The Persona series has been Atlus’ crown jewel for several years, as Persona 3 and Persona 4 impressed JRPG fans with their gripping storylines, complex Persona fusions, unique settings, and interesting character developments. As a fan, I was ecstatic at the idea behind Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth: bringing characters from both series into a new dungeon-crawling RPG with more of a chibi art style. Though it's missing one major element of the Persona series, Shadow of the Labyrinth satisfies by delivering most of the tried-and-true Persona feel in a new way.
Reach out to the truth
Persona Q allows players to experience the game’s main storyline through the eyes of either the protagonist of Persona 3 or Persona 4 along with their main cast of characters from both games. Each perspective offers slight differences to the main story and, as you’d expect from Persona games, choices the player makes can alter its flow. For my review, I played as the crew of Persona 4 since I’m a bigger fan of that title than I am of the Persona 3 crew, although I certainly enjoy their style of shooting themselves in the head in order to release their Persona.
Once you’ve made your decision as to who should lead your adventure, you’ll experience a story that revolves around Yasogami High School in Inaba. There’s a culture festival taking place, but your characters find themselves stuck inside the school after a strange bell rings in the courtyard. The team learns there’s a mysterious labyrinth hidden underneath the school, which both groups eventually come together to explore in order to regain the memories of two new characters, Zen and Rei. The labyrinth is filled with “Shadows” to fight along the way to hopefully free themselves of whatever is holding them at Yasogami High School. You know, the typical JRPG-style story.
If this isn’t your first foray into the Persona series, you should know the series is known for being story heavy, and Persona Q is no different. You’ll spend most of your time reading through its introduction with a few button presses to respond here and there. But once you get past the intro, you’ll be well on your way to fighting through wave after wave of Shadows in order to learn just what exactly is going on. Fortunately, Persona Q offers a brief note of each character’s origins so those who may not have played previous Persona games know who they are and what they’re about without having to get too personal.
Persona Q is comprised of two main areas: Yasogami High and the mysterious labyrinth that lies underneath. Yasogami High acts as a “home base” of sorts as you’ll be able to partake in a number of conversations with various characters, purchase new weapon and equipment, visit the Nurse’s Office to heal your party, and visit the Velvet Room, which allows players to fuse new Personas. Unlike previous Persona titles, Persona Q allows characters to equip a sub-Persona in addition to their main Persona, which in turn, allows them to use more skills.
The Persona series is known for its ability to allow players to explore various locations within the game. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Persona Q as you’re pretty much stuck exploring level after level of the mysterious labyrinth. Sure - there’s a lot to uncover, but the charm of the Persona series seems to be lacking a bit due to Persona Q’s limited setting.
You’re going to be spending a lot of time exploring labyrinths, so you better enjoy dungeon-crawling RPGs or really like Persona. Lucky for me, I enjoy both. If you’ve played Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey, then you’ll find yourself feeling extremely comfortable with Persona Q. The dungeon-crawling aspect of the game is done from a first-person perspective as you’ll explore the labyrinth with every step you take. The game tasks the player with drawing out a map of each level of the labyrinth using the bottom 3DS screen. Even though you don’t have to draw a map while you play, you could easily lose yourself if you don’t. Each level of the labyrinth can be quite unpredictable.
The labyrinth is filled with traps, secret passageways, special areas that will offer a wealth of materials to mine, and Field On Enemies (FOEs). FOEs are large, visible enemies that will completely rip your team apart if you’re not prepared for them. Other enemies, known as Shadows, are invisible and engaging with them in battle is completely random. One way Persona Q informs players of when a Shadow is near through the use of an on-screen indicator that changes from green to red. This is an extremely important indicator considering the combat in Persona Q can be pretty tough at times, even for the most weathered RPG player.
When you find yourself in an inevitable battle with a Shadow, you’ll be met with a turn-based RPG experience where you’ll issue commands to your team of five, then the battle will commence between Shadows and your group, and then you’ll do it all over again. Your group of five can be placed either in the front row or back row, with the front row performing more melee damage and taking more damage, and the back row is geared more towards characters who use range-based attacks while taking less damage.
Finding the enemy’s weakness plays an important role in Persona Q, as it does in most Persona titles, by serving two purposes: it could cause the enemy to be stunned so they’ll skip and attack in your current turn, and it will boost your characters up. If enough of them are boosted after your turn, you’ll be given the option to perform either an additional attack with one of your team members or an all-out attack, which causes your entire team to bum rush all of your enemies. Your characters will also be able to perform their next attack without any loss of HP or SP, which can offer a strategic advantage if you can plan a devastating attack against your enemies or recover some much-needed HP.
Persona Q also gives players an additional advantage over the powerful Shadows in the labyrinth through the use of a Leader ability. As you battle Shadows, a meter will build up that will allow your leader to perform a special ability that can offer a variety of options depending on the sub-Persona equipped by one of your team members. For example, you can perform a Leader ability that can rescue your team from certain doom by automatically having them escape from battle and transport them to the entrance of a floor within the labyrinth, or your leader could perform an ability that will heal a certain amount of HP to your team.
Even though the game delivers its battles in a different perspective, I still found the challenge to be quite on par with other Persona titles. If you don’t respect the battle system in place and learn how best to deal with Shadows you come across, you’re going to have a bad time. On the other hand, if you already know the intricacies of the battle system in past Persona games, or you’re at least willing to learn from the game’s tutorial, then you’ll find a rewarding Persona-esque experience here.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is the first time a Persona title has made the jump to the Nintendo 3DS platform, though Shin Megami Tensei IV offered a similar experience last year. While it offers much of the Persona experience fans will enjoy, such as the deep and challenging combat system, ability to fuse Personas, and unpredictable story, there are still some things fans of the series will certainly miss. The inability to randomly explore your surroundings or to take one of your friends out for a bowl of ramen in order to improve your bond with them is one I missed greatly while playing Persona Q. The social aspect plays a major role for the Persona series, and to see such a vital part of the equation missing is disappointing.
With that said, I still found myself enjoying Persona Q enough to want to continue playing it to unravel the mystery of the labyrinth. Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series is known for delivering unforgettable stories throughout the majority of their games, and Persona Q is one game that will keep you guessing from start to finish.