Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Review-in-Progress

Original post date: 25/11/2014


I recently bought a brand new 3DS and copy of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth on launch and promptly sunk about 4 hours in. I would like to make a review in progress over the next few, as it may take a great amount of time to finish this game.


From the opening sequence, the P Studio has nailed making a Persona game in appearance and aesthetic; from the rocking intro to the serene start screen, everything looks and feels like a main numbered title. So far, the art style has been delightful, as familiar characters have been made into smaller, cuter models that still retain their original attitudes and facial expressions. In the first few cutscenes, the new voice acting is slightly different, but just like Golden and Arena, Atlus has chosen perfect new talent to cover the dubs. In my review for Ultimax, I made a note of criticizing the corners that the characters from both games were written into, becoming a bit flat given the different medium. In an RPG like PQ however, everything you know and love about these characters is able to be fleshed out; plenty of pitch perfect interactions and reactions from Junpei, Aigis and new to the series Ren & Zei flavor the cut scenes and in-game dialogue like a classic Persona game (For this review, I chose the Persona 3 side for the intro, however, at some point the 3 & 4 cast will collide and make one story line). From what I’ve seen, even the dungeons and enemies are borrowed and tooled towards 3 a little more, with plenty of classic Shadows returning, albeit tuned more for this battle system.

The dungeon crawling and map making lifted from the Etrian Odyssey series work amazingly well, and for a series rookie like myself, are easy enough to learn and use. I had worried about having to maintain the map and how different the dungeons would feel, but the combat reminds me enough of old MegaTen games, and works well for me. The one thing of note about this round of dungeons, either because of me or the size of the layout, it has taken me 3-4 hours to get to the third floor of the dungeon. Compared to the relatively fast nature of mainline Persona games, this is a snail’s pace. But, combat is engaging enough and there’s plenty on the map, from shortcuts to traps to treasure to ensure this by no means a boring long haul. FOEs (again, borrowed from EO) act more like the Shadows we are used to, being visible on the map and in constant motion, but keep a set path and are extremely, butt-clinching hard. Most will be able to kill party members in one swing, so avoid them at the beginning.

In my few hours, the item shop and Velvet Room have returned as primary sources for items and Persona respectively, and a for-profit clinic run by Elizabeth has been set up to heal and restore SP. A good mix of familiar elements and new mechanics means I am able to balance healing, item synthesis and purchase, and Persona fusion in a similar manner to my usual method.

Persona usage, in fact has been changed for this title, allowing all party members to carry a sub-Persona tacked on to their prime Persona. This eschews the usual battle method of relying on your main characters 12 slots of Persona switching and spreads that responsibility to the whole team. It’s been interesting and fun to try to get the perfect team of Persona matched to my party members, in order to cover weaknesses, add more elements to my repertoire, and try new moves and strategies. It’s also been a pain in the ass to try and remember to equip new Persona each time I fuse new ones or receive them in the field, but that’s more to blame on my slept deprived brain than anything.


I’m gonna check back in when the two parties collide (spoilers, I suppose), which may be anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on how much more this first dungeon will take me. All I know is, if I had to review this game for scale, I’d be a little late out of the gate, even if I got a review copy! And that’s not a bad thing in my books.


26/11/2014 03:44 A.M.

EDIT: As of this moment, I completed the first dungeon, in game clock stating six hours and 55 minutes. Given, a lot of that time was soaking in cutscenes and interactions in the dungeon, if this is a sign of things to come I’m possibly looking at a 40+ hour session.

For a first dungeon, it had just enough to offer for variety sake; the trap doors went from simple mechanic to puzzle piece over floors, which added a level of strategy to movement. As well, the dungeon boss had some good lead up and was just challenging enough to keep me on my toes.

And on the subject of lead up, the big reveal of the Investigation Team a la Persona 4 may be my hypest game moment of the year. It was perfectly executed from the inclusion of P4’s Reach out to the Truth to the amazing JoJo poses the team struck (and the explanation as to why they did it soon after). I had hoped something this momentous would be exciting for me, and as a fan of the series, this was one of the best moments in recent Persona history. Instead of the gradual revelation that occurred in Arena’s story, this hits you over the head and doesn’t apologize, which pays off in sheer excitement. The remaining hour of my play session was sitting back and watching these two teams mingle and interact, quickly becoming one giant, mushy package. Atlus knows how to serve up 5 star fan service.

27/11/2014 1:46 A.M

Day 3 of play and I’m well into the second dungeon with a few new mechanics built in, from sliding floors to sub-bosses. This dungeon in particular has a great theme going for it, playing off the Group Date Cafe from Persona 4. I’m gonna avoid spoilers as best as I can but the possibility of these characters reaching their “destined partners” like the PA system in this dungeon has been pressing for is going to be hilarious. It’s good on the directors to really theme there dungeons out with not only a wide variety of floor gimmicks, but also themes that are both very easy to pick up on and worth really studying as you go along. I’ve had my first few frustrating moments at a checkpoint sub boss that killed my party a few times. Grinding is now a necessity but unlike most dungeon crawlers, it’s worth the extra time. Between leveling up, getting materials and finding hidden treasures are all rewards for your time. I was worried this would repeat the problem Conception II ended up having by not adding enough variety between labyrinths, but I’ve yet to get that same lethargic feeling I got halfway through Conception. I said earlier this will be a long session. At least it’s going to be a fun one.

29/11/2014 Game clock reads 21 hours and 48 minutes

Trying to balance hosting the parents, work and reviewing this game put a slight hold on my efforts, if anything it slowed my progress. But after 9 hours, I’m done with the second dungeon, and wow there’s plenty of material to cover. The whole motif allowed for a good chunk of fan service and themes worth talking about, mostly to do with love and romance in the Persona games. Dating mechanics have always been integral since the inclusion of Social Links in 3, and some of the most positive fan reactions come from how well these relationships play out on screen. Starting with already well written and liked characters and making them naturally become friends and eventually more has been a hallmark of the series, despite the possibility of making a harem and watering down the whole experience (which in most cases, comes back to bite you in the ass later, i.e. P4G’s Valentine’s Day sadness or getting caught cheating in either game). This was touched on plenty with the Group Date cafe dungeon, even calling back to the original group date and setting up a new one for your team, which played out predictably hilarious. Between some doors were questions laid out for the player about desirable aspects of a partner, ranging from age, activities and ideologies. They covered plenty of ground, and never punished or ridiculed you for answering, even on topics like preferred gender of your partner. I’m not going to flesh this out anymore as I really want people to experience it themselves relatively spoiler free, but the results were phenomenal, classic payoff. The final boss also had some interesting tactics, punishing players for doing certain actions each turn, really requiring you to think about how you’re going to tackle a round and listen to its cues. Again, this game builds off the last dungeon and keeps you on your toes, my only complaint is the pacing. 9…hours! I’m okay with dungeons taking some time, but I can’t recommend this game to people with short attention spans or no patience, because it takes plenty to navigate this game. so far, that’s my only big negative bulletpoint, and nothing short of catastrophic failure will make this game a solid recommendation to fans of Persona, Etrian Odyssey or JRPGs in general.


Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review

Ultimax, despite being a made up word for all we know, describes the latest and reportedly last of the Persona 4 Arena series. It is in many ways the ultimate rendition of an Atlus x ArcSysWorks fighter; with revamped combos, a slew of new characters, and versions of both new and old characters that change the mechanics completely, all with new and improved modes to test your mettle against computer and human opponents.

From a purely mechanical standpoint, this is a near perfect fighter. It is extremely easy to jump in to Versus mode and go a few rounds with your friends; this game is high level tourney ready. The new mode du jour is Golden Arena Mode, a nod to the RPG roots of Persona, being made of towers set up not unlike Tartarus in 3. After selecting a character, you compete in one round matches against set AI opponents, earning experience and leveling up for stats and new skills, all lifted directly from the skills used in the original games (Hassou Tobi and Heat Riser stay strong, son). This mode challenges the player to play carefully as health and meter carry from round to round, and checkpoints are guarded by beefed up characters. Golden Arena can easily become the de facto time burner mode, with hundreds of levels, ranging from beginner to balls out challenging and plenty of skills to experiment with. You can really learn how a character works against most opponents in this challenge.

Returning is Score Attack and Arcade Modes, both quick ways to get 8 or 10 matches in against computers. Arcade Mode is still perfect to immediately grab a character and start pummeling, and will probably be your first mode selected. Score Attack has been rebalanced from Arena, allowing easier difficulties before tackling the Risky difficulty, against a whole line of fully charged opponents. This mode is arguably the last step you should take before entering online play as it uses every system a character can throw at you constantly. Getting past some of the later characters requires a real understanding of both your combos and systems as well as their reads and weaknesses.

Online play has been revamped, at least on the PS3, to include a neat little lobby system that organizes and adds even more ties to the series. While there are still options for jumping right into Ranked and Custom matches, the lobby is worth noting for its sheer amount of fan service, something the Arena series has used to its advantage plenty before. Each lobby is named and numbered after a location in 3 and 4 and the Major Arcana respectively, and is populated by chosen avatars of popular characters. I personally enjoyed a short time roaming Junes halls as Nanako before throwing down with Shinji or Kanji just for the hilarious image. The online matches I engaged in (mostly with people I knew for sanity’s sake) held up as perfect as our internet connections would allow. The history of good online play from ArcSys continues to say the least. Players are still listed and ranked based on gained wins and performance, and it’s easy to tell if a thrashing is headed your way, which if it’s your first time attempting online play against actual humans will be most if not all encounters.


New characters Junpei Iori, Yukari Takeba, Rise Kujikawa, Sho/Minazuki (solo and Persona user ver.), & Ken Amada x Koromaru (one fighter), along with available DLC characters Tohru Adachi, Marie & Margaret, bring the console roster to a staggering 22, bringing in more variations of classic fight styles to choose from. Each character is, much like in the first Arena, built around the personality and skills from their prospective original titles mixed with borrowed ArcSys moves and systems; Yukari uses her bow to set plenty of ranged attacks, Junpei is a fiery slugger, trading his old swords for an aluminum bat that racks up hits and runs as on screen buffs (and makes the most satisfying noise when it connects hits), Rise is able to scan and pinpoint characters (and even has a super that is a rhythm game, a hard nod to her Dancing All Night future), and Adachi uses status ailments and dicks around with the character. If anything, it’s worth trying each new character to see how well they translated the RPG characters to one-on-one fighters. New to the series is the S Hold system, a charge attack that increases from a regular skill to supers and IKs with time, acting similar to a Focus Attack. Using this, especially against human opponents, is risky and requires knowledge of when to knockdown your opponent and what will come of the charge.

On top of entirely new characters, most of the cast gets a new Shadow version, with entirely different combos and mechanics, specifically the Shadow Burst mode. Shadow characters are able to expend their filled meters for a short time in an enhanced state with each meter move burning the timer down, allowing for a short burst of near infinite skill use. This adds another opportunity for players to use SP skills more and possibly turn the tides, not unlike the golden and counter bursts of past.

If I can suggest putting up the coin for the additional characters (4.99 each), I would for variety alone (plus one of your friends may or may not throw a fit if his favorite isn’t present). If you are against paying extra for all the characters, research the available options and see if their playstyle is to your liking. I would, however, suggest picking up Adachi for his extra story mission Episode: Adachi, which adds on and weaves around both the original storyline and the new threads being made in the Story Mode.

This version of the Story Mode, divided into Episode P4 and P3 (in that order for reasons unknown), rely on a much more linear narrative, displayed in arcs that trail downward and connect and separate as characters and parties group and are removed in the narrative. the UI of the story is clunky as all get out, resembling a conspiracy theorist’s yarn lines leading to the conclusion of each episode, but follows a narrative nonetheless. Plenty of the interactions and cutscenes play well to the characters, seeing the old crews in action was almost like popping in the old PS2 games and seeing the Social Links all over again. As far as continuing both the narratives of the mainline Persona series and the setup for the first Arena, Ultimax falls short. For fans of the series, seeing the characters of the games clash and team up was a dream come true in the first fighter, but by this time is rarely pushed forward and relies heavily on established character tropes and fan service.

Not that Persona Fan Service isn’t the best in the business.
Claiming to be the Climax of this spinoff may be it’s biggest downfall, keeping the historically well written and developed characters in a safe place to make sure fans are kept happy (yes, Junpei is still Stupei). Anyone looking for more Persona lore will be met with mixes of nostalgia and disappointment; whereas this could have really wrapped some loose ends up (specifically regarding Elizabeth’s involvement and development), it instead becomes a few quick quips between new and old friends tied looser with the excuse to fight again and an unexpected villain at the center. Attempting to make the first mystery in Arena a legitimate jump off point was ambitious, and where the writing really fails is its inability to deliver final results like a Persona game should. The places each character ends up beg for more exposition, which after nearly 20 hours of Visual Novel meets fighter, should not be the case. If this the last P4A title, the narrative is left broken at a whole.

The decision to buy this game comes down to which fan you consider yourself. Fighting fans will be satisfied with tight online and local gameplay, plenty of varied modes and a great roster. This game could easily be on next year’s major FGC tourney stages if it already isn’t. Persona fans will have a harder time justifying coming to this title for the story like the first Arena. It is entirely possible to call yourself a super fan and never know what the Sam Hell happened in both Arena games. Despite being confirmed canon, they seem oddly apocryphal. It seems to be a competent-nearing perfect fighter with a strange lore at the core. Perhaps that is the facade it must deal with to overcome it’s hardships. Hopefully, this series gets a third chance to face it’s Shadows.

Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars Review

Hey remember when I said I like JRPGs? I meant it. When my local Gamestop connect tried pushing a Persona-like Vita game on me, I bit hook, line, and sinker. The letdown that happened is palpable throughout my slow demystifying ride through what became a shadow of better games.

This is, incidentally, the posted version on one, a site I hold dear to my heart. I use my namesake on their occasionally to write and review, as a sort of testing grounds.

Conception II Review