Atlus has a couple of really great handheld RPG’s in their arsenal: Etrian Odyssey, and Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. The latter actually released almost five years ago, and was a great spin-off to the main series of Persona titles. Fast forward five years, and the eclectic dungeon crawler is finally receiving a sequel with Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth.
Atlus has taken a lot of the core aspects of the Etrian Odyssey franchise and infused it with Persona. Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth takes place directly after Persona 5. While it isn’t necessary to play through the first Persona Q title, players who have gotten through the PlayStation 4 big brother will get the most out of this title. There are plenty of callbacks and characters from main plot points in Persona 5 to make it worthwhile to play it first.
The Phantom Thieves are back at it! The crazy group of characters are on a new mission when they are sucked into a cinema screen and become trapped inside a mysterious movie theater. After realizing Makoto and Haru have vanished from their group, they notice a door covered in locks. This is the key to their escape. The first handful of hours of Persona Q2 leave a strong first impression. The main characters are learning about their situation and trying to understand how to navigate dungeons, without as much help from Futaba.
There’s a lot of reading here, without much cinematic dialogue. Anyone jumping in should be prepared for that. I play a ton of RPG’s, so it’s something I’m used to, but in a world where even written dialogue has voice acting, it’s jarring to jump back into an older form of delivery. I think it’s mostly to do with the 3DS hardware. Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth probably couldn’t look much better than what’s on display.
The new chibi-fied characters are adorable to see during conversations and the few animated cutscenes there are. Persona is one of my all-time favorite franchises, and Persona Q2 and Persona Q absolutely nail the style they’re shooting for. The stylization here bleeds over into almost every other aspect of the game as well.
I loved the jazz soundtrack of Persona 5, and the mixture of jazz and electronic music is spectacularly on display here as well. Even the menus and the items players will use are stylized based on the source material, as well as the setting of Persona Q2. There’s clearly a lot of love for the Persona franchise here, because this is a game for fans.
As players explore the dungeons, which are all based on movie genres, they’ll come across characters from previous Persona games. The main character that makes an appearance from previous titles is the female protagonist from Persona 3 Portable. Her inclusion is a great addition, as fans have been hounding Atlus for years about her. Although more characters are obviously present.
In terms of core gameplay, anyone that has played a first-person dungeon crawler should know what to expect. Borrowing heavily from Etrian Odyssey, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth puts Joker front and center as players navigate through the intricate dungeons. Don’t expect to see your character in battle or during exploration, as everything is done in first-person. I wouldn’t say this detracts from the experience, especially for a Persona title. Every character gets the moments that players would expect, from Joker’s stoic decision making, all the way to Futaba’s nervousness. This is very clearly a Persona title, even if it is wrapped in an Etrian Odyssey skin.
Don’t expect to have the same sort of in-depth relationship building as Persona 5 though. These relationships between the characters of numbered titles are already established, and Persona Q2 doubles down on the narrative between all of them. Instead of intertwining the relationship building with the narrative, the established relationships provide some great moments between characters that help drive the story forward.
It can be a bit of a slog at times though. Conversations I was hoping would just end would absolutely drag on, and cheesy one-liners can fall flat. A lot of the dialogue is important, especially early on, but the pacing of the story sometimes felt off, especially without the confidant aspects from Persona 5.
One of the things I really disliked from Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth seems alleviated here. Of course I’m talking about the dungeons. In the first outing, dungeons could drag as easily as some of the conversations. The dungeons in Persona Q2 feel more succinct and well crafted. Less reliant on puzzle-solving, and instead focused on the grind.
Persona Q2 is a difficult game, and even early enemies can perform a full squad wipe. To help alleviate this, enemy weaknesses play a crucial role. Learning an enemy’s weakness is vital to success, and hitting an enemy with their weakness (or a critical attack) causes them to stagger. This triggers an all out attack where every standing character joins the fray for a scripted brawl to deal a ton of damage.
Party forming plays a critical role in this, and making sure to have characters that cover a wide gamut of elemental attacks is key. It’s a bit harder here than it is in Persona 5 where you could swap out party members to tackle a fight. Since party formation is done before entering a dungeon, even the first fight can mean death without a well-rounded party. It’s occasionally frustrating, especially when fighting against new enemy types. However, knowing what to expect before beginning Persona Q2 means players won’t be as frustrated.
Additionally, players will occasionally find Persona’s after a battle’s conclusion as well. Sticking with the theme here, the Persona are trapped in film and can be added to characters during party formation or while exploring. These Persona give players additional abilities, HP and SP, and can even give a slight health boost in between turns. Choosing the right Persona is as important of who you stack into your party and can completely change the tide of battle. Persona fusion makes a return here, and can for some powerful allies for characters. Players can choose between a normal fusion, in which the original Persona are lost, or pay to create copies of their Persona before a fusion, resulting in not losing anything.
The last key to success in Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth lies with the journal. It’s established early on that Futaba can’t see the layout of dungeons. Meaning another mainstay from Etrian Odyssey is present: creating the map. As players explore each dungeon they’ll find shortcuts through the area that serve as assistance to escape and navigate. Each floor of a dungeon is rather large, so these prove useful, even when grinding for levels. Since using items and skills to heal isn’t always an option, players can escape dungeons to return to the movie theater to regain full health and skill points, allowing them to jump back in and use shortcuts to return to where they were.
Along with marking area walls, players can mark shortcuts, search spots (which can yield valuable items), and even treasure chests. Treasure chests contain rare and useful items here but can only be accessed once 100% of each floor has been explored. It’s additional incentive to actively explore a floor, even at the risk of death.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth isn’t just a love letter to Persona fans, it’s also likely the last outing we’ll get on Nintendo’s 3DS handheld. To be honest, I’m surprised development continued on this, when a large number of Nintendo players have jumped over to the Nintendo Switch. Either way, this is a worthy outing, with a ton of content, and a story built and tailored to the fandom that the Persona series is known for.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth launches June 4th for Nintendo 3DS. This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.Purchases are available here.