Review: Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth (Nintendo 3DS)

Reviewed by Stephen Peddigrew, posted Jun 5, 2019, last updated Oct 2, 2019
Jun 5, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): June 4, 2019
  • Release Date (EU): June 4, 2019
  • Release Date (JP): November 29, 2018
  • Publisher: Atlus
  • Developer: P-Studio
  • Genres: Dungeon Crawler, RPG
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Twelve years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
The Phantom Thieves of Hearts take centre stage in the second crossover Persona title for Nintendo 3DS!
Stephen Peddigrew
The Persona Q series serves to connect the entries in Atlus’ anthology Persona series, allowing characters from different games to meet and play off of each other. With the first game already having focused on Persona 3’s S.E.E.S. and Persona 4’s Investigation Team, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth puts the spotlight on the cast of Persona 5, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.

The story starts at an unspecified time near the endgame of Persona 5, as the entire Phantom Thieves crew is assembled, during a routine exploration of Mementos, when they're all unexpectedly sucked into an unfamiliar world, a movie theatre occupied by a shy girl named Hikari, her caretaker Nagi, and a mysterious creature named Doe. The movie playing is titled Kamoshidaman, taking place in a city where Suguru Kamoshida, the first villain of Persona 5, is unquestioningly praised as a superhero. The Phantom Thieves decide they must enter the movie and alter the ending, revealing Kamoshidaman's false justice and freeing the citizens from his tyrannical rule.

PQ1.

While exploring the Kamoshidaman movie, the Phantom Thieves encounter the female protagonist from Persona 3 Portable. Since the Investigation Team and S.E.E.S. don't enter the picture until the second and third dungeons, respectively, this gives plenty of opportunity to explore the characters new to the Persona Q series. Minako (the female protagonist's canon name, though players are still given the option of entering their own name) is vibrant and full of life, and it's just as much a breath of fresh air as when she was playable in Persona 3 Portable. The Phantom Thieves are well-written too, with their dynamic matching their established relationships, and some fun is had with the fact that the game takes place so close to the end of Persona 5, toying with certain reveals, but never fulling tipping its hand. Fans of that game eager for more content will feel at home with this version of these characters. Unfortunately, not everyone is served so well by the script.

The original Persona Q received criticism for the reduction of some of the characters to tropes, and the sequel doesn't do much to avoid this trap. The Investigation Team in particular feel too silly, which makes sense given that Persona 4 is a more comical, light-hearted game than the rest in the series, but without that game's tighter plotting and darker themes to ground them, and especially compared to the more down-to-earth casts of Persona 3 and 5, they don't always fit in with the world. Of course, they aren't the only characters to suffer from this problem. After the Investigation Team's introduction, the tone shifts to accommodate their outlandishness and some of the Phantom Thieves who had felt so true to form earlier now feel a little off. Some characters are reduced to the broadest aspects of their characters, or new elements are introduced that the character becomes one-note about, even if it has only the vaguest correlation to their previous characterization. These dumbed down characters are also given more presence than characters that are harder to reduce to stereotypes, with characters like Akihiko, Chie and Yusuke overshadowing less broad characters like Mitsuru, Rise and Haru. We also play this game from the perspective of Joker, Persona 5’s protagonist, which means we have to make all of his dialogue choices. This is kind of disappointing as the linear nature of this game means the choices never have any impact, and it would be much more interesting to see Joker receive some characterization the way the previous Persona protagonists do here.

That’s not to say that the writing is all bad. Centring the plot on Hikari allows the story to have a satisfying arc without over-emphasizing or interfering with the arc of the central Persona characters, but also without drawing focus away from the characters we’re here to see. There are also satisfying moments that play off our knowledge of these characters without hitting us over the head with it. For example, Futaba's concern for the sheltered Hikari is touching due to the way her situation mirrors Futaba's at the beginning of Persona 5. The side quests, here dubbed "special screenings," will usually pair off two characters from different games to see how they play off each other. While some matchings are obvious, like pairing off detectives Naoto and Akechi, others are more inspired, and finding the common ground between two seemingly unrelated characters can add dimensions to both of them. And, while it isn't as satisfying as the complex writing of core Persona entries, there is some fun, in a fan service-y way, to seeing these characters interact and have the kind of conversations fans have been having since the Phantom Thieves were introduced, such as the sequence where the Investigation Team tries to come up with codenames for each other.

PQ2.

If the writing doesn't always have the most substance, the rest of the game embraces this philosophy by having an abundance of style. The game is a joy to look at, retaining the chibi design of the characters from the first game. Recognizable environments from previous entries, like Joker's attic or the Junes department store, are lovingly recreated and it's surprising how quickly you feel like you're back in Persona 5 during the intro. Music from previous games is borrowed and remixed to great effect, instantly invoking the intended emotion in anyone who's spent full games with these tunes, and the original music, despite not featuring series composer Shoji Meguro, lives up to the excellent standard for this series. The one area where the visual design lacks is in the dungeons which, with the exception of the first one, feel lifeless and repetitive.

In fact, the dungeons are an area where the game struggles overall. Despite the title, the dungeons are very straightforward, with almost no puzzles to solve and few deviating paths. The most complex navigating these labyrinths get is using shortcuts between corridors to avoid obstacles or spacing out steps around FOEs, over-levelled enemies who take one step on a predetermined path every time you take a step. The idea of having to avoid FOEs is interesting, especially considering if you get into a fight near one it will eventually enter the fray, but their patterns are too easy to figure out and are typically the only obstacle you’ll be facing at that time, meaning you’re unlikely to accidentally walk into one. The straightforwardness of the dungeons wouldn’t be such an issue if the game didn’t draw attention to it with the map drawing mechanic.

You are encouraged to draw your own maps along the way, but the mechanic isn't fully fleshed out and never contributes much to the experience. As you walk through the dungeon, each tile you step on will be coloured in automatically, but everything else on the map is up to you. But if stepping on every tile would essentially fill out the map, why bother doing it yourself? You'll get into more random encounters, but the game also incentivizes you to step on every square with big gold chests that only unlock once you've hit 100% completion of that floor's map (or with the use of the 3DS's Play Coins). The game also provides you with icons to use on the map that have very specialized functions, and are almost mandatory to use. The rotating cage icon will change as you rotate the cage, the electric gate icon will change as you arm or disarm the trap, and so on. The only opportunity for customization is in what colour you wish to use to fill in the tiles (the ones you fill in manually, not when you take a step), but there's nothing on the map worth marking that doesn't get its own specialized icon, so there's no need to use it. Everybody's map will end up looking roughly the same, with the main difference being how diligent you are with filling in the borders, and you're never asked to mark anything a normal game wouldn't just put on your map, so the whole thing becomes tedious and pointless.

PQ3.

The combat picks up a lot of slack for the mediocre dungeons. Many familiar Persona elements are here - elemental affinities, bonuses for critical hits or exploiting weaknesses, all-out attacks granted for downing all enemies on the field, - but enough is changed to give this game its own identity. For example, after hitting an enemy's weak point or getting a critical hit, instead of being granted another turn immediately like in mainline Persona games, your character will be put in Boost mode. This allows your character to act first during the next round and use any skill without having to expend any HP or SP. This creates a lot of opportunities for strategizing. You might want to give your healer a move with a high critical rate so they can get into Boost mode and heal without expending precious SP. This also means you can't count on one character to reliably take down all enemies weak to a certain element, encouraging you to diversify your party and try to form a party that covers as many bases as possible. You will also gain points for support skills during battle, allowing your navigator to grant certain bonuses, such as passing Boost mode from one character to another. There is also party formation to consider. Characters in front are more likely to be targeted by enemies, but characters in back can't reach to the enemy's back row with standard attack skills. Support skills might target a single row, rather than the whole party. In addition to levelling up a character's main Persona, which manages all of their stats and skills, characters can also be assigned a Sub-Persona, which add a handful of new skills and a minor amount of HP and SP. Like in normal Persona games, these Sub-Personas can be fused to make new ones or sacrificed to enhance existing ones. This system allows your characters to be adaptable to new situations, or for you to switch up a strategy if a boss fight is giving you trouble. Because the Sub-Personas only add skills while making no meaningful stat changes, your characters are able to keep their identity through their main Persona and this also keeps the system simple, stopping players from getting overwhelmed and not investing proper thought into their character's advancements. The whole system is designed to give you a lot of options to consider in a fight, but keeping each individual element straightforward enough that you're never left guessing how to navigate it.

It's good that the progression system is handled so well as, frustratingly, characters who are not in combat receive no experience, meaning the vast majority of your characters will be left behind very quickly. While the game does provide items to catch characters up quickly, they aren't plentiful enough to solve the issue. In a game with so many beloved characters, it's disappointing that so few will actually be used in combat. Another issue is that the enemy encounters don't live up to the cleverness of the combat system. Boss battles are rewarding, but random encounters quickly become tiring. Each floor of a dungeon only has a handful of enemies you'll encounter there and while there is some variety in the enemy placements, you'll quickly have a strategy devised that can handle most fights. Every time I found a new enemy I got excited, giving me an opportunity to really play with the combat system, but it wasn't something that happened nearly enough. The side quests only serve to reinforce these problems. Rather than providing a change of pace from the main quest, the special screenings typically ask you to walk from point A to point B in a dungeon, and most of the resistance you'll find along the way is the exact same enemies you fought on your first trip through the dungeon. Some will have interesting boss battles or fun logic puzzles to solve, but since these all take place in areas you've already explored, you'll find yourself strategizing on how to complete them in as few steps as possible to avoid random encounters. A wider variety of enemies, or fewer random encounters so they didn't wear out their welcome so quickly, would have done wonders to extend the lifeblood of this game.

PQ4.

It would be easy to dismiss Persona Q2 as pure fan service, based on the chibi art style and the crossover premise, but Atlus has put in the polish to make sure this doesn't feel like a second-rate experience. Even though the writing doesn’t have the depth of a mainline entry, and the game struggles with its dungeons and managing its enormous cast, there is still a lot of love poured into this game. The game takes full advantage of its art style to deliver a game that’s visually striking, even on the 3DS’s outdated hardware, and the combat is familiar enough to feel like a Persona game, but introduces enough wrinkles to avoid feeling like a retread. Despite its missteps, Persona Q2 always feels like a game worthy of Persona 5’s legacy, and the Persona name in general.
Verdict
Pros
+ Faithful recreations of Persona worlds makes this a fun way to revisit the games
+ Deep combat that doesn’t get bogged down in minutiae
+ Music and visuals live up to the Persona standard
Cons
- Writing is fluffy at times
- Dungeon design is uninspired
- Random encounters can become repetitive
- Map drawing is busywork
9 Presentation
The chibi art style continues to be a winning tactic to recreate these worlds on weaker hardware, and make them feel loyal to the original while also providing something new. The music borrowed from the other games fits in great, and the original music is up to the excellent Persona standard. The writing is probably not going to win over any new fans, but anyone invested in these characters will enjoy seeing their new dynamics and revisiting old ones.
7 Gameplay
Combat is involved and strategic, rewarding planning and intricate team setups. An array of attack ranges, buffs/debuffs, status ailments and elemental affinities give you a lot of options to strategize around while making sure you never feel boxed in to playing a certain way. That being said, the random encounters become repetitive with only a few enemy formations appearing on most dungeon floors, and the straightforward layout of the dungeons makes them feel like padding. The simplistic nature of the side quests doesn't help much either.
7 Lasting Appeal
The game provides plenty of content outside of the main story, with dozens of side quests and 24 playable characters to experiment with, level up and equip. Unfortunately, these side quests aren't always appealing beyond seeing the characters set them up, and the lack of EXP share makes experimenting with lineups frustrating, so these options might only appeal to the most dedicated completionists. There is also another Persona compendium on hand to fill out, with the normal rules and incentives in play to do so.
7.8
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
While it is certainly rough around the edges, Persona Q2 is a game that should satisfy Persona fans who have their expectations in check and are looking to spend more time with these characters.


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