The Persona series has been around the block when it comes to spin-off titles. From dancing to fighting, everyone’s favorite persona users have shown off a variety of unexpected talents. Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth throws these characters into a whole new challenge: fixing movies. With challenging turn-based combat, engaging first-person dungeon crawling, and cutesy character moments, it delivers a holistic JRPG experience that most would expect from a Persona game. However, some road bumps hinder it from being a standout title as we enter the Nintendo 3DS’s twilight years.
A Persona-esque story
Let’s lay the groundwork first. The Phantom Thieves from Persona 5 suddenly find themselves in an ethereal movie theater that exists outside time and space. They meet two characters unique to Q2: Nagi and Hikari. Nagi owns the theater, while Hikari plays the meek, shy girl. For some reason, the Phantom Thieves can enter the movies they're watching. While in those movie worlds, they change the endings, usually by beating a boss.
Q2 features four films for players to go through. The first three movies bring the casts of Persona 5, 4, and 3 together, in that order. The plots of these films hone in on the dangers of blindly conforming with the majority. They pose the following question: Why voice your opinions if you think everyone else will disagree? Exploring that question lets the Phantom Thieves do what they do best, as they challenge societal norms with their rebellious hearts. However, it also somewhat alienates the cast members of Persona 3 and 4, turning them into side characters.
The story really picks up during the final film, which kicks off the last act. I won’t spoil it for obvious reasons, but generally speaking, the philosophy gears toward the lethargy and human nature. When people give up on their dreams, is it okay to settle for that hollow sense of contentment? Here, the ensemble cast feels more balanced, with less focus on the newest kids on the block. Unfortunately, the story is at its most predictable here, and you’ll see twists coming from a mile away.
Holistically, the narrative tackles some pretty existential concepts. But if you beat Persona 5, these philosophical quandaries should sound familiar. Q2 hits the same thematic beats as the PS4 exclusive, making this 3DS title feel like an uninspired follow-up. On the other hand, longtime fans still have something to chew on outside of the story.
Maximum fan service
If you’re considering adding Persona Q2 to your 3DS library, you likely already have some familiarity with the series. Frankly, only Persona fans will truly enjoy it because of the sheer amount of fan service. The concept of a persona gets little to no explanation. The game assumes you already know terms like “the Wild Card” and “the Velvet Room.” Mona constantly proclaims he isn’t a cat, only faintly alluding to the origin of that sentiment. You should already know it from Persona 5.
And therein lies the trouble: Q2’s assumption of its audience. For diehard Persona fans, it has a lot to offer. You’ll be in on all these jokes, like Yukiko’s cooking in Persona 4 or Akihiko’s addiction to protein powder in Persona 3. When Kanji blushes and blankly stares at Mona, you already know why (if you played 4). This dungeon crawler rewards fans for the hundreds of hours they sunk into these JRPGs across the past 13 years.
However, at certain points, Q2 takes things a bit too far. In terms of narrative, juggling 28 characters is no easy feat. Whenever the game forces you to take a break and read some cutesy dialog, it’s fun at first. As a Persona fan, it's fun to see Junpei pit his “ace detective” skills against Naoto and Akechi. But more often than not, you can already guess how these skits end because everyone is just a caricature of themselves. Most characters are mere punchlines because of how little screen time they get. Junpei is just a doofus. Yusuke is just a hungry, artsy weirdo. It gets old very quickly.
For major fans of the series, this title offers what you’re looking for, but perhaps too much of it. For those who didn’t spend all that time playing the past three Persona titles, a lot of these character moments will come off as confusing. If you read the last few paragraphs and didn’t get any of those references, Q2 isn’t for you. Even if the first-person dungeon crawling interests you, the Etrian Odyssey series has more to offer.
Etrian Odyssey meets Persona
Persona Q2 takes a lot of inspiration from an ongoing JRPG series called Etrian Odyssey. The franchise dates back to 2007 on the original DS, and the most recent title, Etrian Odyssey Nexus, journeyed to North America only four months ago. In those games, much like Persona Q2, you build a party of five and journey through winding labyrinths in a first-person view. The bottom screen primarily houses the map, which you draw yourself. Random encounters pit you against wild creatures in turn-based combat. Unlike Persona, you queue up everyone’s actions and then watch them unfold as the game determines turn order based on agility scores.
Of course, Q2 puts a Persona twist on everything that fans should be familiar with. You have a navigator guiding you through the dungeon, and she can buff your party in the midst of battle. Exploiting enemy weaknesses rewards you as well, giving your characters a “Boost.” This temporary buff gives that party member turn priority on the next round, no cost on any skills, and increased damage.
You can even baton pass a Boost to another character, repurposing a mechanic introduced in Persona 5. And this wouldn’t be a Persona game without the all-out attack, which is triggered after hitting every enemy’s weakness. For as much as these familiar mechanics shine in Q2, I couldn’t help but wish I’d rather have a fully Etrian-style game or a fully Persona-style one. The combat systems mesh well enough, but you must select everyone’s actions at the beginning of each round. This overshadows the emphasis on hitting weak points. The feedback isn’t immediate, making it hard to effectively react to tough enemies.
Where Q2 strays from the mainline titles is in how it handles its personas. Instead of the protagonist freely switching between personas in battle, now every party member can have an extra one equipped, called a sub-persona. This effectively doubles everyone’s pool of unique abilities. In some ways, this works well with the hybrid combat system, making every party member feel equally important. Unfortunately, if you’re missing a weakness in your composition, it can bite you in an unlucky encounter. And this game bites hard.
The difficult road ahead
The combat doesn’t forgive lackadaisical players. You need to dedicate yourself, constantly weighing your options while remembering vital character stats. Decisions like reviving and healing a fallen ally take careful planning, where you’ll have to consider your characters’ speeds. For example, if you set it up wrong, the faster character will use a healing item on a downed teammate before the slower ally can revive them.
Because you can’t swap personas mid-combat, you can find yourself unable to hit enemy weaknesses. Without that, you won’t earn any boosts or get that coveted all-out attack. Furthermore, you lose out on Unison Skills. These powerful attacks represent the bonds between persona users, but they only have a chance of triggering after landing a critical hit or exploiting a weakness.
Without those tools, fights get tedious, especially in the later dungeons. Enemies hit like trucks, and often, two or three shots are enough to down a party member, no matter how much you grind. To make matters worse, your hit rate falls drastically in the final labyrinth, without warning. This makes fights more frustrating instead of rewarding and difficult.
Furthermore, Q2 doesn’t do a great job encouraging players to experiment with different party compositions. Characters outside of the party don’t accrue any experience except the side quest rewards, which aren’t worth much. Before you enter a labyrinth, a character has a chance to be “motivated,” which gives them natural buffs until you return to base. When that character is more than five levels below your best characters though, it’s hard to justify swapping them into your party.
In fact, party maintenance might be the roughest part of Q2. You don’t have access to every character until the halfway point. By then, you’ll have 25 fighters and three navigators to worry about, all of whom can have a sub-persona equipped. Juggling sub-personas (that are constantly changing) across 28 characters is a daunting task, even for the most hardcore stat junkies. No one would blame you for sticking with just five fighters and two navigators for the whole game.
Persona Q2: Party of 28
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth marks itself as a celebration of the franchise. Fans can revel in all the character interactions, and those looking for a challenging, complex combat system have a lot to chew on here. Even the soundtrack is full of catchy tunes that scream Persona. If you commit to seeing the end, though, you might run into some painful roadblocks along the way. Unfair spikes in difficulty quickly turn the journey into a real chore, and the story feels like a lesser version of what Persona 5 accomplished. While I mostly enjoyed my time with this dungeon crawler, I couldn’t help but think I’d rather be playing Persona 3, 4, or 5 instead.
TechRaptor reviewed Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth on the Nintendo 3DS with a code provided by the publisher.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is a saccharine treat for hardcore Persona fans, but at times, it can get a little too sweet. Furthermore, somewhat unfair challenges hamper what otherwise could be a great JRPG to sunset the Nintendo 3DS.(Review Policy)
- Cute Persona Fan Service
- Engaging Combat
- Killer Soundtrack
- Frustrating Difficulty Spikes
- Washed-up Narrative and Themes
- Too Many Characters to Manage