The first-person dungeon crawler is a rare genre these days. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, dungeon crawlers were common and some of the best-known games of the time had you mapping the dark recesses of some sewer, dungeon, or cave while hacking away at skeletons here and there. Fortunately, for those who love them, Atlus continues to produce quality dungeon crawlers, and the latest, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, is one of the best I’ve ever played.
It’s somewhat ironic that when the first-person dungeon crawler was a significant player in the West that the JRPG was considered niche. Now, the opposite is true. Persona Q2 is a unique blend of JRPG tropes and traditional dungeon crawling, which makes it a really niche game. Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey is the only other major current franchise to tackle this sort of gameplay, and Persona Q2 feels like more of a side-game to this series as opposed to a new Persona title, at least gameplay wise.
Persona 5 is the most commercially successful entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series (for good reason), and a big part of that success is due to how popular it is outside of Japan. As good as Persona Q2 is, and as much as the plot, setting, and art borrows from the Persona series, it’s not a traditional Persona game. If you fell in love with the series with Persona 5 and want more of that, then Persona Q2 might not be the game for you.
Persona Q2 Review | Going to the movies
I wanted to open the review by making the above clear because there’s going to be lots of people who love Persona 5 that don’t find Persona Q2, particularly engaging. With the recent surge in popularity, there are plenty of new fans to the series that might make the mistake that Persona Q2 is just another Persona game like the main series (which is itself a spin-off).
Fortunately, if dungeon crawling isn’t your thing the plot in Persona Q2 doesn’t really affect the plots of Persona 3, 4, or 5. It features the cast from each, but just like in the Persona Dancing series, nothing you do here really counts.
Persona Q2 is a self-contained game, which means you could play it without having ever touched a Persona game before. You’ll miss out on A LOT of references, fanservice, and humor, but this game isn’t a continuation of any kind.
The plot starts with the Persona 5 crew heading out to Mementos to do some training. Unfortunately, things get weird, and they’re sucked into a movie. They discover the film isn’t quite like Mementos, but the world is still definitely in the metaverse. Therefore, they can use their Personas, but the link between them is somewhat different, which means everyone starts at level 1.
The team finds that this new movie world isn’t exactly the most hospitable, and end up getting chased by a bunch of cops and a giant chicken man. They eventually find a glowing portal in a wall and use it to escape into a movie theater.
This is where the gameplay loop starts getting set up. Makoto and Haru didn’t make it out of the film, and the team learns that the film is entitled Kamoshidaman and that the world inside is one in which Kamoshida is a twisted superhero.
The Persona 5 crew also find that massive, strange locks seal the front door to the movie theater and that there is no means of escape. They return to the theater to find a woman named Nagi who introduces herself as the caretaker of the cinema and a shy girl named Hikari. They claim to have been locked into the theater as well and offer their help to the team.
This starts your journey. Your objective is to enter the Kamoshidaman movie and locate Makoto and Haru. You’ll also need to discover the mystery behind the cinema so that you can escape.
Persona Q2 Review | Goodnight 3DS
There are a lot of animated scenes with chibi versions of the cast, and the story here is a lot stronger than in most dungeon crawlers. It shows that a handheld game can offer just as complete an experience as anything on console or PC.
However, the 3DS is starting to get long in the tooth. While I thought the environments in Persona Q2 were great compliments to the mainline games’ impressive art style, but they’re marred by being a bit more ambitious than what the 3DS hardware can manage.
The graphical issues aren’t exclusive to Persona Q2 at all, so I didn’t knock any points off for them. Instead, the absolutely awful aliasing is endemic to almost every 3DS RPG I’ve played. It’s doesn’t transform the game into some hideous monstrosity, but every rectangle not viewed straight on becomes a veritable staircase with the extreme aliasing.
There is some voiced dialog in Persona Q2, quite a bit for a 3DS game in fact. However, Atlus opted not to record English dialog, so the audio is Japanese-only. That’s fine with me. I’m not fluent in Japanese, but I can appreciate the nuance in tone and presentation. The lack of multi-lingual voiceovers might be a bad mark in some eyes, but with a niche game, I can understand why Atlus felt it wasn’t necessary.
Persona Q2 Review | Amateur cartographer
Persona Q2 focuses much more heavily on dungeon exploration and combat than mainline Persona entries. The gameplay loop mostly consists of entering movies to fight and explore your way to a boss, mapping the environment along the way. There aren’t any social links or exam questions here, and the emphasis on combat might be a turn off if your favorite parts of Persona are the slice of life and sidequest stuff.
This game gets pretty old school when it comes to dungeon crawling. You have to draw your own maps using the bottom screen of the 3DS. This is made a bit easier by conveniences like having the floor automap itself when you pass over it, but it can get a bit tedious to have to draw in all the walls.
You have to use these maps to find your way around the movie dungeons. You’ll have to leave to heal and buy items fairly often, and when you come back in you’ll usually have to renavigate territory you’ve already explored if you’ve taken the time to map the area correctly though you can use an autopilot system that will swiftly take you where you need to be.
The combat is a mixture of Etrian Odyssey and Persona. You have five party members, all of whom get a turn in battle, in two rows. You still get to use all-out attacks if all your enemies are knocked down by getting hit in their weak point, and there’s a new Unison Attack mechanic that allows certain members of the party to strike together.
Personas are also a big part of Persona Q2‘s combat system, although they work differently than they do in the main series. Instead of the P3, P4, and P5, being the only ones with the Wild Card ability, everyone gets their primary persona which doesn’t change as well as the ability to equip Sub-Personas which grant new skills, element resistances, and HP and SP boosts. You still get the fun of fusing Personas as well.
Getting Personas can be done just by killing enemies. Once the ability to equip Sub-Personas is unlocked, you’ll get the chance of obtaining a Persona after each battle. It can be a bit inconsistent when fighting regular enemies, but large, strong enemies, known as Film Obscurite Etendu (F.O.E.) always guarantee a Persona.
All these systems distill into fascinating and engaging combat. The addition of two more characters in your party, and the fact you get to draw from the Persona 3 and Persona 4 cast later in the game, makes for a more strategic experience. Additionally, enemies are a lot tougher here than in the mainline series, so you can’t just slam them with attacks they’re weak to and all-out attack them every time. You have to worry about defense, status effects, and healing more.
Persona Q2 Review | Niche with a chance at wide appeal
Persona Q2 is an extremely well-done game and is an exemplar of the dungeon crawler genre. There’s enough plot and environmental variety here that it doesn’t make the pitfall of its predecessors of feeling bland or repetitive. The story doesn’t factor into the mainline Persona series, but it’s exciting and contains enough twists and turns to keep you hooked.
Even if you’re not huge on dungeon exploration Persona Q2 is a great game. It contains plenty of fanservice and references for fans of the main Persona titles and has a complex and rewarding combat and exploration loop that makes it worth playing even if it’s your first Persona game ever.