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Keyword: gameplay. I would not recommend this as an entry point to Persona 3 or Persona 4 due to it requiring a lot of background knowledge regarding the characters involved, excluding Zen and Rei.
Looking back at this game after having experienced Etrian Odysseys 4, Untold, and Untold 2, I feel that trying to mesh together the systems of both series resulted in the game not easily conveying what its parent game systems were like.
A fair amount of Persona 3 and 4's battle system involves covering your weaknesses and exploiting the enemy's, especially when it comes to customizing your Personas through fusion. Enemies and your Personas eventually begin to null, absorb, or reflect attacks, but here in PQ, any attack element that does damage is resisted at best (you're only allowed to be immune to light and/or dark). Couple with the fact that more advanced affinity-altering skills on Sub-Personas can't be inherited and you lose a bit in trying to puzzle out how to make your party member take and deal damage reasonably without an Achilles' heel.
Etrian Odyssey's draw lies in its sprawling dungeons and variety of F.O.E.s with different behaviours that serve as puzzles as you navigate the floors. EO sics aggressive F.O.E.s on you as early as the first stratum; PQ just likes to ease you into the difficulty, only throwing in aggressive ones by the time you're at the third. The smaller variety of F.O.E.s also means a smaller variety of floor puzzles involving these F.O.E.s.
That, and it's missing a nice postgame for people venturing on a New Game+. While a Bonus Dungeon rife with enemies that mark a Difficulty Spike would be welcome, I can understand why it won't implement one, given the finality involved in wrapping up the game's plot.
Combat itself is fair barring a single flaw. It combines the One More system of rewarding criticals and weakness hits with EO4's base combat system with lines, rows, and a Leader Gauge. Fairly reasonable, but the Boost system gives the biggest gripe in this area. Getting free skills for crits and hitting weaknesses is fine; heavily jacking up the cost of spells (seriously, 40SP for Mind Charge?) to enforce this is not.
All in all, based on looking solely at the gameplay, Persona Q is a good game, but its parent series can do what they do a lot better.
As a crossover between Persona 3 and 4, Persona Q is well executed on most regards, save for the times when the gameplay seems overly difficult and less than completely fair.
The story involves the casts of P3 and P4 finding themselves in a mysterious school, and navigating various labyrinths along with the mysterious duo of Zen and Rei. The plot may seem like an excuse to get both games' casts together, but as you learn more about what is going on, it becomes fairly interesting in its own right.
The characters interact well with each other and undergo a good amount of Character Development as a result of their experiences, which also nicely ties in with the game's themes, including how people influence each other. The interactions between the characters from both games are also done quite well, which is quite important for any crossover.
The labyrinths are long, and generally well designed, although some of the puzzles can be frustrating and counterintuitive (particularly the ones where you must manipulate the patrol routes of FOEs- monsters too strong for you to feasibly defeat). The high encounter rate also doesn't help, especially on higher difficulties, when the random encounters can be quite dangerous, which brings me to my next point.
The combat is brutally difficult, and I say this as a veteran player of JRPGs, albeit as a newcomer to Shin Megami Tensei. On anything outside the easiest mode, you will have to do a great deal of Level Grinding to keep pace, and do it with the entire party (one member larger than that of both games combined).
One particular problem is the Boost system, in which hitting enemies with attacks they're weak against causes characters to become "Boosted," and attack first and for free the next turn, unless they get hit. As you can imagine, this bonus is quite fleeting against foes that are fast or use attacks that strike multiple targets, but also necessary given how expensive abilities are and how hard SP is to replenish. This, combined with most bosses having no weaknesses, unfortunately makes your magic-oriented members almost useless at times.
All in all, I recommend this game, but unless you're extraordinarily patient, I also recommend playing through on Safety so that you're spared the worst of the game's more frustrating aspects.
I haven't finished this game, and that's because I want to like Persona Q more than I do. Sincerely. The story's mostly an inconsequential excuse to watch the casts of two Persona titles I liked just hang out and have fun, and I approve. The times when it goes a little deeper and darker, with Zen and Rei, it does so in a high-quality way.
And everyone's... mostly in character. There are a few unfortunate bits of Flanderization. (The worst examples are in the comments.) That said, their shifts are at least merely Flanderization rather than Out of Character, and I'd put it all squarely on an "entertaining fanfic" level of quality. And they do sometimes return to their initial characterizations for serious moments. Besides, the blent cast is genuinely entertaining and fun when they interact.
The dungeons themselves are fun. They incorporate much more interesting and complex designs than most of the boring, procedurally-generated mazes of SMT that Persona games unfortunately usually copy, and they have fun aesthetics and gimmicks to liven up the travels. If it were just a game of walking through these places, avoiding weird enemies and solving weird puzzles in-between having goofy fun in the Festival hub, the opening of this review wouldn't've qualified the praise of the next few paragraphs. Unfortunately, the rate of enemy encounters, while structured, is high, and here, even more unfortunately, we must begin to talk about the combat.
To be blunt, it's awful. Every change away from the Press Turn system is for the worse in every way. Boost is not necessarily a terrible mechanic in a vacuum, but enemies can easily knock the party out of it, and all spells and skills are prohibitively expensive to enforce its use at gunpoint. The addition of elementally-charged physical attacks and scaling equipment quickly makes all attack magic just as obsolete as any other JRPG, particularly heartbreaking as other P titles went out of their way to avoid that problem. Fights are extremely difficult and resentfully reward paltry, miserly dribs and drabs of experience at a time, making grinding completely necessary and punishingly time-consuming all at once.
A potentially-fun concept ruined by a terrible battle system. Might still be worth playing, but with the caveat that the game's like having to hours unwrapping each individual chocolate in the box.
If you were to ask for the value of the plot of Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth, the answer would be "not very high". That is because this isn't what this game is about.
Persona Q's plot serves as nothing other than a vessel to carry the character interactions, their developments and the game's themes and in doing so, it serves its purpose perfectly; This game provides one with hours over hours of new insights into characters we have already known before, exploring sides of them that were previously only touched upon in Japan only material and allowing for interactions that couldn't be shown in Persona 4 Arena and its sequel for timeline placement reasons. The dialogue writing is superb; the only blunders come in the form of the occasional Flanderization of character traits for the sake of making the 20+ characters more distinguishable from each other for newcomers to either of the two involved Persona installments, which can admittedly get grating after a while if you're not especially keen on having Akihiko and Chie discuss protein-based nutrition for half an hour.
The writing is at its best when it goes for heartfelt moments rather than just comedy and there are fortunately plenty of such heartfelt moment in the game, many of them hidden in diverse sidequests or "Stroll"-skits that have to be accessed optionally. Whether it is Yosuke and Ken discussing the ethics of dealing with a Persona-using criminal or Yukari opening her heart about her doubtful feelings towards Mitsuru to Rise, there is much to be found in terms of emotional depth. As usual for the series, very real issues are being addressed and discussed intelligently, even if this is not as supported by the plot as in the main titles. Additionally, the two newcomer characters serve their purpose of illustrating the games' themes wonderfully, both in their own ways, and will leave the player thinking for a long while. Add the fantastic gameplay of the Etrian Odyssey Series and none of the usual flaws involved in the dungeon crawling of the main series Persona Games, and you get a Nintendo 3DS gem that is a must play for anyone who enjoyed either Persona3 or Persona4 in any form.
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