Persona 5 Tactica Review
Persona 5 Tactica takes the rebellious themes of Persona 5 and puts them in an adorable strategy RPG. The result is far from perfect, but it’s still a ton of fun to explore. Last week, I had the chance to preview this title, and most of what I said then still holds true now. But like a new spinoff of a successful franchise, what’s new is still worth a look.
In this game, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts take on isekai fantasy, multiple flavors of tyranny, and strategy RPG mechanics. First, they’re tossed into a mysterious corner of the Metaverse dubbed a Kingdom. Then the tyrannical Marie attacks them and they have to team up with mysterious revolutionary Erina to fight back. And then they find Toshiro, a missing politician in line to become Prime Minister, locked up in Marie’s jail.
Defeating Marie is far from easy, especially when Toshiro recovers some scrambled memories and realizes she’s his abusive fiancé in the real world. And as soon as she falls, the gang ends up in another Kingdom with another cruel tyrant. Getting home means carving their way through each Kingdom and recovering Toshiro’s lost memories. In other words, just another week for the Phantom Thieves.
Commence the Mission
Persona 5 Tactica takes a very unique approach to strategy RPGs inspired by Persona 5’s mechanics. You can only have three characters on the field at any given time. Positioning is incredibly important thanks to cover mechanics and All-Out Attacks depending on it. Every single character has a gun, so maintaining a clear line of sight while avoiding enemy sightlines is key.
I like the way verticality plays into tactics. Getting the high ground makes it harder for enemies to hit you. And allows you to rain gunfire on your foes with near impunity. At the same time, enemies often spawn in high places, adding to the difficulty. I also really enjoy the game’s cover mechanics. Hiding behind various objects, shooting around corners, and aiming spells through walls is incredibly fun. Could do with a few less level gimmicks, though.
It’s a good thing quests are optional because some of them are incredibly frustrating. I got completely stumped on one that seemed entirely dependent on RNG, which is never a good look. Speaking of which, I overlooked this during the preview, but I have a very serious question for the game designers. Why on earth are there two separate Quest menus with the same information? And why can you only accept quests from one of them? This is a terrible design choice.
This title has really, really good sound design. The voice acting is great and the music is genuinely lovely. The art style is pretty solid, too, with an array of adorable and cartoony character designs. Although the Kingdoms’ denizens can be hard to take seriously, the main cast looks great. And the environment design is solid and the boss designs are spectacular.
Persona 5 Tactica Tears Down Tyranny
In general, this game is cartoonier and significantly lighter than the source material. In Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves came together because their lives were ruined by those in power. This ranged from chronic injury to extortion to sexual abuse. They fought over-the-top supervillains because those supervillains were explicit caricatures of the corrupt adults around them. Seeing them run around fighting a more typical supervillain in the name of justice feels tonally dissonant.
That said, the game does tackle a variety of social issues ranging from the surveillance state to political corruption to abusive relationships. While it focuses primarily on government corruption and tyranny as a whole, it examines those themes from every angle. And the presentation is as stylish as ever.
On a related note, the Phantom Thieves of Heart submitting to the command of a politician feels weird after everything they went through. As the story unravels, it becomes clear that Toshiro’s struggles as a disillusioned politician form the core of each Kingdom. To save the struggling citizens, the Phantom Thieves must help Toshiro break out of his learned helplessness. This is all fascinating, but the game focuses so much on Toshiro that I have to wonder why the Phantom Thieves are even here.
The biggest issue I have with this title is that it doesn’t feel like this game needed the Persona 5 label attached. It could have worked just fine with the original characters. In fact, the deeper I got into the game, the more surprised I was that Erina and Toshiro weren’t the protagonists. The dynamic between the cowardly, cynical politician and the idealistic rebel firebrand is engaging. Toshiro gets the strategist role in the narrative that player-insert characters are often assigned. Adding Joker and the Phantom Thieves into the mix seems a bit unnecessary.
This Isn’t Where the Story Ends
Now for some more criticism. Basically, every level features enemy reinforcements. They rapidly stopped being a surprise and started being a given. This is annoying, because their sudden appearance complicated pre-battle planning. Also, there are still a ton of loading screens. Making some screens have distinct loading screens doesn’t change this. I counted about three distinct loading screens and they all take too long.
There are five difficulty modes, but levels themselves vary wildly in difficulty, especially when new gimmicks are introduced. Once I failed a level entirely on Normal difficulty because it took me seven turns to figure out its door-opening gimmick. The End Turn and Undo Turn buttons are crucial to progress. It feels odd for a strategy game to expect you to do so much trial and error.
The first boss fight is a grand spectacle and coming up with strategies to defeat Marie’s wedding tank is incredibly fun. I was genuinely disappointed when the scripted ending kicked in. Marie’s defeat was entertaining enough, but it didn’t feel like I’d actually won that fight.
All in all, Persona 5 Tactica is far from perfect. But it looks pretty sound, it sounds excellent, and it is fun. If you just want to see more of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, you could certainly do worse. And if you open your heart to the new cast, Erina and Toshiro have a lot going for them. Just be prepared to replay levels a lot on higher difficulties.
***Switch code provided by the publisher***
- Cute art
- Interesting mechanics
- Strong themes
- Difficulty varies wildly
- Trial and error gameplay
- Focused on new characters
- Disappointing scripted boss fight