Crossing over between two Persona games and including aspects from the Etrian Odyssey series, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth on 3DS has a lot to work with.
Both the persona series and the Etrian Odyssey games are popular amongst JRPG fans, although both for different reasons. The Persona games in which school children build relationships and fight the supernatural are quite substantially different from the Etrian Odyssey games in which the player takes on first-person dungeon crawling whilst drawing their own map. Although fans of both series will now have the chance to come together and take on this very well done mish mash of these two JRPG sub genres, can it really match up to the best of either?
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth sets the stage by first asking the player to choose between a main character from either Persona 3 or Persona 4. The story is that Yasogami High School has been dropped into an alternate reality, along with the characters from Persona 3 and 4, and two new characters, Zen and Rei. Zen and Rei have no memory of why they are there, and escape will mean taking on the strange labyrinths that have appeared beneath the school. Sounds like an average school day to me.
Although the characters from the two Persona games do cross over no matter which lead character the player has chosen, there are differences to the game depending on which character they choose, so there is a certain amount of replayability. Not that thinking about any replay will be a problem for a while as, in keeping with JRPG tradition, Persona Q is a pretty substantial game that will keep the player going for may hours.
Making their way into the dungeons, this is where the player will come across the Etrian Odyssey gameplay. Explored in first person view, these massive and very complex dungeons will see players taking on all manner of random encounters and puzzles, whilst actually mapping their own progress in the bottom screen of the 3DS. It is not strictly necessary to draw a map as the player progresses, but an already difficult game will become much more so without.
The bottom screen is presented as a grid onto which the player can expand their progress with markers for different environmental aspects, such as doorways or shortcuts, allowing the player to see where they have yet to explore as well as the solutions to problems they have yet to find. It is not the fastest moving game, but this level of interaction really does feel satisfying.
The puzzles range tremendously and are often quite tricky. Another benefit of the lower screen map making is that the player can take notes as they progress, often giving solutions to the puzzles. Random encounters will further hamper the players exploration, and larger sized enemies that can be seen to follow a set path can be avoided through clever use of the map.
Tactical options are available when it comes to the turn-based combat, with player given a surprising number of options as to how they approach encounters. Front and rear rows will give players the chance to set how their team will face enemies, with the weaker or more long range characters hanging back so the stronger characters can protect them and face the enemies head on. Elemental weaknesses also come into tactical play, and the ability to change out characters with ease, or even change a characters strengths and weaknesses, add further customization.
The Persona system, in which each character can summon a creature that represents their “inner self”, gives further options to the player. In Persona Q, the player can collect and level up sub personas, and assign these to each of the characters in their team, ensuring that whatever the situation, each character in the team should at least be able to hold their own or fulfill a purpose in the group. It is quite a lot to get your head around, but thankfully Persona Q is quite accessible to new players and, at least to begin with, is relatively straight forward.
For the Persona player, the emphasis on relationships between the characters is much less, and the player will take a much smaller role in building these relationships. Players will still be able to build relationships and bind with the characters through “strolls” which launch cut scenes, but it is a much more simplified system that caters more to the newcomers than the veteran Persona player.
For the Etrian Odyssey player, Persona Q is a difficult game. It may not be quite as difficult as some of the previous Etrian Odyssey games, but with some seriously obscure puzzles and difficulty levels that often leap, Persona Q is not a game that the player will breeze through. That said, it often feels satisfying and fair, which will be good for the newcomers.
And despite this difficulty, Persona Q is actually quite a light-hearted game. The story may be a little too straight forward, and the characters will not have the depth that Persona fans will be used to, but there is a lot of humour and fun in Persona Q.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, a game which combines aspects of two very different JRPGs, could quite easily have gone wrong. Although the game eases the difficulty of Etrian Odyssey and lowers the depth and relationships or the Persona games, Persona Q really does represent the best of both worlds. With a brilliant cast from the Persona games and the dungeon crawling depth of the Etrian Odyssey games, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is a JRPG that really needs to be played.