Hands on Persona 5 Tactica: Your gateway game into Tactical RPGs

A tactics tutorial

Erina in Persona 5 Tactica

Persona 5 Tactica continues a fascinating tradition of Persona spinoffs that want to break you into new genres.

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this that I realized how wild the Persona brand has gotten. I mean, sure, every big brand has to have a Musou eventually. And you can see the RPG throughline that connects Persona with the Etrian Odyssey-style Persona Q. But a fighting game set in the Persona universe? A collection of rhythm games based on Persona soundtracks? The crazy part is, no matter what direction Persona spinoffs take, they always seem to land strong and find fans. Heck, I know a guy who’s chomping at the bit for a Persona 5 fighting game, even though he’s since graduated to fighters like Guilty Gear and Street Fighter.

I say all this to set the stage for what kind of game Persona 5 Tactica is. During my recent trip to a Sega event, I spent a while with the series’ next tactical RPG. As a Devil Survivor fan, I was eager to see what Atlus came up with here. And after playing the game, I can certainly say that Devil Survivor is not a good comparison for Persona 5 Tactica. However, while I still need to see how the full game pans out, I think Tactica could easily find similar success to the spinoff titles that came before it.

Ren Amamiya with Morgana
Screenshot via Sega

New story, same great taste

So, I need to take this opportunity to make a deep, dark confession. I never played Persona 5. I know that’s appalling for a self-proclaimed RPG fan like me. It was just one of those games that wasn’t available on a platform I had on hand for the longest time, and now I lack the time for a massive RPG outside of work. I know, I’m a very, very bad Persona fan.

However, I’m happy to report Persona 5 Tactica is plenty easy to follow without playing the source material. It sets the stage for a new storyline right off the bat, moving quickly from the outset. And while the game doesn’t bother reintroducing main characters, I grasped the finer details from context. Only a couple terms were unfamiliar to me, but in short, don’t feel like you need to finish Persona 5 to understand or appreciate this one.

The story bits didn’t take themselves too seriously from what I saw. The game uses Visual Novel sequences to set the stage, with a few cutscenes sprinkled in once I got into the thick of things. Tactica’s tone felt silly and fun, which I was on board with. But even if you’re allergic to stories, you won’t waste too much time before getting into the meat of the experience.

Cover System in Persona 5 Tactica
Screenshot via Sega

Take cover!

During my session with Persona 5 Tactica, I sampled a handful of missions from the earliest section of the game. These were very much tutorial stages, so keep that in mind.

In the first stage of the game, you’ll abundantly learn one lesson: take cover. Persona 5 Tactica fills its maps with boxes both big and small, shaping the field for tactical play. Enemies hide behind boxes and take shots at you, which you can dodge completely if you’re out of their line of sight. Conversely, player characters can snipe foes from behind cover as long as they can at least clip an enemy. Deciding where to park party members immediately became a consistent choice at the start of each mission.

It helps that the game follows traditional Fire Emblem rules with its turn order. By that, I mean you’ll move all your units before declaring an end to your turn, the enemy will do the same, rinse and repeat. While you have full analogue control of a character as you move them, this one is 100% as tile-based as any other tactical RPG. This only got a little confusing when my characters’ attack range was visualized by a circle around them. The design made it slightly unclear whether I could hit certain enemies, but I imagine I’d get used to this quirk quickly in the full game.

Triple threat in Persona 5 Tactica
Screenshot via Sega

Here’s our chance for an all-out attack!

For the most part, your raw damage dealing revolves around ranged attacks. In Tactica, that means relying on guns, though you have your classic Shin Megami Tensei Garu and Bufu spells to nuke foes fast. Initially, I figured melee attacks would just act as extra powerful hits, but that isn’t quite the case here.

Since Persona 5 Tactica revolves so heavily around cover, repositioning enemies comes in clutch. This is where melee attacks come in. By striking an enemy, you’ll move them several tiles in front of you, Play your cards right, and you’ll make your foe vulnerable so your other units can quickly nuke them from the safety of their respective cover. Tactical RPG fans know that party strategies are core to any genre title, but they’re really important to Tactica. If you don’t plan carefully, you can waste turns repositioning your party while the enemy takes easy shots at you.

To drive the party synergy concept home, Persona 5 Tactica integrates all-out attacks from the main series. Here, it calls them Triple Threats. Basically, if your units can make a triangle around an unlucky enemy, they can unleash a combo attack. During my demo playthrough, this pretty much meant an instant KO. I will say I was never sure just how strict or loose the positioning requirements were here. It’s possible that years of making Triangle Attacks work in Fire Emblem made me overthink this. Either way, it is a nifty concept, I just wanted to optimize it more than I did.

Similarly, units can sacrifice turns to charge themselves up for the next turn. This comes with its own unique mechanics, which the game’s tutorial messages really wanted me to use. So in short, while I didn’t necessarily have a ton of attacks in these early stages, I did see enough choices to keep the experience interesting. Everything served a unique function, so the basics were easy to learn. But I quickly saw how striving for perfection could become its own rewarding challenge.

Skill tree system in Persona 5 Tactica
Screenshot via Sega

Signs of things to come

As I poked around in menus, I caught a glimpse of a skill tree system for each character. This didn’t look particularly intensive, so I don’t think anyone will need to Google “Morgana build guide” or anything. But it was nice to see some customization on the table for those who like decking out their team in tactical RPGs.

Additionally, each stage came with its own set of challenges to complete. These resembled the type of challenges you’d find in typical mobile games. For example, “Clear the stage in 4 turns” or “Take damage less than 3 times.” I felt perfectly fine with this since it veered closer toward throwing genre veterans a bone without alienating casual audiences. The game comes with several difficulty options, so I imagine the game could get wild if you want it to.

Otherwise, it was hard to get a feel for how the game will pan out in the long run. I can see the potential for greater depth later on, but I had fun messing around in these early stages. A Sega representative told me Persona 5 Tactica should last for roughly 40 hours, which seemed like a sweet spot. Compared to some tactical RPGs, that might sound like chump change. But I’d say 40 hours is enough for anyone to sink their teeth into the game without getting overwhelmed, which I imagine is what Tactica is going for.

Casting Garu
Screenshot via Sega

Alright, Persona 5 Tactica, you got me

Overall, I think Persona 5 Tactica is one to watch out for. Its combat felt immediate and fun, with layouts that made me think without ever really taxing me. And in the few places I was able to pull off a unique strategy the game didn’t necessarily point me towards, I did feel generally rewarded. I do wonder if the cover system will feel as prominent in the later game as it did in these early stages, but that’s my only major concern here. Not because it wasn’t fun, I just hope the game has more tricks up its sleeves to keep things interesting.

How Persona 5 Tactica will rank in the proud tradition of Persona spinoffs, I can’t say yet. But it offers a unique flavor of tactical RPGs that felt overflowing in its accessibility, which is enough to catch my interest. Sometimes I just want a quick Tactical fix without getting as hard into the number crunching, and it looks like Tactica will fill that niche nicely. Is it Devil Survivor? No. But Persona isn’t exactly Shin Megami Tensei either, and that’s how it found such an endearing identity. So unless the full game stumbles in any major way, I think this will be a good time for RPG fans.

Persona 5 Tactica will launch on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch on November 17.

About The Author
Timothy Monbleau
Guide Editor - Timothy started writing community blogs for Destructoid in 2012. He liked it so much he decided to write articles for the site professionally. His love for RPGs and the Ys series will endure forever.
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