Oh Atlus, I don’t have enough words to thank you with for providing us with another Persona game in the lines of Persona 3 and Persona 4. While Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth may not be the most “traditional” Persona game we’ve come to know and love, it is certainly the closest to being a “traditional” RPG since Persona 4 (ports and remakes notwithstanding). Just as we’ve come to expect from Atlus and this series, Persona Q does not disappoint.
Persona Q does a lot of fun, new things, few of which make the experience any less satisfying. The first thing that will immediately stand out to players is the chibi art style. While it would be overstating it to say that Persona art style has ever been “realistic,” the sprites and world designs in Persona Q are much more cartoonish than they’ve ever appeared. Despite the change, this doesn’t feel like a bad move. It’s fun to see your favorite characters from Persona 3 and 4 redesigned with big heads and even larger eyes. While at first it will seem a little weird, it will quickly grow on players and will even be appreciated for its levity and uniqueness (at least for this series).
The other thing players will notice almost immediately is the fantastic soundtrack permeating the entire game. Once again, Shoji Meguro and his supporting staff have created incredible music that is both lively and appropriately “deep.” Meguro has a spectacular talent at making music that is exciting and upbeat, but still accurately conveys the emotional context of the situation. Vocals by both Yumi Kawamura and Shihoko Hirata are as incredible as always, and it is wonderful to see them to have become the staple vocalists for their respective games. You will definitely find yourself listening to the game’s soundtrack throughout your day-to-day activities. Even as this is being written, I can’t help but listen to its OST. Both the main theme, “Maze of Life,” and the battle theme, “Light the Fire Up in the Night” are fantastic tracks, and those are only two out of so many more wonderful songs.
Both Persona 4 and 3 definitely featured pretty heavy elements of dungeon crawling, but neither of them could truly be called a dungeon crawler. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, on the other hand, makes a much stronger case for being categorized as a dungeon crawler. Some fans were a bit concerned with Persona Q focusing so much more on the dungeon crawling elements at the expense of the social simulation ones (like social links), but it is wonderful to see that the heavier dungeon crawling is neither an impediment nor a distraction to the overall experience. Dungeon crawling runs the risk of becoming stale and monotonous, and while Persona Q may not entirely escape the mores of this often-stagnating gameplay element, it keeps your adventuring lively and entertaining. It does this by keeping your party talking at regular intervals. The Persona series has always been one highlighted by highly lovable characters, so their constant presence is nice to have while you get lost and bump into walls.
Of course, the dungeons themselves are wonderful creations that are fun to explore. All are designed with a particular theme in mind and each is as detailed and weird/amazing as you would hope. Right at the outset, players will enjoy a particularly “trippy” dungeon themed after Alice in Wonderland, and as you progress, you will navigate through dungeons that are equally as interesting. The inclusion of F.O.E.s (very powerful enemies visibly sprinkled throughout dungeons) do two interesting things for Persona Q: 1) they make you be just a little more strategic in your dungeon-navigating and 2) they provide VERY challenging combat experiences that are incredibly rewarding once you can overcome them. It is very obvious that Atlus took great care to make sure that all players, and not just fans of dungeon crawlers, would enjoy exploring these labyrinths.
Okay, but we all know the main reason why so many people are drawn to Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth: the epic crossover. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the worlds of Persona 3 and 4 collide, but it is definitely the most satisfying (not to say that the Persona 4 Arena series is by any means bad). At the beginning of the game, players will choose a “primary” faction from which to follow the story. Naturally, choosing Persona 3 makes it so that you control the P3 cast and see events unfold from their perspective. Choosing P4 does the same. However, this is a crossover game, and your stint with either party soon evolves into the crossover you were all waiting for. Without risking spoilers, know that the casts of Persona 3 and 4 mesh very well, and their interactions are incredibly fun, funny, and intricate. From a development standpoint, neither party is favored in lieu of the other, and just about all characters enjoy their time in the limelight. Throughout the many character interactions, you’ll find yourself enjoying all of confusion, hilarity, excitement, and even some sadness.
The addition of two new characters, Zen and Rei, provide a fresh breath of air. Don’t assume that means that the two original casts are by any means boring or stale; they’re fantastic. But having two (very different) new characters gives things a fresh new spin, and contributes critically to a solidly enjoyable narrative.