member of the team can equip extra Personas, not only Joker.

Changing one’s Sub-Persona increases attributes and adds up to two new abilities. Since there are no weaknesses in Tactica, opting for passive abilities seemed more appropriate for my strategies.

persona 5 tactica
Fusing Persona is one of the most staple features of the franchise and here it works as intended – Image by Murillo Zerbinatto

I appreciate how Persona 5 Tactica tried to adapt the mechanics of the classic game to strategic molds. However, what made Persona’s turn-based combat head-scratching didn’t work very well in the tactical environment. Once all the game’s mechanics are introduced, the gameplay becomes repetitive fairly quickly.

Kingdoms’ tone and concept shift to match changing enemies and stages. But in essence, it’s a smokescreen that soon dissipates. They’re just skins. Our opponents can wear a kimono, but their skillset will stay the same throughout the game, with only a handful of enemy variations. Boss fights are enjoyable, but few.

The most variable gameplay change is found in the quests. Persona 5 Tactica offers amusing side-quests because they feel more like challenges than some fodder battles.

They test your understanding of the game’s mechanics and often require you to achieve a goal within one turn, pivoting them almost into a puzzle. It was a welcome dynamic transition at times when traditional battles became tedious.

Way Too Cutesy Presentation

Persona 5 Tactica’s graphics shifted to a chibi style to accommodate the new gameplay, condensing all characters into more caricatured and adorable versions. Enemies also follow the same line, although bosses remain bizarre and eerie.

The narrative is told in a visual novel format. Characters are like cardboard cutouts on the screen while the text and voice-over narrate the events. Persona has never been a stranger to this storytelling model, and I must say that in Tactica, it fits well.

persona 5 fusing persona
Fusing Persona is one of the recurrent features of the franchise, and here it works as intended – Image by Murillo Zerbinatto

Some well-animated action cutscenes expand the plot and help add more urgency to the events. But I had difficulty taking the plot seriously whenever the chibi characters appeared on the screen, even if they were being dragged by chains after a high-speed car. Only the Personas preserved their design, extraordinarily peculiar and eccentric.

The fantastic singer Lyn Inaizumi returns and lends her vocals to the game’s soundtrack. For those who know her, no comments are necessary. Her expertise in Japanese jazz and soul creates a chic mysticism in the Persona setting, oozing personality at every moment of gameplay.

Overall, Persona 5 Tactica’s presentation is much cuter than expected. Given the visuals, I felt that the theme of rebellion didn’t sound as urgent or critical. It was difficult for me to relate to the conflicts presented when all the characters reminded me of the Care Bears.

On the other hand, it made me want to take it easy with the game and put down my expectations a notch. It gave me the impression that Tactica is an eager younger sibling to Persona 5, who hasn’t reached the heights of the older sibling but is on the right path. Or was, at least.

Close Alternatives

If you like a tactical game with a twist and somewhat charming presentation, you should check these alternatives ahead:

  • Disgaea 7
  • Front Mission Remakes
  • Fire Emblem Engage
  • Arcadian Atlas
  • Crimson Tactics

The Verdict

Score: 7.5/10

Measuring the fun factor of a game is a bit like catching lightning in a bottle. I try to do this by paying attention to how distracted I get while playing.

For example, my last two reviews here were of Star Ocean: The Second Story R and Sea of Stars, and only my wife knows how enraptured I was by them. I was playing out of pure entertainment for the gameplay and curiosity about the next narrative development.

Now, with Persona 5 Tactica, I often found myself getting up and engaging in something else, like scrolling through social media or farming in Final Fantasy VII Ever Crisis. I know that’s a red flag for ADHD, but at my age, I’m self-aware enough to understand what ticks for me.

I’m not saying that the game isn’t fun because it is. But it’s a fleeting kind of fun, the type of game you play in the intervals between others you prefer, either to avoid burnout or when there’s nothing more substantial on your gaming shelf.

For me, Persona 5 Tactica’s plot is its standout feature. However, as I mentioned, I wished the Phantom Thieves would take center stage during its gameplay. Or at least change the theme dynamic, which becomes highly predictable from the second Kingdom onward.

In other aspects, and I say this in a positive light, Persona 5 Tactica fulfills its role as a spinoff quite well, even if its memory will be short-lived in the gaming community.

The game adds that extra flavor to those who can’t get enough of the Phantom Thieves. If you manage to separate it from the original Persona 5, you can have a good time with it.

But as most spinoffs go, you know that’s a herculean task. Unfortunately, Persona 5 Tactica is doomed to be overshadowed by the one that spawned it and most likely will never live up to the original work.

Pros

  • Chibi-like graphics are very charming.
  • Movie cutscenes are top-notch.
  • The Persona 5 style and substance are present.
  • The plot has some compelling build-ups.

Cons

  • The gameplay becomes repetitive early on.
  • The two new protagonists are reasonable but no match for the Phantom Thieves.
  • Menu-based exploration is too streamlined.
  • Sidecontent is pretty slim.

Play Log

Murillo played for about 32 hours, filled 80% of the entire Persona compendium, reached level 85, unlocked all skills, completed all quests, and listened to all talks. He’s now chasing the platinum trophy while keeping Netflix playing on a nearby screen.

FAQs Section

Question: Do I Need to Play Persona 5 before Persona 5 Tactica?

Answer: Yes and no. Persona 5 Tactica can be played as a standalone entry with its own story. However, since the game is a direct sequel to Persona 5, you’ll obviously miss out on some aspects, such as the backstory of each Phantom Thieves member or some more complex terms.
Persona 5 Tactica tries to keep players in the loop with a feature that summarizes various concepts from the universe, but nothing replaces playing the original game.

Question: When does Persona 5 Tactica take place?

Answer: After the end of the second semester of Persona 5, which is the conclusion of the original game. Persona 5 Royal adds a third semester and a new character, and that’s why she doesn’t appear in Tactica outside of a DLC.

Question: How long is Persona 5 Tactica?

Answer: If you play on normal difficulty, do all the quests, listen to all the talks, and dabble with Persona Fusion here and there, you’ll take around 30 hours to finish the game.

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