Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth is the latest entry in the Persona series of games, and the first new game in the series (not counting spin-offs and remakes) since 2008’s Persona 4. Atlus, the Persona series’ creators, have been having a rough time over the past few years. They were bought out, and then their parent company was raided by the cops for shady financial dealings.
The last game in the same franchise, Shin Megami Tensei 4, was an underwhelming failure with game-breaking DLC and miserable art. Another game in the same line, Devil Survivor 2: Break Record, has been delayed over a year and a half, and I’m personally skeptical that it will ever come out at all. In that sense, it’s a miracle that this game managed to even be released. But now that it’s here, how does it stand up?
In Persona Q, the heroes of Persona 3 and Persona 4 are suddenly thrown into a high school in an alternate dimension, and to escape they must fight their way through a series of dungeons. In the two previous games, the hero would go to school, work, and clubs during the day, and battle monsters at night. What you did during the day had a direct effect on your monster fighting: you would get stronger by building relationships and meeting new people.
Being good at Persona didn’t just mean knowing what spell to cast on what boss, it meant knowing what to say to comfort a depressed friend, or knowing how to get your girlfriend to calm down after you cheated on her. The games also had a time limit: if you spent too much time hitting on girls or playing soccer, and not enough time clearing the dungeons, it was game over. Persona Q gets rid of both of these systems. There are no time limits, and the social link system is gone entirely.
Instead, the game is very similar to the Etrian Odyssey series of games. You’ll travel through a 2D grid dungeon in first person perspective, fighting random turn-based encounters with enemies along the way. You’ll make your own maps (while there is an auto-map system that takes away most of the grunt work, you’ll still have to drag staircase and treasure chest icons onto the screen using the 3DS’s touchpen.) Combat is now in first person perspective as well.
Like the rest of the series, combat is heavily focused around finding and targeting an enemy’s weak points, but now, instead of always knocking an enemy down, striking its weak point will give you a “boost” status effect that reduces skill costs to zero for your next turn. Since skills are expensive to use in this game, this is very important, and maintaining a balanced party with a good variety of spells is still the key to victory.
Persona Q, like most dungeon crawlers, is a very long game. Some players have reported taking over 100 hours to complete it, which puts it on par with games like Skyrim. Don’t think this means it’s as big as Skyrim though—there are only 6 dungeons in the whole game. What the dungeons lack in numbers they make up for in size, and a single floor in a dungeon can take hours to clear.
The game puts a lot of effort into making the combat interesting, but the sheer size of the dungeons means that you’ll be fighting the same fights over and over again. If you’re a veteran Etrian Odyssey player, you’ll be used to this, but players used to the relatively fast pace of the Persona series might be in for a shock. Combat is difficult too, on par with the rest of the Persona series, so you’ll end up dying and having to go over a lot of the same ground again.
The dungeons are filled with simple puzzles, teleporters, one-way doors, and secret passages, and each dungeon has its own unique gimmick. For example, in one dungeon you’ll have to ensure that you stay out of a certain monster’s line of sight, or it will shoot arrows at you that cause bad status effects. The game has a built in map that you fill out as you travel, and marking down traps and staircases is a lot of fun.
Gameplay Score 3/5
The graphics in Persona Q are gorgeous. The game takes full advantage of the limited graphical power of the 3DS to imbue its characters and monsters with an amazing amount of personality. Boss monsters are huge, imposing, and have that same surreal, off-kilter feeling that made the other games so wonderful. The characters are so well animated that despite their cutesy, super-deformed designs, they almost feel like real people.
The game has a number of wonderful graphics touches as well. For example, when you order a character to attack, they’ll dance forward and strike the enemy, and each character has their own unique animation that reflects their personality. Akihiko the boxer is strong and powerful, and Mitsuru the fencer is quick and graceful. You can see this outside of combat as well, when you open a door, characters will walk ahead and beckon to you with smooth, natural movements. It’s a little thing, but it’s amazing how much personality it adds to the game.
Graphics Score 4/5
The music has the same catchy jazz beats as the other Persona games. No track really stands out, but if you liked it in the other games, you’ll like it here. The game isn’t fully voice-acted, but as in the other Persona games, the battles are.
Sound Score 4/5
This is unfortunately the game’s weakest point. Dungeon-crawler games have always had weak stories, and this one is no exception. The justification for why the characters of two separate games that take place in two different times find themselves together is weak, and the whole thing honestly feels like fanfiction.
The writing boils down to “Hey, did you like these characters in this other game? Then you’ll like them here!” and “Hey, do you remember that time these characters did a funny thing? Let’s talk about it again!” Given the heavy themes and overall depth of the other games in this series, it’s honestly a let down. If you’re used to the deep, psychological stories of the other Persona games, you might be disappointed here.
Story Score 2/5
And that’s really what this game is: Persona fanfiction. Instead of coming up with new ideas and new stories, it’s taking older stories and putting them into an different engine. It’s rehashing characters and jokes, some of which are almost 10 years old now. There’s nothing inherently wrong with fanfiction, but the lack of new ideas is disappointing. The game is good and fun for what it is, but there’s very little new on offer here.
Overall Score 3/5
Buy at Full Price If: You’re really excited by the idea of seeing the gang from Persona 3 and Persona 4 again. You really like Etrian Odyssey. You’ve actually written Persona fanfiction.
Buy at a Discount If: You played Persona but wouldn’t call yourself a huge fan.
Don’t Buy If: You’ve never played Persona. The game makes token steps towards being newcomer friendly, but if you haven’t played and beaten both Persona 3 and Persona 4 you’re going to be very lost, and probably not have very much fun at all.
Note: This review was based on the Japanese version of the game, purchased digitally via Nintendo’s store.
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