For me, there’s no greater video game than a crossover video game. If you sit back and think about it, it’s basically a fan fiction story come to life. I cried when “Marvel VS Capcom 3” got released, “Street Fighter X Tekken” had me naked by the title screen and “Project X Zone” made me wet my pants. Yeah…I love crossover titles THAT MUCH.
When I heard about “Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth” I was institutionalised for a period of three weeks but I managed to get myself out of the straight jacket and back at my work desk with enough time to research the characters of “Persona 3” just so I’d be able to enjoy the game a little more. Having only played “Persona 4 Golden” but absolutely loving it, I was very much excited for “Q” but still felt as though I needed to do my homework before jumping in “half prepared”.
North America, those lucky bastards, got the game before us here in Australia and an influx of reviews flooded the net. Knowing that I’d soon be receiving my own copy of the game for review…I ignored them all. Now it’s our time to shine and thanks to ATLUS and their local distributors Bandai Namco Games, I’ve been given the chance to take on another insane JRPG with everything I’ve got but whether I come out of it the same as I went into it is a whole other thing entirely.
The story behind “Q” is very, very basic: Two worlds collide to solve one big mystery. The two worlds just so happen to be those from both the “Persona 3” and “Persona 4” games but “Q” actually only takes place at Yasogami Highschool which, for those not in the know, is the academy the cast of “Persona 4” attend. Before the game even begins you’re asked to choose which protagonist you want to be. Choosing Yu Narukami (Persona 4) will have the game focus more on the crew of his game and choosing Makoto Yuki (Persona 3) will do the same but for the “P3” crew. I decided to follow the Investigation Team (“P4”) rather than the “SEES” group (“P3”) only because we have a history together…and because I wanted to get with Yukiko again if I could. She truly is “best girl”.
None of this “Chie” crap. It was a good move for me to do what I did because, while there are small explanations of the characters peppered in throughout the game, you never really get the true feel for who or what they are so me playing through the “P3” side of the story would have felt a little “empty”. The great thing is that the two teams interact so well that you kind of forget about where they came from, instead you’re almost forced to think about what’s happening here and now rather than way back when Yosuke broke Chie’s DVD.
“Q” features a bunch of callbacks to events that happened in previous games but they aren’t in quick succession and they’re only in there for the sake of acknowledging that long-time fans will be playing this title. It was a nice touch. As far as the basic storyline goes; I didn’t find it that hard to swallow. At ten hours in, you still don’t know what the hell is going on but you’ve already met the characters from the other team and you don’t really care. You’ll find yourself only really caring about their interactions and just how damn funny the dialogue has stayed after so long. With this many quirky, well-developed characters in one place, it’s hard to ignore them in search for a concrete story.
Gameplay-wise, “Persona Q” is like a mix of new and old “Shin Megami Tensei” titles. You’ve got the same old “Persona” turn-based gameplay mechanics mixed with the sometimes-confusing style of a first-person dungeon crawler of which “Shin Megami Tensei” is “kind of” famous for. Playing through “Q”, you quickly come to understand that it is a game that requires a great deal of your time and a great deal of your attention. More so than “Persona 4” or any other recent JRPGs. Save points should be used regularly but getting to them is always a little bit of a hassle, especially since doing so will have you lose one of your items as well as your place in a dungeon meaning, once saved, you’ll have to trek your way back through all the obstacles and enemies. Sure, you can just walk back but with low health, no SP and a save file that hasn’t been updated in an hour or so…do you really want to risk it?
Using shortcuts and things of that calibre in the dungeons will help you get to places quicker but it can still be fairly gruelling sometimes. Lucky the battle system is one that many JRPG players are used to, especially gamers who’ve played through a “Persona” title before, but for others outside of that; “Persona Q” does have a pretty steep learning curve. The most interesting gameplay aspect of “Q” is without a doubt the self-made map that takes up the bottom screen for what seems like one hundred percent of the game. A map semi-builds itself as you traverse a dungeon but it is up to you to fill in the rest.
Doors, walls, shortcuts, treasure, that’s all for you too place and, at first, it seems like quite an intimidating way for a dungeon crawling map to unravel. Somehow this map-making becomes one of the more enjoyable things about going into a dungeon, possibly because you have free reign meaning you can put what you want where you want on the map to help you see just where things are or where you want to go later in the game. You can even leave notes for yourself so that you don’t get lost or head somewhere you’re not supposed to. Like previous “Persona” titles, “Q” is incredibly fun to play through and is in-depth enough to keep you going for hours at a time but can quickly go from being enjoyable to uncontrollably frustrating. It’s unforgiving at times and I constantly found myself putting the game down due to anger. Difficulty level can be changed and I always choose the medium difficulty but sometimes it just proves to hard to go on and I have to put the system down before I snap it in half.
Comparing “Q” to both “P3” and “P4”, it’s easy to see that the newest title is the best looking, by far! ATLUS have done what I find myself almost begging other developers to do and that’s that they have taken full advantage of the graphical capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS and made one hell of a good looking game. “Persona Q” uses the 3D feature of the 3DS in a way that I’ve forgotten could be done. Characters actually look as though they’re jumping out of the screen to attack enemies and the depth in a simple dialogue scene is so nice you actually feel as though the character models are right there for you to touch.
Dungeons look that much better when you actually get a feel as though they go on forever and that’s thanks to the air of “space” that the 3D gives to the game. It’s all about depth and it’s something I’ve only seen done well recently with two games “Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire” and “Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth”.
ATLUS, for this game, haver gone ahead and changed the way characters look, big time. It’s not in the clothes they wear or the way they stand, it’s nothing that big but at the same time it’s also something so much bigger than that: All the characters are chibi! This is something I thought I got over a very long time ago but apparently, as a twenty year old, seeing a character in “SD” (Super Deformed, as it was once called) form really gets the “Kawaii” blood vessels moving. Every character is so much more stylised than they were in their respective games and it makes “Persona Q” stand out even more as a great crossover title but also as its very own game seeing as neither “P3” nor “P4” played host to a cute style like this.
The “Persona” franchise has always had a pretty solid reputation for featuring good soundtracks. I, being the only game I played of the series, happen to be very much in love with the soundtrack of “Persona 4” so it was very nice to see some of the more well-known tracks make a return for “Persona Q” but with little changes here and there so you don’t quite know what you’re listening to until about a quarter the way in. The soundtrack for “Q” shares many similarities with the one from “4”, not in that they feature the same songs but in that they share a composition style.
Being a mix of all different popular genres, the soundtrack is so easy to get into and so quickly are you brought to falling in love with it. Even when tracks are constantly looped I never find myself getting upset by it. I know that some will very much hate that the same song plays during every standard battle but it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Pairing up beautifully with the soundtrack is that of the voice cast. Reprising all their roles from their respective games, the English voice cast once again preform brilliantly with all guns blazing as they land critical and humours lines with perfect timing and perfect acting.
This game had me laughing more than I expected it to and I can only chalk that up to perfect comedic timing, something you barely ever see in a Japanese game with an English translation. With most games I always find myself turning down the volume and replacing that noise with a movie or some of my own music, with “Persona Q” I turned it up as much as possible and even went the route of headphones just because I enjoyed the way the game sounded so much. Not every video game can do that to you.
The thing about “Persona Q” that makes it a borderline perfect game is that it is exactly what ATLUS said it was going to be; a “Persona” crossover title. Yes, there’s this whole underlying story that you slowly figure out but it only serves to justify why these two teams are in the same place and that’s perfectly fine because that’s all any “Persona” fan wanted! There are some points in the game where it can be gruelling having to stomp through long and arduous dungeons but it’s literally in the genre title so people know exactly what they’re getting into before purchasing the game.
“Q” is populated by a bunch of characters who all share one goal but who all have different ways of reaching it. They’re funny, they’re quirky, they’re shy, they’re quick to anger, they’re silly, they’re stupid, they’re everything and that’s because there’s so many of them, but thanks to the previous gamers they’re entirely fleshed out so what you get are two teams of characters who’re fully established and entirely too likeable. If that can be seen as a real problem.
You’re given great visuals and an even better soundtrack both of which are backed up by some typical but enjoyable JRPG gameplay mechanics that are all melted together thanks to the voice cast that brings the game to life. Apart from how stressful it can sometimes be, this game is utter perfection. ATLUS promised that they would give us a video game where “Persona 3” will meet “Persona 4” and shenanigans will ensue…that’s what we got and that’s all we could have asked for.