Atlus games' phenomenal Persona 5 has already provided us with a couple of successful spin-offs in the form of Dynasty Warriors crossover Persona 5 Strikers and the rhythm action effort Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight. Now, the Phantom Thieves return for yet another side gig in the form of Persona 5 Tactica, a tactical turn-based adventure that gives us even more excuses to spend time with our coolest pals on Xbox Game Pass.
As we catch up with Joker, Morgana, Ryuiji, Ann and the rest of the crew for this latest outing, we find them hanging out at Cafe LeBlanc when suddenly, mid-gossip, everyone is whisked off to an alternate universe and right into the middle of a great big fight. In this alternate realm a resistance group known as the Rebel Corps is attempting to push back against the mysterious Legionnaires, a military-styled outfit run by Lady Marie, a rather strange and very angry type who seems to be trying to organise the world's most violent wedding.
The Phantom Thieves immediately cross swords with Lady Marie but are soon completely outgunned before being rescued by Erina, a member of the Rebel Corp resistance. It's now up to you to join forces with these rebels, take down Marie and rescue a number of your friends who've been hypnotised into doing her bidding.
Of course, as with any Persona joint, it's as much about the story as it is the fighting, but we don't want to go spoiling any of the surprises in store for fans here, beyond confirming that the narrative in Persona 5 Tactica manages to live up to the series' strong run of form. This is typically well written and acted stuff, as effortlessly charming as ever and, if you've been hankering for a little more from the gang, you're gonna find plenty to delight you over the course of a roughly thirty hour campaign.
As with the series' previous spin-offs, Persona 5 Tactica brings a couple of transformational changes to the core gameplay experience. This time around we're indulging in tactical action that serves up XCOM-style shenanigans whilst also managing to retain the unique flavour of the fifth main entry in the Persona franchise. The combat here is all about movement and positioning, with flanking manoeuvres and sneaky strategies rewarded with powered up attacks and special moves. Where Persona 5 itself focuses on elemental and physical weaknesses on the battlefield, demanding that you use the right attacks on the right enemies at the right time, now the focus is on cover and the benefits it provides, in pulling and pushing foes out of position in order to set them up for big damage.
Right off the bat we're introduced to the usual tactical set-up with aspects such as limited movement and attack ranges that you'll need to consider as you plan what steps you'll take on your turn. There's a nice amount of flexibility in how you can swap between all members of your party at any time, and characters have an impressive range of movement and attacks available to them from the get-go. Once a battle commences you'll need to consider your positioning straight away, it's crucial to get out of the open and use cover to ensure you avoid damage.
From here it's all about moving in on your foes in order to tear them from protected positions, and to do this we can make use of lots of guns for ranged staggers, melee attacks that allow you to shove or punch opponents into the open and a whole bunch of special persona abilities that are specific to each member of your team. This time around the likes of Morgana uses their wind-based Persona abilities to blow foes right out of their covered positions so that teammates can attack them unhindered, rather than having the elemental aspect of the attack be the important part of the manoeuvre.
So far, so straightforward, but it's in the style of how Persona 5 Tactica goes about all of this, in how clever it is about its various systems and how they interlink that makes this such an addictive game to play, it's the sort of tactical effort where we always want just one more battle before we take a break. One of the key aspects to this fun is in the game's "One More Turn" mechanic, which sees you gifted with another move on your current turn if you manage to down an enemy. You can continue to pummel bad guys as long as you get somebody down, and this gives you the opportunity to string together vicious combos of manoeuvres that clear entire battlefields in short order. Thinking ahead and planning how you'll squeeze your foes out into the open is the name of the game and you'll be rewarded with extended attacks, boosts and boons for considering how you tackle enemies carefully.
Settling into a scrap, choosing which members of your squad to roll with and ensuring you've equipped your favourite powers and skills - yes, there's also plenty of unlockable skills and powers to get busy adding to your repertoire - it's first and foremost about reading the environment, choosing who to deal with as a matter of urgency and then whittling down your foes as fast as you can by mixing "one more turn" opportunities with a few other helpful mechanics.
Position your party in just the right triangular formation around an opponent, for example, and you can then down an enemy in order to trigger an explosive all-out attack that can wipe entire platoons off the map. Stand on special highlighted squares during battles and you can regain health or power up an attack, and refraining from attacking in one turn gives you a boost to your attack in the next. All of this shapes the action here into an addictive and enjoyably strategic affair that ramps up nicely as things progress, giving you plenty of ridiculous boss battles and situations to fight your way out of whilst engaging you with the usual high standard of narrative work. It's not the toughest example of the genre out there, make no mistake, but it gives you enough to think about at all times that there's plenty of satisfaction to be wrought from completing its battles with distinction and ticking off any side challenges as you go.
In terms of the action and the story then, Persona 5 Tactica is more of the good stuff from Atlus, but what about that divisive art style? We'll be honest, we've never really been sold on the whole Chibi thing in any game, to the point it was kinda putting us off getting hyped for this one, but thankfully it's all good in practice. As much as the character models aren't really for us, any issues we had with them very quickly took a back seat as Atlus' knack for stylish graphical flourishes, slick world-building and effortlessly charming characters worked its magic.
There are a few minor annoyances here and there; we especially found ourselves tiring of the repeated lines of dialogue from foes during battles, some of the main enemy design is a little drab and occasionally the flow of the action feels disrupted by long conversations and extended periods of downtime, but that's literally all of our slight niggles here. Yes, you could also argue that we've had more than enough of Joker and the gang by now, but honestly as long as it continues to be this rich a vein to tap both narratively, and in terms of gameplay, well, you won't hear us complaining.
Persona 5 Tactica is yet another successful return to this particular well for Atlus, a spin-off that delivers top-notch tactical turn-based action whilst also introducing cool new characters and a brand new story that kept us thoroughly entertained for its duration. If slick tactical action with a signature Phantom Thieves vibe sounds like a fun time to you, this one's got you more than covered. We've already seen a commitment to quality with Persona 5 Strikers and Dancing in Starlight, and this latest spin-off keeps that commitment alive and well. Now...where's Persona 6?
Persona 5 Tactica is another very solid and self-assured spin-off for Atlus' stellar RPG franchise. Placing the Phantom Thieves in tactical turn-based battles works a treat here, with addictive and challenging strategy complimented by a slick sense of style, strong writing and a campaign narrative that will keep fans happy. Whether you're here for Persona specifically or you're just wanting a solid slice of tactical action to dig into, this one has got you well and truly covered.