Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth Review

Persona Q: Shadows Of The Labyrinth. One of three titles announced by Atlus in November 2013 along with a dance/rhythm game aptly named Persona: Dancing All Night and the long awaited sequel in the JRPG series Persona 5. The Persona series is a popular franchise that has become very well known since the release of Persona 3 back in July 2006 (and years later everywhere else) and became even more popular with the release of Persona 4 in 2008. The series’ popularity has led to numerous animations, mangas, figurines, game remakes and spin offs crossing over a multitude of media and platforms.

Persona Q, as we will refer to it from now on, is the child of Atlus’ Persona series and their equally renown Etrian Odyssey series. The game combines the beloved mechanics and art style of both games subtly melded into one glorious dungeon crawling experience. Though the game mixes assets from both of these franchises together, Persona Q remains a Persona game and focuses on that first with a splash of Etrian Odyssey blended in for good measure. It is unique in that it allows you to begin the game as the protagonist of Persona 3 or 4. This allows for two separate playthroughs of the game each having its own differences here and there. The plot follows parallel to Persona 3 and Persona 4‘s main storyline, both taking place on specific dates in the games before characters begin hearing a bell setting the game in motion. This is the first game to bring together the entire main cast of both Persona 3 and Persona 4 while at the same time introducing two new characters; Zen the moody duel-wielding crossbow fanatic and Rei, his takoyaki-happy companion. They are both introduced as students with no memories and throughout the game you are given clearer ideas of who they are. Despite their mystique I found myself more interested with the interactions between the cast of the previous games than the questions surrounding these new characters. Apart from the mystery surrounding the new bloods, the plot primarily consists of you and your friends traipsing through dungeons, defeating shadows and trying to escape from this otherworldly labyrinth you have found yourself in, in order to get back to your own respective worlds.

The game is the first title of the Persona series to be released on the 3DS and I would be surprised if it is the last. Atlus made sure to use the full assets of the system and they have used it fairly well. The 3D is as you would expect, nothing ground-breaking but the option for you to use it is fully available in gameplay, cutscenes and menus and it adds a surprising amount of depth. Hurhur. However, like every other 3D-capable game on the system I played with the 3D here and there for a few minutes to see how it looked. Once I determined that it did indeed look 3 dimensional I promptly switched back to my 2 dimensional comfort zone and kept playing. The game uses the touch screen to allow you to draw maps of the dungeons you move around in, not only letting the player keep track of where they are going but also leading to a few rewards in the form of unlocked chests for mapping out each floor. Or you can unlock these chests through spending the system’s Play Coin currency. It’s completely up to you.

The gameplay is a combination of Atlus’ JRPG works and although it is hard to break away from the set formula of one series, the addition of mechanics from the other is welcoming and refreshing. The third person dungeon crawling perspective that Persona fans have become used to has been tossed in favour of the first person; this mixed with the necessity to constantly draw and update maps and keep a weathered eye out for shortcuts, chests and hidden rooms makes the tool invaluable and gives a greater feeling of progression as you see your exploration happen before your very eyes. The dungeons are very big consisting of multiple paths that lead down to the next floor and the next floor and so on before encountering a big bad boss to mangle with. You do have to think about how you move when faced with new powerful enemies called FOEs(pronounced eff-oh-ee) that march in a set path. They move each space you do, forcing you to plan your movements so as to avoid them.

The combat is simple yet complex and does well to put a new spin on the traditional turn based combat. The element of summoning personas to attack your enemies returns with a few twists. When you are thrusted into random battles you are given a list of actions you can perform that turn. You can attack normally, use a skill or an item, defend yourself to reduce damage, escape the battle, use a leader skill or move rows. Most of those are self explanatory but some are unique to this game. The ‘leader skill’ is an action only the protagonist has and allows for certain abilities that other characters cannot perform. The ‘move’ action allows your character to move to either a front row or a back row. These rows determine how much damage you take and how much damage you deal. Each row is suited to characters that are either short range or long range. Crossbows or swords. The addition of rows made me think more carefully than just picking party members with elemental strengths and weakness’ as I now had to arrange them to suit their weapons, defence and health which added a surprising amount of meat in this strategy pie.

Your party members have strengths and weakness’ to manage as mentioned previously, but so do your enemies. Exploiting enemy weakness’ will give your character a ‘boost’ which will allow your character to use a skill without exhausting any skill points or health points; however if a character with boost is attacked they lose it entirely. Simply put: If you don’t use it you’ll lose it. There is also the addition of a ‘party gauge’ which fills with each attack you make and when filled allows your party to perform an ‘all out attack’ to deal damage to all enemies on the screen. It feels a lot to take in when you are introduced to it all and it can be overwhelming but it becomes simpler with each battle without compromising its challenge, and don’t get me wrong, this game is challenging. You are presented early on with 5 difficulties ranging from safety, easy, normal, hard and risky. Risky being especially challenging and going so far as to call the player crazy for choosing it…is that a challenge Atlus? Gameplay aside the presentation is exactly what I expect from Atlus. Incredible music as always, mixing the dark orchestrated symphonies from Persona 3 with the vibrant J-pop and sounding trumpets of Persona 4 to make me feel as if the two are truly clashing. The design of the dungeons are creative and the enemies looks have been revamped leaving us with the feeling that there is always something interesting to gawk at.

Persona Q is certainly a title worthy of your time. I feel the title is suitable for players new to the series and is easy to grasp for players who are unaccustomed to RPGs. However, story-wise, the characters will leave you somewhat scratching your head if you have not seen or played Persona 3 or 4. The character summaries are quick, punchy and seem to expect the player to have a pre-existing relationship with the series. References made to certain characters finding nurses attractive or knowing how to sew date back to the original games and its subsequent spin offs. It is not necessary to have played the earlier games to enjoy this one, though I feel like greater enjoyment comes from fans of the series (like myself) seeing the characters they have grown to love all interact and mingle. Persona Q is a solid JRPG and a worthy addition to your collection.

This was played on 3DS.