Fan dream brought to life
For those still eagerly awaiting Persona 5‘s release and are wanting to fill the Persona-shaped hole until it does, this is probably something that will pique their interest. I’ve avoided most of the Persona dancing and fighting spin-off titles which appear more like a quick cash-grab than anything else. This game, however, is more closely related to the original game play of the series. Expanding to include both the cast of Persona 3 and 4 gives fans a mash up of the two iconic games.
There is a choice to make on which protagonist to control; I am more partial to Persona 3 so I went that route. The difference comes from the opening cut-scenes and some dialogue conversations. It will not change the setting or situation any. For the Persona 3 route, it starts with going to the velvet room to find Igor is gone and only Elizabeth is there to greet you. The lights go out and when they come back on, all the SEES members are in the velvet room right before the elevator velvet room falls. The group arrives at Yasogami High School or at least an area that looking like the school from the Persona 4 games. The school is decorated for the cultural festival and the only thing out of place is the lack of people and the large clock tower outside. Two new characters will appear, Zen and Rei. They have been stuck in the world for many years now. Rei has lost her memories and has you move through the labyrinths to start to gain clues to help her remember. With each completed labyrinth, a door will start to unlock, seeming to be the only way out of the odd dimension. Whichever cast is not chosen will arrive shortly after you’ve gotten some bearing on the situation.
The story actually takes place about mid-way through each game. The dimensions the cast were pulled from are years apart as Persona 3 takes place a few years before Persona 4. When this is revealed, it is hinted that characters from Persona 4 have some awareness of the fate of the Persona 3 cast. They are told not to reveal anything because “no spoilers” and weird time altering ramifications if they did. This can give the story some canon elements to the Persona series as a whole. Even with this game being a fan fantasy, it does not damage the original stories. This is mostly thanks to the additions of new characters and scenarios keeping the plot of the game unfocused from the situations of the main games.
The battle system holds a lot of similarity to 3 and 4. Up to 4 other characters can be taken along with the chosen protagonist. The group will be sorted into front and back units. I had 3 in the back that would cover healing and ranged attacks. Then, my two in the front focused on physical damage and they had better health gauges. This is important to be aware of because not all enemies will have range so the front forces can wind up taking the brunt of the damage. There are 20 playable characters giving an array of combinations for teams that can be made to suit a player’s preferred style. I aim to exploit enemy weaknesses more and somewhat lean towards using status ailments. The two new cast members will fight as one unit with Zen doing damaging attacks while Rei has healing and enhancing abilities. Also, those 20 characters do not include the support of Fuuka and Rise. One will be set to guide you through labyrinths, and the other will focus on helping you in battles.
The map system has a unique way that it is actually drawn in each level of the labyrinths. As you explore the labyrinths, the touch screen area there will become a grid area where you can draw, color, and mark out the map of each floor. While it may seem like an annoying addition at first, as the labyrinths get more difficult and there are more complex puzzles, this is a helpful tool. The puzzles can become trial and error if the solution is not immediately obvious. Having the map can help determine what will work, what won’t work, and what didn’t work. Most of the puzzles involve avoiding strong large enemies called FOEs that are harder to beat than the boss in some cases. If frustration sets in with the puzzle to avoid the battle, then there is the option to plow through the FOE. Once you’ve explored the entire map, each square will mark a step and fill in automatically; there is a chest that will open containing a rare or strong item.
Personas will be found and acquired randomly after battles like always. The change in this is that the protagonists will not be the only one able to use them. Each of the characters can be equipped with an additional persona to expand the amount of techniques each can use. The chosen protagonist is still able switch between personas as needed within battles. Fusing can still be done too. Igor is not around, but Margaret has filled in his role. Make sure to register any personas that you’ve spent time training because Margaret seems to be more prone for error than Igor was. While she has taken over that job; Elizabeth has taken over the nurse’s office, giving you a place to heal after exploration and to access side quests for getting extra experience. Theo has made a place in the art room to craft items, armors, weapons, and accessories from the materials you sell.
The art style of the contrasting graphics closely resembles other games in the Persona series. From my point of view, it mostly matches the style of Persona 4. The contrast shows in the color palettes of areas and can also be seen in the figures of the characters now being smaller chibi-like versions of their more realistic models from the main games. I love contrast in most art styles. It turns the separation of light and dark into an interesting concept, using bright and dark colors to highlight the grim situations for the chibi-style character models. These character models help to give the game its own unique look that separates it from the main series.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is simply fun. The challenge keeps it interesting, adding to the hours of its enjoyment. I have over 80 hours on just one file. The character interactions range from amusing to heartwarming. The battle system is fun and interesting with additions like front and back forces and Rise/Fuuka being able to help in battles for healing and status effects. If you enjoyed the originals, then there is no reason that you will not enjoy Persona Q as well.