Since the twilight years of the PS2, I’ve always been a fan of the Persona games. It’s fair to say we get more spin-offs than mainline titles in this stylish RPG series though, and they aren’t always exactly the kind of game I want them to be. I’ll never turn down a rhythm game or Musou inspired game personally, but when a Persona fighting game releases I always get a bit sad that I’ll have to skip a game in one of my favourite series. Persona 5 Tactica combines all those beloved monster summoning teens with grid based tactics gameplay, and is so much more than just another spin-off.
Set after the events of Persona 5, this new story starts with all the teens hanging together at the coffee shop – trying to fit in those last precious memories before most of them head off into the world of higher education. Well unfortunately for them they get sucked into another world instead, which is ruled by a powerful pink monster woman called Marie. With her magic she charms most of the cast to become her slaves, and without the help of new character Erina our protagonist and Morgana would’ve been done for too. Determined to get your friends back and help out Erina’s world, you join the resistance and set about saving the day.
For this preview I was only able to play the first three to four hours of the game, but already I was able to see the quality of the writing that you’d expect from a Persona game. Persona 5 Tactica also has that style that this series is well known for, with every single menu and HUD element beautifully designed with bold colours. In every way that’s important this feels like a mainline Persona game, but with grid battling instead of turn-based scraps.
In all of the battles I played in Tactica I was able to pick three characters to take on the enemies, and on each of my turns could move and attack with them. That’s where the similarities to other tactics games end though. The focus in Persona 5 Tactica is on cover, either using it to negate damage from enemy gunfire or finding ways to force enemies out of it. This is usually done by using a melee attack to push them out in the open (but can also involve explosive barrels or special abilities) which makes them vulnerable on the next hit. Once you’ve exposed a baddie your next character can knock them down with their attack, and then gets a free turn themselves for their trouble. Each stage is almost like a puzzle where you try to figure out the best way to keep your turn going as long as possible, and when you nail it it feels amazing.
There’s another great reason to knock down an enemy though, and that’s so you can unleash an All-Out Attack. Once you down an enemy, if your entire team is surrounding them you can use this powerful ability to deal massive damage to every monster in the triangle shaped area in between them. Once you get used to this you’ll be able to take out hordes of enemies at once instead of shooting and slapping them individually, and it’s ridiculously satisfying.
Now it wouldn’t be a Persona game without the Personas themselves, and those badass/adorable monsters are here to help the team too. The main things your Persona provides you are spells to use in battle, which can deal massive damage to the enemy and will usually inflict a status effect (like making them forget what they were going to do on their turn) that will help you overcome the odds. Each character has a different Persona you can level up via a skill tree between fights, and by the end of the preview portion I’d given my main character a spell that attacked a huge area, and my new buddy Erina the power to heal everyone in a pinch. I can’t wait to get everyone fully kitted out as I progress further, because all the options looked really exciting.
As well as having their usual Persona equipped, each character (not just Joker) can now also equip a Sub Persona too for extra abilities and stats. This is all done in the Velvet Room, which returns bringing with it all the monster fusing you desire. For winning fights you’re given cogs that contain different Personas, and as long as your party is a high enough level you can fuse them together to make stronger monsters with higher stats and better abilities. Each Persona you fuse can also keep a skill from the ones you made it from, so if there’s a power you just don’t want to lose then you can just keep inheriting it as you go. It’s just another element of Persona 5 Tactica that I can’t wait to dive into going forward.
What impressed me most during my short time with Persona 5 Tactica though, is the sheer variety in the combat. The first hour or so gave me time to figure out the basic mechanics, and then just as I thought I’d mastered everything the game added explosive barrels. Then in the next mission I received a special attack meter and a load of extra powerful abilities, then the next set of stages introduced elevation which gives you a huge advantage over enemies on the floor. The game adds new elements for you to experiment with at the perfect pace, and the difficulty on Normal (with plenty of other options to switch between if needed) felt just right for me.
Persona 5 Tactica has really impressed me in its opening hours, and is looking like it could easily be one of the best spin-offs this series has produced. The combat involves so much more than your average Tactics game, and the style and story have me hooked already. As the year winds down, Persona 5 Tactica is looking to explode with one more beautiful burst of gaming goodness that you don’t want to miss.
Persona 5 Tactica is coming to PC and Consoles on November 16th. We played on Nintendo Switch.