Persona 5 Tactica changed my mind about tactical RPGs — here’s why

Playing Persona 5 Tactica on the Xbox Series S with an Xbox Elite Core controller
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
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There’s never been a better time to be a gamer and with so many big games like Tears of the Kingdom, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Baldur’s Gate 3, 2023 could go down in history as one of the best years for gaming yet.

While it’s hard to find the time (and the money) to work your way through all of 2023's biggest hits even with some great Black Friday sales on Xbox games and PS5 games, there’s one thing that has certainly helped me try more games than ever this year: Xbox Game Pass. Back in September, I used Microsoft’s cloud gaming service to play Starfield and even a bit of Lies of P before moving on to Super Mario Bros. Wonder on the Nintendo Switch.

One of my favorite things about Xbox Game Pass is that you don’t feel compelled to buy any of the games you download. Instead, you can try out a game and if it’s not for you, you just uninstall it and move on. Xbox Game Pass also gives you day-one access to new games so that you can play along with everyone else at the same time and not have to worry about stumbling upon spoilers online.

I’m now a huge fan of the Persona series after working my way through Persona 4 on PC and then Persona 5 on PlayStation. While I haven’t really taken a liking to tactical RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics or XCOM2 in the past, when I heard Atlus was making another Persona 5 spin off, I knew I wanted to give it a shot. 

As the name suggests, Persona 5 Tactica is a tactical RPG set in the world of Persona 5 with all of the characters I know and love after putting more than 100 hours into the original game and its enhanced version, Persona 5 Royal. I got a review code from Atlus a few days ago so that I could be well versed in the game and everything it has to offer before its November 17 arrival on Xbox Game Pass.

Here’s what I think about Persona 5 Tactica so far and why it convinced me to give tactical RPGs another try.

Getting the gang back together again

The Phantom Thieves in Cafe Leblanc at the beginning of Persona 5 Tactica

(Image credit: Atlus)

I’m not going to go into the whole story of Persona 5, but suffice it to say, it involves a teenager who moves from a small town in Japan to Tokyo. There, he quickly makes some new friends at his local high school and together, they join forces to become the Phantom Thieves who steal the hearts of corrupt adults.

Persona 5 Tactica takes place between the second and third semesters of Persona 5 Royal after the Phantom Thieves defeat the main boss of Persona 5. Yeah, the whole Persona series is quite complicated and one of the main reasons for this is that Atlus always released an enhanced version of each mainline title in the series. However, the Japanese game publisher is also known for releasing a number of different spin offs from Persona fighting games all the way to Persona dancing games. This is Atlas’ first attempt at a tactical RPG set in the Persona universe, though.

The main characters from Persona 5 Royal in their Phantom Thieves disguises in Persona 5 Tactica

(Image credit: Atlus)

Although Persona 5 Tactica starts off on a relaxing note with all of the game’s characters hanging out in Café Leblanc on a snowy day, a magical door suddenly appears that takes them to an entirely new world. Much like the Metaverse in Persona 5 proper, this new world is filled with enemies the Phantom Thieves will have to take down. However, instead of being a traditional, turn-based JRPG like the rest of the mainline games in the series, all of the fighting in Persona 5 Tactica plays out on large, traversable maps.

Persona 5 Tactica is much shorter than traditional Persona games, which can often take up to 100 hours or more to complete. But you’re still going to need to set aside some time if you want to see the game to its conclusion, as it takes anywhere between 30 to 40 hours to beat. It starts with a slow burn, too, as the game needs to introduce all of its new characters, enemies and systems. Just getting through the intro and moving onto the game’s first real missions took me about 2 hours.

A tactical RPG that feels like Persona 5

Playing Persona 5 Tactica on a TV with the Xbox Elite Core controller

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Persona 5 Tactica may be a tactical RPG, but as it’s set in the same world to Persona 5 (or at least, a really similar one), I immediately felt right at home. I think what held me back the most from really getting into other tactical RPGs I’ve tried in the past is that they didn’t have the same level of storytelling and world building I’ve grown accustomed to in RPGs. However, with a cast of characters and a story I’m already quite familiar with, it was easy to become immediately immersed in Persona 5 Tactica.

I didn’t need to learn any of the names or back stories of the main characters from Persona 5 and this freed up my brain to pay greater attention to the new characters in Tactica like Erina who’s the leader of the Rebel Corps. Since I already had a handle on the story and how Persona 5 plays, I was able to dedicate more of my time and effort into understanding what makes Tactica different. There’s actually quite a lot, though there are plenty of similarities when it comes to the attacks and spells used in battle.

Fighting on vertical platforms in Persona 5 Tactica

(Image credit: Atlus)

One thing I really like about Persona 5 Tactica so far is that it adds a new level of verticality to the gameplay the series is known for. In some of the missions, you’ll need to take the high ground to gain an advantage over all of the enemies on the battlefield. This makes it easier to attack the ones on the ground, but you can also easily move between elevated platforms using red and white Dash points like the one seen in the screenshot above in the top right corner.

Deciding whether you want to be on the ground or up on a platform makes you think about your battle strategy more tactically. While being high up can give you an advantage, the same goes for enemies positioned on platforms. They’re harder to attack and are better able to resist any damage you may inflict upon them.

If you’re familiar with how battles work in other Persona games, you’ll be right at home here as Persona 5’s “One More” system makes a return. When you hit an enemy with an attack they’re weak to, not only do you get an extra turn to attack but you can also move around the battlefield to seek cover or line yourself up for your next turn. 

Besides defeating all of the enemies on the battlefield, some missions will require that you get your entire party to a particular location or just a single character you’re escorting to a certain spot. This helps mix up the gameplay a bit, and there are also rewards to be had for completing a mission in a set number of turns or without taking damage or letting any of your characters get knocked out.

An example of a Triple Threat group attack in Persona 5 Tactica

(Image credit: Atlus)

All Out Attacks also make a return, but they work a bit differently in Persona 5 Tactica where they’re called Triple Threat attacks. However, instead of knocking every enemy down to initiate one, you instead need to position your players around them to form a triangle. Then you can unleash a devastating attack complete with its own animation that more than likely will take out every enemy within the triangle.

I’ve literally just scratched the surface when it comes to Persona 5 Tactica but I’m already impressed by just how much fun I’m having playing a tactical RPG. Sure, the characters look a bit more childish as this game uses a chibi art style like games from the Persona Q series on the Nintendo 3DS. However, with the way the stages are laid out, it works quite well. I’m planning to spend the rest of my weekend sinking my teeth into the latest Persona game so that I’ll be ready for the release of Persona 3 Reload early next year.

Persona 5 just keeps sucking me back in

A picture of Persona 5 Royal running in handheld mode on the Switch

(Image credit: Future)

Just when I think I’m done with Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves and their exploits always find another way to suck me right back in. I picked up the original version of Persona 5 at a steep discount for the PlayStation 4 a few years ago but I didn’t get around to playing it until after I finished Persona 4 Golden on PC. 

I loved every minute of making my way through Persona 5 and when I finally put the controller down, I wanted more. Fortunately, Atlus decided to bring the enhanced version of the game to the Nintendo Switch and the Xbox Series X/S last year which gave me a chance to play Persona 5 Royal on the Switch. In between the ending of Persona 5 proper and Persona 5 Royal though, there’s actually a direct sequel called Persona 5 Strikers that drops the series’ turn-based combat for a brand new hack-and-slash (musou in Japanese) battle system similar to the Dynasty Warriors franchise.

If you’re eagerly awaiting the next mainline entry in the Persona series, you have plenty of spin-offs to play in the meantime with Persona 5 Tactica being the latest one. However, we may even see a fighting game starring the Phantom Thieves before then. If you haven’t played Persona 5 Royal yet though, you’re going to want to get to at least the beginning of the third semester before jumping into Persona 5 Tactica.

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Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.