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Morgana, Joker, Ana and the rest of the Phantom Thieves prepare to be surrounded in Persona 5 Tactica Image: P-Studio/Sega

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Persona 5 Tactica can’t sustain the revolution

XCOM-like skirmishes propel the spinoff to an unsatisfying conclusion

At first blush, I considered Persona 5 Tactica an unnecessary encore for the Phantom Thieves. They already got a sequel in Persona 5 Strikers, and a definitive edition that doubled as a gut-punch farewell in Persona 5 Royal. Moreover, Atlus has begun to place its attention on remakes and remasters of the series’ older games, while slowly passing the torch to the likes of Metaphor: ReFantazio and the eventual sixth Persona installment. The deeper I dug into Tactica, though, the more convinced I became that the Thieves’ message can still resonate — even if it’s still mired in the same poisonous tropes.

The events of the XCOM-like begin right before the culmination of the original Persona 5 plot, as the crew of vigilantes are set on parting ways with one another. As they discuss how to spend their last weeks together, a mysterious door appears within the by-now-famous Café LeBlanc. All of a sudden, the group is in a new Metaverse — the facade is a far cry from Tokyo’s sprawling alleyways and dim subway stations. In a matter of minutes, the Thieves are at it again, confronting an oppressive ruler tormenting the inhabitants of a medieval town. Erina, the leader of the Rebel Corps and one of the new playable characters, quickly invites them to join the revolution against the tyrant; the Thieves, expecting Erina may know of a way for them to get back home, accept.

Ann selects between several different attack types in Persona 5 Tactica Image: Studio-P/Sega via Polygon

In terms of structure, Tactica is quite mechanical. In a departure from Persona 5 and its previous spinoffs, you won’t be partaking in any sort of calendar-based activities. Tactica’s story is told mostly in visual novel fashion, with cutscenes occasionally intersecting the turn-based strategy portion of the experience. The latter takes you through increasingly more difficult scenarios with rather simplistic objectives, such as defeating all enemies or traversing from point A to B as an entire squad. In between missions, you’re free to purchase weapons, fuse personas, and spend experience points in (fairly similar) skill trees for each character. Aside from optional conversations and the ability to replay past missions, there’s a limited number of side quests that play like one-off puzzles (defeat all enemies in a single turn, etc.), which are rewarding in their own right — they’re even fun just to plan for.

Even without many side activities in which to partake, the core tactical experience is enthralling, maintaining a balanced pace where there’s always a new ability, enemy type, or level mechanic introduced right when each mission ramps up. In the 22 hours it took me to hit the credits (aside from a tedious last stretch where you repeat past encounters and their respective puzzles), Tactica’s challenges kept me on my toes without ever making combat feel too easy or overly complex. (I played on normal difficulty.) It’s not genre-bending by any means, but elements like free movement while switching between characters without being forced to commit to a premature plan on the grid — and successively aligning members to allow for powerful team moves — never stopped being satisfying.

The Phantom Thieves hang out and chat in Cafe Leblanc in Persona 5 Tactica Image: Studio-P/Sega via Polygon

And while the lack of ancillary missions hinders the feeling of constant progress that Persona 5, XCOM 2, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses encapsulate so well, Tactica provides just enough variety in its tactical options to keep things fresh along the otherwise linear journey. Elemental weapons and weaknesses, varied team compositions, and persona fusion all provide chances for you to experiment. My favorite team comp consists of Haru, Yusuke, and Morgana. Haru’s grenade launcher targets an area instead of just one enemy, while her Psy skills not only deal damage, but also drag foes outside of cover, leaving them exposed to follow-up attacks. Yusuke’s ability to freeze became paramount during the last few levels when you can be easily surrounded by multiple groups, while his assault rifle covers a long distance. Then, Morgana brought the group together as the de facto healer after investing in his Media skill tree. I also learned that Morgana’s use of Garu, which pushes enemies back on the grid, is super helpful in dealing with brute-type units, who thrive on close-quarters counterattacks.

Ultimately, however, the main attraction of Tactica is its story. Much like Hi-Fi Rush at the beginning of the year, the narrative beats, perhaps inevitably, echo current events: the SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike, union organization efforts across multiple companies, including Sega of America, and, to an extent, the global protests demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.

The Phantom Thieves prepare a group attack in Persona 5 Tactica Image: Studio-P/Sega via Polygon

It’s unfortunate, then, to witness yet another story that can’t shake off Persona 5’s usual narrative shenanigans. In the original RPG, and most of its spinoffs, Atlus hinted that it may, for once, go the extra mile when condemning the millionaires and corrupted politicians it places in its plot. But the series’ long-running conservatism, as well as its propensity to place all of the blame on a misanthropic deity, have always gotten in the way of meaningful commentary. In Tactica, characters spend half of the time talking about helping fellow “comrades” to fight not just shitty adults, but also problems like oppression and constant surveillance. The intention is as subtle as the message in Latin on the flag Erina carries (which roughly translates to “If you want peace, win it yourself”). Seeing the last portion of the story taking a safe route to wrap things up, however, as well as now-established tropes like the ongoing sexualization of mainstay Ann, diminish the efforts substantially.

It’s almost ironically fitting for a bulk of the narrative to revolve around Toshiro Kasukabe, a member of the fictional depiction of the National Diet and future prime minister, who gets tangled in the Metaverse Eras Tour with the Thieves. He’s slowly inspired by the rebellion, while some backstory beats make him a character worth rooting for on a human level. Yet, without spoiling any plot reveals, even Toshiro himself realizes that one “good apple” can’t overthrow corruption. The delivery of Tactica’s allegory isn’t one to take at face value. But it serves as a reminder that solidarity enacts change — whether you’re waving a flag or wearing a red leather suit.

Persona 5 Tactica will be released on Nov. 16 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on Series X using a pre-release download code provided by Sega. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.