About five hours into Persona 5 Tactica, the tactical RPG spin-off of the Phantom Thieves’ supernatural adventures through corrupted Tokyo, I find myself thinking about Persona 5 Royal more than what’s going on in this group’s latest adventure. This is less a condemnation of Tactica than it is the broader handling of Persona 5 and all its spin-offs and extended media since the original game launched in 2016.
Tactica is fine enough so far. As we talked about in our last preview, the tactical combat riffs on Persona’s established turn-based mechanics by retooling them for a position-based, strategic battle system that is a bit simple at first, but ramps up a few hours in. The soundtrack is full of bangers, including new songs performed by Persona 5’s signature vocalist Lyn and remixes of old tracks. Plus, it’s always a delight to see Joker, Ryuji, and all their friends once again.
Much of what I’ve played in the first five hours is what I saw back in August, save for a few more story beats. The mysteries aren’t that juicy thus far, but I won’t spoil them here. Instead, I’m reflecting Persona 5’s family of spin-offs, and how Tactica falls into the same traps every game before it fell into, but I’m hopeful it might crawl out of it by the end.
With rumors of Persona 6 floating around, every time I see the Phantom Thieves feels like it could be my last, and that means wrestling with what I want out of a Persona 5 spin-off, and wondering why they haven’t hit the same as the original.
Persona 5’s spin-offs’ story struggles
Tactica ignores the new conclusion added in Royal by conveniently taking place during the original story, rather than adding onto it. It doesn’t go as far as the Strikers does by pretending Royal never happened, but it does seem hellbent on not acknowledging anything that came from the “definitive” ending of the beloved RPG so far. Persona 5 Royal launched three years after the original and is the version that was ported to every other platform under the sun. Its new finale put the Phantom Thieves on different paths that felt like a profound way to conclude the original story, introduced characters who added to the Phantom Thieves’ tale, and added a redemption arc for a villain the base game only hinted at.
After all that setup, Persona 5’s spin-offs have done everything in their power to push Royal, its new characters, and new arcs out of the collective consciousness. The series has found ways around moving Persona 5’s story forward, whether that be through Strikers not taking place within the Royal timeline or, Tactica, Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, and Dancing in Starlight all slotting within a story that’s already been told. Why did I play another 120 hours if we were all just going to forget it happened?
Persona 3 and 4’s casts got farewells in spin-off games that gave us a sense of who they would become, whereas Persona 5’s cast feels frozen in amber, unable to be more than they were at the end of base Persona 5. And Royal’s ending has been pretty much relegated to a profound “what if” scenario. Seeing the Phantom Thieves in Tactica is like meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in a long time—but that’s like every time I get to play a new Persona 5 game (of which there are now five), so it’s starting to feel like seeing friends who I’m slowly running out of things to talk about with. Nothing has changed since we last saw each other, even if their chibi art style is different and the standard turn-based combat has been replaced with a tactical battle system that feels overly simple in the shadow of Baldur’s Gate 3.
Persona 5 Tactica may have some of that story progression waiting at the end, and given that Akechi and Royal add-on character Sumire are stars of the game’s day-one DLC Repaint Your Heart, it at least confirms that Tactica takes place within Royal’s canon. But it, once again, slotting into the margins of Persona 5’s story instead of being additive has reignited this particular frustration. It also has me wondering what I want out of a Persona 5 spin-off—and if I even want more of them.
For the last decade, I’ve been perfectly content to eat up whatever Persona spin-off Atlus and P-Studio wanted to crank out. I adore the Dancing games, Persona 4 Arena is an all-timer, I would have loved a Persona 5 fighting game, and the Q games were a low-stakes, fan-servicey romp through some really well-designed dungeons. But Persona 5’s spin-offs are caught in a weird place—they feel like they’re just offering more of fan-favorite characters without ever actually doing anything with them, locking them in an eternal stasis, a prison of perpetuity.
Am I outgrowing a cast developer Atlus refuses to let grow up? I hope not. But it does make me wonder if it’s maybe time to just move on to the next thing, as much as I don’t want to say goodbye yet.
We’ll have a full review up ahead of Persona 5 Tactica’s November 17 launch on PC, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Switch.