"It hits all of the nostalgic notes, brings a wide range of characters into the mix and allows them to develop in new ways, and also provides solid gameplay that turn-based RPG fans will be familiar with."
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is the sequel to Persona Q, the series's first Etrian Odyssey-style dungeon crawler, which has you navigating labyrinths with the help of map-drawing tools on the 3DS's touch screen. It is also likely the most ambitious Persona crossover to date, containing all of the playable characters from Persona 3, 4, and 5, as well as characters from other editions of those games (such as Persona 3 Portable's female protagonist and Marie from Persona 4 Golden).
Persona Q2's story can be evaluated in two parts: the central plot and the vast amount of character interactions and dialogue that occur throughout. The game begins with the cast of Persona 5 finding themselves in a strange city, where Kamoshida (an antagonistic gym teacher from the original game) seems to be tyrannically "protecting" the city as a Superman-like hero. It's not long before the group makes its way out of the city and into a strange movie theater, where they find that this Kamoshida hero scenario is apparently a movie. In the theater is a girl named Hikari, who has been watching this oppressive movie on repeat. In an effort to help her and find a way back to their world, the Phantom Thieves re-enter the movie and struggle to change it. As they continue, more films of various genres appear, each with a similar theme of suppressing individuality or going along with the crowd. As our heroes continue to "edit" them and try to get closer to the truth of where they are, the characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 eventually join the team and are quick to adopt the same mission.
The central plot of Persona Q2 is not particularly compelling, and the general structure is similar to that of Persona Q. While there are some minor twists, those who are expecting an intricate and extended story like that in Persona 4 or Persona 5 may be disappointed. Where the game excels, especially for longtime Persona fans, is in the wealth of character interactions presented throughout the story. Seeing the host of personalities from Persona 3, 4, and 5 all acting together is awesome, and there are many spots during exploration where characters stop to have a random conversation. These interactions can also have an effect on gameplay, as special side quests called "tickets" appear. These quests can develop the bond further between a pair or subset of characters and lead to special "unison attacks" during battle. I especially enjoyed seeing all of the "mascot" characters — Morgana, Teddie, and Koromaru — interact. The likes of Ryuji and Kanji were also enjoyable, and better still, all of the Velvet Room attendants. The only drawback to the plethora of references, jokes, and character development moments is that it can make the game less accessible to those newer to the franchise. Without knowing much about the large cast, many of these references may not make sense.
The gameplay in Persona Q2, being an adaptation of the Etrian Odyssey series, is primarily the exploration of progressively more labyrinthine dungeons (the movies) peppered with turn-based battles. You choose a party of five characters to head into a dungeon, and often try to get as far as you can before having to go back to home base (the movie theater) to heal. The 3DS's bottom screen is used for map drawing, and a variety of tools and icons are furnished so you can draw an accurate picture of the labyrinth. This is especially helpful later on as the layouts become more complex and the need arises to avoid FOEs: powerful enemies that roam the map and essentially must be avoided.
The battle system is a standard, turn-based one with elemental weaknesses playing a key role; customizing and fusing the right Personas for your party can be key to victory. Unlike in the mainline games, where only the protagonist can change Personas, Persona Q2 uses the "sub-Persona" system which allows each character to equip additional ones along with their fixed ones. This provides a wide range of party customization and strategies that may go beyond what is found in the main titles. There are also other elements of Persona battle systems incorporated here. All-Out Attacks (when the gang pounces on a group of downed enemies), support powers from your navigator, and Baton Passes are just a few. Battle difficulty scales pretty evenly throughout the game, though the length may be slightly more challenging than in standard Persona games, and bosses in particular may require you to discover specific strategies that will work.
The game's music immediately drew me in and definitely grants that "Persona" feel. Moreover, there are no fewer than three different themes for normal battles, each one styled after those used in Persona 3, 4, and 5. These can be set to shuffle or play according to your preference. Aside from the main battle themes, the other tunes also help provide atmosphere during dungeon exploration and when at your home base. Perennial Persona classic, "Aria of the Soul," also makes its always-welcome appearance. However, if you are someone who has never been fond of Persona's unique musical style, you are not likely to find anything new here, with tracks that would sound right at home in one of the main games. If the soundtrack weren't enough, most of the major dialogue is fully voiced, which helps brings this huge cast of characters to life. It is great to hear the mixed and matched parties you construct cheer each other on during combat as well. Overall, the sound quality and design give the game a polished feel that makes it fit in well with the rest of the series.
Graphically Persona Q2 is satisfactory, but the visuals do not particularly stand out in the same way that the music does. As with Persona Q, the characters are rendered in a 3D chibi-style, which to me did not look as sharp as the 2D designs accompanying dialogue in the main series. Enemy designs come primarily from the Shadows featured in Persona 3 and Persona 4, which was good just for nostalgia value. Each labyrinth has a distinct visual style (e.g. a city or a futuristic world), but they come off as inoffensive at best and are not unique like the dungeon designs in Persona 4's TV World or Persona 5's Mementos.
In conclusion, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is a great spin-off and a must play for any self-respecting Persona fan. It hits all of the nostalgic notes, brings a wide range of characters into the mix and allows them to develop in new ways, and also provides solid gameplay that turn-based RPG fans will be familiar with. It is also a fairly meaty game and you will likely get 40 to 50+ hours, depending on how many side quests you decide to complete. Honestly, its biggest drawback comes from its greatest strength: it is so packed with characters and references from previous games that a new fan may not get as much enjoyment as series veterans (remember that Persona 3 came over 10 years ago!). That said, the gameplay will still likely appeal to new fans, and there is a slight focus on the Persona 5 cast, so someone entering the series from that point may be able to pivot an enjoyable experience in Persona Q2 into a reason to explore the older games.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.