I will start off this review by stating one simple matter, I have only ever played Persona 4, but that game has managed to make me highly anticipate the release of Persona 5. Yet while we won’t actually get that release for quite some time sadly, owners of the Nintendo 3DS were given a nice treat with Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. In contrast to the Persona 3 remake for the PlayStation Portable, titled Persona 3 Portable, this is not in fact a remake, but an original title featuring characters from both Persona 3 and 4. At first glance, if it weren’t for the characters and design choices this game probably wouldn’t even truly pass as a Persona title, but we will get into that later. So, without wasting anymore time, let us dive deeper into Persona Q.
You have the choice to play the game from either the perspective of Persona 3 or Persona 4’s protagonist. The only major different this offers are the way characters communicate with the protagonist, as over time you will unlock the entire team from the other game. As I only played Persona 4, I have also decided to follow the story from their perspective, so all experiences you will be reading are from that point of view. The general storyline is that the group of characters from their respective games suddenly find themselves at an alternate version of the Yasogami High School (the one from Persona 4) during the culture festival. With a strange bell tower in the middle of the school field appearing, the group of heroes are forced to fight the shadows once more alongside the mysterious duo Zen and Rei, who have been trapped in this world for some time before our protagonist’s arrival.
I will not lie, the story is a slow burn as you only gradually uncover the secrets behind this different dimension and most of the beginning characters try to find out what exactly their purpose here is. I won’t get into the ending, but it still has a very interesting twist to the story that sadly just takes quite some time to get to. Don’t worry, the story itself does not have a pace issue, but as a Persona title, there is a lot of level grinding one has to take into account to continue forward, but that is something I will get into in the Gameplay section of this review.
The main focus of this game, and probably for most people that buy it, are the conversations between the individual characters. It is similarly structured to a classic Persona game so that characters have full voice-overs during important parts of the storyline, but they went all out as even some specific side missions, like trying to find the perfect snack for Rei, that emphasize dialog with full voice overs. The actors put a lot of work into it and all have great chemistry working off of each other. The redesign of the characters also gives them more personality with various reactions that can get a chuckle out of you, even the pun-tastic Teddy, who gets the most over-the-top reactions out of all of them. It is great to also see how the characters from Persona 3 and 4 converse with each other, which might be a huge selling point for any fan of the franchise.
Remember that I earlier stated this isn’t your typical Persona game? Instead of a third-person perspective, you follow the game from the point of view of the actual protagonist. The style is taken from Etrian Odyssey, but is given a Persona, or Megami Tensei twist.
While exploring the various themed dungeons, which even involve some element that is typical to the concept, like the rabbit in an Alice in Wonderland-themed dungeon, you have to mark everything on your mark manually. This makes good use of the dual screen sensibility of the Nintendo 3DS so that you can always see where you have been, where you can find treasure chests and more. It makes travelling through the dungeon a unique experience and if you manage to get lost, you can only blame yourself for not keeping an overview of what is happening. Furthermore, it allows you to remember specific objects or events you could only utilize later on. The map also allows you to see the so-called FOEs, which are enemies that are even stronger than the boss you meet at the end of each dungeon. To a certain degree, they are almost too strong to face, as while they do offer unique items, as soon as you are strong enough to face them, you would already be further down in the game.
The FOE also strike the biggest issue with the game, while Persona 4 was also quite a grinding experience, it would still feel like you were evolving, as the day cycle forced you to organize when you socialize, when you grind for experience and when you would learn for exams. This game does not have any other activities except smaller side-missions that are either fetch quests, or short additional character moments, but nothing that is necessary to finish the game. So, you are restricted to grinding in the same dungeon over and over again until you are finally strong enough to continue through it, or to defeat the boss. If you want to play this game, just be prepared for a lot of time, as it took me around ten hours to get through the entire first dungeon alone, but just maybe that is by design as there aren’t that many dungeons to explore in total.
The fighting system is nothing new to anyone who has played a Persona game before, but the only addition is that you can have up to a total of five characters in your team and can place them either in the front, where they take and give more damage, or in the back as supporting characters. Depending on the characters and their weaknesses and abilities, you can create a diverse team. Only major issue is that there are almost too many characters that can join your team, which could lead to you finding your favorite characters and simply sticking to them, as they are the most useful. This isn’t necessarily a part aspect of the game, as characters aren’t forced on you, but it is a waste to have such a wide cast of characters that easily are forgotten due to low levels or additional time that would be wasted to grind their levels up.
Design and Graphics
The characters are smaller, or “chibi”-fied versions of the original designs and it give the game a specific style that works in its favor. It helps the Nintendo 3DS to render smaller characters that you see interact sometime in the main menu, and also allows you to see them react more naturally than the stiff versions of the original Persona games, where they are only the character designs as Anime. While I was skeptical at first, the designs grew on me quite fast and it offers a unique look to the game, making it stand out in comparison to others.
The world itself is also very detailed with the Alice in Wonderland-themed dungeon being covered in bushes with red or white roses hanging out and cards being scattered throughout on the floor. My only real gripe would be that these designs are only used for walls so that you don’t lose your way while traversing the labyrinth. While there are moving parts that make the environments feel livelier and there are even some objects that you can use to your advantage against the FOEs throughout, it still feels very barren. Actually this is a small complaint I have towards Persona 4’s dungeons as well, as they were quite empty except for the monsters attacking you.