Whether you are fully on board the ‘Persona 3 and Persona 4 for life train’ or waiting patiently for this era to end with eyes set on Persona 5 (see video), Persona Q should not be ignored by the Persona fan. While this Atlus title isn’t a fighting or dancing game like other Persona or future Persona titles, it returns to RPG elements. With that said though, this game plays and feels much more like an Etrian Odyssey game than previous games in the Persona franchise. To call Persona Q an Etrian Odyssey game reskinned with Persona characters is completely inaccurate though; this game is more of a unique offspring of the two.
In the simplest and most non-spoiler plot analysis, Persona Q is about S.E.E.S. of Persona 3 and Investigation Team of Persona 4 meeting up at Yasogami High while they are all in high school to stop a new issue involving shadows that is 100% canon. If that description sent several red flags to your brain, you’re going to have to play through the story to piece all of that together for yourself. What this does set up is the quintessential opportunity to mix your favorite P3 and P4 characters together, see them interact with another, and live out those novels of fan faction you lie about not writing.
At the start of the game you choose either the P3 or P4 characters. This decision includes which of the two games hero you want to make as your main character – the emo superstar or the swag master. Early on you’ll meet up with Zen and Rei, who are the new characters of this game, before running into the other characters from the game you didn’t select from the start. From this point on you can make five man teams with whoever you like from this crossover. Depending on who you use in your party, there are opportunities for the characters to have back and forths with each other during combat, which adds some nice flavor. The group believes that if they can return Zen and Rei’s memories that this situation can be solved.
While certain situations / cutscenes are definitely amusing and fun to watch unfold in PQ, certain characters have been completely flanderized which disappointed me to see. As someone who obsessively played P3 and P4, you get a feel for the depth of these characters – when they are reduced to a single trait or gag, it severely reduces their quality. An example of this would be P4’s Chie. The amount of time she spends talking about meat is obnoxious, there is far more extent to her character. It’s so bad to the point where she hopes filet mignon is in every treasure chest and table shadows should have meat eaten off them. I’ll avoid other spoilers but Chie is not the only character that suffers from this.
If you’re a diehard Persona fan but never have played an Etrian Odyssey game, the gameplay is going to take some getting used to. On the opposite end of that statement, if you love both series this may just be the perfect game for you. The Etrian influence has five man parties instead of three, a front and back row, FOEs, rogue like movement, workbench / nurse establishments, map making in dungeons, etc . Now take these elements and add in Persona themes like persona summons, enemy weaknesses, compendium, enemy models, spell names, humor, and of course characters you are used to and you have quite a mix of franchises.
To fuse these two franchises together though, some compromises had to be made. While that may have come off as negative, rest assured that isn't the case – these are the features that really stand out as unique. Without taking the one way trip into spoiler town, every character in this game is a wild card. This trait is no longer unique to the main characters. This is where the individual strategy comes from. In Persona games the persona is where your stats come from; in PQ you only get HP, SP, and spells/abilities from personas – no stats. This allows for more versatility and ultimately allows you put your favorite characters in your party instead of a more forced-strategic roster. It’s also worth mentioning that you have full control of all the characters in your party. Pro tip, take Naoto – Hama and Mudo will make the first two dungeons much easier for you.
The dungeon crawl gameplay is fully Etrian style. By this, I mean you enter the dungeon, explore as much as you can, grind exp as much as you can, before being forced to return to hit up the nurse for HP and SP regeneration. Income is all based on items you return to the workshop; this is also how you forge new weapons, armors, accessories, and items. The gameplay is very much crawl, return, crawl, return. While grinding is very possible, if you don’t regularly run you should be fine on normal difficultly. The first dungeon felt the most difficult due to not having a complete roster, some floors had to be done pre sub personas, and your characters rely more on their base persona which cuts off versatility. The game seemed to dip in difficulty after the first dungeon was completed. This could have also been attributed to me understanding the gameplay more. PQ has different difficulty levels depending on how much of a challenge you want out of the game.
The art style is both extremely Persona and completely foreign to Persona. At first glance you’ll notice the Chibi (short version) characters. I didn’t know what to make of this but it grew on me and fits the game perfectly. The dungeon design is beautifully creepy and perfectly true to the Persona franchise. Each dungeon follows a specific theme that is done consistently well. These dungeons stand out immensely from each other as well which was delightful. The enemy models and persona designs are very reminiscent of those found earlier in the franchise and don’t take on the Chibi style.
Persona Q’s music is absolutely fantastic. I can’t fathom a single negative thing to say about the music. There is a perfect blend of brand new tracks, familiar tracks, and remixes. The Persona 3 and Persona 4 fans will be happy by the music selections. Depending on which hero you choose in the beginning also depends some of your soundtrack. Yumi Kawamura reprises her vocals for Persona 3 tracks, while Shihoko Hirata does the same for Persona 4 specific tracks, and Lotus Juice is found throughout. The battle theme “Light the Fire Up in the Night” has two different versions depending on your hero. The P3 version has more guitar with Yumi while the P4 version has more horns with Shihoko. Personally, I absolutely love this level of detail, that transforms the game musically based on the character you chose in the beginning. If you haven’t heard the “Maze of Life” track, I'll forgive if you choose to leave this review to listen to it real fast – it's truly amazing. And yes, Shoji Meguro composed the songs with Atsushi Kitajoh and Toshiki Konishi.
If you’re a Persona and Etrian Odyssey game, I can’t imagine a more perfect game made specifically for you. If you’re a Persona fan but never have touched an Etrian title, you’ll still be happy as long as you’re willing to learn a new combat system and dungeon exploration. Despite some powerful flanderization of characters, the interactions between the P3 and P4 characters is delightful, witty, entertaining, and most importantly fun. Persona Q is fan pandering at its finest. For those who wanted more interactions than the Persona 4 Arena games, this game is a carousel that takes you round and round.