First impressions on the first Persona game for the Nintendo 3DS, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth!
Sidekick’s First Impressions
Note: I’m totally NOT a video game expert (I barely play anything aside from JRPGs), just a very passionate Persona fan. I have also never touched the Etrian Odyssey series. As such, this post is just me sharing some of the thoughts I have regarding Persona Q as a Persona fan, and is in no way supposed to be a serious ‘review’. Also, this post is spoiler-free, so if you haven’t played the game yet, no worries!
As I’m writing this post, I’ve just finished clearing my first dungeon in Persona Q and have clocked about 12 hours of playtime playing in the Persona 3-centered route, playing on hard for 3 hours or so before chickening out and sticking with Normal mode.
To my fellow Persona Fans
Please don’t come in expecting this game to play like P3 or P4. They honestly play very differently. This totally doesn’t mean that Persona Q is an awful game though, just that you’re not going to like this game for the same reasons why you liked P3 or P4.
You’re gonna have to dungeon crawl the old-school style – first person perspectives with grid-like movements, and CARTOGRAPHY. OH MY GOD, CARTOGRAPHY. I never thought I’d have to play a game where I’d have to draw maps. Personally though, it is a lot more fun and satisfying than I expected! It does require more patience than your usual Persona dungeon of course, but for the most part the added challenge was ridiculously satisfying. The feeling of completing exploration of the floor and seeing that 100% on the screen is just so wonderful.
Also, you’re going to have to solve puzzles in dungeons so you can’t just rush into areas and fight whatever comes your way. This is especially so with the presence of FOEs (they originate from the Etrian games) – kind of like mid-bosses, but ridiculously tough and difficult. It’s always recommended you escape fighting them. You will have to read the patterns of their movements and act accordingly to try and avoid them. There was one room in the 3rd floor of the first dungeon that was absolute HELL for me because there were THREE FOEs I had to avoid. I spent about 2 hours trying to work my way around it before I gave in and forced my way through by defeating one of the FOEs, lol.
There is still a semblance of the enemy exploitation system (This includes all-out attacks that are still a thing! Yay!) as well as Persona fusion though, so its not all unfamiliar stuff.
However, if you have been a more long-time Persona and Shin Megami Tensei fan, you’re going to find yourself in some very familiar ground. The gameplay style has remnants of the old Persona 1 and Persona 2 games, as well as the original Shin Megami Tensei games (namely SMT AND SMT2), except with less monster encounter rate, so no more of that walking for 3 steps and bumping into a Shadow nonsense.
My biggest gripe with the game is surprisingly not the first-person perspective dungeons, but actually the replacement of the Social Link system for the Stroll system. The best part of Persona was always knowing that the stuff you do outside of Tartarus/TV world would amount to something and was truly significant, creating a kind of unique balance other games wish they had. In Persona Q though, the Stroll system is kind of just…there. It’s just a cosmetic addition to the game that frankly isn’t that significant in regards to the story.
Conversations you unlock in Stroll are in GROUPS, meaning no 1-to-1, personal time with your favourite character. They kinda all just hang out in groups of 4-5 and chat, and you join in as the protagonist. It’s understandable considering the size of the cast, but was still a letdown. The worst part about this is that, just like the characters being cute little caricatures of their usual appearances, they were kind of caricatures of themselves. Most of them are reduced to shadows (hah) of their usual selves – the game relies on very one-note characterization where one character’s entire personality is reliant on like one or two ‘quirky’ traits. The biggest offenders of this are Teddie and Chie from Persona 4, as well as Shinjiro and Akihiko from Persona 3. Teddie’s existential and identity crises are totally never mentioned and he instead just hits on the girls a lot and makes a couple of bear puns here and there. Chie only talks about meat. Akihiko is characterized by his undying love for protein and dumb man-baby arguments with Shinjiro (they are amusing though, to be fair), and Shinjiro just has the man-baby arguments. The characters are still kinda the same, but they’re also not. They lack the nuance and depth they had. I’m not saying I wanted to see all their character arcs in PQ, that’s impossible. I just wish they’d try to add more subtlety in the writing.
Still, as fanservice (which is like the main aim of this game, obviously) the Stroll system definitely works. Sure, there aren’t anymore deep conversations about identity or whatever, but for the most part Persona’s unique brand of humor is still very much present, and its always fun to see your favourite characters interact with one another. I was personally just happy to reunite with the Persona characters and spend time with them again, even if the in-game conversations are a lacking in depth. (Btw, I got teary-eyed seeing Aigis and Shinjiro again. That is how much I missed them ;_;)
The game is also more stylistically similar to Persona than Etrian Odyssey, with some creepy, trippy dungeon designs, brightly coloured menus and whatnot. Shoji Meguro was in charge of composing the OST again, so more Lotus Juice Persona music goodness. There’s a great mix of remixed old tracks as well as brand new tracks, all of which sound bloody amazing. I forgot how good Persona music is.
I had to physically divorce myself from my 3DS; this post is just an excuse for me to get away from the game. So yeah, I love it. Definitely two thumbs up from me so far.
Bottom Line: This game was made for me, though for different reasons than what I had expected. If you really hate puzzles and drawing maps, this game may not be for you. Also, this game is MUCH tougher than your usual Persona game, so be ready for a challenge. (Though we all know how piss-easy Persona 4 Golden is….that stuff spoils you.)
My suggestion to non-Persona fans: Honestly, this is not where you should start, whether you’re interested in Etrian Odyssey or Persona (I’d assume most of you are in the latter group). Unless you just really, reaaaally want a challenge, I can’t recommend this game to you. You’d be heavily missing out on the story elements, and the battle system, being a hybrid of the two…you might as well just start off playing either the Persona or Etrian Odyssey games and come back later.
Like seriously, Etrian Odyssey is often on sale on the Nintendo eShop (ATLUS games are almost ALWAYS on sale so look out for them!) and there are demos available for you to try the franchise out. As for Persona, you can get Persona 3 AND Persona 4 for $10 each under PS2 classics. If you have a Vita like me you can play Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden, which are also totally OK ways to play Persona.
Bottom Line: Just, nah. Play EO and/or Persona, then come back later.
My suggestion to Etrian Odyssey fans: This game is a bit of a hard sell, but gameplay mechanics are familiar stuff so if that’s all you care about then I think it’s good to go right ahead. It is noticeably easier than the EO demos I played though, and there’s a lot more hand-holding through the experience in Persona Q than in the EO demos. If you want to get the most out of it though, with the story and everything, then of course it is recommended to play P3 and P4 first.