Review: Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (Nintendo 3DS)

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth: Official GBAtemp Review

Nintendo 3DS 5,086 views 3 likes 7 comments
Reviewed by Jakub Kowalski, posted Dec 18, 2014
What happens when you mash up the casts of Persona 3 and Persona 4, put them in a somewhat unfamiliar setting and pit them against a bunch of Shadows? What happens is Persona Q, the latest game in the long-running Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series, so dear to many fans of dungeon crawling. How does the title fare on the 3DS? Read on and find out!
Dec 18, 2014
  • Release Date (NA): November 25, 2014
  • Release Date (EU): November 28, 2014
  • Release Date (JP): June 5, 2014
  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Developer: Atlus
  • Genres: JRPG/Dungeon Crawler
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth by Atlus is a cross-over game of Persona 3 and Persona 4 for the Nintendo 3DS.
Jakub Kowalski

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Downloadable version reviewed. Download size 14,214 blocks (approx.1,777 megabytes).

Play time of approx. 50 hours on the first playthrough.

Rated M for Mature, contains: Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes and Violence.

Story - Following the Rabbit Down the Hole

The game's trailer shows exactly what kind of presentation you're in for here.

In the very beginning of the game Persona Q lets you choose between two main characters - the nameless protagonist of Persona 3 or Yu Narukami from Persona 4, both come with their respective teams. The story of the game will be altered depending on your choice - I personally chose the Persona 3 cast. Once you've made your decision and set the difficulty level, you're ready to start your adventure!

Every Persona fan is familiar with the Velvet Room - it's a magical place removed from space and time where anything can happen and where fates are decided. This ever-ascending elevator-like structure is curated by Igor - a long-nosed, bizarre-looking old man who plays the role of the room's Proprietor, with Elizabeth, Margaret and Theodore serving as his aides. He is so intrinsically connected to the room that whenever he leaves it, the whole structure becomes unstable - Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth takes place during one such day. The protagonist of Persona 3 was paying the room a visit, just like many times before and during his stay the instability caused by Igor's absence becomes so immense that the whole room stops and then collapses into the unknown, changing it almost beyond recognition as a result! As he gathers his bearings he quickly realizes that him and his friends have found themselves in Yasogami High, the school known from Persona 4, currently holding the Culture Festival... but there's something not quite right about it.

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The Velvet Room after the fall with two mysterious doors in the middle - where do they lead? That's for you to find out!

Shortly after the cross-dressing pageant, Yu Narukami meets up with Margaret at Yasogami High and she invites him and his companions to visit the fortune teller's booth. Surprisingly, all they find there is a platform and three broken flights of stairs - the remnants of the Velvet Room. Once they leave the booth, they quickly realize that there's something different about the school now, namely a large clock tower that appeared out of nowhere on the school grounds... suspicious.

Both groups find out that time has stopped and the festival seems to be never-ending. Worse yet, they're all trapped! Try as they may, they cannot leave the school grounds and nobody seems to take notice of them. With no other options, the two groups embark on a quest to set things straight - fix the Velvet Room, find their way out of the school, discover the meaning behind the bell that brought them all into this place and, hopefully, solve the mystery of the recent happenings.

Presentation - Persona Personified with a Chibi Twist

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The game is full of quirky events, all humorous and well-suited with the game's theme style.

The game is heavily stylized which may be a hurdle to some Persona fans more used to the anime-like look of the previous games. This had me puzzled at first as this kind of style is usually used to go around the hardware's shortcomings. Seeing that the 3DS is much more capable than the PSP, I couldn't understand why it was used instead of Persona 3's and 4's style, the games Persona Q is supposed to be a mash-up of, but it's not something that you can't get over and it has a charm of its own.

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Down the rabbit hole you go in the game's first dungeon - You in Wonderland.

The game takes you through a series of labyrinths which used to be Culture Festival booths in the real world, now serving as the game's dungeons, each corresponding to one of the padlocks on the doors that suddenly appeared in the Velvet Room. Due to the nature of the festival, the dungeons are varied and include such oddities as an Alice in Wonderland-themed dungeon or a Group Dating dungeon. If variety is your thing, this game will not disappoint. Graphics-wise the game may not be much to write home about, but the aesthetics of the dungeons make up for it tenfold. Each dungeon is well-constructed around its theme and memorable, which is always nice in comparison to dungeon crawlers that only have samey grey walls to offer.

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Defeat the game's bosses to open the padlocks on the red doors - sounds easy enough... Right?

As far as audio presentation is concerned, it's also on a pretty high level. Key portions of dialogue have voice-overs that give the characters some personality and the action is accompanied by Persona's token Jpop/Jrock music score, which is pretty catchy. All in all, if you've ever played a Persona game, you know what you're in for. If you haven't, check out the trailer above - it features the game's main theme - Maze of Life.

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*Insert witty innuendo here*

With its good theming, rich and numerous cutscenes, loads of character banter and pleasant style, the audio-visual presentation of the game is pretty endearing, albeit not exactly in-tune with the games it's supposed to represent.

Gameplay - Etrian Persona? Shin Megami Odyssey?

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth makes a big departure from the gameplay style known from previous Persona installments and that may trip some Persona fans picking up the title. The game was developed with the help of both Persona and Etrian Odyssey developers and it shows, especially as far as the latter are concerned. I'd be hard pressed to say that the game is "Persona with Etrian Odyssey elements" as Atlus described it on several occasions - I'd sooner go for the opposite description - "Etrian Odyssey with a Persona theme". The game plays almost identically to Etrian Odyssey and runs on the exact same engine - there's no denying that. The similarities span from broad concepts like first-person dungeon exploration and a menu-based "in-town" activities to individual mechanics such as drawing dungeon maps on the bottom screen or avoiding FOE's.

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I know what it is. My question is, what's it doing here?

Don't get me wrong - I love Etrian Odyssey. Thing is, that's not exactly the kind of gameplay I expected from a mash-up of Persona 3 and Persona 4. Namely, I expected something... more like Persona 3 and 4. That's not to say that all Persona mechanics are completely gone and all that's left is the theme - that's not the case either. They're still there for the most part, however they are marginalized. If you're really not into the Etrian Odyssey style, chances are you won't enjoy this title much. If you do like Etrian Odyssey though, you'll probably love Persona Q - it's a good marriage of the two series. If you're not familiar with Etrian Odyssey at all, I'd say you should give this title a shot - the game is really enjoyable as-is, it's just not an accurate representation of Persona 3 or Persona 4.

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H-hey, don't judge! I only fuse Personas like that because of their great statistics! S-shut up!

If you're into Shin Megami Tensei because of demon collecting and fusion, you can rest assured - it's still there and it's as familiar as ever. The game offers the usual Persona serving of Normal and Triple Spreads - you'll feel right at home in that department. There's even some familiar faces, such as the Angel Persona above, so if you have some favourites, be sure to search for them.

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Sir, are you sure you're qualified to do this? Can I speak to your sisters instead?

While we're on the subject of Personas, some changes were made to the system of their summoning. The whole gimmick behind Persona 3 and 4 was the power of the Wild Card - it is a special trait of the two protagonists that enables them to summon any given Persona at any time to support them in battle. This trait has been modified in Persona Q for some story-related reasons, which has a good and a bad side to it. The bad news is that now every single team member is stuck with their default Persona, the good news is that they're also all capable of summoning a secondary Persona of their choice, which is pretty great as it opens up a lot of opportunities for team customization. The way this works in practice is that your strengths and weaknesses are inherited from your main default Persona wheras the secondary support Persona grants you an HP and SP boost as well as additional skills. This system works out well and incentivises you to continue fusing Personas and experiment with different combinations.

Strolls replace the usual after-hours activities

Unfortunately, if you're into the Persona series because of the "after hours" school drama, you might be out of luck with Persona Q. School-related day-to-day activities or social links are all gone, replaced with menu options called "Strolls" and "Requests" that you gain access to later down the road. The former option will allow you to participate in some banter with the characters wheras the latter is an equivalent of Etrian Odyssey's Inn missions which require you to either venture into the labyrinths to collect something, acquire a specific Persona or perform a specific Stroll successfully. Long story short, if you planned on buying Persona Q to find out what's it like to date Aegis the android, you're probably buying the wrong game... and I can't give you any pointers on what you should buy instead.

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Now, now, Shinjiro! This is a 3DS game, watch your language! This is why we can't have nice things, this is why this game is M-rated! Shame on you!

Of course this doesn't mean that character development is non-existant - it's a huge portion of Persona Q, it's simply delivered through different means, namely character banter during missions and Strolls as well as plentiful cutscenes, some of which are animated, others rendered in-engine. There's conversations-a-plenty and they often give you a chance to speak up, so don't worry - Persona Q has more in store than just bland dungeon crawling.

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When opening doors your teammates will pop up to drop a one-liner - a pleasant change of pace compared to Etrian Odyssey

Speaking of dungeon crawling, you'll be doing a lot of it and it will engage you on several levels. The numerous labyrinths found in the festival booths are littered with FOE's, or Fysis Oikein Eidolon, and you will have to learn the distinct patters of those mid-bosses and think strategically to traverse the levels safetly. Engaging the FOE's without proper equipment or underleveled is a death sentence - you're going to have a bad time with those guys, so be on your guard!

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100% map completion grants you access to special treasure chests, be on the lookout for them!

Whilst making your way through the expositions you will also have to draw maps on the bottom screen. This is another gamplay mechanic lifted from Etrian Odyssey, but it has been improved as now the bottom screen automatically shows the walls visible to your party to make drawing easier. Creating an accurate map will prove invaluable to your exploration - jotting down all the available shortcuts will really make a difference when you're in a hurry. Compiling an accurate map will also help you gain access to special treasure chests that open only once you've completely explored the floor you're on, netting you special, rare items. The only problem with that mechanic is that you can't just draw the map to get the 100% score - you have to physically step on each and every available tile which can put you in harm's way - keep that in mind if you'll want to open those special chests.

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Now that's a sizable roster if I've ever seen one!

The battle system of Persona Q is another area where similarities to Etrian Odyssey are apparent. Your team is divided into two rows - the front and the back. The front row plays a more offensive and defensive role - front row characters are guys who like to get up close and personal with enemy Shadows. The back row is a place for your support characters as well as magic users - it's where you should place your healers and "nukers" or "glass cannons". Each of the characters has a specific preference as far as rows are concerned, so pay attention to that when creating your team arragements. You can save arragements that work best for you which comes in handy when you're experimenting with different characters, and of those you have plenty - the combined casts of Persona 3 and Persona 4 give you more than enough wiggle room to create a Dream Team of your own.

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6 out of 10 Team Leaders don't use Leader Skills, putting their teammates at risk of serious injury, death and having a bad time. Don't be a poor leader, use Leader Skills. This message was brought to you by the Bureau of Phony Statistics.

Battles with Shadows are turn-based and presented from a first-person perspective, much like in many other dungeon crawlers. During your turn each of your characters can use one of the 6 available options - Attack using their equipped weapons, use Skills by summoning their Personas, use an Item, raise their guard by entering a Defence stance, Move from one row to another to either deal more damage or stay clear of enemy attacks or attempt to Escape. The Team Leader has access to an additional option - Leader Skill. You can choose to use a Leader Skill in addition to the above combat options as long as your Party Meter visible on the right has an appropriate amount of points. Leader Skills usually grant your party some much-needed healing or buffs, you will quickly learn to appreciate how invaluable they are and that it's well-worth it to keep the Party Meter filled up - to do so, you simply have to perform offensive combat actions.

Be sure to use Boost to your advantage!

Persona Q also introduces a Boost mechanic. If your character deals a critical hit or exploits an enemy weakness, he or she enters Boost Mode which lasts until he or she is hit by the enemy or performs another action. While in Boost Mode your attacks will hit harder and they'll cost you no SP or HP. In addition to free attacks, the more characters are in Boost Mode by the end of the battle the higher the chance of gaining new Personas, so be sure to exploit weaknesses whenever you can in order to both conserve energy and collect more Persona cards.

Ganging up on your foes Persona-style is as satisfying as ever.

Reaching a high level of effectiveness and efficiency in battle will enable your characters to perform special individual or group attacks - use all of the skills at your disposal and you shouldn't have too many issues dispatching your enemies. Once you've done that, be sure to pawn in the spoils of battle to Theodore at the Workshop to re-work them into equipment and items!

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I choose you, Orpheus! Wait, wrong game...

As you can see above, Persona summons have been reduced to sprites rather than a 3D models known from Persona 3 and 4, which is a shame, but it does cut down on the otherwise long battle sequences. Aside from that minor complaint, Personas retain their functionality and remain useful tools for dealing the pain to your foes and relief to your allies.

Final Thoughts?

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You know what? I will spend more time with my companions in the school - it's well-worth it.

I enjoyed Persona Q thoroughly and I'm sure to keep on playing, but as someone who has experienced other Persona games I realize that some of the artistic liberties and omissions seem a bit out of place. Try as I may, I can't avoid comparing this title to Etrian Odyssey at every turn because really, that's how it plays like - like an Etrian Odyssey game. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it has to be something to keep in mind when giving the game a score and a fair review. The game is powered by the Etrian Odyssey clockwork, but if you can look beyond that, you'll also see most of the themes and elements that make Persona great. In conclusion, despite its shortcomings, the game is well-worth the purchase for every dungeon crawling fan out there. The title is sure to provide hours of entertainment and the two Story Modes provide two different perspectives, giving the game much-needed replayability. The title is also getting DLC packs in the near future which will add additional dungenons, further expanding the game. If you're looking for a game to sink dozens of hours into, that'd be the one this season.

Verdict
Pros
+ A solid dungeon-crawling experience
+ Battles are challenging enough to keep you on your toes, but not overly difficult
+ A huge roster of characters to choose from
+ Upcoming DLC that will expand the already sizable game even further
Cons
- The game takes so many elements from Etrian Odyssey that it almost feels like it would be more appropriate to market it as an Etrian Odyssey and Persona mash-up rather than a Persona 3 and Persona 4 one
- School time activities have been reduced to menu clicks and Social Links are non-existant
- Persona summoning animations were replaced with sprites
- The chibi style may not be up everyone's alley
7 Presentation
As far as presentation is concerned, the game is very well-stylized. The characters are properly voiced, the background music is catchy and the locations are memorable. Unfortunately, the game feels slightly simplified in comparison to the two games it's supposed to mash-up in the graphics department - there is some room for improvement, for instance in Persona summoning.
7 Gameplay
The gameplay of Persona Q is solid, the mechanics are well-polished, understandable and easy to master... they're just more akin to Etrian Odyssey than they are to Persona. This may be a hurdle for Persona fans looking for a typical Persona experience. However, if you approach the game with an open mind, you're sure to enjoy what it has to offer - a great and reasonably challenging dungeon crawler.
9 Lasting Appeal
With two distinct Story Modes and DLC on the way, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is sure to give you more than just the estimated playthrough time of 50 hours. The title will keep you busy for sure, especially if you want to try out all of your available teammates.
7.5
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is well-worth your money if you're a fan of dungeon crawlers and JRPG's, the it can definitely provide hours of quality entertainment. The game is well-executed and although it has some shortcomings and it isn't always true to its roots, it manages to deliver an enjoyable experience that's worth recommending.
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