Atlus’ Persona series has steadily grown in popularity over the past few years. Complex characters, compelling narratives and an interesting role-playing system have thrilled fans around the world for many years. The Persona series lives not only on its great main release, but, like Final Fantasy for example, on countless side projects, spin-offs and derivatives. For the successful Persona 5 alone there were already two spin-offs with their own unique game systems: Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight and Persona 5: Strikers. Now SEGA and Atlus are sending the Phantom Thieves on their next big adventure with Persona 5 Tactica. The strategic derivation proves in the test to be a successful implementation of the well-known game mechanics, but also struggles with one or two lengths.
A rebellion with style
Persona 5 Tactica begins in the last third of the Persona 5 narrative. The Phantom Thieves have gathered at their favorite bar, Leblanc, to have a hot drink in the cold weather. As the news continues to report the disappearance of an up-and-coming politician, our heroes are suddenly transported to a parallel universe where they face a new threat. Instead of metauniverse palaces and their rulers, they confront the tyrant Marie in the new world, which is described as a land of kingdoms. She enslaves the inhabitants of the kingdom with the help of her army and her ability to control minds. With the exception of Joker and Morgana, the Phantom Thieves themselves are also captured early in the story and become fascinated by Marie’s magic. At the last second, resistance fighter Erina rushes to Joker and Morgana’s aid, allowing the two phantom thieves to escape. Without further ado, Joker, Morgana and Erina agree to a deal: the rebels will help free the Phantom Thieves and in exchange they will support Erina in her plan to free the country from Marie’s tyranny.
Your Persona gives you a strategic advantage in combat
From this point on, the plot of Persona 5 Tactica revolves around the resistance struggle of the rebels, the personal relationships between the group members, and the overall mystery surrounding the existence of the parallel world. As is typical for Persona, well-written dialogue plays a particularly important role. Much of the narrative is advanced through operational briefings at headquarters. However, a small warning for newcomers is that prior knowledge of the Persona 5 universe is required. While you can read about important events and characters in the memos, this is only recommended for those who are primarily interested in the gameplay strategy of the game. Persona 5 Tactica only develops its full potential when you are familiar with the game’s characters.
Overall, this is a good opportunity to describe Tactica’s gameplay in more detail. Basically it is a strategic role-playing game comparable, for example, to titles in the Fire Emblem series. In combat, you take control of three characters, who you control from an isometric perspective across the respective level’s map. You can then select orders for each unit in turns. These include melee and ranged attacks, as well as special Persona abilities that give each unit its own specialization. A big strength of Persona 5 Tactica is that it deftly transfers the familiar mechanics of the main game to the strategic gameplay. For example, the individual skills of the person not only influence the type of damage, but also the effect of the attack. Wind attacks catapult opponents back a few fields, while electric attacks can paralyze your opponents.
In combat you must use the terrain to your advantage
The well-known 1-Up system also finds its way into Persona 5 Tactica. If you score a critical hit, you can take another turn with your character. This opens up some tactical options for you. The more effectively you use the system, the more actions you can perform in a turn. This is important, among other things, if you only have a limited number of moves available as part of a mission or if you first need to lure opponents out of safe cover. Tactica’s level design is fundamentally convincing, but could have been a little more varied throughout the game. Many of the basic models are introduced early in the game and then modified as the game progresses. Overall, Persona 5 Tactica takes a long time in the beginning to explain the basic mechanics to you. This is great for beginners to the genre, but can also seem a bit boring for experienced players.
Even outside of actual battles, the gameplay will feel familiar to Persona veterans. In your headquarters you can purchase new weapons for your units, accept side missions in exchange for rewards, and recruit new characters. However, ghosts cannot be added to your main character’s team, but can be added to each member of the Phantom Thieves as a secondary power. This allows you to expand your units’ arsenal with additional elemental attacks or passive enhancements. The skill system, with which you unlock new abilities for your team of heroes, also has a similar effect. Compared to the main Persona 5 game, customization options are relatively moderate. The well-known system of personal relationships is found here only indirectly. For example, you can unlock additional skill points through optional conversations.
The hideout serves as a base for your missions
The original Persona 5 is considered a great example of successful UI/UX design and a modern, chic anime look. Persona 5 Tactica successfully inherited the elegant menu design from the original, but this time Atlus tried something new when it comes to the graphical style, which definitely won’t please all fans. The characters appear in stylized and deformed chibi form, with longer arm and leg proportions to better represent movements. The game also uses a more colorful and brighter color palette than Persona 5, making the overall look more similar to Persona Q.
Whether you like the style or not is definitely a matter of taste. Overall, you can quickly get used to the style and even learn to appreciate the rather playful take on Persona’s world to some extent. The simple shapes definitely help keep the gameplay understandable and clear, something that may have been lost with more detailed graphics. It also benefits the aging Nintendo Switch hardware. Not only does the game look great on the hybrid console, but it also runs largely flawless. The only annoying things are the slightly longer loading times and the resulting image freezes.
As is typical for the series, Persona 5 Tactica’s soundtrack contains some interesting tunes that you’ll want to have fun with. The new songs sung by series icon Lyn are undoubtedly particularly noteworthy. Her voice still forms a large part of Persona 5’s identity today. Overall, however, it doesn’t reach the heights of previous soundtracks. Speaking of voices: the famous voice actors of the Phantom Thieves are of course back and as a fan you can be very happy to spend more time with this loving cast. This is probably the ultimate goal of the game.