A time paradox is all that ATLUS need to merge the worldly designs of their two most respected franchises. Masters of their craft, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is nothing short of a dream crossover, weaving the irrepressibly slick styling of the Persona series with Etrian Odyssey’s meticulous dungeon-scribbling.
The Nintendo 3DS exclusive allows players to tread its tale from two perspectives, your initial choice is to decide whether to witness the events in Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth through the eyes of Persona 3’s Specialised Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) or Persona 4’s Investigation Team.
When a bell eerily tolls as they’re wandering Yasogami High School’s culture festival, the Persona users discover themselves suddenly transported to an alternate reality dominated by Shadows. With no exit readily apparent, they stumble upon an expansive labyrinth that has appeared beneath the school. Exploring its twisted maze they soon meet students Zen and Rei who have each lost their memories, joining you in solving the mystery behind your location in the hope that it will eventually help to restore them.
Regardless of whichever cast you ally yourself with, ATLUS strike a chord with their scripting once again and the quips between each character will never fail to raise a smirk. Shigenori Soejima’s decision to portray the Persona cast in a chibi art style is an understandable move, catering to the weaker hardware but making the game ever bolder in its kaleidoscopic fluorescence. Add in the electrifyingly pounding soundtrack to Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, and the game quickly amounts to an audial and visual assault on the senses.
With the school and its facilities as your base of operations, you will venture into the labyrinth to return whenever you need a breather. Gathered materials can be sold to unlock new equipment and items for purchase, while you will soon begin to rely on the Nurse’s Office to heal your party. The Velvet Room returns and remains of great importance, a necessity being to repeatedly perform Persona Fusions to strengthen your party for the trials ahead of them. Your party can all be assigned a Sub-Persona too, a necessity for granting them more health and SP which you’ll become increasingly reliant on as you progress.
As can be expected, it is the labyrinth where you will spend the majority of your time. Etrian Odyssey by design, these are entirely suited to the 3DS hardware with players carefully mapping out the dungeon on the touch screen as they go. The devil’s in the detail and it is important to be thorough to expedite any return visits, annotating with any doors, Power Spots or secret pathways that you cross. The importance of accuracy becomes more apparent when using the Autopilot Function, allowing players to draw a route for their party to follow without having to manually control it. This means that when you return to previously completed floors you can quickly dash to the exit with minimal effort, only having to deal with the Shadows that appear to do battle.
While battles are random, an on-screen proximity gauge will indicate when you can expect the next to occur – steadily turning from blue to red. There are also FOEs that you can visibly see patrolling areas in the labyrinth, although these present an even beefier challenge to tackle that you won’t be able to contend with until later in the game.
Party formation is key in these turn-based instances, each character’s fighting style in your five-strong team worth considering – even if that simply means keeping casters and ranged weapons at the back. You’ll want to exploit an enemy’s weakness or striking a critical hit, allowing the character that does so to enter a boosted state. This allows them to act more quickly each turn, and freely use skills without any cost – which is important as SP isn’t as easily recovered. All-Out Attacks will be available to you if your wider team is in a boosted state, while an on-screen Party Gauge is steadily filled which is used to activate supportive Leader Skills.
Be met with an overwhelming encounter, and you could soon be greeted by the Velvet Room’s game over screen. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth can certainly be merciless in places, especially when players have to rely on infrequent checkpoints to save their progress when warily trudging the labyrinth’s unwelcoming corridors. You can always lower the difficulty but that’s almost like admitting self-defeat, even if I’ve lost numerous hours of progress through my party being unexpectedly taken out. RPG fans will relish such challenge, but it risks being a cause of frustration for many.
More social aspects come from StreetPass Books, tomes that act as a record of your explorations that can be exchanged with other players either through StreetPass or as a QR Code. A Persona can be attached to these, with the recipient able to pay the summoning cost to add it to their own collection. Whereas a party page allows you to see their stats, such as play time, enemies defeated and steps taken. 100 Books can be stored, meaning that you’ll have plenty of players to compete with as you advance deeper into the labyrinth.
Marking the first time that Persona has graced a Nintendo system, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth succeeds at nearly every turn. Etrian Odyssey’s dungeon-crawling guile painstakingly interspersed with Persona’s witty repartee, this unexpected crossover can readily be seen as a landmark for each respective franchise. And if you can’t get enough of it, you can always take it for a second spin from the other perspective.