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Persona, the gift that keeps on giving for developer Atlus, is back with yet another spin-off. This time around, it cribs the tactical turn-based combat pioneered by the venerable likes of XCOM and shackles it to a visual novel to bring us Persona 5 Tactica, a shaky amalgamation of cartoon-like pixels mired in too many shortfalls to pay suitable homage to its inspirations.
Tactica picks up at the tail end of Persona 5. A mysterious door in the LeBlanc cafe beckons, porting out the full cast of Phantom Thieves to a fresh Metaverse heaped with its own set of problems to solve. The gang crew up with rebel leader Erina to take on a wedding-crazed tyrant who’s plied everyone to her will with hypno-magic. From there, it’s your typical Persona narrative fare of saccharine platitudes and cheap-thrill intrigue supplemented by clumsy stereotype waggling. At best, it borders on the circuitous and, at worst, is incomprehensible bunk made up of low-hanging optimism and morality siphoned from those motivational text-only posts plastered across social media.
Part of the problem here is delivery. Your time in Persona 5 Tactica’s loop is divided between combat arenas and visits to LeBlanc, where you can tweak skills, fuse fiddly Personas, and plop down cash for weapons, but mainly sit bleary-eyed as you click through a procession of visual novel-style slides where the thieves thrash out their plans, which is where much of the story unravels. Calling these a slog is being kind. Instead of pithy, contextual setup for fights, they are a chore, not helped by minimal animation and the fact they regularly tally up to 10 minutes or more. Nothing is left to the imagination as the crew considers every angle, option, and opinion before teasing you with a loading screen only to boot you into another inane, soporific discussion.
But sit through these, or take in the first few lines then skip ahead, and Persona 5 Tactica conceals a relatively robust turn-based strategy game. Though by no means challenging, it’s undeniably fun. Unlike genre-adjacent alternatives, Persona 5 Tactica packs in an awful lot of mobility, allowing you to reposition your crew several times within the same turn. Add to that a unique slant on tile-based skirmishes in the form of One More Attacks (bonus moves within the same turn for attacking ‘exposed’ enemies) and Triple Threat All-Out attacks (triangulated AoE attacks that burn the anime out of enemies), and you’re given far more to toy with. You can conceivably chain One More Attacks to wipe out all enemies in a single turn, a possibility on display in the rather excellent optional quests. These do away with the lengthy visual novel intro, introduce tangible difficulty in their rigid win criteria, and confer gratifying eureka moments when you land on the perfect move order.
The combat arenas are repetitive and a little dry, different enemy types are drip-fed to create the illusion of variety as you trudge through the story, and party composition rarely matters all that much, but there’s a puzzle-y veneer to each encounter. That is until you clock that enemies all behave the same, and each level is designed with one or two strict solutions that you’ll need to manoeuvre your fighters towards.
There are other annoyances, too. Later arenas introduce environmental twists, such as trigger buttons to open doors, that, rather than add complexity, are tedious. Though your Phantom Thieves are subject to the same rules as enemies, notably in cover or exposed, the sense of tangible danger or ramping difficulty never ramps up. Hitting Persona 5 Tactica tactical ceiling doesn’t take long. And most encounters are too short; something made worse knowing there’s a chatty visit to LeBlanc around the corner.
Hopping from snappy combat to long, wearisome visits to LeBlanc, Persona 5 Tactica’s pacing is off-kilter, burying away it’s best moments, which don’t soar all that high to begin with. Playing, you’ll pine for fights, but the thought of clicking through slide after slide of dull dialogue may be enough to put you off loading up the game in the first place.
Persona 5 Tactica is best missed by anyone other than those attached to Persona and the glut of spin-offs of questionable quality pumped out by Atlus. If you want to test your strategic nous, a game like the superb Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is a far better shout. And if you’re after more time with the Phantom Thieves, then a replay of Persona 5 is likely a better use of your time.