After spending time with Persona 5 Tactica, the upcoming tactics-based spin-off reuniting the Phantom Thieves for another adventure, I’m intrigued by how P-Studio has recontextualized long-time mechanics for a different subgenre. I got hands-on time with the game alongside a separate demo of Persona 3 Reload, and playing the remake of the original PlayStation 2 RPG that defined the series’ future was an interesting juxtaposition to Tactica.
Like most Persona spin-offs, Tactica takes place somewhere in the midst of Persona 5’s timeline. Its setting is defined enough to circumvent plot deaths so you can have the whole band back together for another supernatural romp, but vague enough that it could conceivably take place any time in the idle days before Canon Shit goes down. This time around, the Phantom Thieves find themselves trapped in a Medieval-inspired world overrun by demonic shadows and overseen by an authoritarian rule. Ever the do-gooders, the Phantom Thieves ally with Erina, a member of a revolutionary group attempting to take back their world.
I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Erina to get a sense of her personality and dynamic within the group. She’s clearly strong-willed and determined to overthrow the powers that be, but I’m interested to see how she interacts with the established dynamic of the Phantom Thieves. Historically, Persona spin-off characters have been hit or miss, and it’s hard not to feel like they’re crashing the party when I’d rather just see the main cast again. But characters like Labrys from the Arena games have stood tall alongside old favorites, so I’m keeping an open mind. (Speaking of keeping an open mind, I’m still trying to parse how I feel about Tactica’s art style. I liked the chibi style of the Persona Q games, but this time around, it feels like P-Studio is exaggerating the proportions of their extremities, and it’s giving Gumby. I’m not writing it off entirely, but it’s definitely not my favorite stylistic choice for the spin-offs.)
While I left the Tactica demo hesitant about some aspects of the spin-off, the one thing I was immediately sold on was the tactics combat. While it doesn’t seem quite as deep as XCOM or Baldur’s Gate 3, I was impressed with how it remixes old Persona mechanics to fit a more position-based battle system. The usual pillars of Persona combat like elemental affinities and weaknesses are gone, in their place are displacement and cover mechanics. Mainline Persona battles can often be quick spats where you identify the enemy’s elemental weaknesses, knock them down with well-placed spells, then use a stylish All Out Attack to take them all out. Tactica feels much more methodical, and I’m interested to see how the game balances longer fights with the more traditional RPG grind of other games.
Tactica fights are all about exposing an enemy from cover and keeping yourself out of sight. As each of the Phantom Thieves has a ranged weapon, there’s a focus on placing a character behind cover, firing from a safe place, and trying to drive an enemy into the open. Morgana, the (not a) cat mascot who specializes in wind spells, no longer uses his abilities to strike enemies with a weakness to that element, but instead summons gusts that sweep an enemy out into the open. Joker, our soft-spoken protagonist, can inflict the Despair status on enemies, which will make them more susceptible to a displacing melee attack. Even environmental hazards around the field like explosive barrels are geared toward blowing a foe out of cover. The damage from the explosion is just a secondary perk.
Given its shift in genre, it’s natural that Tactica would require me to rethink the mechanics I’ve been using for years, but I was still delighted at just how much it gutted and remixed Persona systems. While the position-based strategies took the forefront of the demo I was able to play, I’m interested to see just what kinds of strategies I can make as I learn more about these altered systems when Persona 5 Tactica comes to PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Switch on November 17.