Persona Q2: I Never Saw it Coming

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is a dungeon-crawling JRPG developed by P-Studio and published by Atlus. It costs $40 and is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Be warned: despite its chibi art style, Persona Q2 is rated M. The game addresses mature and possibly triggering topics such as bullying, abuse, and suicide. Screenshots are courtesy of Atlus.com.

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Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the 3DS’s final act. And what a flashy act it was! I never heard of the Persona series until 2017 when YouTubers started gushing over Persona 5. But it wasn’t until Joker came to Smash that my interest in the series really picked up. Despite my better judgment telling me that I shouldn’t jump into the series with a spinoff, I saw this gorgeous anime intro and decided to get Q2 at launch.

This turned out to be quite a difficult game to review and recommend. It’s not that Persona Q2 is bad or uninteresting, but the way it intersects certain gameplay and story elements place it in a niche corner. Only a person with specific tastes would likely enjoy it.

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Take myself for example. I’m a nerd well-versed in JRPG mechanics. I enjoy the old NES games that encourage me to “make my own map,” such as Metroid or The Legend of Zelda. I like anime and I’m used to Japanese voices with English subtitles. I enjoy movie theaters, and I especially love the “film noir” style that Q2 embraces. I have a cursory exposure to Persona 3, 4, and 5 thanks to Smash’s spirits and YouTuber reviews. I also crave more games that discuss mature issues in their stories (not “mature” things like gory violence, but actual mature themes).

If your gaming experience and preferences match mine at least somewhat, then I’d recommend Q2 without hesitation. If you find yourself turned off by those elements, then you probably won’t enjoy this game.

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Persona Q2‘s story is a crossover between the most recent Persona games. The cast of Persona 3, 4, and 5 find themselves transported to a mysterious movie theater inhabited by a shy teen, Hikari, a caring movie curator, Nagi, and an adorable yet silent projectionist, Doe. The story starts off with the typical eye-rolling campiness you’d expect from a crossover. Characters say things like, “Wow we’re both from a different worlds, how did we end up here?” But even without any experience with Persona, I found the large cast enjoyable and their banter entertaining. In order to escape the theater, these persona-wielders have to enter movies and change their endings to happy ones. A common theme of “learn to be yourself and not follow the crowd” runs through each one. At first I was worried they’d bore me with beating this theme over and over, but by the 3rd movie, the story takes more interesting turns, especially with how Hikari’s character develops.

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Each movie is a labyrinth filled with puzzles, loot, and overpowered enemies you need to avoid. You explore in first-person on the top screen, and fill in your map on the bottom. The puzzles helped me be more thoughtful of my exploration, and thankfully they added in shortcuts right after a hard gauntlet. You start a feedback loop of entering the movie, making a bit of progress, finding some loot, and then exiting before you run out of magic or HP. This loop felt satisfying all the way through, especially once you become strong enough to confront the massive enemies in the labyrinth.

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Speaking of combat, you largely fight in random encounters with a battle system that’s a mix between Octopath Traveler and Pokemon. Each enemy has a specific elemental weakness, and if you hit their weakness, they become stunned and you gain a boost. Incapacitate all the enemies and you can do an All-Out Attack, dealing massive damage. Each character has a persona (much like a Pokemon) with unique elemental affinities and combat skills. You can find more personas by defeating golden enemies, and you can even fuse your personas to make more powerful ones.

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Still with me? It’s complex, for sure, but if you’re familiar with JRPGs in any way, you’ll get the hang of it. If anything, you might want to play on the easier modes until you learn the ropes. By the end of the game, though, I was quite happy with my super powerful personas and my homemade battle strategy.

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Like I said earlier, overpowered enemies (called F.O.E.s) also move around the labyrinths and give your excursions even more tension. However, if you make sure to explore each floor thoroughly and fight in most random encounters, you should be strong enough to take on some of them at the end of each movie. These fights are arduous, but they have immense rewards. I highly recommend trying to defeat one before fighting each boss. I also recommend taking on a few side quests from the Ticket Booth, as they deliver helpful rewards for making boss fights much more manageable.

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I’m 100% in love with how this game looks. From the labyrinths with their own movie set pieces, to the character designs, to the bright and colorful menus, Q2 delivers a sleek art direction. I’ll linger in the menus and move the cursor around just because it looks so good. And the music is full of, what are the kids calling it these days… right! Bops. Each battle song is a bop! It makes me feel like I too could be a cool and stylish Phantom Thief.

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Despite the game being so niche, I found myself a part of its niche audience. Persona Q2 was certainly a worthy way to finish the 3DS’s time in the spotlight. I definitely want to go and play through the Persona series now. At the moment I’m saving for a new PC, so it may be a long time before I can afford a new Sony console. But when I do, this series is certainly going up to the top of my to-buy list.

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