Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Platform: Nintendo 3DS Developer/Publisher: Atlus Price: $49.99 Persona! The Persona series is small part of the Shin Megami Tensei brand, which revolves around demon summoning. Persona as a series is technically a spin off of the Shin Megami Tensei games due to changes in the nature of the game itself - particularly the integration of social sim elements. In Persona, the characters are able to evoke and summon a variety of demons themselves, instead of having to catch and collect any demons like in games like Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. Persona 3 & Persona 4 are both JRPGs originally on the PlayStation 2. They are typically longer games that revolve around a set cast of characters that fit into archetypes based both on Japanese pop culture and on the different arcane of Tarot cards. The games have sections where the player focuses on relationships with others, completing daily tasks with friends or acquaintances, solving their problems, and listening to their problems. This part is very similar to a dating sim game in some aspects. Then things shift to being a more grindy, dungeon based gameplay that is played by turn based combat. Players need to train and progress through the dungeons and defeat bosses to progress the plot (which is often complex and dark). Characters have options to use both magic and physical based attacks. Part of what aides them in doing this is using, as the title suggests, ‘Personas’. ‘Personas’ are reflective of the demons that can be summoned in other Shin Megami Tensei games and are often based on different mythologies. However in the Persona series they are also assigned a corresponding arcana type based on Tarot cards. The main character can summon many different kinds of Personas, however the remaining is only able to use one which tends to be symbolic of them in some way. Personas for the main character can be collected from battling enemies, or fused by combining or sacrificing Personas that have already been collected. Basically, TLR…Persona games revolve around a cast of characters able to summon demon-like entities and they must fight through dungeons that help advance the plot in some way. Now that we have gone over that, let us move on to Persona Q! Some of the Persona Q cast, having a fun little get-together in a cutscene! Persona Q Persona Q is a spin off title on the 3DS that combines aspects of Persona 3, Persona 4 (including the portable remakes of each game) and gameplay elements from Atlus’s dungeon crawler game Etrian Odyssey. Players can choose to either play as the Persona 3 or Persona 4 main character, which will alter the story perspective. All the characters from both games are available to be used in your party, however you must finish the first dungeon level (referred to as labyrinths in the game) in order to have access to the characters from the opposing game. The setting is in the Persona universe, as are the characters. The game also introduces two characters that are specific to this game: Rei and Zen. Their plots coincided with the plot of the game. Gameplay is mostly crawling through labyrinths until you encounter an enemy, which is indicated in the bottom right corner. When the bottom right picture turns red, you can expect to encounter an enemy within your next few steps. When you get into a battle, it plays mostly similar to a Persona game. The style is turn based, and most spells, attacks, and even summonable Personas can all be traced back to the title game. The major difference is that, due to plot reasons, all characters can summon their own Persona as well as an additional Persona that they fused. Harking back to Etrian Odsyssey,however, are very powerful enemies which take physical form and act differently in each dungeon. These are called FOES and mostly should be avoided until you reach a high enough level to challenge them. Battling these enemies are high risk, high reward. A more difficult enemy which may appear when you try and collect too many rare items from an area on the map called a 'power spot'. Story The story of the game is independent of both Persona 3 and Persona 4, however the characters are not explained nor are their respective backstories. Therefore, going in without any established knowledge of the characters may leave the player feeling confused, lacking any connection with the characters. The only ones who you learn about extensively throughout the story are Rei and Zen who are introduced in this game. There are often references to each game and events that happen in both, as well as the general plot of both games. However, the plot and story of Persona Q revolves around the two parties being stuck in a corrupted version of a world similar to a culture festival once celebrated by the cast of Persona 4. The cast is trying to unravel the mystery and get back to their respective place and time. While over all the story may have serious tones and implications, there is a lot of comedy that is slipped in while going on strolls with the characters, doing requests, and exploring the labyrinths. These help the player learn more about the humor of each character and little tidbits about them. These skits often have partial voice over too, which helps to convey tone. Persona 3 cast talking about items in the game, this is what smaller voiced cutscenes are like. Many of these skits lean towards humor. Other Gameplay Elements Persona Q also makes use of various other game play elements to add additional value to the game in the form of side quests and completion-ist elements. I’ll talk briefly about these elements. Fusing is a part of the Persona games that I personally love, because it helps you control your play style. Fusing Personas allows you to decide how you play because each Persona has individual stats and abilities. You can fuse away Personas you don’t like, or Personas you leveled up to have certain skills and create even more powerful ones. What I particular like about the fusing system in this game is that it allows you to choose which skills get passed on from the parent Personas, and it shows you which skills are eligible to be passed on. Previously, I used to sit around in Persona 3 and re-pair the same Personas together a million times to try and make my perfect Persona with just the right skills. You can also save your Personas you fuse and purchase them from the compendium at a later time in case you accidentally fuse it, or you decide you want to use a particular Persona again, or if you want to use it as a fusing ingredients. Persona Q also utilizes the StreetPass function with fusing and allows you to pass along Persona fusion combinations with fellow players when you StreetPass. There are a number of different fusion types that get unlocked as you go through the game which opens up the possibilities. Equipment, materials and items are also important in the game. While exploring the dungeon, you can collect materials from areas called ‘power spots’. These are glowy areas on the map that you can essentially mine once each time you enter the labyrinth, and they are distributed throughout each labyrinth. However, you have a chance to meet a strong enemy while collecting, so you need to collect with caution. Chests throughout the labyrinths also contain items and equipment for your characters. When you defeat an enemy, you get materials from them. When you defeat an FOE you can very rare materials. You can bring these to the workshop and get special items and equipment that help make you party stronger. Some equipment will even have special abilities, such as a poisoning touch. The map is also unique in Persona Q because you as the player create it. The bottom touch screen is used in the dungeon to create a map, with various icons available to mark spots and draw walls. It is important to keep a good map if you want to revisit areas such as power spots, or know where shortcuts and FOEs are hiding. A good map also comes in handing with doing side quests (called requests). Labyrinths are confusing and easy to get lost in, so I really enjoyed being able to mark up my map the way I like. Requests in the game basically act as side quests. Many of these requests are time sensitive though, and are activated as you explore the labyrinths and come across different events. You have to go to the request board to accept the requests, and often revisit locations with certain party members, fight particular enemies, or talk to party members and answer questions to complete the requests. Ones that do not have time limits are often more difficult quests the involve defeating powerful enemies. When you do these side quests you not only get a wide array of special items and powerful equipment, but you also learn more about the story of the game. They are certainly rewarding, and I liked how they could break up the monotony of the grinding gameplay. They also award experience, which is a good way to squeeze in extra levels before a boss. Strolls usually coincided with requests. They are opportunities to explore the culture festival that the game takes place in with your party members. Often they are silly skits, but they can also include answering questions correctly for requests. One in particular that I liked was a memory game where you had to exchange items with other characters in order to get an item to give to another character as a gift. You could only exchange three times, and wanted to have an item that the girl would like the most. It was a cute skit, and was fun to try and remember who wanted what. The only additional gameplay elements I don’t like would be the DLC. Atlus offers various DLC for the game, including different navigational voices (this is who gives you tips in the labyrinth and battles) and they also offer DLC Personas. Two of these Personas were free to download for a period of time. Often, these Personas are very overpowered and make the game easier then I’d like, however I don’t want to fuse them away because they have special abilities so I feel stuck in a hard place about what to do with them, since they take up two slots that could be used for other Personas (and you only can have a limited number at a time). Overall, Persona Q is really great, meaty, and portable JRPG. It provides a lot of fan service to long time persona fans. The game provides fun gameplay elements that are new for the series, yet fit in with the overall theme of the gameplay. There is a fair amount of comedic relief that was put in that is often related to the independent games, however, which may be lost on new players. DLC Personas are also a new element to the Persona franchise, which hopefully won't follow the franchise to Persona 5 as it is unnecessary (meanwhile, additional navigational voice DLC is something that was seen in the previous fighting game spinoff). The top screen here shows Yukiko's main Persona and the abilities it has, while the bottom shows the map that the player is encouraged to create to navigate the dungeons and be able to find things with ease for requests! Pros: +Full length engaging JRPG on the portable console +Mix of new & old gameplay elements +Chock full of Persona goodness (& fan service) +Many options for the ‘completionist’ looking to get their fill +Great music, including throwbacks to favorite songs along with impressive voice overs Cons: -May be alienating to those unfamiliar with characters and plots -Characters are more like caricatures of themselves and may seem shallow to those unfamiliar -Long dungeons along with “pay to win” DLC -At times the dialogues can be almost too goofy and forced Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth may be overSHADOWed by other recent releases, but those looking for a great, portable JRPG who are fans of the series will not be disappointed. As a JRPG & Persona fan I give it a 8.5/10 for its fanservice, fun gameplay and engaging plot. Disclosure: A retail purchased copy was used to evaluate this game.