Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth delivers as the RPG swan song of the Nintendo 3DS.
The Persona series is well known amongst fans for its multitude of spin-offs and adaptations of some kind or another. The Persona Q titles are the only games to date that still retain some of the role-playing mechanics found in the mainline entries. While this amounts to an inherently Persona-like experience, don’t expect Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth to deliver the gripping narrative you’ve come to love from this series.
What I’ve always admired about these stories is their unabashed commentary on social issues, mental health, and more, while intertwining these themes with a story that’s as supernatural as it is meaningful. Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is no different in that regard, but the payoff ultimately feels less impactful when compared to mainline games. What’s here is certainly a great dungeon-crawling JRPG, with some fantastic banter between characters from the three most popular entries in the numbered games. However, fan-service alone doesn’t really justify an RPG that asks you to dedicate so much time to it.
The Phantom Thieves act as the main focus of New Cinema Labyrinth, even when introduced to the parties of Persona 3 and Persona 4. As the group is exploring Mementos, they mysteriously find themselves in a cityscape run by a dastardly “hero” named Kamoshidaman. After being separated from Makoto and Haru, the rest of the party gets tossed into a movie theater that’s locked from the inside. They’re then greeted by a young girl named Hikari and a peculiar woman named Nagi. The previously mentioned city turns out to be the location of a special film being shown in this theater, and the Phantom Thieves will have to enter this movie and defeat Kamoshidaman while saving their captured companions.
There are four worlds or four different films the Phantom Thieves have to complete, and as you do so, you’ll be introduced to the rest of the heroes of the Persona series. Their inclusion in this story doesn’t make much sense, but they eventually come to terms with the fact that they’re all from different timelines, piecing this together once they find out who each other are. It makes about as much sense as it has to for the purpose of having so many characters coming together. Each film focuses on different themes like following the status quo and individuality. Whereas the main Persona games feel more impactful through deeper character development, a lot of these characters already know who they are and have come to terms with all of their faults.
Each time I completed a film, it felt less rewarding as the overarching lesson to be learned felt more like a happy-go-lucky PSA video as opposed to what I’ve come to expect from this series. Games from the Persona dancing series get a pass as they’re naturally a lot wackier and less-focused on the plot. With Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, it appears that P-Studio tried to capture that same magic but doesn’t do nearly as good of a job as they usually do.
Where Persona Q2 succeeds most is in its design and smaller character moments. People who have played the other games will absolutely come to appreciate the banter between characters. The hub acts as a resting place and as you’re going through menus allocating stats, equipment, and items, some great animation of the characters interacting rolls in the background. It’s a small touch that adds so much character to the game.
Additionally, cutscenes are a given throughout the story and when the party isn’t focused on the task ahead of them, they’ll joke around with one another and make references to their own games. You do get some dialog options and while they only really change-up conversation at the time, they’re quite funny if you really love these characters as much as I do.
P-Studio has become the industry masters when it comes to designing great JRPG UI. Everything from menus, battle, Persona-fusion, and more are easy to pick up and never overwhelming. Everything’s easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to use, never hampering the game’s inherent difficulty in the process. Planning for tough battles and dungeons becomes a breeze early on in Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, highly replicating the same dungeon-crawling fans have come to love from the series. Every step and battle needs to be planned and accounted for when playing on higher difficulties as you could lose a hefty amount of progress easily.
Combat will be immediately familiar to those that have played the numbered Persona games. Persona Q2 replicates everything you know and love with some minor additions that incorporate the game’s larger cast. The most noticeable difference will be the party makeup, moved up from four characters to five. Your party will also be split into two rows, one forward and one back. Each character has a set class which determines their skill progression and overall stats. Placing them accordingly will be detrimental in battle. Front row enemies can attack both the front and back rows while characters who sit behind can only attack the front row with physical attacks and the back row with elemental skills.
I found the mixing and matching to be fun but Persona Q2 doesn’t have experience carry over between every character, which is a big downer. The game sort of counteracts this with the ability to equip a Persona to all of your heroes as opposed to just the four main protagonists. This means you’re able to compensate for a lack of skills by equipping the right Persona. It still seems like a missed opportunity though as I wanted to change up my party more but felt less inclined to since oftentimes it’d require quite a bit of grinding. Persona Q2 even encourages the usage of different characters by offering stat boosts before entering and reentering films for specific characters that’ll changeup randomly.
For grinding, there are a good amount of side quests to tackle which will give you a couple of lighthearted moments between specific characters. The problem with these is that they take place in specific sections of films you’ve already explored. The content is there but each film is quite long and winding with repetitive visuals. I wasn’t crazy about going back to each of them. However, the side quests do change things up with unique objectives and puzzles that keep them relatively interesting. Combined with the aforementioned character banter, they do feel more noteworthy.
Through exploring and side quests, you’ll also gain access to union skills which allow you to pair specific characters for special attacks. While the confidant system is absent from Persona Q2, that genuine friendship between characters still shines through with these skills. I didn’t find myself using them all too often due to the previously mentioned character progression, but they’re a cool addition that players who love grinding should come to enjoy.
The map drawing mechanics of the Etrian Odyssey series are a huge part of Persona Q2. As you explore each dungeon you’ll have to draw your map on the 3DS’ second screen to keep track of progress, chests, secrets, and more. Since I didn’t play the first Q game or any games in the Etrian Odyssey series, I was pretty apprehensive about this mechanic and didn’t really enjoy it at all at first. Surprisingly, it grew on me quite a bit and I began drawing up detailed maps as I progressed through the game. There’s something a bit cerebral about the whole experience of drawing out maps as it really does help you plan your moves and progress accordingly. What I once disliked, I had adapted to and came out a better player because of it. There’s a lot of self-reward with this system and it’s a vital part of the experience. While it may seem overwhelming or unappealing at first, I encourage you to get involved in it.
Of course, you can’t talk about a Persona game without mentioning the tremendous soundtrack. Time and time again, P-Studio adds new and interesting tunes to the vast library of great music players can already find from the series. With Persona Q2, they’ve done it again. With reimaginings of older tracks as well as new additions, there’s a lot to discover. With each new dungeon to explore, I was excited to hear the music. I personally really enjoyed the main hub’s theme as well as the game’s battle themes which actually rank high up for me in the overall series. And as always, the opening is so good too.
While I wasn’t moved by the narrative in Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, the game does do its job at incorporating the series’ long history of characters into a cohesive and fun story. Paired with the familiar and new mechanics, this is a great title for Persona fans on the go. As one of, if not the last major title coming to the Nintendo 3DS, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is one of the best RPGs on the handheld.