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Persona 5 Tactica review: stylish strategy spinoff skimps on story

Joker with burning eye in Persona 5 Tactica
Persona 5 Tactica
MSRP $60.00
“Persona 5 Tactica's strategic elements are its highlights, but don't expect it to take your heart.”
  • Satisfying progression
  • Challenging quests
  • Strong map design
  • Room to experiment
  • Underwhelming story
  • Dialogue is lacking
  • Bloated with features
  • Lack of enemy variety

Persona 5 is to Teen Titans as Persona 5 Tactica is to Teen Titans Go!

Teen Titans, the animated superhero series from the early 2000s, expertly balanced lightheartedness with serious story arcs. Later riffs on the series were never able to reach those same heights, including the more kid-friendly Teen Titans Go! Similarly, praise for mega-successful RPG Persona 5 highlighted its gripping story, memorable characters, and fun, but weighty story. Like Teen Titans Go!, the more lighthearted strategy spinoff Persona 5 Tactica just doesn’t have the same charm that made its predecessor popular.

While its anchored by sharp strategy systems, Persona 5 Tactica suffers from enough shortcomings that is ends up being one of the series’ most skippable chapters. The RPG’s narrative doesn’t build on the connections between Persona 5‘s cast members well and poor pacing makes it tougher to enjoy the Phantom Thieves’ company.

Beyond the Phantom Thieves

Persona 5 Tactica takes place in a timeline where the main Persona 5 cast has already assembled into the Phantom Thieves. The gang discovers a mysterious door that transports them into a fantasy dystopia within the Metaverse governed by an egotistical ruler. There, they join forces with the Rebel Corps and their leader, Erina, who follows them to other worlds that they ultimately visit. These worlds are called Kingdoms, alternate realities that embody the creator’s view of themself and their place in the world. The Phantom Thieves and Erina spend the story trying to find a way back to their homes and uncovering the reason behind these Kingdoms’ existence in the first place.

It feels more like a Persona-skinned strategy game aimed at younger audiences than a true chapter in the series’ story.

Tactica doesn’t dig as deep into the interpersonal relationships between the Phantom Thieves. That’s passable, considering it’s a spinoff and not a mainline Persona game. However, other spinoffs have addressed the similar struggle to reintroduce familiar cast and content with more appealing solutions. Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes reimagines Fire Emblem: Three Houses from an alternate perspective, with hack-and-slash gameplay instead of traditional turn-based strategy. Doki Doki Literature Club Plus! — the Doki Doki Literature Club bundle with DLC — included additional side stories about the characters, which offered an incentive for fans to buy it despite already knowing the story. Tactica could have taken ae of similar route instead of building its story around new characters.

The story does make a half-hearted attempt to connect us with its new cast members, especially Toshiro. We witness marital, familial, and other kinds of problems plaguing his psyche. But it all just seems simplistic compared to the real-world stakes in mainline Persona games, and the memories showcased in each arc show more of an outcome than a struggle. Tactica‘s chibi art style further highlights this change in tone with its cutesy, goofy delivery. It mimics P5‘s bold, stylized battle animations, but the exaggerated expressions and cartoonish presentation outside of battle further water down any real weight in the story. You could feel bad for a character in one moment, and then completely lose that feeling when their eyes exaggeratedly bug out at the next line.

Phantom Thieves watching TV in LeBlanc
Image used with permission by copyright holder

On the bright side, Tactica only lightly hints at what happened in the main game, so you can go back to it spoiler free — though I’m not sure what kind of player would pick up Tactica without playing Persona 5. And fans of the latter might be especially disappointed, as the spinoff waters down a lot of the style and substance that made the RPG so memorable. It feels more like a Persona-skinned strategy game aimed at younger audiences than a true chapter in the series’ story.

It’s all about that ‘checkmate’

Persona 5 Tactica isn’t a traditional turn-based RPG like the original series; it’s a tactics game like Fire Emblem. Like traditional strategy RPGs, battles unfold on grid-based maps, where each unit can move and attack from a certain number of spaces. Each character is like a chess piece with its own unique characteristics, including movement speed, gun types that can hit varying numbers of enemies, and elemental affinity. Strong map design and core tactics systems carry the experience.

Persona 5 Tactica is a competently crafted strategy game …

I enjoyed tinkering with how to squeeze as many moves as possible into one turn with P5‘s signature “One More” battle system, which reappears in Tactica. When hitting an enemy with an attack that it’s weak to, players gain another action. In this case, Tactica focuses on positional weaknesses like attacking enemies outside of safe zones and pushing them off ledges so that allies underneath can perform a follow-up attack. This particularly works in Tactica, where positioning replaces turn economy as a major consideration. That way, you can zip about an entire map before the enemy even moves.

Missions have win conditions ranging from moving between point A to point B to eliminating every enemy on the field. They don’t vary much, but sidequests with more creative objectives help fill the void of variety with some genuinely head-scratching challenges. Quests feel like a requirement because valuable skill points (used for character upgrades) lare ocked behind each one, but I appreciate them for the deeper strategy they require. Early quests means angling attacks just right so that party members can complete an objective and dominate the board in a single turn. They push me to formulate strategies around specific characters required for each quest. In that sense, they taught me more about each character and about how to more efficiently play the game in general. I needed to replay some of them multiple times to get the rewards, but completing them felt worth it.

Even though quests make a good show of each character’s utility, Tactica has a few too many heroes to juggle. Unused teammates gain a buff from sitting on the bench, so players should swap them between missions when possible. However, there’s enough overlap between their abilities that some of them feel redundant, and the only reason I swap between them is for the small battle bonuses. Each character can even equip an additional Persona, so their elemental affinity isn’t a necessity. It feels like the only reason for all of the characters to be there is because every playable character from Persona 5 had to be included (sorry, Akechi and Sumire).

Panther aiming gun at explosive barrels and enemies in Persona 5 Tactica
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Persona game without the Velvet Room, a pocket dimension where Personas can be summoned and transformed. That space isn’t just for creating monsters, but also for fusing them into weapons with special abilities — a system that makes the actual weapon shop useless at a point. Design choices like these, especially ones introduced later into the game, wind up feeling like unnecessary additions that weight the SRPG down. Issues like that stack up with smaller quality of life gripes to make Persona 5 Tactica feel surprisingly less tight than other spinoffs we’ve seen from the series.

There’s still enough to enjoy here if you just want to spend some time with the Phantom Thieves again. Persona 5 Tactica is a competently crafted strategy game that cheerfully pushes players to try all it has to offer. It’s just bloated with features that don’t feel necessary, and its story feels like an afterthought. And that’s the last thing you want to hear about a Persona 5 spinoff.

Persona 5 Tactica was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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Jess Reyes
Jessica Reyes is a freelance writer who specializes in anime-centric and trending topics. Her work can be found in Looper…
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