The Persona series has always been my shame, a series of critically acclaimed titles that I know I would intensely love, if I would only sit down to play them – after finding the pre-requisite time, of course. In true exasperating fashion, my first dip into the series outside the phenomenal Dancing games is this – a spin-off cross-over dungeon crawler.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth puts you in the shoes of Persona 5’s Phantom Thieves, who lose control of their van – which is also a talking cat for the record – and find themselves inside the movie world. To get away from trouble, they escape from the film into a cinema through a screen, only to find themselves locked in.
They discover that not only are they in the film but that they had an audience, with Nagi and Hikari trapped in the cinema too, who tell them that the story of the films only progress if they make it happen. So with allies to rescue, and a villain to take down, they jump back through the silver screen to play the hero.
From here, Persona Q2 plays out in a very similar way to that of a “Mystery Dungeon” title, only with additional Persona flavour and without the frustration of the random mechanics of that series, all the while meeting and recruiting characters from the Investigation Team and S.E.E.S. bolstering your party as you explore.
The labyrinths are grid-based dungeons that loop around on themselves and contain a myriad of enemies, treasure chests and shortcuts. The maps of these dungeons are filled in by the player as they explore using the touch screen and the tools available, marking out the walls and points of interest along the way.
There’s an option in the menu that fills in the map as you walk around, but you’ll still need to fill in things such as shortcuts and objects of interest anyway. Really, you’re best off doing it yourself, and as a wannabe cartographer missing both the skills and the patience for the craft, this was one of my favourite aspects of the game.
You explore in first-person with simplified movement and each move into a new square counted as a turn. Everything then ties into this turn system, with in-dungeon enemies moving each turn, and battles occurring within those frames – a radar in the corner counts down from three as you explore, with zero meaning an encounter.
Battles play out in a traditional third person turn-based JRPG style, with you selecting your moves for the next turn for your party of five, then letting the turn play out with both your choices and those of the enemy. This all sounds simple, but Persona Q2 does have more than a few tricks up its sleeve in combat.
The BOOST system grants various bonuses to a character in their next turn if they hit an enemy with an attack of the right element or land a critical hit. There are ten elements in total, so there’s a lot of trial and error at first, but it’s immensely gratifying to nail the weakness then having the cost of using special attacks next turn negated.
One problem here is, owing to Persona Q2 leaning so heavily on the BOOST system, that boss ecnounters can be frustrating as you slowly trial and error through elements until you find their weakness, while they’re continually beating on you relentlessly. What’s an irritation in normal battles is now a sizeable problem. Just add a “Scan”, Atlus. Come on now.
A returning Persona mainstay at this point is the All-Out Attack, which sees your entire team beat on the enemies in the battle, doing a large amount of damage, and giving you additional EXP should the battle end with it. All you need for this is to stun all of the enemies on the field by hitting weaknesses or by critical hits.
Then there’s the Persona system itself. Every character has a Persona at the beginning, which gives you certain abilities, but can also equip a Sub-Persona. Doing so will not only increase your basic stats but also allow the use of the Sub-Persona’s abilities too. Seriously, make sure you do this because this is so integral to success.
The amount of content in here is staggering. Not only are there multi-floor dungeons to explore, with gold chests that only open if you’ve explored the floor 100% (or by Play Coins, remember them?), but also an Enepedia to fill with enemies and a diverse roster of characters and Personas to find and mess around with too.
Persona Q2 takes its visual cues from Persona 5, so has clear, yet striking menus throughout. The chibi character designs are adorable, with both their in-game models and character portraits being so cute it’s criminal. The music too is incredible, taking a lot of inspiration from the more jazz-inspired sound of P5 but with older songs thrown in for contrast.
This isn’t a blockbuster title and will likely slip under the radar for a lot of people, but Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is a unique take on an entertaining if niche genre of games. It looks great, sounds great, and even with teething issues to the battle system, it’s worth the price of admission.