Review – Persona 5 Tactica

Can Chibi Combat Conquer Calamity?

Overview

Developer Atlus, P Studio
Publisher SEGA
Genre Turn-based Tactics
Platforms PC (reviewed on Steam), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox X|S
Release Date November 17, 2023

Upon release in 2016, Persona 5 earned a spot among the greatest JRPGs of all time. A GOAT in form and fashion, Persona 5 fused classic Shin Megami Tensei gameplay with a bold visual and audio style that many have tried to copy since.  Atlus, doing what any smart dev would do, has capitalized on Persona 5’s success with a couple of spin-offs, one of which is Persona 5 Tactica

Persona 5 Tactica’s mere existence raises a number of questions. Is this just a cash grab? Do we need a Persona tactics game? Does the Persona franchise translate well as a tactics game? Is this a game that anyone outside of the Persona fanbase should care about? Is Morgana still a simp?

Let’s dive in.

CONTENT GUIDE

 In most content areas, Persona 5 Tactica is a “less mature” game than either Persona 5 or P5 Strikers. There are still areas of concern, but most of them aren’t up to Shin Megami Tensei/Persona levels.

Spiritual Content

Weirdly enough for an Atlus game, there wasn’t much in the way of spiritual content presented. The game does not explain Personas or the Metaverse, instead leaning on the user’s experience with past games to provide context. The story was very grounded in the human experience, as opposed to some of the headier plots that Persona games have employed before.

Violent Content

Being a combat tactics game, Persona 5 Tactica doesn’t shy away from violence, but it’s all cartoony and stylized. Defeated enemies simply drop and dissipate into a cloud of smoke. Players and enemies alike get smacked around, thrown off of ledges, shot multiple times, and assaulted with all manner of elemental attacks during combat.

[Spoiler warning] There is one scene in which someone murders a main character in a very brutal, violent way. Most of it is shown off-screen, but it comes at an unexpected point in the story, and it was pretty disturbing to me.

Language Content

The language usage in Persona 5 Tactica is sparse, but it does run the gamut of terms. Hell, damn, b***h, and s**t were all used at multiple points in the game.

Drugs/Alcohol Content

There is one scene where the gang gets a bunch of soldiers drunk in order to sneak past them.

Sexual Content

This is probably the area tamed down the most from Persona 5, but there are still some issues. Most of the highly suggestive and outright nude Personas do not appear in the game, and if they do, they’re in poses that aren’t as provocative. There are still a few Personas that are very skimpily clad or barely clad at all. All characters are chibi, and their designs, even in the metaverse, are more decent. A character makes a couple of comments about Anne’s leather bodysuit. At one point, the boys of the group go to recover what they assume is someone’s porno stash, and they start making some sly, lewd comments. 

STORY

The story in Persona 5 Tactica left me feeling a lot of things, some of which I’m still mulling over. It’s a mature, nuanced tale that explores the life and psyche of an adult who feels trapped in the life choices he’s made. With the help of the Persona 5 gang, he starts to remember the passions and idealism of his youth that life has beaten out of him, and he resolves to be better, no matter the personal cost. For someone on the Atlus writing team, this was a deeply personal story, because it’s the kind that doesn’t come except through life experience and a lot of baggage. In retrospect, it almost feels a bit too personal, like someone was over-sharing. The end result, however, is an amazing, well-written story that runs you through a roller coaster of emotions, and it’s one of the highlights of the game. It’s not often that I start cheering out loud during the climax of a game’s story, but Persona 5 Tactica had me cheering and fist-pumping.

Persona 5 Tactica’s writing was not without fault, however. The story’s pacing is awful, and could be off-putting to impatient players. The first half of the game is a slow burn that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and doesn’t make much sense, whereas the second half is a screaming rocket of non-stop payoffs that doesn’t let up for a second. This reflected in my playtime with the game, at least as I remember it. I kind of meandered through the first half of P5 Tactica over the course of a month or two and was very “meh” on the game as a whole.  Once the afterburners kicked in and the story started going places, I could not stop playing and beat the second half in probably a week. The difference between the two halves of the game is crazy, and I wish Atlus could have smoothed it out better. I could completely see this turning off players whose attention the game doesn’t immediately grab.

As an aside, the theme and rating of P5 Tactica are a humorous juxtaposition when compared to the original game. The story in Persona 5 is age-agnostic, but the game has a hard M rating, whereas Persona 5 Tactica’s story is squarely aimed at an older audience with life experience and baggage, but only has a T rating. I promise you, no teenager is going to truly appreciate the writing in Persona 5 Tactica.

GAMEPLAY

Persona 5 Tactica is a tactics game, and if that comes as a surprise, might I recommend a good pair of reading glasses?

All jokes aside, Persona 5 Tactica’s gameplay loop reminded me of Triangle Strategy a bit, because when you’re not playing a Tactics game, you’re playing a Visual Novel. If that comparison worries you, have no fear, because the ratio of story-to-gameplay is way heavier toward gameplay in P5T.

I was impressed by how well P5 Tactica translates classic Persona gameplay into a tactics game. After finishing Tactica and while writing this review, I started playing Persona 5 Strikers, and I’ve honestly been disappointed by how unrelated to Persona the gameplay in Strikers feels. Since the Venn diagram of “JRPG gameplay” and “tactics gameplay” is a very large overlap, Tactica is able to avoid this pitfall. If you’re an SMT fan, playing Persona 5 Tactica is like experiencing a different flavor of your favorite comfort food.

Persona 5 Tactica plays out across many small missions, each of which takes anywhere from 5-15 minutes, outside of boss fights. Each mission has a specific objective, whether it be to defeat all enemies, survive for [X] rounds, or to make it across a battlefield to a certain point. Three bonus objectives are also available in each mission, earning you more rewards for each bonus completed, and giving completionists a good challenge. Once missions are finished, Leblanc acts as a hub for save points, managing your squad, upgrading characters and items, and accessing the Velvet Room to upgrade and fuse Personas.

Outside of story missions, there are optional Quest missions for you to complete that offer rewards that you can’t get otherwise. These Quests are for those who want a challenge, because these are often more of a puzzle than a brawl. One quest might put a destination at the very end of a long area and ask you to get there in one turn, or another might place a dozen enemies in an arena and ask you to defeat all of them in one turn. The Quests utilize an aspect of tactics games that the story missions don’t, and I appreciate the design decision to separate the two and make one optional.

Gameplay within missions is pretty standard tactics gameplay; P5 Tactica doesn’t do anything noteworthy or put a big twist on the genre, but honestly this never bothered me. You can chose any three members from the Phantom Thieves to be in your party for a mission, each with unique active and passive skills. On your turn, all three members can move and either do a melee attack, fire a weapon, or use an ability. Then, the enemy team gets the same opportunity, and both sides take turns until one stands victorious.

Persona 5 Tactica is a nice divergence from standard Persona gameplay, for three reasons. First, there is no ten-hour tutorial section before you get into the real game. You’re dropped into the game, and the tutorial lasts maybe three or four missions, with three or four tutorial pop-ups appearing within the next hour or two of gameplay. Second, P5 Tactica is very bite-sized. With missions lasting 5-15 minutes, it’s very easy to beat a mission or two in between whatever life throws at you. In Persona 5, I always felt like yelling “please just give me a save point, I’m begging you, I need to sleep.” Finally, P5 Tactica is fairly short. I finished the game in about 25 hours, and I did a lot of extras. I could easily see this being a 15-hour game if you rush it.

My only real gripe with P5 Tactica’s gameplay was one particular Quest mission which I considered to be poor game design. In order to beat this mission, you needed to have leveled a particular skill on a particular character, which was not stated anywhere in the mission overview or in any hints given. I banged my head against this brick wall for probably an hour before caving and googling for help, after which I was just annoyed at Atlus. What really rankled me was that, if you utilize the auto-leveling tool the game provides to the player, that character does not have that skill at this point in the game, so you have to know to manually re-spec the character, which you would only find out via resources outside of the game.

The gameplay in Persona 5 Tactica was fun and engaging for me, and I enjoyed it. However, the default difficulty was a bit too easy and I never felt challenged, outside of a handful of Quest missions. This is easily fixed by changing the difficulty, but as someone who always plays the default difficulty setting and isn’t very good at tactics games, P5 Tactica felt pretty easy most of the time. If you’re an experienced gamer, I would highly recommend using the two difficulty notches above Normal if you want any real challenge.

Audio/Visual Elements

The music is always a highlight in SMT/Persona games, so I was disappointed to find the Persona 5 Tactica soundtrack feeling un-inspired. It re-uses quite a few themes from Persona 5, which is completely expected, and has a couple of new tracks as well. While the old favorites were still great, I found the new tracks to be mediocre. I’ll fully admit that comparing almost any OST to that of Persona 5 is an uphill battle, but I expect a bit more from what should be the same music team. The P5 Tactica music ends up feeling like copied homework rather than a sincere attempt at re-imagination. When compared to the other P5 spin-off, Strikers, this was a disappointment, because the P5 Strikers soundtrack has some incredible new tracks.

The art and design in Persona 5 Tactica was well done, interesting, and engaging, but it also felt a bit safe. There wasn’t much of the signature Atlus edge to either character or UI design that I would expect, but in the moment I never really missed it. The chibi versions of the P5 gang were awesome, and the re-design of the Velvet Room really grew on me over the course of the game.

I hope you can sense a theme, because the game’s graphics and animations were good, but not great. Persona 5 Tactica felt like it was designed with mobile gaming in mind; the VN sections and UI are pretty static, and the gameplay graphics and animations are fairly simplistic. However, they do their job well, and it does make for a great mobile game. I played 80% of the game on my Steam Deck, and it was a fantastic experience. I also tested the game on the Nintendo Switch, and it works just as well there. Whether you play on a PS5 or on a potato, you should get exactly the same experience from Persona 5 Tactica.

Conclusion

I recommend Persona 5 Tactica if you’re a Persona fan, but outside of that aspect, I cannot think of any reasons to recommend it over other games in the genre. It’s not a bad game by any means, but there are other games that do what it does much better, if you want a good tactics game.

I will never say no to another journey in the Metaverse with the Persona 5 gang, and Persona 5 Tactica gave me exactly that. It was a fun game with a fantastic story, and it was a great experience on a mobile device. However, in retrospect, Persona 5 Tactica leaves me feeling like much of it was phoned in. While the gameplay, music, and art all did their job toward making P5 Tactica a full package, they also gave minimum effort. I appreciate the game being easier and (slightly) more family-friendly, but given my feelings about other areas of the game, I can’t help but wonder if these aspects were conscious, or if they were due to even more lack of effort. The story was incredible, but the other elements of the game were very “meh.” Persona 5 Tactica left me satisfied, but just barely. It could have been much more.

The Bottom Line

 

Persona 5 Tactica left me satisfied, but just barely. It could have been much more.

 

7

Jamie Rice

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