ATLUS obviously realised the importance of such conundrums when they decided to release Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth on the Nintendo 3DS, which was released just in Europe by NIS America just over a week ago. Not only is this crossover the first time that a game in the sub-series has been released on a Nintendo platform, but it’s also more than a Persona game featuring an all-star cast; it’s also a crossover between two of ATLUS’ most prolific role-playing game series’ – Shin Megami Tensei: Persona and Etrian Odyssey.
When you start a new file, you are given the option to experience the story through the eyes of Persona 3’s Specialised Extracurricular Execution Squad or Persona 4’s Investigation Team as the two groups find themselves in a weird version of Yasogami High and have to traverse dungeons to not only find out why they were sent there to begin with, but to uncover the mystery behind two new amnesiac characters, Zen and Rei.
If I were to describe the mixing of the two franchises as a food dish, Persona Q is as well made as a thick, luxurious chocolate mousse with rich caramel carefully mixed in, as opposed to other crossovers that can feel like a sandwich with one slice white, one slice brown and a brick in the middle (which is probably an analogy that Rei would love). Even things as insignificant as the menus feel like a perfect mix between the two series’, with the general layout being closer to Etrian Odyssey but the colours and styling being closer to Persona, which is an impressive touch.
This clever hybrid of gameplay styles also finds itself at the core of the main gameplay with the map-making dungeon exploration essentially being lifted from Etrian Odyssey, but with the areas given a coat of paint that wouldn’t look out of place in ATLUS’ other RPG franchise. Conversely, the battles may have the appearance and row mechanics of those in the map-making series but the combat from Persona take the centre stage, with some twists here and there such as the addition of Sub-Personas. Due to the crazy happenings in the game, all of the Persona users find that they can equip secondary Personas to improve their stats and pools of abilities, which also means that this title places more emphasis on the importance of Persona fusion.
For those of you who are looking for a game that will keep you busy for a long time, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is the answer you’re looking for. While the game does offer five difficulty levels, even while playing on “Normal” I found myself constantly having to leave the dungeon to heal due to the combination of the strength of the shadows I faced and the cost of healing items. Overall, it must have taken me approximately twelve hours just to clear the first dungeon and for the two casts to finally meet. Twelve hours to complete one dungeon may sound daunting but I found that the time flew by, which was largely helped by the lack of grinding and most importantly, the wonderful dialogue between the characters. While there is still a healthy amount of serious discussions taking place within the game, Persona Q brilliantly utilises comedy to help old-time fans catch up with familiar faces and for newcomers to grow attached to the large cast.
To be honest, my only real gripe with Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth would be the lack of the Social Link mechanic from recent Persona titles. This has been replaced with the simpler “Strolls” feature, which lets you observe conversations taking place between characters around Yasogami High School. Ultimately, losing the Social Link mechanic isn’t a huge loss though and actually helps to simplify progression through the game. It is worth mentioning though that this is yet another RPG that utilises the common trope of having amnesiac central characters; it’s nothing major, but I would like to see something new.
What I love the most about the game though, is its phenomenal artistic direction. I briefly touched on the subject earlier, but the designs of the various labyrinths are absolutely incredible. Each of the game’s dungeons were inspired by a particular theme (with the first’s being Alice in Wonderland for example) that is transformed into environments that are bursting with detail and look beautifully creepy, which is wonderfully contrasted by the cute and “chibi” character designs. This is also one of the few third-party Nintendo 3DS titles that I can confidently say puts the system’s 3D effect to good use. While the animated cut-scenes are two-dimensional, the details on the dungeon walls are brought out to look like creepy pop-up books and seeing characters jumping across the screen to launch additional blows always looks satisfying.
Depending on which perspective you play the story from, the game’s original soundtrack will feature a number of tracks from Persona 3 and Persona 4, which are already well-renowned for their remarkable musical composition. If you loved the scores of those titles, then you will definitely love this one’s.
Speaking of the different perspectives of the story, while the game doesn’t reveal too much about the narratives of Persona 3 and Persona 4, some familiarity with the premises of those stories and their characters definitely helps to improve the overall experience. For those of you looking to jump into this title as your first Persona game though, you will be quickly brought up to speed about details that are important to know.
In conclusion, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is a shining example of one of the best role-playing games on the Nintendo 3DS that brings forth a new high standard that future crossover titles will no doubt have to live up to.
(Oh and for reference – Chie is still the best girl).
Disclosure: A copy of “Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth” was supplied to us by NIS America for the purposes of this review.