- Improves on the already great Persona Q
- Persona 5's influence is felt everywhere
- Better writing compliments a personal story
- The game balances 30+ characters without sacrificing their personalities
- A great swan song for a great system
- The lack of Japanese voice acting, while understandable, just makes Teddie that much more annoying
- Like many 2019 games, PQ2 would really like it if you bought some DLC
- It's 2019; StreetPass functionality is cool, but hard to take advantage of it
Play Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth. It's a fantastic RPG. Dig out your 3DS one last time and give it a whirl.
As a film school graduate, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth hits hard. At its core, it’s about learning to have confidence in yourself and making the best art you can with that confidence. As I played, it evoked a lot of emotions, sometimes reminding me of the idealism I had when I entered school, obsessively watching movies and driving myself to create. Other times, it reminded me of what happened when that idealism faded, and I became burnt out and lost sight of why I was even getting a degree. Throughout its story, PQ2 portrays these highs and lows with such conviction, that I’m convinced it’s someone’s personal story being told in a video game. It could belong to someone on staff at Atlus. It could just as well be mine.
That this game is able to operate on a narrative level that allows an experience like this to be shared with such emotional honesty and integrity is impressive on its own. It’s even more impressive when you consider the factors that have been working against PQ2‘s development. As a sequel to the first well-received Persona Q, and one of the last major projects by anyone, anywhere in development for the 3DS, there would be every incentive in the world to cut costs and tell a crossover story that brings together the characters of Persona 3, 4, and 5 as cheaply as possible. Instead, Atlus went all out. They embodied the theme of their own game, and found the confidence to move forward and make the best art possible. It is the jazziest, snazziest swan song 3DS owners could hope for.
In fact, it’s so good, PQ2 makes the original PQ look like a rough draft. The story takes place in a mysterious movie theater that traps its inhabitants and forces them to watch movies about bowing to majority rule and keeping your head down. The Persona crew, thrown into this scene, decide the only way out is to change these movies one by one into inspirational stories meant to energize the prisoners. Each movie is represented by a dungeon, and in regular PQ/Etrian Odyssey fashion, players draw the dungeon map on the 3DS’ bottom screen as they explore. The dungeons feel carefully crafted and distinct from one another, and the work that’s gone into some of them is borderline unbelievable. Especially the dungeon based on musicals.
In the meat and bones of exploration, it really feels like the developers sat down with the original PQ and identified what needed improvements. Overall, the floors of each dungeon have a better flow as there’s less focus on maze-like passages and more on interconnecting different sections. Other annoyances, like one-way shortcuts, are gone too, replaced with dungeon-specific obstacles that give the player a better sense of progression and fair difficulty.
As for the battle system, it’s been revamped to accommodate the nearly thirty playable characters the game offers. Exploiting enemy weaknesses is key to controlling the flow of battle, and a host of new special attacks makes it easier to achieve that goal. My favorite new type of attack are Unison attacks, which can be unlocked by completing sidequests related to different characters. For example, if you complete the quest where Naoto from P4 and Crow from P5 get to know each other better, their Unison attack will trigger at certain points during battle as long as one of them is on the field. Unison attacks generally deal several times more damage than normal attacks, so it’s worth playing through the sidequests and experimenting with party formation to see which characters work best for you.
One of the unique aspects about the original PQ, was that it offered two different ways to experience the story – one, primarily through the eyes of the P3 cast, and the other, in the shoes of the P4 characters. I approached the idea of playing both campaigns with glee, but noticed that it often pushed specific characters to the forefront, while others felt like stereotypes of themselves, or just kinda hung around in the background. PQ2 axes the idea of separate campaigns by squarely putting players in control of Joker, and the game has better balance because of it. Whether it’s in a sidequest, or a random dead end in a dungeon, everyone gets a chance to shine.
There’s one playable character that gets more of a story arc than most, but I’d argue she deserves it. Making her debut alongside the cast of P5 is the female protagonist of Persona 3 Portable. It’s easy to imagine her introduction to the rest of the crew, specifically the male protagonist of Persona 3, as an excuse for some cheap hi-jinx, but it turns into one of the biggest subplots of the game. Her arc is so well-written, it feels like an apology for not including her in the first PQ, and she quickly became a mainstay in my party for the rest of the game.
The other characters appear pretty much as you’d expect. The different protagonists of the series love playing up their mysterious sides. Theodore and Elizabeth’s sibling relationship continues to be a concern. Marie’s gotten better at her poetry, and eventually opens up a bit about her process. The love and devotion Atlus put into this game is evident, and the only thing that reminds you that this is a 3DS game in the year 2019, is the lack of an English dub. I didn’t mind its absence for the most part, except for whenever Teddie appeared on screen. His VO is so grating, I just wanted to punt him back into a TV the second he opened his mouth.
All in all, it’s hard to imagine Persona Q2 existing without Persona 5. It’s too simplistic, perhaps, to say that the existence of one game makes the other single-handedly better, but it’s true. Parts of the soundtrack are out of this world; it’s the kind of stuff I’d expect to hear from a showstopping lounge singer at the top of their game. The menus are slick and creative, keen to dazzle the eye while remaining coherent. Plus, Joker and the Phantom Thieves just look really cool, with their costumes and calling cards. It’s amazing how well the style of a current-gen RPG like P5 can transfer so well to the 3DS.
With Katsura Hashino gone as series director, I think Persona Q2 proves P-Studio doesn’t need him to keep making great games. The staff is headed up by a number of people who have been at Atlus for a long time, working on Etrian Odyssey, and other Persona titles. This game feels like their chance to make a splash, and they brought their A-level effort. Persona Q2 is an all around better game than the first that manages to hit on some personal notes I did not expect. It’s games like this that remind me why I like playing and talking about video games at all – they’re full of so many surprises that come out of nowhere, and always point to a future where the next project will be even better. Maybe a Persona 6 is in the cards next, who knows, but whatever that game ends up being, I’m really curious to know what else this team can do on newer hardware.
Platform: 3DS | Publisher: Atlus | Developer: Atlus (P-Studio)
Release Date: 6/4/2019 | Rating: M for Mature
This review was conducted using a retail copy of the Persona Q2 Special Edition I bought on launch day. It is exclusive to the 3DS. If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter. You can also reach me via email at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com but please, be respectful with what you send. For a look at what else I’ve published on Tilting Windmill Studios, you can look here.