Persona Q (3DS)
Tea: Simple Sencha Green Tea (as opposed to the complex game at hand)
Persona 3 & 4 have created a huge fan-base together, more so than any previous Persona game in the franchise. Consequently fans wanted their two favourite casts to meet in person. This, of course, poses the problem of the two groups being separated by a few years. Nothing in the world cannot be fixed with a bit of time travel mumbo jumbo, however. And here we have it: Persona Q a game for fans and fans only.
The game does not only bridge the gap between Persona 3 & 4, but also between the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and Etrian Odyssey. The split works roughly like this: Dungeon exploration and general map-drawing is imported from the far-away land of Etrian Odyssey, a land so poor they do not have mini-maps and must draw their own. The encounters are set up like battles in this poor land as well, but the mechanics and, of course, characters are from Person. This works quite well to be honest, although I couldn’t turn that automatic map drawing feature on fast enough. While I genuinely appreciate it if a game requires you to memorize locations and so forth, but a labyrinth of this magnitude is just too much to draw. I’m sure some people can get into it, but people can get into just about anything these days. The mapping feature is very cruel, however, it is nice enough to map out all the rooms you have been in, but it ends there you lazy tosser. You better mark down stairs, chests, secret passages, and important spots yourself. Once again, nice feature to have, but don’t force me to use it, if you have already demonstrated that you don’t really need me to do it. I am not a fan of this kind of map building as it expects you to put so much work into it and the game alone clocks in at about 60h+ for me.
The enormous runtime might also be due to the puzzles on each floor. Each of the five labyrinths has a certain gimmick to it that it associates with a variety of puzzles of varying difficulty. Some puzzles are actually quite challenging. I quite enjoyed it, these days I am used to puzzles that explain themselves and just need to check whether you haven’t fallen asleep on the couch yet. This tedium I am used to by now, however, led to me not noticing that the game doesn’t note anything down. Any clues for the current riddle are up to you to be written down. I only play handheld games in short burst, like in the evening or on the bus, not five hours in one go. So first, I wouldn’t always have my notes with me all the time anyway and second, I so cannot be arsed to remember all the sodding clues. Due to that I was completely over-leveled in the later dungeons as I was stuck and had to walk around the floor all the while grinding my way up until all the enemies were no more than raindrops against my massive windscreen wiper of a party. And while we are on the subject: This game has some of the most broken skills I have ever seen. You are allowed to equip two personas at once, due to some of the most contrived reasoning ever, the second one boosts your SP over the normal maximum, so if you are using SP in a battle and stay within that amount you are effectively losing no SP, as they get refilled at the end of the battle. The only thing left to do is to give someone with an instant death or light skill (or preferably both, i.e. Naoto) the skill Impure Reach and you are done. Enemies will always die to this, and should they resist one of the two, you can bet they will be weak to the other. But I digress. The dungeons have pretty good atmosphere overall, with the third one being probably the best of them all.
The sound design is stellar, especially in the just mentioned third dungeon. Battle themes are catchy and won’t get boring after hearing them a lot, which is essential for an RPG like this. The boss battles can be challenging, but won’t ever seem insurmountable. All the while the music will pump you up to keep going and fighting. Boss themes have a rather weird sound, should you listen to them outside of battles, but will really get you going when you are fighting.
Now to the core of the matter: the story: I chose the P3 side, having more fond memories with the characters from that game. The characters, for the most part, keep their well-rounded aspects and it will please you and annoy you to spend time with some of them, just like in Persona 3. Mitsuru is still the iron-willed leader, determined to not show any weakness and Yukari is still the nagging- the slightly annoying female sidekick you so fondly remember. Akihiko has done quite a swerve, though, or I don’t remember him correctly, but here is far more of a hot head and challenge obsessed athlete type than in the original. In the new environment you meet the two new characters Rei and Zen. They both did not pique my interest and so I kicked them out of my party and they continue to be uninteresting until the end. The pay-off to their story and the whole story in general is kind of lacking as you know from the start that both parties will forget everything that happened here, for the sake of both games’ canon, but this is a fan game so who am I to complaining to. This becomes most evident as most lines could be written by a fanfiction writer. Especially after the two parties have met and you are given the ability to create your individual party from all the different members. All of their interactions usually lead to an inside joke from one of the games, leaving player who haven’t played either of them (maybe they thought this was a good starting point for the series?) as an awkward bystander, laughing because he feels like he has to fit in.
There are other things hardly worth mentioning, since they are taken from the series as a whole. Fusion, weapon and armour crafting, and side quest. Elizabeth gives out these special quests and some of them are frankly ridiculous, once again expecting you to have marked down certain things you could inspect but not interact with in the dungeons. This becomes even more tedious as usually every dead-end leads to a little conversation and a possible quest spot. Then there is the typical bullshit-monster challenge, asking you to defeat a monster with a certain skill, or having him infected with an ailment before. Busywork nothing more.
The game also has a balancing issue aside from Naoto’s two second battle skill. Normally Shin Megami Tensei games have immensely powerful magic attacks after you pumped all you skill points into it, more rewarding than the physical attacks that usually drain your health (not counting SMT IV that finally got it right). But here physical attacks are a beast and outclass spells by a mile, leaving them behind in the dust hardly being able to gaze at their glorious four digit damage output. This massive unbalance makes Aigis pretty much a must-have for every party. She is practically the best physical attacker having her Orgia-mode that transforms absurdly high physical damage into boss ending attacks. Buffs can stack up to four in this game and with four of the things on Aigis there is hardly anything that can hold a candle to her. Death Goddess Aigis merely blinks and bosses crumble into dust. Does it sound like this makes the rest of the party really useless? Well, it kind of does. Unless you count the healer and the guy inflicting poison on the boss. Poison it seems has a maximum health based damage, thus cleaving off increasingly higher numbers the further you get into the game. Toxic Slice is a skill acquired early on with hardly any cost, but immense feedback. This leads to one of the weirdest difficulty curves in my recent memory. A game where the first in encounters of the game are the hardest and the farther you progress the easier the enemies get, making them more of a hassle rather than, say, a genuine challenge. But I shouldn’t harp on about the game being unbalanced as long as it is fun. So is it?
Yes, for all the quick unchallenging mob battles and the easy to beat bosses the game is still fun. And I can’t really say why. Maybe these nostalgia goggles are a bit tight and my brain suffers from the pressure. The character development is ridiculous, most of all because you know from the start it won’t last, but because almost everyone seem required to go through it. With such an immense cast some of them are thrown together and almost all of them can be boiled down to: “I guess what you said is right.” Same holds true for the big resolution for Zen and Rei.
Persona Q is a fan game and only fans will fully enjoy it, consequently also only fans should buy it. This is NOT a game to start the series with. If you are into it and the two casts meeting seemed like a dream come true it certainly delivers in the cross-over section. The character development seems unnecessary and tagged on. The combat isn’t exactly nuanced, but fun. The soundtrack is superb and probably the best part. Just keep in mind that I was aware of most of the things I wrote here and I played 60+ hours and beat the optional boss. That is testament alone.