Throwin' shapes and improvisin' like a motherbitch

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

By S.A. Renegade on December 25, 2014 in Reviews

Final verdict: B
Final playtime: 160 hours

Shut up. It’s time to talk Persona Q. I can’t say I was super excited about the idea of this game. I mean, I guess I was ’cause hey, new Persona. But it was more tentative because it honestly looked like nothing more than a blatant cash grab. A cross-over of Persona 3 and 4? That premise seemed to make no sense within the context of the games’ stories. This couldn’t possibly be good. But hey, I could be proven wrong, right? Nothing would make me happier.

But of course I’m never wrong. That’s just me. I lead a cursed life. The curse of always being right. There was once a time when SMT was a relatively niche series. That time is long since past. We can blame Persona 4 for that. And to a lesser extent 3. These games have become wildly popular, eclipsing the main series. Now, I’m not one to begrudge the success of legitimately good games… but fuck you I liked it before it was cool!

Ok no but seriously. Sometimes wild success can have negative consequences. It can lead you to over-rely on the thing that brought you success to the detriment of your work. Persona 4 has become Atlus’s cashcow and they have been shamelessly milking the ever loving tits off of it lately. Persona Q happens to be the latest offense and I’ma tell it like it is: from a story standpoint, this game should have never been made. It suffers from the same problem as The Answer in FES in that the story is utterly bum fuckingly pointless. It tries to continue a story that was already DONE. What we get in this game’s plot is nothing but a poor and predictable excuse to cross over a whole bunch of popular characters and make a whole lotta bank. And since this wouldn’t make any real sense of course they have to pull the whole tired “Amnesia dust!” cop out at the very end to make it so that nothing in the game actually happened. I already knew from the very beginning that they would pull this bullshit, because how else were they going to excuse this much shitting on continuity? I still played the game with a tiny minuscule hope that instead of the predictable cop out they would do something clever, but of course they wouldn’t. Weak, pitiful, and offensive.

The worst part is that the more they milk these characters the more they become cheapened. They become more of an empty name and face whose only purpose is to make a quick buck. That’s the fate of characters who are forced to outlive the story they were created for in the name of the god damn dollar. We see this sort of shit most of all in comics. DC and Marvel are the kings of this bullshit. A character gets popular and then they’re kept and reused ad infinitum, put in all sorts of things, countless new stories are made for them just for the sake of cashing in on the character’s popularity, eventually so many stories are made that nobody can even hope to comprehend the huge mess of continuity and holes that they’ve created. Suddenly they’re having to start using all sorts of cop outs like alternate dimensions and amnesia dust and retcons. Suddenly even the writers change and the character’s very characteristics change with them. Eventually what you have isn’t a real character anymore but a brand.

This is what Atlus has been doing to P3 and P4 for a while now and it’s disgusting. You think I’m exaggerating about characteristics changing but we have it right the fuck here in Persona Q. I have no idea why they’re doing this but some characters feel somewhat… different than how they used to be. And still others have become 1 dimensional caricatures of themselves. I hate how they’ve turned Akihiko into a protein obsessed musclehead. The protein thing was a VERY minor part of his character, but now it’s all he ever talks about, all the fucking time. Similarly they’ve cranked up his cluelessness, immaturity and competitiveness to the point of absurdity. This was NOT his character. The point of Akihiko was that he was a strong guy who was serious about his training and could be a little headstrong and eager to face a challenge, but at the same time was very smart, grounded and responsible. He was the type of guy that you could trust your life to and know that it would be alright. It’s funny because at one point in this game Rise comments on her opinion of Akihiko and says that he seemed cool, but turned out to be “disappointing”. Yes, Rise. That’s because you didn’t meet him before they fucking flanderized him.

Similar deal happens with Chie. Yes, Chie always loved meat. But it was only a part of her character. They’ve taken this small aspect of her and blown it way the fuck out of proportion and turned her into some kind of meat monster. I said before that Atlus has been doing this for a while now and it’s the truth. I feel like some of the blame for this falls on Persona 4 Arena, where Akihiko was given the title of The Two-Fisted Protein Junkie and Chie The Carnivore Who Discarded Womanhood, but the point of these titles was that they zeroed in on a small unsavory detail about the character and magnified it in order to slander or embarrass them.

The way they changed Shinjiro is particularly awful because he was one of the best characters in P3. Shinjiro was supposed to be a cool, calm and collected badass. He was the type who always hid how much he cared, whether it be his hobbies or other people. At one point in P3 he asks you how you like living this new life in the dorms with your new friends, and if you answer “I could take it or leave it.” he says “Heh, that’s cool, man.” because this is the same answer that he would have given. If Akihiko was a cool, strong and reliable guy, Shinjiro was this to an even higher degree. He was larger than life. He couldn’t be fazed. At one point Akihiko is worried about him, gets agitated and punches him. But Shinjiro doesn’t hit him back or lose his cool. This is the sort of man Shinjiro was. When he finally joins your party it’s a big deal. The way both Mitsuru and Akihiko talk about him, with so much respect and admiration, you can’t help but admire him too. These are the two most capable and reliable people on your team, saying how glad they are to have him back and how great everything is going to be now that he’s around. That means something. It solidly establishes the kind of guy he is. Whereas Akihiko would routinely be dominated by Mitsuru’s strong personality, and was even to a certain extent afraid of her, you get the distinct sense that she would be utterly incapable of doing this to Shinjiro. The respect he commands is too great.

Point is, Shinjiro was a massive fucking badass. The way they’ve written him in Persona Q is insulting. Now he’s routinely getting into petty and extremely childish squabbles with Akihiko, getting dragged into pointless competitions with him and making a god damn fool of himself in front of everyone. Shinjiro would NEVER EVER make a fool of himself in front of everybody. It’s to the point where Mitsuru actually face palms when they get into another one of their fights and goes “Oh boy, here they go again…” Mitsuru would NEVER EVER have cause to say something like that about Shinjiro. I refuse to acknowledge what happens in this game.

Teddie has been almost entirely reduced to 1 stale joke. His entire character in this game consists of showing up, saying something dumb to try and score with one of the girls, and then being ignored/shot down. Again, this was originally a part of his character. But here it’s just the same thing over and over again and barely anything else.

The protagonists have been thoroughly ruined. They were never supposed to talk and they were never supposed to have a distinct personality and they were never supposed to have a name. I blame the manga and the anime for this. In fact why did they even make a manga and anime? How utterly pointless. One of the best things about these games was that the protagonist was a blank surrogate for the player. You decide how he is, what he likes, who he ends up with (even if this is only in your imagination). So much for that. Now the protagonists are their own established character. It started with the manga and the anime. Then it was canonized in Persona 4 Arena. Now the bullshit continues here in Persona Q.

I wish Atlus would stop milking P3 and P4 already. Just stop. Stop it. PLEASE just let the games rest in peace already. I cannot wait for Persona 5 to come out so that this madness can stop and we can finally have a fresh and proper story with completely new characters the way it was meant to be. Remakes are all well and cool. But all these sequels and prequels and cross overs and time fuckery and retcons are just shitting all over the stories and characters I love. There is NO REASON why this game needed to have these characters. None. Other than filthy shameless greed for money and disrespect.

Especially because this isn’t even really a Persona game. It’s not. This is 100% an Etrian Odyssey game. Almost everything in this game is a rip off of Etrian Odyssey. The art style, the dungeons and exploration, the way you have to draw your own maps and the interface it gives you to do that, the combat, how your party consists of 5 and you have a front row and back row, the mining spots etc, etc. Even the super strong special FOE enemies from Etrian are in here and they use the exact same name for them.

This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a great thing. In fact, the Etrian gameplay is what saves this game. I said before in my Etrian Odyssey review that even though the game had some massive, glaring, awful flaws I loved the overall concept and the game was super fun until the flaws became prominent. What’s kind of amazing is that almost every single one of the flaws that Etrian Odyssey had have been fixed in Persona Q. Check it:

I said that the map drawing gimmick in Etrian quickly became very tedious and wondered why the game doesn’t just automatically draw the walls for you. And what do we have in Persona Q but an option in settings that you can toggle which makes the game draw the walls automatically for you. THANK FUCK. Finally an option that’s actually good. You still have to mark the doors, chests, mining points and other doodads yourself, but this makes it infinitely less tedious. What’s the next step? Maybe there’ll be an option to have the game automatically mark even those things for you. Then we’ll really be in the future. It’ll be like when Super Metroid came out and you didn’t have to draw the map with pen and paper because the game was doing it right there for you and it blew your fucking mind how advanced it was.

Then, I lamented about how Etrian never acknowledges the map and said I wished there would be some sort of reward given for perfectly mapping an entire floor. And what do we have in Persona Q but special chests in each floor with cool rewards that can only be opened after you’ve mapped out a floor 100%. This goes a LONG way towards making the exploration and map completion more engaging. It’s an awesome thing.

Even though the gameplay in Etrian was fun, the fact that it had little/no story and no characters kinda sucked because it was way too pure of a dungeon crawler. Persona Q fixes this problem with flying colors. Even though the story is completely fucking pointless and the characters have been completely fucking shat on, it does a few specific things that are great additions to the Etrian formula. Namely, the fact that there’s tons and tons and tons of dialogue and events while you’re exploring the dungeons. I am not fucking kidding when I tell you that almost EVERY. SINGLE. dead end in this game has something of value in it. Whether it’s a little event, an item, a hidden quest, a hidden scene, some dialogue, anything. Even if it’s just a couple of the characters complaining about how it’s another dead end with nothing in it. This is AMAZING and I would have loved to see something like this in Etrian. It makes the dungeon crawling so, so much more fun when you’re always finding little things all over the place like this. Granted, it would’ve been much more difficult to implement in Etrian because it has no characters, only classes, but I’m sure they could figure something out. For example, have set characters who have an established personality which doesn’t change even if their class does. Only their portrait would change based on what class you picked for them but their dialogue would be predetermined. Boom, fixed. That took me 2 seconds.

Persona Q also fixes the shitty quests and lack of information. In Etrian Odyssey there were a lot of really bullshit quests where you just get one really vague hint of where you’re supposed to go, and then you have to just fucking wander around all the floors of the labyrinth trying to find where you’re supposed to go, which was really annoying. In Q it’s always really specific about telling you where you have to go, whenever you get to the relevant floor where the quest is done it’ll tell you, and a lot of times it’ll even have characters tell you like “the thing we’re looking for is to the west, let’s head in that direction”.

Level cap, also fixed. By which I mean it’s not there. You’ll finish the game long before you get max level unless you grind a shitload. The absolutely horse shit lack of choice in classes and how you’re forced to pick a very specific team composition to be able to win in Etrian? Fixed, and how. Persona Q bends completely backwards to make absolutely 100% certain that you’re able to play EXACTLY the team composition that you want and make it viable. You can really tell that this was specifically a very important issue for them and it shows in so much of the game’s design. You can now equip different Personas on all characters rather than only the protagonist. This means that, even though each character has their own specific set of innate abilities they learn, you can make them use any abilities you want simply by having them use the appropriate persona. Wanna play a full team of physical fighters with no healing character? Or the opposite? Doesn’t matter, just equip Personas with the skills they’re missing and it all works. Hell, they even put in special accessories that swap stats. Wanna use Junpei but don’t like how slow he is? Swap his endurance stat with his speed stat and you’re good to go.

Anyway, the flaws Persona Q doesn’t fix are very few. Namely, that the game quickly becomes a little too easy past the first dungeon, even on the hardest difficulty setting. Which, by the way, thank GOD that they made the correct decision in this game in not allowing you to switch difficulties any time you want. Well, that’s not entirely true, you can switch difficulties any time unless you’ve picked the hardest one, in which case you’re stuck on that forever. But as long as it at LEAST locks you in on the hardest one, I’ll take it. I’m honestly extremely and pleasantly surprised that this is even a thing as I was sure Atlus would never go back on their sliding difficulty pussification after the horse shit they did in Soul Hackers, Innocent Sin and SMTIV. Please Jesus let this not be a fluke. I want to believe that this can continue in future games.

FOEs. Let’s talk FOEs. Just like in Etrian Odyssey, the game has the special super strong enemies called FOEs that the game tells you you have to run away from. Of course, fighting strong enemies is fun, and running away is for pussies. So of course we ain’t runnin’, bitch! FOEs are featured much more prominently than in Etrian, with each new FOE encountered being talked about by your team, as well as how to avoid it. Their movement patterns and behaviors are also much more elaborate and change depending on their type, and can even be affected by outside factors such as light, heat, water. As such, the avoidance of FOEs acts as puzzles during your dungeon crawling, at least in theory. In practice, this is not the case, because real men fight, dammit.

Which brings an issue that I heavily dislike about the FOEs in this game: the game doesn’t acknowledge when you beat them. What I mean by this is whenever you meet a new FOE, your team is all like “Oh my god, no, please, run!” “That one’s too strong!” etc etc, and you’re supposed to do some hoop jumping to avoid running into the FOE. And then when you successfully run away from it you get another event with people being all like “Phewww we got away by the skin of our teeth” or something to that effect. But if you just run up and kill it you get….nothing. Just nothing. It would’ve been really cool if you got a different type of dialogue for killing it rather than running away. I dunno, some type of SOMETHING. Even just a “Oh awesome! I guess we were worried for nothing” would be nice. But no. The game just ignores it. Almost as if they didn’t plan for the possibility that you could beat it. Hell, at one point against a FOE where you have to run away through a door to avoid it, I just ran up and killed it right? And then I just strolled through the door, and when I did I got dialogue with people being like “Phew. That was scary. I guess they won’t follow us through doors.” HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY WON’T FOLLOW US THROUGH DOORS? It’s dead! It’s not even anywhere NEAR the door. Come on game, don’t just play the same dialogue as if I ran away from the FOE when I didn’t. That’s just lazy. Geez. The times when it does play appropriately different dialogue are extremely few, mostly in a couple of quests.

Next, I honestly feel like this game has WAY too many FOEs. It just goes overboard with the quantity a lot of the time. FOEs are supposed to be special. It should be about the quality, not the quantity. I also don’t like how they all respawn immediately as soon as you leave the labyrinth. In Etrian they took about a week to respawn, so it felt like even though they were really strong, you were doing real damage to the enemy presence on the map by killing them. Here they’ll just be right back in there when you come back.

Finally, the fact that killing an FOE always gives you a high level persona (about 5-10 levels above you, normally you’re not able to fuse or acquire Personas that are higher level than you) is sort of problematic because it completely fucks up the persona fusion and acquisition progression early on. Basically the high level personas you get from FOEs will tend to obsolete whatever you can fuse early on. It’s not until about late midgame that fusion becomes strictly better. Which is a shame that it takes that long to really become useful because it’s one of the best parts of the games.

Same as Etrian Odyssey, the FOEs start out really strong and difficult to beat but very quickly become too easy. Though, unlike Etrian it still does throw a few curveballs at you every now and again in the form of stuff like surprise instant kills and attacks that can do ten times your maximum HP in damage. But generally it’s not too tough.

The music in this game is really good, which makes it a shame that it was wasted on the worst system. The opening theme, Maze of Life, is AMAZING. Probably the best one in a while, and having Yumi Kawamura and Shihoko Hirata sing it together was an awesome touch. I can only hope and pray that Persona 5 can match this. But it’s gonna be tough. They probably already blew everything they had on this. I don’t like the prospects. I don’t like them at all. But anyway, the battle theme is also different depending on whether you play as the P3 or P4 protagonist, which is, again, a really nice touch.

Oh, I didn’t mention that? At the beginning of the game you choose which of the two protagonists to play as, and this will affect how the story develops. It’s a pretty cool feature that gives added value to a second playthrough, although since the dungeons and enemies and difficulty stay the same it didn’t really keep my interest.

As I said before, this game has far more dialogue and story than Etrian Odyssey which is a good thing. As you progress in the labyrinths you unlock friendly events with the different characters that you can partake in when you get back to town. But there are no social links or the sort of stuff you’d expect from a Persona game. If you want the Persona experience you won’t find that here. As I also said earlier, I kinda feel like the story is hurt by using Persona characters whose stories have already been completed. The fact that they have to “reset” things at the end so as to not fuck up continuity makes everything that happens in the game feel extremely inconsequential. Not that anything particularly interesting even happens in the first place. They were clearly afraid of making any big plays in terms of character relationships and interactions, or of giving you any meaningful situations to engage in.

This game is really fun but that’s almost entirely because it’s an Etrian Odyssey done right. The Persona characters are completely unnecessary and the game would’ve been better with an independent story. Do not get this game if want Persona. But DO get this game if you want Etrian Odyssey.

Final Verdict: B

Final Playtime: 160 hours

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