Backlog Gaming: Persona Q - Shadow of the Labyrinth

8:21 PM

Title: Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Developer: ATLUS
System: 3DS
Release Date (US/NA): 25/11/14

Yet another game in the Etrian Odyssey series, though this time, things get shaken up a whole lot.

Persona Q is a cross over between two of ATLUS titles: the memorable casts and core of Persona 3 and 4, with the frame and structuring of Etrian Odyssey. On previous installments of Backlog Gaming I finished EO4 and EOU1, and following those up with another similar game was sure to be an exercise in burn out. At least, that's what I thought. I was pleasantly surprised to find how different Persona Q feels from the Etrian Odyssey games. While the surface of the game is very similar, the fact that the game still uses core Persona systems in battle is enough to drastically change the feel of the game. I found the battle system to be familiar to the point where the skills characters learn are largely the same as in their original games. It's certainly best to go into this with Persona experience. While it largely is a stand alone title, the characters aren't given introductions, relying on the player's to have prior knowledge of their stories and personalities. It's a great title to sink hours into, Persona veteran or not.

Persona Q plays similarly to other games in the Etrian Odyssey series. You explore dungeons while mapping your progress, making note of points of interest, and avoiding the FOEs - powerful boss monsters that roam the labyrinth. The battle system works similarly, but has been changed in places to accommodate Persona's more unique traits. Scoring critical hits or striking enemy weaknesses can inflict the "Down" status, which leaves them incapacitated for the turn, but also "boosts" the character, giving their next move free SP usage. Get enough characters in the boosted state, and you'll be able to pull off an "All-Out Attack", a powerful physical attack that hits all enemies with the entire party. It's a fun inclusion from the Persona series, as it builds on the way you approach battles. Finishing battles with these scores you bonus EXP, making them worthwhile to employ, not to mention really fun to watch. In addition to All Out Attacks, individual characters in boosted states can sometimes trigger "Co-Op Attacks", which, despite its name, is a solo attack that has different effects with each character. Some hit one enemy, while others may pierce lines.

Another addition the EO formula are the Navigators. Fuuka and Rise serve their original roles, providing aid from outside the labyrinth. In Persona Q, there are Navigator specific skills that can be learned with personas to help in battle, using Etrian Odyssey's battle meter as cost. There are battle skills that heal or buff the party, and field skills that effect your exploration. For example, Fuuka is my battle navigator, and has a skill that uses 2 meter bars to increase hit and evasion rates for the party, while Rise has a field skill that restores a bit of HP with each step in the labyrinth. These helpful abilities make the exploration a bit easier, especially when the shadows start hitting harder.

The 20 person playable cast from both games (P3 & P4) bring back their old personalities and quirks, though some have had their more identifiable traits exaggerated. For example, Akihiko's jock personality has been boosted through the roof, giving him a protein seeking quirk that seems out of character from his Persona 3 personality. Aside from some things, most of the characters remain close to their original selves, though in a much more upbeat and comical setting, even more so than that of  Persona 4. Also, let it be known that Teddie is easily the most annoying character in the game.

Picking and choosing your favourites is generally a perfectly fine way of playing the game, though certain characters are a cut above the rest. For obvious reasons, the protagonists (P3/P4) are both more or less some of the best characters, stat-wise. Unfortunately, if you're a fan of Teddie, not only will you be disappointed at his PQ realization, but also that he isn't very good as a fighter either. He learns healing and ice, but won't learn particularly useful healing skills, and is far too slow to be an effective healer. His attack and defense rule him out as an effective front liner, leaving him few viable options. Aside from Teddie, all other characters are more or less viable for your party, so mix and match characters to your hearts content!

EO4 and EOU1 had systems in place to allow characters to learn a wider range of skills, the subclass and grimoire systems respectively, Persona Q has something in place too. The Sub-Persona system functions much like the Grimoire system of EOU1 (possibly EO1), in that it gives them skills based on the Persona. All characters are able to equip sub-personas, which are gained in the typical Persona fashion, and can be fused using the services of the Velvet Room. In addition to skills, sub-personas also provide a much needed boost to both HP and SP; a bonus only applied in battle. If you only use SP or HP within the boosted amount your character's regular SP amount is untouched. The bonus is applied next battle, and you're back up the full boosted amount. This makes the game much easier in a sense, compared to the Etrian Odyssey games where SP and HP don't recover as easily.

The last thing that I really liked about PQ were the character interactions. Strewn throughout the labyrinth are points that trigger dialogue scenes, often humourous skits revolving around the theme of the floor or the recent in game events. Seeing how the two casts interact is super fun, and you start to realize that the casts are far more similar than they seem. They kind of share the same archetypal characters, and those become more apparent once you see them mingling together. Prime examples are seen in Shinjiro and Kanji, who fill the "misunderstood brute", as well as in Junpei and Yosuke, who serve as the "main character's friend". In some ways it's kind of cool, seeing these two casts. They're similar in age and roles, but thrust into such different circumstances which shape their personalities in their respective games.

Persona Q is a solid title, delivering all the dungeon exploration you want from an Etrian Odyssey game, while delivering a familiar, uniquely Persona experience. Full of humour, a dash of mystery and absolutely made for fans of the Persona series, this is a game I strongly recommend giving a try. Also, please note that, in typical Etrian Odyssey fashion, the game will be difficult. 

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