Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth
Back in 2014, Atlus introduced a unique crossover featuring its Persona and Etrian Odyssey franchises. Persona Q combined the best elements from both properties to craft a fantastic hybrid role-playing experience. The Etrian Odyssey games cater to the hardcore dungeon-crawling crowd while the Persona series injects the fun and personality long missing from Etrian Odyssey’s stock characters and well-worn story. Persona Q2 continues on the path its predecessor forged, but it brings in the Persona 5 cast for a memorable trip to the movies.
Persona 3, 4, and 5 have greatly grown recognition for the series, and Persona Q2 feels like a tribute to these characters and their stories. While the narrative and perspective are centered on the Persona 5 cast, the Persona 3 and 4 teams also make their way into the story, which focuses on a strange theater – and our heroes must transport themselves into actual movies to find a way out. Here you’ll engage in tactical turn-based battles, dungeon exploration with cinematic themes, and strengthening bonds between the party members.
While the mystery does enough to propel the action forward, the real beating heart of Persona Q2 is the character interactions. Seeing which members from the different casts mesh well is a highlight, as it’s not always who you’d expect – like model Ann and tomboy Chie bonding over their similarities. You also see more predictable pairings, such as the two former student council presidents, Mitsuru and Makoto. Atlus put an extensive amount of detail and care into the character interactions, providing little nods for longtime fans, such as jokes about Chie and Yukiko’s bad cooking. I loved spotting the references to past games and seeing how they were inserted into Persona Q2’s world. You don’t need to play the previous games to understand what’s going on, but the familiarity provides some extra smiles for longtime fans.
While Atlus does a good job of giving every character screen time, sometimes they all feel shoehorned in. Getting all your party members is also a slow burn; unlike its predecessor, you’re not picking a cast or meeting all your party members early on. I didn’t even encounter all the main casts until well past the 20-hour mark, which is when the Persona 3 crew finally enters the story. The expansive cast also makes constructing your team more complicated. As with any Etrian Odyssey game, you need to find the right balance of unique skills, strengths, and weaknesses to be successful, which gets harder and more time consuming with so many options to weigh. Experimentation is encouraged, with side quests that require specific party members. Certain characters also randomly receive motivation, which increases their chances of critical hits and experience bonuses, making it a no-brainer to put them on your team. Unfortunately, if a character isn’t in your main party, they don’t receive experience. This makes it feel like you’re taking a hit when you stray from your established team because you’re either at a disadvantage by using an under-leveled combatant or must accept that you have to grind to get that member up to speed.
Each other system in Persona Q2 also has depth to explore. The turn-based battle system requires exploiting enemy weaknesses to get all-out attacks (a powerful team combo) and boosts that make your next skill free. Persona fusion also returns, with trips to the Velvet room to one-up your last creation. Every party member has their main persona with its unique skills to level up, but you can also equip them with a sub-persona, increasing your power and skill options in battle. Creating a superior persona and passing on your favorite techniques feel great. I enjoyed changing up my party members’ skills on the fly with sub-personas, which lends some variety into battles.
Persona Q2 also melds its social systems with combat. You can do side quests called “special screenings,” which are similar to social links where characters bond. They unlock powerful unison attacks that randomly activate and can unleash criticals or deal devastating damage. This was one of my favorite additions, as it adds what I love about Persona: the social aspect. The missions are cute and give characters a chance to interact on a more intimate level. Doing these special screenings always felt worth my time for the character-focused content, not to mention that they reward you with attacks that come in handy during desperate times in battle.
Using all the tools at your disposal is essential as you explore huge labyrinths with dead ends, switch puzzles, dangerous mini-bosses, and hidden treasures. As you move from one floor to the next, mapping out your path using the stylus is a necessity until you reach the final boss. In your pursuit to get there, you’re fighting to survive the onslaught of enemies that get progressively more deadly and challenging; the A.I. is smart, casting spells your members are weak to and focusing on characters who are low on health. While the game is more difficult than a core Persona entry, it is more forgiving than the core Etrian Odyssey series, and I never felt like any death I had was unfair. The satisfaction from downing a huge boss or totally annihilating a group of enemies who gave you trouble two floors ago is hard to top.
But don’t expect to get through this game without having to grind. Some short side quests dissipate this, but for the most part you are going back and forth between areas quite a bit, whether to return to base to clear out your inventory for space or because you need to restore your health. I tolerated this, but it’s not exactly engaging. Instead, it felt like an annoying barrier to my progress and it often took me out of the experience. Many times, I’d be just about to reach a staircase to gain access to a new starting point or about to figure out a switch puzzle but then I’d have to turn around due to those aforementioned situations with inventory and health.
Persona is known for its themed dungeons, and Persona Q2 follows suit, basing each dungeon off a movie theme or genre, ranging from superheroes to sci-fi. These also feature elements straight out of Persona 5, such as avoiding searchlights and sneaking past enemies. My main complaint with the dungeons is their repetition and lack of creativity. I enjoyed the idea of using cinema themes, but every floor looks the same and has similar puzzles and traps. The designs themselves are nothing special, either. Even something that should feel exciting, such as one that is a clear homage to Jurassic Park, is disappointing with bland backdrops and few actual interactions with dinosaurs. Thankfully, the fun of the battle system and Persona casts interacting keep these dungeons from becoming too much of a bore.
If you liked the original Persona Q, Persona Q2 checks the same boxes while adding a few new wrinkles to the formula. As a Persona fan, it feels like the ultimate tribute to the last 13 years of the series, with nostalgic music and callbacks to previous events. When I wasn’t chuckling over a joke between the cast members, I was reveling in fusing new personas and finally besting a long, punishing boss battle. Persona Q2 is a worthy last hurrah for the 3DS, and helps the system go out on a high note.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is the ultimate tribute to the series' last 13 years with Etrian Odyssey elements thrown in for good measure.