I return once again with another Critical Hit, or Miss?! This one has had me excited for…actually…almost since I started at the Badly.Network. Damn I’ve been playing this thing for ages…it’s long ok! I was super happy to actually find this damn game in stores, it wasn’t actually that easy to get. Regardless of that epic tale however, I’ve been a distant fan of the Persona games for a time now, but I’ve never personally played one. Until now. Did Persona Q live up to my hopes for an entry for the franchise? Or did it leave me wanting more? Simply put, was it a Critical Hit, or Miss?
Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth
Reviewed on 3DS
Developed and Published by Atlus
So full disclosure, I am a fan of the Persona series, but I have never actually played any of them. By that logic Persona Q is the worst game I could have started with as it not only features two full casts of characters I don’t know, but also starts roughly around the middle of each of their stories? Well not really. As I said, I am a fan of the series, and I have watched the both animes for Persona 4, being Persona 4 and Persona 4 Golden, as well as the three released movies for Persona 3 as of writing this article. One could argue that it’s not the same and the games must be experienced and so forth, but honestly they are just a bit of a pain to get your hands on these days, and I feel like I know the characters and stories of each respective game well enough to say I’ve “experienced” them. That aside, this is still my first Persona gameplay experience and the review will cover this, as someone who knows the stories and events, but not the mechanics in person. So perhaps this review might help other people in the same situation, or those who like me, have a 3DS but haven’t been able to get a foothold in this franchise yet.
For those looking for a little information, without spoiling anything I’ll simply summarize the basic idea behind the two games. Persona 3 follows a group of students who spend their nights fighting monsters known as shadows, which only appear at midnight when they get pulled into a hidden hour of time called “the dark hour”. While the Persona 4 cast are a group of students in a small town trying to track down a serial killer, as they venture into a dimension hidden inside TV’s, to save trapped victims and look for clues to the identity of the murderer. In each game the cast can summon their titular persona’s to fight the shadows and use special abilities, with the main characters each possessing a unique power called the fool, which lets you change between any persona you find at will.
So after a wonderful opening cut scene upon starting the game, you get asked to pick a main character to play through as. Being most familiar with the cast of Persona 4, I chose to take that story path. For those in the dark about either, this choice isn’t a massive impact in the long term, but you can’t change out your main character since, well, it’s the main character, even when you get both of them. This also means you will focus more on that casts story, as for the entire first chapter the game eases you into the mechanics as you go, letting you get a handle on any changes this version brings with the P4 cast, before introducing the rest of the gang when you’re comfortable enough in the world.
Right off the bat the game does try to explain the basics of the story to the player, but in all honesty you might feel lost if this is all new to you. You start roughly in the middle of the game in P4’s story as it gives a brief introduction to the cast and sets up most of the basic information you’ll need to get your bearings, before you find yourself pulled into a new adventure. It doesn’t take long for you to get introduced to the only new characters to the series, Zen and Rei, as you find the two of them together looking confused as they appear to have lost their memories.
The two act as an interesting combo, as they are practically a human yin and yang. Zen being the serious and silent fighter, dressed all in black with long cloak wrapped around him for…some reason, in contrast to Rei who’s the gluttonous happy go lucky girl dressed in bright yellows who pitches in with excitement. The two of them are inseparable, literally in fact, as neither of them can use personas in combat. Instead Zen acts as the primary unit with Rei paired with him in place of a persona, it may seem limiting for the two of them to exist as one character, but honestly they can do just about everything with the most well rounded skills and abilities out of the entire party. They make a good addition to the party since the game seems to expect you to know the rest of the characters to some degree, giving everyone two new people to get to know as they move through the story which is tied to the two of them.
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s get into what makes the game, well, a game. Persona Q is similar in many regards to its related games, but it’s something of a different beast. For one, Q is a 3DS game and as such, it embraces the handheld nature of the console such as touch screen functions and several streetpass mechanics. While the elements people love from the franchise are still strong, the game feels like it was stripped some meat from the core elements for a Persona lite, if you will. The three core pillars in Q are easily the story, the combat and the management that comes with both. In regards to story, Persona kind of lives or dies by whether or not you actually enjoy spending time with the cast, and with the bonus of two of them, Q is definitely fun if only for their interactions. Q does make an effort to let you spend time with its large cast, and for the most part it does do a good job, but it did lack a certain level of the down time the other games had. Beyond some of the side quests and limited dialogue, you only really spent time with the crew as the story progressed. Options did exist outside just progressing the game, but it felt too sectioned and compartmentalized at times.
This takes us to the other two pillars of the game, combat and management. It doesn’t take long for the team to realise that something is wrong, as it turns out that the main characters power to summon multiple persona in battle is gone, and has been replaced with a new set of game mechanics. Instead of mixing and matching party members to compliment your own personas and power sets, everyone now has the ability to summon two personas, forcing you to change into a new rhythm of managing the whole party, and with both crews plus the new characters, this makes a total of sixteen characters to look after. This brings us back to Zen and Rei, as they seem developed around this system as both the main new characters tied to the story, but also function as a single persona-less unit that more than make up for this handicap with their robust skill set. If nothing else these two make it easy for players to get used to how the new system works before the game takes off the tutorial training wheels.
The personas themselves will take a large chunk of your time as you spend hours in the Velvet Room, the place where everything to do with your personas takes place. Here you will have access to a large list of features, such as taking two or three personas in your possession and fusing them together to make new ones. It didn’t take me long to realise the system is less about which persona you want to keep, and more about fusing them constantly in a bid to carry powers you like into the new personas you create. Each persona you fuse gets to retain certain skills from the old ones of your choice, making the personas you choose just as important as the new one you want to make. Beyond their powers each persona has their own health and energy levels which increase the same stats on the character holding them, this is incredibly important to combat, as the personas stats recharge each fight, but not the characters. This means that even If you end a fight on one hit point, you can start the next battle on two hundred if you hold a high health persona. This ensures that even if the characters get worn down over long grinds in the dungeons, you always have some energy for an escape if nothing else.
If you run up a large tally of personas you don’t feel are worth fusing however, you can eventually chose to sacrifice them to enhance one you like. Does this make you a bad person? Probably, but it’s a great way to boost your current favourite, even if you only want them to unlock one last power before a fusion. This is to say nothing of the persona mass murder you will inflict once you can start sacrificing them in order to gain their skills, which you can them pass on for keeps to a party member of choice.
Labyrinths and Maps
Now let’s move on to the real meat of the game, the Labyrinths. The Labyrinths themselves are all strongly tied to a specific theme ranging from funny to downright creepy, with each introducing new enemies and mechanics fairly constantly. The pacing of the game as a whole is honestly pretty good, new elements get introduced at a constant rate, without ever overwhelming the player as you progress through the dungeons. The entirety of the first Labyrinth is really a well-paced tutorial wearing a dungeons skin, giving you plenty of time to adjust to new and old mechanics before the second team join with you in a rather specular introduction.
Each Labyrinth has a number of floors, tricks and traps attached to it, all of these often changing constantly to keep the game feeling fresh with a few simple tweaks to each floor. In order to remember all of this, the lower 3DS screen is entirely taken up for a mapping system which you get to record and scribble down along the way. Despite my attempts to pawn this off to Naoto at the start, recording the layout of the dungeons as you go is a great feature, it’s entertaining enough In its own right, but it also crucial for remembering important notes, doors and shortcuts, traps and enemy patterns and so forth. With a number of colouring and icon options open to the player, you can really make the maps your own and put a little bit of yourself into the exploration. I’m not going to say every game needs this, but it did highlight just how often I’ve wished you could simply jot down a note or scribble down something on your map in an RPG game, it wouldn’t kill more games to let you interact with similar features once and a while.
Labyrinths themselves are navigated through a turn based system as you move in the four directions one step at a time. This becomes important when you meet the mini boss creatures littered throughout each level. Each mini boss, called FOE’s, have their own mechanics ranging from simply moving on a path in time with your turn, to full on hunting you down as you need to outwit them with various puzzles throughout the maps. An icon to the bottom right will change colour the longer you explore, letting you know how close you are to random encounters. It’s like the old JRPG system of walking around until an enemy materializes into combat, but with the decency of a heads up. I do find myself wishing for the counter attack system present in other Persona titles though. After so long in the game it felt less engaging to simply be attacked out of blue instead of the physical interaction of attacking and evading. This got particularly annoying when you keep getting attacked when trying to solve one of the games many puzzles, some of which are actually quite confusing.
Music, Voice and the rest
With such a large cast all vying for attention, hell I got told off for not using someone enough once, it’s great to see a good mix between voiced dialogue and text. A large portion of the important dialogue is completely voiced by a returning or at least faithfully done cast. Between the voiced story moments and music, Persona Q is perhaps the only game I’ve played on 3DS where I actively hated any time I couldn’t listen to the console on high. All of this aside though if you are a fan of the series, this title may be worth picking up if only for the interactions between the cast. Be it the curious group dynamics that form between the two casts or simply the antics various new friends get up to together, only the truly dead inside won’t enjoy something out of this title.
Speaking of audio, the Persona titles are known for having interesting, catchy and great music that really delivers atmosphere and great tunes despite usually differing from expectations. Persona Q is no different as the main battle theme delivers another great combat track you honestly never get sick of. Each Labyrinth has its own tune that sells the tone without being too distracting, each time battle starts is an audio treat before settling back into your strange and quirky surrounding. All of this said though, while I never got tired of the battle theme I can’t help but feel like they missed out the huge opportunity to bring in amazing music from not one but two persona games with their own style and distinct audio flavor. The main tracks from each game even make a special appearance when you first met the second team before simply vanishing. It would have been amazing if you could change between the themes of three, four and Q to switch up the songs a little. It even would have been a sweet touch if having more party members from a certain game changed the theme to suit the group. Regardless, it’s a shame this wasn’t done especially with a portable title merging the teams on the mobile 3DS platform, but aside from what could have been there is little to complain about. Not to mention the title track from the opening is pretty damn good by itself.
Is it good?
As an entry into a franchise, Persona Q is kind of a weird starting experience, but all the same it’s certainly a great game in its own right. It could have used some tweaks to make the many hours of play a little less repetitive, mostly reflecting on my comments about music and other smaller notes. Any game that makes you play long enough for this length of time to become a review factor however, clearly far exceeds the value of its price. I said that despite being my first title I was very familiar with the casts of both games. If you aren’t however, I honestly don’t know how new players will cope given the midway lead in. If you want to get a better picture of the series before jumping in, then I would certainly recommend at least watching the Persona 4 anime, otherwise going in blind may be confusing to newcomers. Persona fan or not though, Persona Q was a title I heard mixed criticism over before snagging one of the few damn copies I could find, but personally, it was well worth the search.
Sorry for the brief hiatus lately, I’ve had a lot going on and it’s made it hard to concentrate on things I want to do and work on lately. That aside, Persona Q always seemed like a quiet title under the franchise, am I wrong or did people just not get into it? Regardless I’m pretty damn hyped for Persona 5 if Atlus ever decides to give the rest of the world a release date…As always you can find me on Twitch, Facebook and Twitter with various links all over the site, or check out my hub for more of my work. Until next time!