Persona 5 Tactica is another side-story spin-off to the ridiculously successful Atlus JRPG that sees a group of students (and a cat) with supernatural powers team up to solve threats to their reality that have manifested in a parallel realm influenced by characters’ subconscious fantasies and neuroses. While making for some wacky worlds, Persona 5’s heartfelt and lengthy character narratives set it a cut above for the Japanese roleplaying genre. The addition of the collect-them-all turn-based combat involving mythological incarnations of spirits that could be fused has been a gameplay backbone that has served the series well for over two decades. Also putting Persona 5 recognisably at the top of Atlus’ catalogue is its sound and presentation, with earworm jazz-pop hits and stylised anime visuals making for a sensory delight. All that style is mostly on display here too, with a handful of great tracks from returning artist Lyn and top-notch voice work from the original cast.
Tactica, a turn-based tactical shooter set in small grid-based arenas, takes the recognisable trappings of the Persona 5 phenomenon and fuses them into a gameplay formula very reminiscent of Mario & Rabbids Kingdom Battle. After dancing rhythm games and first-person dungeon-crawling spin-offs, this latest genre blend seems like a no-brainer. Kingdom Battle was a surprisingly unassuming and great turn-based tactical shooter. And Persona 5 is a rich young-adult supernatural mystery with stunning art, style, relatable characters and ambitious storytelling. Tactica should be another great game in a year filled with classics. Instead, I found it to be kind of… Just fine. Not bad, not great.
Sucked into a supernatural realm dubbed the Metaverse, Persona 5’s teenage gang of psychospiritual heroes once again find themselves in a cartoonish wonderland reflecting a villain’s psyche and with no clear way home. While Joker and thief cat Morgana escape, the rest of the Phantom Thieves become enslaved by the realm’s malevolent mistress, Lady Marie. Unprepared and off-guard, the self-appointed rebel leader of this world named Erina shows up to liberate the Phantom Thieves and Marie’s indentured masses.
Fusing Personas into weapons is a neat new touch
The most important question for prospective players may be whether one needs to have finished Persona 5? Nope. Not only does this game take place in some kind of contained side-story removed from the main events of Persona 5, but Tactica rarely touches any of that game’s events beyond the first couple of hours. By holding the player’s hand nice and firm, all players are treated to a beginner-friendly tactics game that makes no assumption of player skill or knowledge and makes every effort to induct players with handy tutorials and neat reference materials. Visually, the game communicates to the player in reds, greens, and yellows and requires almost no systems literacy with the genre to enjoy. With little in the way of luck-based mechanics, the player is always given a fairly clear indication of what their actions will result in, as well as their likely consequences. In borrowing so much from the Mario & Rabbids tactics games, Tactica is founded on solid bones with a formula that could have easily worn the clothes of another Atlus property.
Playing Tactica has you switch between two primary phases of combat and dialogue. Between combat scenarios, players will sit through many hours of static talking head dialogue sequences, mostly without voice acting. During the quarter of the game’s dialogue that is voiced, the returning cast elevates the writing with their familiar, endearing energy. On the other hand is combat, the main meat of this thing. Encounters that constitute the core game will be launched from the hideout, Persona 5’s Leblanc Cafe. Most of these battles play out in sequences of three or four fights before returning to Le Blanc.
Fights will have players choose three characters from the gang to take into battle, each with a particular strength and persona to equip for an additional ability. Like Mario & Rabbids, having three characters go into a fight makes for tense and focused tactical puzzles. The arenas themselves come in four or five pretty bland tilesets across the game’s 30-hour runtime, with only a small handful adding twists to spice up fights. While half of the game’s fights along the critical path will simply involve eliminating all the enemies on the map, this objective is leveraged to show Tactica at its best. Moving Joker, Morgana, and Yosuke between wooden crates to shoot an enemy in the open and unlock a bonus turn, to then manoeuvre the party for a devastating all-out attack is simple yet addictive. Constantly moving your three units around to flank enemies and combo your bonus actions is an excellent core gameplay loop during fights that makes players feel smart. Repeating this loop over 30 hours with too few twists, though? Not so hot.
You will gleefully zero in on enemies out of cover
Variety is the spice that Tactica so sorely needs. Encounters fail to evolve frequently enough over the 50-odd main missions. For every handful of defeat-them-all missions, there might be the occasional survival mission or boss fight. The boss fights are emblematic of this game’s worst issue – a lack of ideas. There are only four or so bosses in the entire game, they’re recycled into the final boss rush, and in both instances are simply over-long fights with too much enemy health. It’s a bit boring, and by hour 15, players can look forward to nothing new being added for the next 15 except perhaps a single enemy type. Of the approximately six enemy types to appear in the game, each new chapter simply gives them a costume change before throwing them back into the fray.
Then there is an issue of tactical depth in Tactica. Unlike genre competitors such as Fire Emblem, the considerations that players make to positioning are largely around taking cover from incoming firepower rather than avoiding compromising terrain types and weaknesses. This is largely fine as Tactica gives players an abundance of information regarding where every unit can move to and attack from. Unfortunately, unlike most games of its ilk, Tactica doesn’t allow you to lock that visual information in or access it at the press of a button. Instead, the player has to enter an analysis mode and flick to a single unit, check and memorise its area of influence, and then get back to planning. This becomes cumbersome to navigate in the busier fights, which can also cause the camera to get stuck behind walls or objects. Casual players and beginners likely won’t notice or mind much of this as the general difficulty doesn’t necessitate tackling these frustrations. Still, anyone looking to dig into the more challenging quests will find these oversights frustrating.
The skill tree is a baffling approximation of what’s in the Mario & Rabbids games
Enjoyed in the same vein as a Saturday morning cartoon, Persona 5 Tactica is welcoming to all and has a pleasantly casual air about it. As a game of two halves, dialogue and turn-based tactical battles, there is little fluff standing in the way of players assembling their team of three Phantom Thieves as they gun their way out of the Metaverse. While Tactica makes no big mistakes, it forgoes bringing new ideas to the table and mostly presents a mundane experience for genre fans.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / Switch / PC
- November 17, 2023