Persona Q is a very strange thing indeed. This is the first time a Persona title has appeared on the 3DS and it’s a strange mix of Persona 3 and 4 and the Etrian Odyssey series. These are all things we like a lot but mixing them all in together has created something with some very strange influences.
Choosing either the protagonist from Persona 3 or 4 your adventure will then be focused around the characters and experiences from the selected series. The two groups occasionally cross paths and events change depending on who you are playing so there is also some extra replay value to a game that is very long anyway.
The basic plot follows an event which occurs at Yasogami High School during a cultural festival. Suddenly a strange bell is heard to be ringing and the two groups find themselves trapped inside the high school. Upon finding a strange labyrinth underneath the school they must enter and investigate to try and find out what is going on.
The game plays out much in the same way as the Etrian Odyssey series with the dungeons being explored from a first person view and traversed via moving from one square on a grid to the next. The map drawing mechanic has also been brought over with players required to add their own details to the grid with the stylus on the touch screen in order to develop a detailed map and understanding of the labyrinth.
Combat remains turn based (as in both series’), with the front and back row system also employed. Players can pick a team of five from a list of different pre-made characters and then decide if they will be safer attacking from the front row or sitting back and supporting with magic and ranged weapons. The elements system from persona is also in full effect with learning the weaknesses of various enemies the key to progressing.
This certainly isn’t going to be a game for everyone as not only is it more impenetrable to newcomers than either Persona series, it’s also absolutely rock hard. It requires even more strategy and depth than the Etrian Series which was already way out on the ‘aimed at hard core video gamer’ scale. That said, when you get the hang of things it does begin to come together in a wholly satisfying way.
For those that can break through the barriers there is a healthy blend of fan service and satisfying adventure to discover. The labyrinths are well constructed, interesting and beg to be explored. Enemies are varied and diverse and even the generic fodder put up just enough of a fight that they need to be approached cautiously. There is also enough of a draw to keep you playing and to get you to retry when your party is defeated. The story continues to draw you in through a mixture of mystery and outright weirdness and it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into just about every area.
Persona Q is a crazy experiment that works for a specific target audience. It’s hard to recommend to people who aren’t Persona fans as everything is very much styled in that way. It will also help if you have knowledge of the Etrian series but even if you don't this could certainly act as a gateway for Persona fans to discover a new series. It isn’t something for players who have never played either of those series’ to jump into though as there’s just too much to get your head around.
Overall, this is the sort of game that will be someone’s favourite game of all time while others won’t get it at all. We love the fact that someone was crazy enough to try and make this work and it has turned out very well. It’s a hard core dungeon crawler with solid mechanics which requires a bit of franchise knowledge andthat’s filled with fan service. If that sounds good then something special awaits.