It’s hard to write this Persona 5 Tactica review without considering the many layers of spinoffs to get to where we are today. Like a freshly baked croissant, we can peel back each one to reveal that, at its core, it’s still a Shin Megami Tensei RPG at heart. In Persona 5 Tactica, you still fuse Personae to create stronger bonds, but the similarities with the mainline games end here. It’s a decent third story in the Phantom Thieves saga and has some innovative mechanics for a tactical RPG, but it’s far from anything spectacular.
While chilling with coffee and curry at LeBlanc, the Phantom Thieves are caught in a reality-bending tremor that lands them inside a Medieval market town decorated for an elaborate wedding. Soon, they’re cornered by Lady Marie and her soldiers, with the bulk of the Phantom Thieves charmed into Marie’s service. As things look desperate, the leader of the rebels, Erina, rescues the protagonist and Morgana from their fate. They resolve to rescue their brainwashed comrades, stop Lady Marie, and get home.
It soon becomes clear that Persona 5 Tactica’s story is less about the Phantom Thieves but focuses on the new characters: Erina – a rebel leader trying to overthrow the tyrannical Lady Marie, and Toshiro, a politician from the real world who has no recollection of being in this twisted realm. It’s clear from the get-go that there’s a connection between these two that runs deeper than they initially think, but it does so at the expense of the characters that fans have connected with for quite some time. This isn’t a new issue with the anime game series spinoffs, as the Persona 4 Arena games had a similar shift in focus away from developing the Phantom Thieves in favor of creating brand-new characters. I liked where the story went in the end, but it still feels like a side story compared to the main series.
Another thing Persona spinoffs tend to do is retain the art style of the mainline RPG games, so the new Chibi-like character designs are initially a tad offputting. However, this helpfully indicates a lighter tone compared to the rest of this subseries – this is the first Teen-rated game with plot significance related to Persona 5 – and I did eventually warm up to these designs, even if I often wonder how they can possibly breathe without noses. We do move away from the more occult-like Shin Megami Tensei enemies in favor of more generic shadows with militaristic garb, yet they’re at least memorable when it comes to remembering which tactics work best during combat.
Speaking of which, there’s a lot of combat in Persona 5 Tactica. Saving the Phantom Thieves from Lady Marie acts as the game’s tutorial, teaching you how to move characters into spaces that provide cover and how to leave your foes vulnerable. Each battle has me controlling three characters at a time, with difficulty settings determining how many characters I can substitute in when a character falls. Each party member has a list of skills they can learn by spending points tied to their primary Persona or innate abilities. I didn’t really see any examples of skills exploiting enemy weaknesses, but they do inflict status conditions to draw enemies out of cover and leave them vulnerable to follow-ups.
Generally, I find a lot of familiar ground between this and the cover-based Mario & Rabbids games, and this is welcome as it makes understanding its more unique mechanics easier. As I progress, however, it soon becomes clear that the most efficient way to finish fights is to exploit this game’s variant of the All-Out Attack.
Called the Triple Threat, one character gets the drop on an enemy, granting them one more action. The other two party members create a triangle formation to flank the enemy before the first character pulls the trigger. This powerful technique has no limits on size, so I frequently find ways to make the area of effect span across the entire map, making short work of the otherwise formidable guards in a way that’s similar to the main Persona games. Still, unfortunately, it trivializes all but the most elaborately designed maps, including the surprisingly complex boss battles, which I won’t spoil here.
It wouldn’t be a Persona game without the series’ staple of smushing demons together in the hope of creating more powerful ones, and Persona 5 Tactica doesn’t disappoint here. The Velvet Room, where baby demons are made, takes on a more industrial look with gears grinding each of your collected Persona you get for completing battles. A key difference here is that these custom Persona are equipable by every Persona-wielding member of the resistance, bestowing on them a couple of skills and plenty of stat boosts. Eventually, I get the new ability to combine Personae to craft the most potent weapons to gear up the Phantom Thieves or sell for a quick cash injection. It’s easily exploitable, especially since you can replay maps to find more Persona to sacrifice to the Velvet Room’s cash-generating machine.
While I did enjoy my time with Persona 5 Tactica, the spinoff games rarely blow me away in the same way as the main series games do, and sadly, Tactica isn’t much different. It has some novel ideas for a genre well-known for broken mechanics (see every Disgaea game), and it seamlessly blends in the Persona creation mechanics wonderfully. Still, at times, there was barely any real challenge in the maps themselves, largely thanks to the highly exploitable battle system. If you’re looking for just one more adventure before the inevitable lull before Persona 6, you’ll find that Persona 5 Tactica is a fitting end for the Phantom Thieves’ time in the spotlight. Just know that it’s a far cry from their debut showing.
As a sendoff to these beloved characters, Persona 5 Tactica tells a decent story and has novel tactical RPG ideas; even if said mechanics destroy all semblance of challenge.