It’s time to grab your popcorn and find your seat for our latest review: Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth for the 3DS.
Lights, Camera, Action!
So, a few things before we delve into the story proper: Persona Q is a crossover series, and this particular title is a crossover between Persona 3, 4, and 5. While this does mean plenty of fun seeing how the casts of each title interact with each other, it also means this game kinda assumes you already know the other games. Certain late game spoilers are just treated as a matter of fact or used for gags, former villains discussed, the existence of certain party members themselves are spoilers, and the fact that a portion of the cast routinely shoot themselves in the head is given just a shrug at best.
The game begins with the cast of Persona 5 exploring the randomized dungeon “Mementos” and finding themselves stuck on a path hurling them through a movie screen and into a world that appears like a Palace or Mementos from their game, but not quite. After a chase from the police, they head through another screen and find themselves in a movie theater showing the city environment they were just in. A theater they are now trapped in with a few oddball staff members, with four massive locks barring the exit until they can solve the mystery of the movies.
As they explore the films, the cast of Persona 5 encounters the casts of Persona 3 and 4, who likewise found themselves here while exploring their own games’ dungeons of Tartarus and the Midnight Channel respectively. Likewise, the inhabitants of the Velvet Room from each game begin showing up back at the cinema to offer a variety of services and comic relief.
In general, the story is fairly light-hearted. That isn’t to say that the stakes are never high, but the interactions between the various casts and especially with the members of the Velvet Room seem to emphasize the absurd and goofy. Which, if you’re going to cross over several different games, is perhaps the best way to do it…even if I found myself craving popcorn every time I unlocked new items in the shop.
Drawing a Familiar Path
Persona Q2, like Persona Q before it, is not just a cross-over between Persona games but also with the Etrian Odyssey series, borrowing heavily from the gameplay there. It consists of grid-based dungeon exploring that encourages you to draw your own map on the bottom screen. Unlike some of the Etrian Odyseey titles, however, all the mapping icons have quite defined uses, many of which will even alter appearance based on things like whether a treasure spot has respawned or a switch has been pressed.
While it’s nice to not have to guess at what the icons mean and have a clearer map that doesn’t use the same symbol for multiple things, at the same time, the map-making is becoming less and less necessary. The game even has an option to auto-add walls when you enter a room, meaning all you really need to do is mark down special spots, which again only have one right answer now. Admittedly, I know feeling like this is a negative just marks me as an old fuddy-duddy that likes making things pointlessly tedious for no reason, and the auto-walls are at least an optional feature.
One thing I do feel is a valid complaint is that the game tracks your map completion with chests that only open at 100% completion…but in order for a tile to count towards that completion, you need to actually step on it. If I were designing it, marking the tiles on your map, finding each important spot (chests, treasure spots, stairs, etc) and entering each room would be sufficient. Instead this means spending a lot of time zig-zagging through rooms risking extra encounters from enemies and essentially using the auto-floor marking to fill out a room rather than drawing it yourself.
Map-making aside, Persona Q2 also brings back the FOE system from Etrian Odyssey, where powerful monsters visible on the map patrol sections and must be avoided (Until you’re a high enough level to treat them as loot pinatas), and classic turn-based RPG fun with brutal difficulty. Maybe I’m missing something: It’s entirely possible I need to grind more than I did, or I wasn’t utilizing Persona fusion and sub-Personas as well as I should have been, or maybe I needed to utilize buffs/debuffs more often, but it felt like around the time of the first movie’s boss, enemies started to hit for massive amounts, frequently close to half of my party’s max HP (And sadly my attack debuffs and defense buffs were of little help, when they’re single target against several foes with five party members to pick from). My offense was fine, the game borrows the All-Out Attack from the Persona series where attacking an enemy with a weakness will knock it down, and knocking down all enemies allows a super powerful finisher, but in instances where I was still figuring out the weaknesses of my enemy (or against an enemy that can’t be knocked down) it often resulted in just praying they spread their attacks out and give me a chance to heal. Granted, this was on normal difficulty, with two easier difficulties to choose from if need be, so it’s not an insurmountable complaint.
Difficulty aside, the emphasis on the All-Out Attack added some fun wrinkles to the usual dungeon-crawling gameplay. In addition to making sure my party had a healer and managing my front and back row members, I was also encouraged to bring a hefty spread of elements for experimenting on new monsters with, or to focus on an element if I noticed a particular area had many enemies weak to it. Given the sizeable assortment of characters, this was a welcome bit of direction in deciding on which five characters to bring with me.
And the Academy Award for Best Music Goes to…
It wouldn’t be a Persona game without a great soundtrack. Even long after I’d put the game down, I’d find myself humming the main theme “Road Less Taken” and the first battle theme “Invitation to Freedom,” and the rest of the tracks are pretty toe-tapping to boot.
The graphics I can see being more debatable. In fitting the lighter and sillier take of the game, everyone is done in a chibi style because some mad lad decided Morgana wasn’t adorable enough as is. It’s fun, it’s cute, and I love it. That’s simply my opinion however, and I could see players not enjoying the simplified aesthetic.
I also love the contrast of different areas the movie setting allows, from futuristic sci-fi to prehistory and in-between. That said, there’s not a whole lot of variety within each film itself, with each room and floor looking the same as the last. It makes it easier to notice special features like shortcuts, but a little more variation between floors would have been appreciated.
A Stellar Showing
Overall, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is a blast for fans of either the Persona or Etrian Odyssey series. What few complaints I had have their workarounds, and even when I was level grinding, the music and battle system made it a joy.
Review copy provided by Atlus for 3DS. Screenshots courtesy of Atlus.