What is it? A turn-based strategy spin-off of Persona 5. Release date November 17, 2023
Expect to pay $60/£55
Reviewed on RTX 4080, Ryzen 7 7700X, 64GB RAM
Steam Deck Verified
Link Official site
I love Persona. I have played nearly every entry in the franchise, spin-offs included, and I consider Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal to be two of the best games I have ever played. So be assured I don't say this lightly: I think Persona 5 Tactica might be my favourite Persona game of all time.
I certainly went into Tactica expecting to have a good time. Having followed its run-up to launch, I knew what I was in for: a tactical reimagining of the Persona games, mixing Persona 5's flair with the mechanics of Tactics Ogre and XCOM. What I didn’t expect was for Persona 5 Tactica to be my favourite game of 2023.
Though it's technically a spin-off—taking the characters from the hugely popular JRPG and transporting them into a new genre and art-style—Tactica plays out more like a sequel, taking place directly after key story moments in Persona 5. Though it pares back or outright removes most of the slice-of-life elements of the series—attending classes, training your social stats, hanging out with your friends to raise your "confidant" level, etc—the upside is that that results in more space for focused, nuanced storytelling.
It's not even really a game about series main characters the Phantom Thieves, in contrast to other spin-offs we've seen so far such as Strikers. Here, the cast you recognise essentially serve as backup to new characters Erina and Toshiro, two rebels attempting to overthrow the Metaverse’s latest tyrannical ruler. I took an immediate liking to both—they're individually compelling personalities, but particularly play well off each other with their clashing ideals.
Their relationship is all about how two people can both have good intentions yet have completely different approaches to solving the problem at hand. As Erina rushes courageously but thoughtlessly into the fray, and Toshiro takes a more considered but cowardly approach, both are brought to life with writing that's so engrossing throughout that I genuinely think it trumps the original Persona 5. I daren’t say anything further—it's such good stuff that you should experience it unspoiled.
Though it may shed many of the mechanics of Persona 5, it's certainly inherited the trademark flair, and long-time fans shouldn't be disappointed. The menus and UI are just as impossibly slick, the cutscenes are beautiful, and the voice acting has never been better. And whilst the Phantom Thieves may have been relegated to supporting roles in the main story itself, they still all get their individual chances to shine. They actually end up feeling like even more well realised characters as a result, as they smoothly step into the role of sage and experienced advisors, imparting their hard-won knowledge of battling in the Metaverse to Toshiro and Erina.
Combat in Persona 5 Tactica is reminiscent of the XCOM series, with a top-down grid layout and a focus on tactical gunplay. The twist to the formula is largely rooted in the One More mechanic, a holdover from Persona 5 given a unique and extremely satisfying spin.
By either removing your enemies from cover, hitting them off of high platforms, or using your persona’s abilities to inflict status effects, your next unit will be able to “Down” the same enemy by employing a similar follow-up tactic. Any unit that downs an enemy will earn a One More and get an extra bonus action that turn, as well as being able to move a second time. With the right skills, personas and strategy, it is often possible to chain several One More’s together in just one turn, allowing you to effectively wipe out all of the enemy’s units before they even manage to get two to three turns of their own.
The fact that your units can move infinitely within their allotted movement tiles before committing to an attack allows for a lot of freedom and experimentation, which in turn gives you the opportunity to find a way out of almost any situation, regardless of how dire things may appear. It also facilitates the use of what may be the most gratifying mechanic to pull off: the All Out Attack. By positioning downed enemies within the triangle formed between your units' positions, you can attack every enemy within said triangle at the same time. Pulling off an All Out Attack feels so rewarding every single time—any time I managed to trap ten or more enemies in one go it was absolutely electrifying.
Chaining up to 15 moves in one turn using only three units never gets old either, particularly because it never feels too easy. Every super-long combo streak felt like a puzzle I had personally cracked, tactically weighing up every angle, rather than just a flashy moment the game had handed me. In fact, the side quests outside of the main story literally are puzzles in this respect— most of them function as special challenges that require you to defeat up to 20 enemies within just one turn, helping to hone your instincts for normal battles.
Persona 5 Tactica also does an excellent job of keeping combat fresh, introducing new mechanics, enemy types, and powers regularly enough to ensure things stay exciting right up to the final confrontation. Around the midpoint in the story, just as I had got a handle on correctly positioning my units at the end of their turns, a new unique enemy was introduced that flings enemy units across the map, suddenly forcing me to think an extra move ahead. Similarly, in the late game, a unit appeared that swapped places with me when attacked, creating a whole new puzzle around taking them out without leaving my allies out of position and surrounded.
Persona of interest
The main story took me about 35 hours to complete, with another 15 on top for side content, and Persona 5 Tactica really did keep me on my toes throughout that time. A 50 hour runtime might sound a little short to the average Persona fan, but I've even found myself replaying sections to improve my scores, and a robust New Game+ mode gives you more reason to dive back in.
All of this is bolstered by a well considered approach to your party’s customisation. Each character can now equip two personas at once, gaining some of Joker's usual flexibility; as each persona type allows you to inflict different status effects, this allows you to have up to six unique ways to control the battlefield in every mission. Personas work much in the same way as they have in previous Persona games, the buffs and elemental attacks they confer just giving you more ways to experiment with your strategy in a way that fits just as neatly into a tactics framework as it did in a sprawling JRPG.
You gain even more options through persona fusion, which this time around can be used to create uniquely powerful firearms that spit out even more status effects, giving you a ridiculously large arsenal of tools to play with. On normal difficulty, you will find this expansive arsenal starts to make you overpowered in the late game—but switch over to "merciless" and you'll get a much more engaging challenge.
I have poured roughly 80 hours into Persona 5 Tactica since I started playing it, completing two full playthroughs, crossing off every piece of side content and even completing the persona compendium, and I'm still not tired of its charms. I can offer no higher praise than this: there is nothing left for me to unlock or experience in this game, and yet I’m still playing it, because the core combat is so much fun that improving my scores for every map still feels like a worthwhile endeavour.
In a year as stacked as 2023 is for quality games, you'd be forgiven for overlooking Persona 5 Tactica—but it's far from just another Persona spin-off. What P-Studio has created here feels like a genuinely revolutionary take on the genre; a unique mix of tactical gameplay and puzzle-solving paired with what is, without a doubt, the best story I’ve had the fortune of experiencing this year. Fans of Persona should pick it up immediately, but I'd also recommend it to any fan of turn-based strategy, whether you're familiar with the Metaverse or not.