Title: Persona Q – Shadow of the Labyrinth
Reviewed on: 3DS
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 28th November 2014
Ah Persona, I still fondly remember the countless days I sunk into Persona 3 FES once I finally got around to playing it; the journey, the hardships and of course the characters are all still vividly ingrained into my psyche. So to discover after reviewing 3 at the start of this year I was more than excited to get my hands on Atlus’s crossover of both P3 & P4 in Persona Q: The Shadow of the Labyrinth for the Nintendo 3DS.
Thankfully PQ is neither a shameful cash grab into the fans service nor a poorly patched together crossover, instead marrying what made both P3 and P4 great (hint, it was the characters), adding the traditional dungeon exploring elements from the Etrian Odyssey and expanding upon the Persona universe (and my 3DS library).
Our story begins with the toll of an ominous bell, during the typhoon over at Gekkoukan High School, the SEES team is suddenly transported to the Velvet room (of which only P3’s protagonist should be capable of doing), the elevator crashes and the team find themselves in Yasogami high during a cultural festival. At the same time the Investigation team finds that some unknown force has trapped them in the school and both teams begin to explore the labyrinth that lies below the school similar to Tartarus and the TV world from P3 & P4 respectively. Both teams explore the labyrinth with Zen and Rei, two mysterious students who have amnesia, they eventually team up and try to reclaim duo’s memories in order to possibly get back to their ‘worlds’.
Now this crossover does disembark from certain elements that made the predecessors so great, sadly you can no longer freely explore the area (in this case Yasogami High School) instead only exploring via menus and static backgrounds, also gone are the sim elements where you would interact with classmates or special characters in order to improve your Social Links, working towards school goals and such in a calendar in-
Don’t let that worry you though if you were as rabid a fan for those elements as I was, there’s still plenty of meat jelly to this package especially once the two groups have teamed up. When in Yasogami high you will eventually have a variety of facilities at your disposal; and interesting twist to the standard function of the shop (in this case the workshop) is that it works on a give and take basis, at the start you will only be able to buy a few items like medicine. However once you’ve taken a dive into the labyrinth (which I’ll divulge later) you can sell the materials gained from enemies, both for coin and unlocking new items like better weapons, stronger armour and tactical accessories. For me this creates a very organic cycle similar to that of Capcom’s Monster Hunter series where coming back to the shop is almost exciting as you wait to see what new gear you can acquire (granted it’s a far more simplified version compared to MH’s framework). Along with the workshop is the nurse’s office, serving as both an inn and job board where you can heal up (for a nominal fee of course), and take on requests that range from simply hunting down a specific foe or gathering X amount of materials to more interesting investigations or character interaction side quests. The last facility is the returning Velvet room, a room where you can fuse your secondary personas to create new and powerful beings as well as register them so they can be later purchased much like in the previous titles, since this is a handheld title it also utilizes the Nintendo 3DS’s street pass function where you can register personas to be also purchased from other players creating a rather unusual yet interesting player driven market (assuming you live in one of these areas that has player’s with the game).
But once you’ve geared up and such it’s time of course to head into the depths of PQ’s many labyrinth floors, as mentioned exploration takes the form of a first person dungeon crawling perspective seen in titles like Etrian Odyssey and similar to the more old school rpgs like Legend of Grimrock, Shining the Holy Ark and Phantasy Star. You’ll spend your time exploring the dungeon tile by tile while also drawing out the map on the 3DS’s touch screen as you mark out important objects, locked doors, shortcuts, traps etc etc.
While at first I really expected this to become dull and painfully repetitious I instead adore filling out the map, there’s just something so relaxing about it; that feeling of achievement once you’ve mapped out the whole floor feels great every time and hey you get rewarded with a special chest on each floor once you’ve explored 100% of the entire floor for your troubles.
Combat plays out much previous Personas in a turn based fashion where combat relies heavily on discovering and exploiting the enemies elemental weaknesses whilst trying to make up for your own.
However in this strange world both Persona 3’s and Persona 4’s protagonists no longer have their unique ‘wild card’ abilities which previously enabled them to be the only persona users cable of switching out persona’s at will; instead the ability seems to have been spread down through the teams enabling all members to equip a secondary persona. I myself found this to a great way of not necessarily improving but changing the formula to enable the player to have their own dream team (and with over 12 characters to have in your team you’ll be party select screen for a while). Now you are no longer bound to having characters specifically for their one or two class like tropes like Junpei’s slash and fire attacks, or Yukari’s wind and stab attributes; instead you can pick characters more to your liking as well as strategizing to ensure maximum offense and/or defence by equipping secondary personas that either compliment their already existing stats or cover for those less favourable ones.
This actually helps with another problem the Persona series (and many jrpgs) has faced, with an overall playable character roster of around the twenty mark and only five slots to your dungeon exploring party many of the cast will be left gathering dust on the bench which should or whenever you feel the need to switch out characters would leave you at a severe disadvantage when going up against way over-
There’s also a few more changes to the combat system that Persona player’s should note, whilst in previous titles hitting an enemy with their elemental weakness would ‘down’ them making them skip their next turn in much the same (besides occasionally not downing them), now doing so or landing a critical strike will enable a boost status on your character which will allow them to use abilities next turn for 0 cost, though they will lose the status immediately after performing another command or taking damage.
This all helps add to the flow and enjoyment of combat turning it into something more than just hit A with B as well as rewarding the player for paying attention to the flow of the battle, and adding that tension of possibly getting out some attacks or even a free heal if you can pull off your boosted ability next turn.
Functioning similar to Death from P3 when exploring the dungeons you’ll need to be ever vigilante of the FOEs that roam the floors, while granted they stick to ‘territories’ or simply attack you if you’re in their vision they still pose a big threat to early players. Should you get into a fight with one or more of these foes (they can also join the party if you’re already in a brawl with lesser shadows and they bump into you), you can always run away seeing as most are almost completely devoid of elemental weaknesses and can hit like a freight train. If however you feel like going beyond the impossible and kicking reason to the curb you can defeat these FOEs and will receive a nice boon of rare materials and an exp boost to make that victory taste all the sweeter.
Lesser experienced Persona players (looking at you Bad Demoman), will be glad to note that PQ offers a bunch of difficulty options that for the most part can be swapped out at any given time in order to allow players to play at a challenge level more suited to them. Normal is the most standard besides a nice change to the battle system where the death of the main character would not result in a game over, there’s safety which allows you to basically continue even if defeated and reduces enemy encounters to ludicrously low threat levels; there is of course a standard hard mode for the more masochistic of you out there just be warned you can’t back out once you pick it.
My only complaint for the combat is that it is played from the first person perspective akin to the already mentioned Etrian Odyssey series, while it doesn’t bother me now I do miss having more dynamic camera angles in battle and especially miss being able to actually see my team like in the predecessors. Maybe this is down to ensuring stability in gameplay or was a design choice but I felt the static backgrounds and the lack of seeing your characters does take something away from the overall experience but I will concede this is purely subjective (much like this review) and down to personal preference.
While you don’t need to be a seasoned Persona fan to enjoy Shadow of the Labyrinth it does help as you will notice that the narrative in Persona Q’s story is ultimately, while canonical, a spin off that occurs mid-
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but there are references and character relations that will take a bit to grasp if not at all for newcomers to the franchise.
Personally I felt it was a great idea for PQ’s narrative to coincide within the middle of both games as it allows for some heart stringing moments (both good and bad) like Junpei’s relationship with Chidori, having Shinjiro as a member of the team or mutterings between the Velvet room members discussing particular member’s fates.
It’s also a welcome sight to see all English voice actors reprise their roles with plenty of dialogue fully voice acted (and there is a lot of dialogue), I will grant though that as much as the story has myself enthralled I can’t help but feel I am talking up the story as it is a spin off and has to limit its overall impact with its cast besides Zen and Rei. Now as mentioned the Social Link elements where building relations in order to improve your persona’s abilities was abandoned, the process of creating these relationships still resides in a more direct narrative nature. When in Yasogami high among the facilities you can go on ‘strolls’, likely derived from Etrian Odyssey but here with so many colourful characters you will get to experience and interact in many humorous sequences as well as some nice intrigue such as the two teams comparing each other’s likenesses or discussing each other’s journeys.
The visuals that Persona Q brings to the table is an interesting choice, similar to the character design seen in Fire Emblem Awakening all our cast have been given the chibi make over which while I preferred the visual presentation of both P3 and P4 it fits the more upbeat theme PQ rolls on.
Now granted I didn’t find it much of an issue but the dungeons to still experience the same issue I had with my journey in Persona 3, where they’re kind of devoid of much variety besides obvious layout changes and the specific labyrinth’s choice of theme.
In the end though Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is a fantastic entry into both the Persona and Nintendo 3DS library, I mean really considering this could have just ended up as some mediocre cross over attempt (like what was as harshly as it sounds, what happened to Project X Zone). I mean the crossing over of two surprisingly different feeling jrpgs, the disembarking of several strong points of both predecessors, the divergence of two different narratives and themes along with several untouchable plot consequences unless they just outright did a “it’s all a dream” nonsense or just outright labelled it a uncanonical fan service would have all severely damaged this title.
Instead Persona Q strides in confidence with its choices, offering players a strong cross over experience that while being a fan service experience still offers a enjoyable game with even more enjoyable characters and plenty of hours to sink into.
Great Character driven gameplay,
Plenty of genuinely enjoyable character interaction,
Hours of gameplay,
Interesting exploration mechanics.
May not be a sound choice as entry into the series,
Occasionally unfair enemy encounters,
Boss battles are a bit long winded,
Not as in depth social elements as predecessors,
Bloody difficult to get screenshots for.
While it’s not perfect, Persona Q is a fantastic JRPG for the handheld console and scores a 9/10.