Predicting the next Persona spin-off feels like a fool's game when Atlus goes from fighters to rhythm games, so I'm surprised Persona 5 Tactica didn't come sooner. A strategy RPG entry feels like a natural continuation for the Phantom Thieves, trading away social mechanics for a more contained adventure with cartoony visuals. The new characters steer this story well and despite some minor issues, Tactica delivers a fine follow-up.
Returning to the Metaverse, Tactica ditches the Palaces and Jails for The Kingdoms, each led by authoritarian rulers and their Shadow-like Legionnaires. Finding treasure and infiltration routes is no longer required, though it's an otherwise familiar structure of toppling these tyrants as the Phantom Thieves fight for freedom. The team's joined by Erina, a likeable and spirited Rebel Corp leader, and Toshiro, a politician missing from the real world who slowly grew on me.
Unlike Persona 5 or Strikers, Tactica lacks explorable locations between missions and limits you to each Kingdom's hideout. Activities are mainly limited to group talks, upgrading skills, visiting the Velvet Room or the odd side missions. There's also no traditional equipment system here beyond purchasable guns. It keeps gameplay streamlined, though limiting this to menu navigation is rather dull. Still, Tactica's premise doesn't really suit social gameplay, so this isn't a huge issue, though I would've liked more than some short chats.
Missions advance the story and you'll control three party members across battlefields with tile-based movement. Good enemy variety keeps fights interesting between standard ground units and sumo wrestler-styled Legionnaires that love throwing things. The core mechanics are basic, though. There are no accuracy percentages when attacking, unlike XCOM or Fire Emblem. Everything hits unless the target takes cover, which blocks front-facing attacks and resists damage from other angles, helpfully highlighting when enemies are resistant if you aren't sure. Strong level design ensures ample opportunities to find cover and punishes recklessness, rewarding thoughtful use of environments.
Cover in particular is critical, as anyone in the open becomes vulnerable. Enemies can be forced out of hiding through specific abilities like Zorro's Garu or a melee tackle and attacking exposed foes Downs them. That earns another turn through the 'One More' system and extra turns aren't limited, so maximising the turn economy feels rather satisfying, as is clearing through large swathes of the battlefield before the Legionnaires can even move. Follow-up shots build upon this when you shove enemies off higher platforms with a nearby ally on lower ground, granting an additional One More.
Surrounding downed foes lets you activate Tactica's version of an All-Out Attack, the Triple Threat. Sweeping through maps with individual characters can be fun, though placing your party members into a triangle formation takes that further by decimating everything within range. Either option can quickly change the course of any battle, though Tactica also incentivizes more defensive play through the 'Charge' system. Not using an action adds temporary boosts like greater movement or ignoring cover when shooting enemies, rewarding patience over mindlessly charging in.
Skill knowledge, meanwhile, gets tested through optional quests that offer enjoyably creative tasks. For example, several side missions challenge you to defeat every enemy in one round through clever use of the One More system, often achieved with a Triple Threat. Less complex quests like moving a box to a designated area aren't as challenging, though earning rewards like extra Growth Points (GP) for unlocking new skill tree abilities makes these worthwhile.
Persona abilities have practical improvements like increased damage/range or new support skills, which are fortunately resettable if you take a different approach. However, secondary Personas are the more helpful addition. Joker can't swap between multiple Personas like before. Everyone instead equips a second Persona whose abilities are taken on by the Thieves' default option and existing Personas can be fused in the Velvet Room for higher level choices.
It's a great approach that feels well adapted for this premise and evens out your party's ability customisation. That provides Tactica's gameplay, which can feel slightly basic, even against similarly light tactical games like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, with some necessary depth. The upside here is that relatively short and replayable missions mean Tactica better accommodates more casual play sessions, too.
Thankfully, creative level design compensates for that. Victory requires careful assessment of your environment with hazards ranging from explosive barrels to surveillance cameras. One stage was basically a puzzle as I activated moving platforms to avoid traps. That keeps missions interesting, though a few stages feel repetitive. A 3-star award system for achieving goals like defeating all enemies in a set number of turns adds extra replayability by awarding more money. EXP also applies to the whole team and conveniently means you don't need to keep swapping out characters.
The colourful aesthetic adds considerable character to these locations too. I would've preferred it if Atlus stuck with the original visuals, yet the new art style has its charms. It's a closer match to Persona Q than Persona 5, though character designs are thankfully more proportionate than the chibi dungeon crawler. Despite these differences, Tactica still feels recognizably like Persona 5 and a strong soundtrack with multiple new Lyn songs enhances that.
Between the main story and optional quests, my journey through The Kingdoms ended after roughly 25 hours, with New Game Plus stretching this out further. Final act aside, the story feels well-paced but my biggest complaint is that the Tactica's narrative scope feels inherently limited. Being set in the gap between Persona 5's final boss fight and the ending leaves little room for personal growth; Atlus almost seems afraid to let the Phantom Thieves meaningfully develop.
That doesn't mean the story is terrible, though. While I wish Royal got wider acknowledgment beyond Kasumi and Akechi's DLC, strong performances from the returning voice cast ensure the witty dialogue and good humour remain intact. Tactica shines through Erina and Toshiro, who both provide the narrative heavy-lifting with great character development and a surprisingly personal story that kept me invested. Though Tactica assumes knowledge of Persona 5's events and occasionally references late-game events, you can jump in with minimal prior knowledge.
Persona's never feared testing new directions through its spin-offs and Persona 5 Tactica is one of the better attempts I've seen yet. It could be more ambitious, sure, and P-Studio's newcomer-friendly take on strategy hides enjoyable if sometimes basic combat. Still, an appealing presentation, enjoyable humour, and fine performances help deliver another happy reunion for the Phantom Thieves, though its newcomers are my highlights. Erina and Toshiro make great additions to the universe through an emotive story, helped by great chemistry with the cast. While I'm not sure where Atlus can take the gang next, I'd love to see them all again.