Atlas is no stranger to spin-offs and Persona 5 Tactica, the fifth Persona 5 game, proves that point admirably. But when you’re onto a good thing, what is a spin-off (or four) among friends?
Persona 5 Tactica completely reimagines the Phantom Thieves and their abilities. Where P5 Strikers asked ‘What if this was a Musuo game?’, P5 Tactica asks ‘What if we did XCOM better than XCOM?’.
Set after the final battle with the god Yaldabaoth in the original game, and the dissolution of Mementos as a result, Joker and his gang of rebels find themselves inexplicably thrown back into the Metaverse. However, things are somewhat different — and it’s not just the cutesy chibi art style, though that does serve as a great visual metaphor.
Not only has combat turned tactical, with party members moving in grid form, using area of effect attacks and range-based strategy that couldn’t exist in the main games, but Joker has been stripped of his Wildcard ability to wear whichever Persona he damn well chooses. Losing the one power that makes your character truly unique is a bit of a shock at first, but such a huge departure from the norm shows just how weird things have become.
The Thieves have found themselves in a Kingdom — an entirely separate ‘pocket metaverse’ that is distinct (and distant) from the collective subconscious we’re used to roaming. How and why you’ve found yourself here, and how the two new characters Erina and Toshiro fit into this chaos, are all part of an interesting new narrative that you’ll have to play to discover.
And play it you should, because this is an excellent game, though this is clearly a mini-sequel to Persona 5 and you should absolutely play Persona 5 first. But while the original game (and the ultimate version, Persona 5 Royal) were damn near perfect, this falls more in to the Strikers category of close but no cigar.
The most obvious changes here are to the combat. Beyond the changes to Joker, everyone now gets to ‘junction’ (to put it in Final Fantasy 8 terms) one Persona as a ‘Sub Persona’. This grants boosted stats and up to two additional abilities. How you fuse Personas and fill out your Compendium can therefore have interesting implications for battle. We covered this already in our Persona 5 Tactica preview, so let’s save on the word count.
We have no problem with these changes, but the gripes we do have are two-fold, and can be summed up as ‘menu hell’ and ‘repetitive formula’.
First up: menu hell. When you get back to your Hideout — Sojiro’s café, Leblanc — between missions, you are greeted with a menu with four options: Prep, Hideout, Talk and Mission. This is nothing new, and franchise fans will be used to this. However, for some bizarre reason, certain things are not in the menu locations that you would expect them to be.
The Prep menu is where you will find your sidequests, but not where you need to go if you want to actually do them — that’s the Hideout menu. As for buying guns when prepping for a mission? Well, the Shop is also in the Hideout menu. Want to sell guns? Naturally, that’s not in the Shop menu, but the Velvet Room menu… It makes sense in a roundabout way because Lavenza delivers them to Erina to sell to you from the Hideout and Erina, it seems, does not handle returns. But does it need to be this complicated? Absolutely not.
Combining the Prep and Hideout menus into one and promoting the Velvet Room to the top-level menu would have been more sensible than making us play Menu Manager instead of Persona 5 Tactica.
Then there’s the repetition, and while you could argue that the formula in any franchise is repetitive once established, it’s exacerbated here by what’s come before. In the original game, you find a target, you infiltrate their Palace, you send a calling card, you steal their treasure, repeat. However, each Palace was unique, the enemies were distinct, and the game — all 120+ hours of it — felt continuously fresh.
Here, however, the 30ish hours are spent divided between three Kingdoms that, while they look visibly distinct, are basically reskins of the one before. The enemy units wear a different uniform, and the second and third Kingdom add a new infantry type to be aware of, but things get formulaic so swiftly that even the Phantom Thieves make jokes about how bored they’re getting with the repetition.
Note to all game devs everywhere: please stop calling out your own shortcomings mid-game. It does not make you quirky and fun — it highlights what you’re doing wrong and makes it more painful for everyone involved. Please stop doing this, so we can stop writing the same thing each time you do it.