Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Released: June 5, 2014

When developer ATLUS toyed with the ides of combining 2  of their most popular and profitable franchises, Persona & Etrian Odyssey, they came out with Persona Q. 

The setup is as such, depending on your initial choice, you take control as either the protagonist of Persona 3&4, where you and your entire party of teammates are transported into another world in what appears to be Persona 4's Yasogami High's cultural festival. Finding the 'humans' in this world largely ignorant of their presence and no way to exit the school, they decide to delve into the Shadow-filled dungeons connected to this world for answers. Fairly early on, your team will join up with the other group of Persona users and together they will attempt to solve the mystery behind their strange circumstance and find a way back to their respective worlds. Along the way, they are joined by Rei & Zen, two human inhabitants who seem to have been trapped here a fair bit longer than they have.
Which protagonist you choose to start with alters the first hours of the game and some events, but otherwise is largely up to taste, as you will have access to the full roster fairly early on.
Being a crossover game between Atlus' two most beloved games in recent history, Persona 3 & Persona 4, its no small surprise this game is positively filled with fan-service for series fans, with plenty of references, in-jokes and nods to those games and their many rich characters. Seeing the colorful casts of both games come together and interact in a largely light-fluffy atmosphere is a joy to behold with a nice mix of nostalgia and freshness. Pair that with an excellent writing well known to Persona fans, good art design, a pleasant color palette that really pops on screen, and yet another solid rock-inspired Engrish soundtrack from composer Shoji Meguro, these factors by themselves almost warrant Persona fans to give it go, especially if they already own a 3DS.

Fan favorite Minako doesn't get to join the
cast this time. But we do get Theodore!
For players not familiar with those games though, the game and its narrative is still plenty accessible to newcomers, as the narrative is largely independent and spoiler free in regards to those games. The characters from both those games are taken sometime before their respective narrative midpoints and hence will not really spoil anything major for people planning to pick those games up in the future (which I wholly recommend, they're excellent). Since many of the characters have not gone through their defining moments of character development though, they may feel a little different from their original counterparts, but its not really a big deal in the grand scheme of this as a necessary narrative trade-off.

Game-play in Persona Q is very much similar to that of last week's Etrian Odyssey, both in terms of dungeon crawling and combat, but with the classic Persona combat system layered on top of it. The dungeon crawler aspects are much the same as you would expect, with the first person camera, DIY cartography, random encounters, and very very tough FOEs to find your way around. The addition of actual clever puzzles to solve, more interesting level designs, and the use much more cleverly designed FOE movement patterns are welcome improvements. Even the banter between the much more diverse and interesting cast from both Persona games help to alleviate the sometimes monotonous grind and provide a plenty of genuine chuckles on the way.

The revamped combat system is where the game really shines. Actual combat plays out much the same as in Etrian Odyssey, where it  really differs is the party setup and customization. Before venturing into any dungeon, you select a party of five from the roster of 17 characters, each with his/her own base Persona which determine their unique stats, abilities, elemental strengths & weaknesses, much like the original Persona games. Unlike the originals however, instead of having a protagonist that can change personas on the fly and the rest of the party stuck with their sole persona, this time around ALL party members can be equipped with a second persona which may be swapped anytime outside of combat, granting them all the abilities (and HP+SP!) associated with them.

This 2 persona system has a huge effect on party customization and combat. The tried and true formula of combining persona cards you find in dungeons into stronger persona while transferring multiple synergistic abilities to form the ultimate powerhouse is still there, but this time you get to do it for your entire party! Coupled with the fact that many cards can disenchanted to grant a skill/passive (some of which are VERY powerful) to the permanent first persona granted to each character, customization in a Persona game has never felt more fun. Fusing personas has also never been easier, as selecting any single cards will bring out an entire list of every possible fusion available in your current inventory, bypassing the finicky process of selecting a fusion method and figure out what goes with what with trial and error (or a convoluted fusion table). Really abusing this system allows players to further emphasize the strengths of each party member, cover their weaknesses, and build some extremely broken combinations by the late-game.

The entire Velvet room cast appear as support (and comedic) characters in this game
And boy will you be needing those advantages, as the game will not go easy on players, even on the normal difficulty setting. FOEs are probably even tougher than their Etrian Odyssey counterparts, making it imperative to learn their movement patterns and avoid them altogether. Even normal enemies can be huge threats, as leaving them alive for more than a couple of turns can allow them to inflict massive amounts of damage or debilitating status ailments on the party. Fortunately, there are many combat mechanics the players can use to their advantage, and combat is a pretty snappy and swift affair, with most fight requiring no more than 1-3 turns, if done correctly. As in Etrian Odyssey, hitting an enemies' weakness or a critical hit grants characters a to use any ability free of charge and is guaranteed a speed advantage, as long as said character is not hit by any damage before the next turn. Combined with the fact that the HP&SP granted by the secondary persona (and only the second) for each character is refunded at the end of every fight, parties can end fights very cost efficiently by hitting enemy weaknesses on the the first turn, then finishing them off with your strongest spells for free the following turn. And you will need to be doing that wherever possible, as scarce resources and very expensive SP costs mean that conserving HP and MP will be critical in longer journeys. All these mechanical improvements to combat and the persona system are highly welcome and enjoyable to play, and personally I hope some of these changes can be reflected in the upcoming Persona5.

The game also excels in the writing department, though its little surprise with the likable casts of Persona 3 and 4 making a return. Even new entries Rei & Zen are nice, interesting additions to the cast, and their story will be a major part of the story in its latter half. The main story itself is not anything special as far as staple JRPGs go. The first three quarters of this
Just.... what?
50+ hour game is mostly concerned with character building and party bonding, the story only really picking in the final chapters as shit hits the fan. It might seem a little slow on paper, but 
similarly to the original Persona games, in practice it really does work, granting plenty of time for players to familiarize and get invested in the characters, which makes it so that there is reason to care about what happens to them down the line. It helps that dialogue is mostly well written and well voiced , with solid humor and some heartwarming moments spread throughout. The atmosphere for most of the game leans towards the lighthearted, with plenty of charming, fun moments of the varied cast having lots of banter and funny moments with plenty of references for fans. 

Overall, Persona is a good-looking, well-written JRPG with excellent mechanics and plenty of fan-service to cater to fans of the 2 series it borrows heavily from, while still being plenty accessible to newer players. Those looking for a well made and challenging dungeon crawler or fans of the Persona games will find plenty to like in this charming little 3DS title.


Popular Posts