Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth Review (Spoiler-Free)
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth came out in Japan on November 29th, 2018, and on June 4th, 2019 for the rest of the world. It’s a sequel of sorts to Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, though the events of each game have no bearing on the other. Both take elements from the Etrian Odyssey series, namely dungeon crawling, and put elements from the Persona series alongside them.
Even though I didn’t love the first game, my excitement over Persona was enough to get me to pre-order Persona Q2. It made some nice improvements over the first game, but I’m beginning to think the dungeon crawling genre might not be my cup of tea. Read on to hear my full thoughts on the experience in this spoiler-free review!
Persona Dream Team
Like in the first game, the general premise is that the casts of several Persona games find themselves inexplicably thrown into a strange world where they meet for the first time and join forces. It’s basically a fan fiction in that regard. The plots of both games are considered non-canon I think, but the events don’t really intersect with the main canon anyway.
This union of so many wonderful Persona characters is pretty great. It’s basically the reason I picked up the game! There are some charming interactions between characters from different games, many of whom have never met in any other Persona spin-off before. I’m sure there are a bunch of adorable scenes I didn’t even see, since I didn’t do many side quests.
Most of the characters have good writing and seem true to their personalities from the main Persona series. Their personality quirks are all exaggerated to some extent, especially Akihiko. Persona Q1 had the same problem, where Akihiko basically just talked about protein powder in every other scene, and competed against Shinjiro in the rest. However, I do think they exaggerated Akihiko a little less in Persona Q2, which is nice.
One of the original characters, Hikari, is also written well. She starts out as quite a mystery, but eventually you learn more about her, and more about her personality. I thought her story was pretty touching.
There are also plenty of silly moments, generally involving the otherworldly attendants of the Velvet Room.
The story’s conclusion is especially strong. There’s just an immense feeling of closure, yet also some fun questions to ponder. It’s not like they leave story threads hanging or anything, but the final moments include a moment where the meaning isn’t spelled out, instead leaving it to the player to interpret as they wish. Beyond that, the ending bombarded me with nostalgia. All the characters get cute individual “farewell” dialogues as they part ways to return home. Then afterward, you get to see each of the casts in a locale from their main Persona game, and it was just so heartwarming to see everybody hanging out at those places again!
Like its predecessor, Persona Q2 is essentially the dungeon crawling formula of Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey series, but Persona-themed. I thought the dungeons were well designed and fun this time around, with cool movie parodying themes.
These movie-centric themes were better than the ones in the previous game too, they had more personality. Although, as a Jurassic Park fan, I might be biased here since one of the dungeons in Persona Q2 is a Jurassic Park parody.
None of the dungeons felt tedious or irritating. Toward the end, I was worried the dungeons would get stale or overstay their welcome. To my pleasant surprise, I found them all to be a satisfying length. They also had unique mechanics to offer, without becoming grating.
Since it’s based on the Etrian Odyssey formula, Persona Q2 has you draw your own maps using the bottom screen of your 3DS as you explore the dungeons. Both Persona Q and Persona Q2 feature an option to automatically draw the floors as you step on them. Persona Q2 also had an auto-draw walls option which I promptly turned on.
I’m a bit conflicted on the whole “draw your own map” concept. On one hand, it seems a little silly that the game doesn’t just auto-reveal the map. Maps that are drawn automatically are pretty widespread in video games. On the other hand, drawing the map myself is weirdly fun! There’s something about it that is just enjoyable. Even with the auto-floor and auto-wall option, I could still draw my own walls as I saw areas that I couldn’t yet reach in the distance across a gap. You also have to manually place the locations of treasure chests, doors, secret passages, and all other dungeon features. There’s an odd satisfaction in seeing your map slowly come together and getting a complete picture of all the elements of the dungeon floor. Plus, I’m pretty sure the “draw your own map” concept is a pretty integral part of Etrian Odyssey’s identity, so I suppose it’s only natural they would keep that defining feature in the series (and spin-offs) indefinitely.
The battle system has seen some updates and improvements since Persona Q1. For whatever reason, the battles in both games never really had me hooked. I mean, the battles are fine I guess. I assume the system is very similar to Etrian Odyssey’s battle system. Battles are turn-based, and even incorporate a system similar to Persona’s “1 More!” system in the form of the “Boost” system. Despite all this, they just never clicked for me. It was fun for me on occasion, but nowhere near as much fun as Persona’s battle system.
Still, there are a number of nice new features.
Unison Attacks have been added, where 2 or more characters team up to deliver a bonus attack. These seem to be triggered randomly as long as one of the characters involved in the Unison Attack is in your party.
Unison Attacks occur between specific sets of characters. They can only occur after you’ve unlocked that specific Unison Attack. You unlock them by doing side quests that feature that characters who will end up performing the Unison Attack. The side quests are all optional, so whether or not you choose to unlock many Unison Attacks is up to you. I didn’t pursue many side quests, so I didn’t unlock many Unison Attacks.
The ones I did unlock were powerful, and they had cool animations and character pair ups. For instance, there’s one where Chie from Persona 4 and Ann from Persona 5 pair up to “knock out enemies with their charm.”
The Baton Pass feature from Persona 5 is also present, but in a slightly different form. It’s now a support ability that you can have your navigator activate, and costs 2 team gauge points. It functions mostly the same when activated, and lets you transfer a “Boost” from one character to another.
Having Baton Pass available is a cool improvement over Persona Q1, but it’s not nearly as powerful as Persona 5’s Baton Pass. They’re very different games at the end of the day though, so it doesn’t pay for me to contrast their Baton Pass feature too much. I didn’t use it very often in Persona Q2 to be honest, but it’s probably a nice option to have on harder difficulties.
Changing Battle BGM
There’s an option to change the background music that plays during a battle. I think the additional music options were actually DLC that I got for free by pre-ordering or something? Or maybe from getting the premium edition of the game? I’m not entirely sure, but it was really nice to have different music during battles, especially when that music consists of the awesome battle themes from Persona 3 through 5.
Persona Q2 also let you put the battle music on shuffle, so that you automatically get a nice variety of music from battle to battle.
Tough Boss Battles
I had started my playthrough on Normal difficulty, thinking that would be an enjoyable challenge. When I started out, it was balanced well for battles against regular enemies. But then I reached the first boss. The first time around, he wiped the floor with me. I conceded defeat, and spent a little while grinding for EXP to gain a few levels. When I re-challenged the boss, I was able to success, but it was still a close call, and it still took a pretty long time.
With the first dungeon out of the way, I entered the second dungeon. The enemies here were stronger, but I still felt the combat was balanced fairly for the difficulty I had chosen. I made it all the way to the boss of the second dungeon on Normal difficulty. Then I was put firmly in my place.
The boss of the second dungeon obliterated me twice before I threw up my hands and said, “Okay, game, you win. I’ll switch to an easier difficulty.” Now, I probably could have beaten the boss on Normal, but I would have undoubtedly needed to grind at least a few more levels, and stocked up on status healing items and status prevention equipment to avoid the boss’s irritating use of status ailments that targeted the entire party. But the thought of doing all that just didn’t seem at all fun to me, and why play the game that way if I wouldn’t enjoy it? So, I switched the difficulty to Safety, the easiest option where you can auto-revive your entire team if you die in battle, making Game Overs a thing of the past, and never looked back.
All the boss battles were pretty much like this. Lengthy, difficult ordeals, that would have required exceptional preparation for those playing on difficulty levels where it was possible to fail. If you really enjoy the battle system, this probably wouldn’t bother you, or might even excite you. But the boss battles, and battles in general here, just weren’t for me. I am really glad that Safety mode was an option though, there’s a good chance I would have never finished the game if it wasn’t.
Looking Good, 3DS!
One thing done especially well is the overall presentation on the 3DS. Developing for a small resolution and screen like the 3DS has is no doubt a challenge for developers. Despite this, the characters, environments, and UI all look great. The UI has a lot of style, similar to Persona 5’s UI in some ways, and it is pretty awesome they managed to bring so much of that style to life on the 3DS. The chibi-style used for the characters also probably serves as a way to work around the resolution limitations of the 3DS, simplifying the look of characters faces and their overall design.
2D animated cutscenes are used a number of times to portray story moments, and they look gorgeous. I’m not sure what production company was behind them, and the small screen resolution might actually be a boon here to hide sloppy animation, but either way the end result looked great to me.
Sadly, No English Dub
One of the biggest letdowns with the English release of Persona Q2 is the lack of an English dub. The voice lines remains in Japanese throughout, with English text and English subtitles during cutscenes. I knew about this well prior to the English release, as it was announced in advance. Still, it would have been awesome to hear the English voice actors from Persona 5 lend their voices to their characters again, as they haven’t appeared in many spin-offs yet (as of this writing, only Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight, which received an English dub, and Persona Q2).
Of course, I imagine the reason the localization doesn’t include English voice lines is likely due to how late in the 3DS’s life this game released. Even when it came out in Japan, in November 2018, the Switch was already over a year into its life, so Atlus likely didn’t expect huge sales figures.
The big problem with the lack of English voice lines is that some of the Japanese voice lines aren’t accompanied by text. Basically anything a character says during regular battles is audio only, except for the important lines spoken by the navigator. Even though the lines are non-essential, it still would be nice to understand what little things the characters are saying during battle.
Persona Q2 improved over its predecessor in a number of significant ways. I’m glad I played through it all, though it was primarily for the characters and story. I did enjoy exploring the dungeons, but the random battles and the battle system itself I wasn’t super fond of.
If you’re a fan of Persona and the dungeon crawler genre (bonus points if you’re a fan of Etrian Odyssey specifically), you’ll probably adore Persona Q2. But for me, it was a middling experience overall.