In the past many games have tried to do something few succeed at; meshing the successes of previous titles into one cohesive and fun game. In this case Atlus has tried to bring the worlds of Persona 3 and Persona 4 crashing together alongside the Etrian Odyssey game formula, adding a new story and style to the mix for the Persona franchises’ first 3DS title. As crazy as it may sound, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth delivers as a fun, entertaining and inventive addition to the 3DS’ game library.
Upon beginning the game you can choose to play as the hero of either Persona 3 or 4, with the characters from that title becoming your core companions. Other characters will pop up throughout but they won’t be the focus of the story, making the game accessible to people who’ve only played a single Persona title and adding replayability for long time fans. Whichever protagonist you choose will cause the narrative to also play out differently, with your decisions having a major effect on the game.
The characters of previous Persona titles are something many fans and critics have praised, a skill continued into this new title. Meeting beloved characters in this new setting is as enjoyable as imagined, and the way the two groups interact provides some engaging dialogue and genuinely hilarious moments. Zen and Rei, new characters, take centre in Persona Q as a driving force for the narrative and manage to fit quite well into the existing cast. Zen is quite a powerful ally in battle and Rei’s constant talk of food and fun manages to balance out some of the darker moments and themes. My only complaint here is that with this focus on the new characters the core narrative is not as detailed or explorative as we’ve seen in the past, and a little less in-depth for more established characters, but this did little in the long run to degrade the experience.
While Persona Q retains the mystery and feel of the source material, this entry takes it’s core gameplay from the ‘Etrian Odyssey’ handheld RPG series, becoming more of a dungeon crawler. My favourite twist here is that while you’re traversing the dungeons you’ll also be indulging your inner cartographer, mapping out the ‘labyrinths’ on the 3DS’ touch screen. It’s combat has had an Etrian tweak too, building your five man squad with a front line and back line to add strategy and a new perspective on combat to the franchise. The front line team members generally are melee based and can deal out heavy damage, while taking harder hits from the enemies. The back line is for range based, more fragile companions who get that barrier of protection to heal, buff and damage out of the line of heavy fire. Strategies from what elements your team can use to the placement of characters with Personas takes the best of both worlds, meshing traditional Persona attacks with Etrian Odyssey’s distinct systems.
Persona Q’s labyrinths are the real star of the piece here, managing to be complex, tricky, and above all, addictively fun. Solving puzzles while mapping out the winding paths, searching for new shortcuts, doors and treasure is a really rewarding experience. As you move through these dungeons before too long you’ll encounter the imposing FOE’s, large enemies that are wise to avoid in the early game. As you level and gear up you can take on these enemies in some genuinely tough and tactical battles which provide valuable loot for your team. The only drawback is while exploring, backtracking and carefully avoiding FOE’s you’ll find yourself tackling many of the same enemies over and over, something that can feel repetitive or tedious after a little while. Generally though, these moments are few and far between, instead I found myself enthralled in drawing maps and solving puzzles, furiously noting points of interest between battles.
The style chosen for Persona Q’s presentation is spot on for the 3DS platform. In a chibi-esqe imagining of the cast the world takes on a new look, all the while retaining the darker undertones that have become a staple of Persona. It also ensures the models an settings all look great on the 3DS screens, even in 3D, without ever drawing attention to the lower capacity for stellar visuals. The pre-rendered cutscenes and dialogue sequences all work well with the English dub of the game, but the games anime segments are one of it’s truly spectacular aspects. Every time I started the game I couldn’t help but watch the opening video, it’s just such a great introduction to a session of Persona Q.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the second half of what makes Persona Q present so well while playing, the sountrack. Shoji Meguro, composer of the Persona series music, has returned to create a sound for the game that is a strangely successful eclectic mix of genres. From the rocky battle music to the perfectly mysterious exploration audio, sound design for this game is absolutely on point.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is easily one of the best RPG’s available on Nintendo’s 3DS platform. The game is fresh, inventive and through it’s collaboration, adds a lot to the Persona series as a whole. Even fighting the same enemies at times is easily overcome as you chart and explore winding and well designed dungeons, all the while enjoying the dialogue and characters that have become a hallmark of the franchise.
A fun dungeon crawler with some unique characterisation and combat tweaks, not to mention the gorgeous art direction and psychedelic mystery tunes. Atlus has made this a game that really deserves its place in your 3DS collection.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.