Persona Q came to the 3DS at the end of last year and is a crossover using characters and elements of both Persona 3 and Persona 4, melding them with gameplay mechanics from the Etrian Odyssey series, which comes as no surprise as it was devised for the DS.
You take on the role of the player character from Persona 3 or 4 investigating, with the help of your friends, an eerie bell that rings from a mysterious clock tower, which appears in Yasogami High School. The game plays out differently depending on which player character you choose and for the sake of transparency, it’s worth noting that I chose to mostly play the Persona 4 version of Persona Q, after having spent some 100 hours playing Persona 4 Golden on the Vita. Upon investigating the bell you find yourselves trapped in the Yasogmai Culture Festival with the only possible way out being a strange labyrinth behind a door marked “You in Wonderland”, where you come across two students with memory loss, Zen and Rei, who seem to be the key to unravelling this whole mystery. Whichever path you choose to begin with, the characters from both games will eventually unite in their quests.
Just like in Persona 3 and 4, you make a party of five team members from the characters available to you (twenty in all as you progress through the game). You’ll fight shadows in the labyrinths using weapons you can buy in the Yasogami High School hub, where you can also heal and revive your party and sell loot. You’ll also use the skills of the personas belonging to your party members; these are manifestations of the owner’s personality, related to the shadows that help them to overcome the evil enemies. Unlike the main Persona games the protagonist can no longer change personas at will, but all the party members can now equip sub-personas that allow stat buffs and provide additional skills.
The game eschews the third person JRPG perspective of Persona 3 and 4 for a first person dungeon crawl that features random encounters with shadows and also features more powerful and powerful enemies called F.O.Es (which doesn’t stand for F*cking Overpowered Enemy, but it should), that follow a set path to create puzzles as you navigate the maze, or even give chase when you get close to them. The game recommends that you and your party avoid the F.O.Es altogether, and to this end they appear on the map; trouble is, you’ll need to draw the map as you go using the 3DS stylus and second screen. It’s simple to do and you can drag and drop elements such as doors, treasure chests and shortcuts into your map from handy templates as you draw the walls and mark out the paths. Floor tiles you walk on will automatically be marked off on your map; if you manage to traverse 100% of any given map, you’ll be able to open a special loot chest in each level.
In battles your party of five forms two rows, so you’ll want your heavy hitters up front and characters with ranged attacks or supporting skills behind them. There is also a choice of support character outside of the battle, who can use their ‘leader skills’ when charged, as well as providing hints and tips in battle and pointing out the enemies weaknesses for you. This is invaluable as enemies attack first, but if a character uses an attack or skill that an enemy is weak against, then that character will be boosted and attack first in the next turn. The boost status lasts until the player takes damage and the more players still in boost at the end of the battle, the better the odds that you will unlock new sub-personas for your party to use.
The game looks great on the 3DS and has a more cartoonish look than Persona 3 and 4, but it suits the vibrant style of the series and the backdrops provided by the labyrinths are enhanced by the use of the 3D, as are the battles. The gameplay is solid and the battle mechanics will be easy to grasp for new players and those familiar with the series; the sub-personas aren’t brilliantly explained but with a little bit of playing around you’ll soon find out what works and what doesn’t. The sound is brilliant with music from the other Persona games as well as original tracks; as you’d expect the voice acting is also superb, so long as you don’t mind the American shtick and constant references to food… personally I love it, but therein lies the problem. The game plays a lot of fan service to people who’ve played Persona 3 or 4, or both, and I do wonder if the characters and their foibles will be so endearing to people new to the series; a definite possibility as this is the first Persona game to appear on a Nintendo console. Don’t let it put you off though and take some time to get to know the characters; it’s a great game that really captures the spirit of the Persona series, whilst putting the unique abilities of the 3DS to good use.