Did you know there was a new Persona game out this year?
I’m not talking about Persona 5: The Royal Edition, but Persona Q2: A New Cinema Labyrinth for Nintendo 3DS. A release that has so far eluded much media attention, this is a solid Persona dungeon-crawler game that deserves more interest that it has received.
Starting with the Phantom Thieves from Persona 5, Q2 is a followup from the surprise hit Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, released back in 2013. It doesn’t exactly interrogate the first game’s mechanics or style too deeply, opting to mimic and refine rather than reinvent. But that’s fine, and is a worthy send off for your 3DS, which is unlikely now to receive many new exclusive games. Particularly if the rumours are true and a cheaper, portable-focussed Switch is on the horizon, it may finally be time to put down the 3DS after the forty or so hours you will take to complete this game.
But what will you be doing in Q2? For the most part, the game revolves around a cast of characters from three different Persona games, Persona 5, Persona 4 and Persona 3. Caught in a strange world, they must work together to find out what’s happening and who’s behind it. To do this, you’ll spend time in three main activities: talking, first-person dungeon crawling, and undertaking turn-based fights.
Let’s start with the cast: initially starting with a large portion of the cast of Persona 5, you soon encounter other persona users from Persona 3 and Persona 4. It’s sort of a big super-group atmosphere, and lore contradictions and gaps are papered over for the purpose of keeping things moving and enjoyable. It’s a fun mix, but with so many characters conversations often become extraordinarily long, with each character putting their two cents in, and then reacting to each other’s comments. Rather than almost the entire cast of each game, one or two characters from each could have worked better.
Between the extremely long conversations, you’ll spend most of your time walking around dungeons in first person, Ultima style. These aren’t your typical dungeons however. While that word typically brings up images of grey stonework and medieval themes, dungeons here are varied, with some excellent visual design. You can only move around them in cardinal directions on a grid, avoiding enemies, activating shortcuts and looking for the stairs up and down. It’s all fairly linear, but there are some interesting level designs to be seen.
The dungeons are where you’ll find the combat, which is much the same as in Persona 5. For the most part, you’re discovering the critical weakness of each enemy and using it to deal massive damage and knock it down. Once down, your team can do a stylish all-out attack that will hopefully take it out of action. Keeping your team managed with a variety of persona skills, enough skill points to pull them off, and enough health points is the key to success. It’s made slightly more complicated with the inclusion of a front line and back line, but in general I felt right at home from my experience with previous Persona titles.
As you walk around the dungeons, the game tasks you with drawing a map on the bottom, touch-compatible 3DS screen. You’ll have to trace outlines of walls, add doors and shortcuts, and mark treasure chests for future reference. The map mechanic was an interesting choice, and theoretically does match up well with capabilities of the 3DS system. In practice however, taking something that we normally take for granted in other games (a map), and turning this into a manual process was frustrating. It distracted me from the main dungeon crawling, and served to artificially lengthen my time in the game.
Rather than the slick, more “realistic” anime style of Persona 5, Q2 goes with a Chibi, bobble-head look. It works, though with the characters now looking more like children, some of the more mature themes come across strangely. Ann in particular, with her skin-tight red leather outfit, sits uncomfortably in her new childish chibi outfit.
The anime style does suit the low-resolution Nintendo 3DS screen however. With lots of block colours the system is still able to put out a decent graphical effort. That said, going back to the 3DS’ screen resolution is difficult in the age of the Switch and 4K mobile phone screens. Merely acceptable at the time of the 3DS’ release, the 400 x 240 screen in today’s world sticks out as a relic of a technology frontier long past. And of the 3DS’ signature 3D, I found no trace whatsoever, continuing the trend of other recent 3DS games.
As a swansong to the Nintendo 3DS, it is hard to ask for a better send-off than Persona Q2. A great soundtrack, interesting, fast-paced combat and a menagerie of characters from games past and present all adds up to a worthy follow up to the original Persona Q2, showing how that game was not a one hit wonder. It’s just a shame that this game is likely to be overlooked simply because of the platform it is on, one that, multiple years into the Switch’s life, most people have now moved on from. Now, let’s get Persona 5 proper onto Switch.
Released: June 2019
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS