Persona 5 Tactica Proves It’s Time to Retire the Phantom Thieves
Time for something new.
Persona 5 is the game that catapulted the franchise to mainstream success, garnering immense critical praise and becoming the best-selling game in the franchise in mere days. It makes sense that Atlus has tried to capitalize off that success in the years since, bringing back The Phantom Thieves for multiple new adventures. However, with the release of the latest spinoff, Persona 5 Tactica, it might finally be time to retire the team once and for all. While Tactica brings an interesting strategic spin to the series’ trademark gameplay, I can’t help but feel like the Phantom Thieves are played out, and their roles in this story could have been filled by pretty much anyone.
The Persona 5 timeline is incredibly strange: there are multiple spinoffs that happen in quick succession but take place in “alternate” worlds. Persona Q2 is set sometime during the Casino Palace of the main game, Dancing in Starlight happens sometime near the end of the game, and now Tactica takes place between the second and third semesters. That’s not even including Strikers, which takes place after the original, as well as the new content in Persona 5 Royal.
All of these stories tend to hit a lot of the same narrative themes, like breaking free of the constraints society puts on you. Of course, each of the Phantom Thieves has already gone through immense personal growth in Persona 5, coming to recognize the found family they’ve created as well as their role in the world.
The more we see the Phantom Thieves appear, the more it lessens the impact of the lesson learned in Persona 5, especially when these spinoffs continue to not have any bearing on the main game as they take place in “separate” worlds. That’s never been more true than with Persona 5 Tactica, where it almost feels like the main cast is going through the motions.
The thing that immediately becomes apparent in Tactica is that the brand-new characters are far more interesting than The Phantom Thieves. Erina is an inhabitant of the new environment the party finds themselves in, leading a revolution against a despotic leader named Marie. It’s a hostile world whose citizens walk on eggshells for fear of being punished. Meanwhile, Toshiro Kusakabe is a young member of the National Diet, expected to be the next Prime Minister of Japan. The story arcs for these two characters are compelling, especially as you see both of their ideals tie together into the game’s main theme, about how solidarity can exact meaningful change against oppression.
That being said, it completely feels like The Phantom Thieves are just along for the ride. Their role could have been filled by literally anyone. There’s very little here that forwards the development of characters like Ryuji, Ann, Yusuke, or Makoto. Obviously, The Phantom Thieves are a known quantity for fans, and seeing them will draw in people who played Persona 5. But it seems like Persona 5 Tactica’s story could have been made stronger if it featured a cast of original characters, but still had the hallmarks of Persona.
Frustratingly, this is the exact same thing that happened with Persona 5 Strikers, where the story revolved around two brand-new characters, Zenkichi and Sophia, and The Phantom Thieves were simply there to accentuate that. Of course, we won’t be seeing Strikers or Tactica’s new characters outside of those respective games, which is a shame.
In a way, it almost feels like The Phantom Thieves are holding back Tactica from being more ambitious with its storytelling or introducing unique new elements, which is what each mainline Persona game does so well.
The Phantom Thieves are undoubtedly all fantastic characters, but they’ve had their time in the sun, and it seems like Atlus has run out of ideas for what to do with them. Hopefully, Persona 3 Reload will mark the start of the future for the franchise, rather than the feeling Persona is simply spinning its wheels.