Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is the result of Atlus merging two of their biggest franchises, Persona and Etrian Odyssey. The game also brings the cast of Persona 3 and 4 together, then throws them into an exciting and challenging first-person dungeon crawler.
The story begins after you choose between Persona 3 ‘s protagonist or Persona 4′ s, the story changes a little depending on your choice, meaning on your second play-through certain parts of the story will be new. It’s a nice option to have and gives you more incentive to go back and play it all over again. The two groups work well together and each character has their moment to shine. Joining them are two new and mysterious characters Zen and Rei, who are both likeable and bounce off the others well. Zen is the quiet, but kind type, while Rei is busy eating and pulling doughnuts out of who knows where. With all of these fantastic characters in one game, only being able to choose 5 to join your party is cruel, so cruel.
Persona Q offers up some magnificent dungeons for players to explore, all are well-designed, hard to navigate and memorable. While you make your way around these shadow invested labyrinths, you’ll need to use the 3DS’ lower screen to draw maps and place icons in order for you to find your way around. For those not used to Etrian Odyssey this could sound a bit daunting, but don’t worry there is an auto-map feature, you’ll still need to put in details like doors and treasure chests, but it’s a lot less time-consuming. Exploration is fun and you’ll find yourself wanting to access every part of the dungeon, especially as every floor hosts a treasure chest which offers a reward for those who manage to explore the entire area.
Sadly dungeons are very light on puzzles, some can be tough, but overall it’s not too much of a problem. What players will really have to be wary of during their adventure are the many FOEs roaming around each floor, these are strong shadows that you are able to see on your map. Ideally, you want to avoid facing these enemies early on as they are very strong and can wipe out your party in a matter of seconds. Often FOEs will move when you do, meaning you have to check their movements carefully. The fact FOEs are present does give you a little bit more to think about and when you decide your party is ready to take them on you’ll be in for a tough, but rewarding fight.
Battles, like exploration, take place in first-person, however, when you perform all-out-attacks or a character wants to use a special, they will appear on screen. It doesn’t look or feel cheap and the whole experience is deep and enjoyable. That said, this game is hard, enemies won’t go down without a fight. Each shadow has a weakness, as do your teammates, while you are finding and exploiting theirs, they will be doing the same to you. Sometimes the game will trick you into thinking you are perfectly ready to tackle the new floor you’ve unlocked, only for you to enter a battle and be totally destroyed. Thankfully, Persona Q allows you to change the difficulty at any point, so you can choose from Hard, Normal, Easy or even Safety, which takes away the possibility of dying and allows you to continue on even after you lose a battle.
Obtaining and fusing new personas and trying them out is always a delightful experience, but this time things are a little different. In previous Persona titles, the protagonist is able to wield multiple personas, in this title that ability is shared, meaning everyone can have a sub-persona. Equipping a sub-persona will give characters a HP and SP boost as well as giving them additional attacks and abilities. It’s undoubtedly a wonderful idea and can give you a great boost in battle.
Other than battling to reach your goal you can take on side-quests, these are a bit more creative than most recent JRPGs which just ask you to take down a monster. You’ll be sent to find items, investigate a strange area and there is even a quest where you have to team up with everyone’s favourite detective, Naoto, to figure out the identity of the meat jelly thief, mmm meat jelly…
While outside of the labyrinth, you’ll have access to the velvet room where you can fuse your personas, the nurse’s office, where the ever-charming Elizabeth will heal you for a price and offer you side-quests and the workshop where you can sell materials you’ve collected and buy new items, weapons and armour.
The game is missing some of the Persona charm, such as social links, instead, Persona Q has a ton of fanservice, no, not the voluptuous chesticle type. They have used the crossover to give fans a sense of nostalgia and they never waste an opportunity to exaggerate a character’s personality, for example, Akihiko shows his endless thirst for battle, Chie really wants meat, and Teddie is constantly hitting on the girls. To make even more use of the crossover you have an option called Stroll, where you can watch short scenes of your favourite characters chatting and getting to know each other, it’s so much fun seeing them communicate and react to each other’s personalities.
As expected of a Persona title the soundtrack is extraordinary, everything from the opening song, Maze of Life, to the battle theme, Light the Fire Up in the Night, is perfect. Some tracks are pure nostalgia trips and others will be stuck in your head hours after you’ve put your 3DS down. There are just so many memorable and unique songs and the fact that the battle music changes slightly depending on which protagonist you chose, shows how much they care about the little details, it’s definitely one of the best video game soundtracks of the year. The characters are voiced in English, with no Japanese option available, so purists may be disappointed, but the Persona series always has a fantastic dub and this title is no different. Most of the voice actors reprise their roles from previous outings, but the new additions to the cast also do a great job.
This could've easily been a lazy attempt for Atlus to make money, but thankfully Persona's first entry on the Nintendo 3DS is an engaging and satisfying one, that's filled with love for the superb cast of Persona 3 and 4. The fusion of Persona and Etrian Odyssey works well and is made even more enjoyable by the absolutely incredible soundtrack. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is a deep and challenging experience, with dungeons to explore, shadows to annihilate and a great deal of replay value, this game is worth every penny.