I love Persona 3 and Persona 4. They are easily among my favorite JRPGs. So a game that mixes together the characters of both games in an all new adventure seems right up my alley—which it is for the most part. But when it comes down to it, Persona Q lives or dies based on how much you enjoy being pandered to.
Persona Q is filled with fanservice—and I don't mean the sexual kind. Every character action and word of dialogue is made to invoke a sense of nostalgia in Persona 3 and 4 players. In fact, it is not uncommon to spend thirty minutes or more in a single conversation scene, just watching your favorite characters interact with their game's respective casts. Of course, it reaches a whole new level once the Persona 3 and 4 teams combine in the second dungeon, inviting a score of crazy crossover possibilities.
And no doubt there is a lot of variety to be had. Persona Q features all the main characters in Persona 3 and 4 plus the three assistants from the velvet room and Marie from Persona 4 Golden. (The only main character conspicuously absent is the female version of the Persona 3 protagonist from Persona 3 Portable). And best of all, while not fully voiced, the characters are all voiced the majority of the time, making their interactions even better.
When it comes to nostalgia, it isn't just the characters of Persona Q that invoke that feeling—the gameplay does as well. Moving through each dungeon is reminiscent of the grandfather of all video game RPGs, Wizardry, with its first-person dungeon crawling and battles. In Persona Q, you move in first person, square by square, on a grid.
The bottom screen of the 3DS serves as your map—and each space you move is automatically marked on your map. However, as I played more and more of the game, I realized that the bottom screen alone wasn't enough information; so I did something I haven't done in at least a decade: I began drawing my own map. As the touch screen map comes with several different ways of making annotations, I was soon marking doors, secret passages, interactive items, and chests.
And honestly, rather than being monotonous—as I expected—it was rather fun. It didn't take long to do and it was nice to do more than just walk around and fight—though, I will say that when I was on death’s door in battle, the idea of having to redo the whole map since my last save was more daunting than losing an hour's worth of exp.
As you play Persona Q, you will quickly discover the game's cycle: First a series of lengthy conversation scenes, then into the dungeon where you move, map, and battle as you search for the exit. Once you find the exit, you get another round of long conversations as the cycle begins again. The only things that serve to break up the cycle are the occasional mid-dungeon conversations and the boss fights which occur after every three or four floors. Honestly, it got more than a little boring during the endless hours I spent in the gigantic dungeons without a break. However, if you like dungeon crawling, it may be a paradise for you.
Persona Q is one of those games that refuses to listen to your excuses and will punish you accordingly for any mistakes you make. Once you head into the dungeon, you are basically on your own and you must hoard every point of HP and MP you have—because getting them back is no easy task. While there is an “inn” of sorts, the school's nurse's office, its price goes up
every time you use it (correction) every time you level up. Moreover, items that restore MP and bring back dead characters are extremely rare (at least in the early going). There is also a difficulty spike as you go from one floor to the next; so it is a good idea to start each floor, learn all the enemies’ weaknesses, and then reload your game and start the floor again. Even then, however, you'll probably need to spend an hour or two near the entrance grinding before you are good to go.
But while Persona Q is not a forgiving game, it is largely a fair one because of the sub-persona system which allows each of the characters to equip a second persona. Not only does this give you a lot more versatility in your characters, but also these second personas give each character an amount of bonus MP and HP which are restored automatically after every battle. Combined with the battle mechanic that makes your characters' next spell cost 0 MP after they exploit an enemy's weakness, your party can basically be self-sufficient if you are careful—and a bit lucky.
Of course, if that is still too challenging, there are also two easier difficulty levels than the normal one which serve to dumb down the enemies and massively increase the amount of exp you receive after each battle.
When it comes to Persona Q, I think my biggest regret was not switching to “easy” much earlier than I did. On normal it is an unforgiving challenge and a bit of a boring grind. However, even then, the conversations between the characters from Persona 3 and 4 were a real treat. If you have played and enjoyed both Persona games (or watched the anime adaptations), there is a lot of side-story fun to be had in this game. However, if you are unfamiliar with those games and/or don't enjoy classic dungeon crawling, this game would probably be better off avoided.
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth was released in Japan for the Nintendo 3DS on June 5, 2014. It is currently set to release in North America sometime this fall.