Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Review

Note: This game is NOT a recent 3ds game. However, a 3ds sequel titled Persona Q2 is slated to release this year in 2018., so I figured it’d be fitting if I reviewed this 2014 predecessor to 2018’s Persona Q2 Also, there will be some significant story spoilers in this review, so be mindful of that before reading.

When I first saw Persona Q be announced as a Nintendo 3ds exclusive back in 2014, my mind was blown. I was  resigned to the Persona series being a Playstation-exclusive series.But that’s besides the point. The point is that the game did mark the series’ debut on a Nintendo platform.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, the first game in the Persona series to land on Nintendo hardware, is a crossover title that combines the lovable characters and brilliant style of Persona 3 and 4 with the first-person dungeon-crawling, Chibi character designs, and map-drawing gameplay of Etrian Odyssey, another decently known and recognized ATLUS property. With an RPG (most RPGs, really) in particular,  the story is just as important as  – and in some cases, even more important than – the gameplay. Is the story any good?  Are the characters good enough to help carry the story? Let’s delve right in and find out together!

The story of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth revolves around a rumor that involves the so-called “Seven Wonders of Yasogami High”, a mysterious clock tower, and a labyrinth that appears out of nowhere on the school grounds, during the Yasogami Culture Festival. According to said rumors, whoever hears the sound of the tower’s bell will die. The bell’s chime is also heard in Tartarus by the members of SEES, who find themselves transported to Yasogami High. The only way to return the world to its original state seems to be hidden within Zen and Rei. However, both of them have lost their memories.

Persona 3 Route

The story is set during the typhoon which had the Cultural Festival of Gekkoukan High cancelled.

After two days of being bedridden due to a cold, the P3 Hero decides to head out to Tartarus with his team. Everyone is gathered in front of its entrance while they wait for him finish his visit at the Velvet room. At that time, Fuuka notices a spider, but quickly brushes it off as her imagination.

Back in the Velvet Room, the P3 Hero (Makoto Yuki) is speaking with Elizabeth who notes that her Master (Igor) is not present. She says that the only Persona she can fuse at the moment is Legion. Theodore (from Persona 3 Portable) appears to bring assistance, also refuting that Elizabeth’s statement is not true, and that she can in fact fuse other Personas. Suddenly, the Velvet Room blacks out, and when the light returns, everyone in SEES is already inside causing confusion amongst them. The Velvet Room (which is an elevator) suddenly stops,  then falls. Upon stopping, the group steps out only to be greeted by what appears to be a Cultural Festival. They immediately split up to investigate the area, learning that there seems to be no exit, and that the school is called Yasogami High. There is one area they haven’t explored, however, as it contains Shadows within — an attraction called You in Wonderland.

As they were about to enter, two students — Rei and Zen appear, and tell them not to go in as it is dangerous. They reassure the two that they are capable to protecting themselves and invites them to tag along and escape the area…

Persona 4 Route

Set during the Yasogami High School culture festival shortly following the cross-dressing pageant, the P4 Hero (Yu Narukami) meets Margaret at school. She invites him and his friends into the long-nosed fortune teller’s booth only for them to find it opens into a platform connected by three broken stairs. When they attempt to leave the booth, Naoto Shirogane notices the school now has a large clock tower outside — something Yukiko Amagi claims has not existed at Yasogami High since when she was an elementary student. While looking for a booth, they come across one that was not on the program — a door marked You in Wonderland — where they discover they can summon their Personas outside of the television and find Shadows inhabiting the area…

Naturally, as this IS a Persona game, the story has a few late-game twists and turns involving newcomers Zen and Rei that I will NOT spoil here. (though there MAY be major spoilers later on in this review, so be mindful!)There’s a fair bit of emotional impact in these late-game plot twists, though. The casts of Personas 3 and 4 get along and mix together really well. The interactions with each character you can partner with the Group Date Cafe’s finale is pure comedic GOLD!!The interactions and explanations of each side to the other side was entertaining and fun to watch.

Enough with the story hints and minor spoilers, though. We got the Gameplay and Labyrinth design to cover.

The gameplay of this title is deeply grounded in its Etrian Odyssey roots: Players explore a seemingly endless labyrinth in a first person perspective and battle Shadows in a turn-based fashion similar to Persona 3 and Persona 4. Players can compose teams of five from the twenty playable characters and dialogue will change according to the party’s composition. The new characters Zen and Rei will function as a singular unit, with Rei focusing on healing skills and Zen using physical attacks. The twenty playable characters do not include support characters like Fuuka Yamagishi and Rise Kujikawa, who can be picked for the role and have support skills of their own. Party members and support characters can be swapped out as needed during the game. Unlike their originating games, the game will not end when either protagonist loses all their health, unless the player is playing on the Risky difficulty.

Persona Q gives players the choice to control either the protagonist from Persona 3 or the protagonist from Persona 4 at the start of the game. The dialogue and events will vary depending on the player’s choices to follow either Persona 3’s SEES or Persona 4’s Investigation Team.

Unlike the previous games, and later games such as Persona 5,  all party members are able to use a variety of Sub-Personas, which are explained in the story as having to do with the meeting of the two protagonists. These Sub-Personas can be assigned to other characters and can be obtained as rewards for winning certain battles (mainly against formidable F.O.Es). The Sub-Persona system is designed to allow players to use characters they like even if they share similar focuses by giving players the option to diversify their skill sets. By equipping Sub-Personas, players are able to boost the stats of their team.

Shadow of the Labyrinth also introduces a Boost meter mechanic, (introduced in Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl) and it’s handled differently here, which is built up by exploiting enemy weaknesses or dealing critical damage. When the character deals Elemental weakness or critical damage, it grants that character the Boost status, which has multiple functions: skills performed during Boost status have no HP or SP cost, characters who began the turn Boosted have a small chance of initiating a Co-Op attack, and if multiple characters are Boosted at the end of the turn, there is a chance of initiating an All-Out Attack, with the chance increasing with each Boosted character. Boost status wears off if the character takes a hit or when they take an action that does not score a critical or weakness hit. Unlike the Smirk status of Shin Megami Tensei IV, Boost status only benefits the player characters and can be sustained indefinitely if the Boosted character deals consistent criticals/weakness hits and is not hit by any attacks.

Like  the Etrian Odyssey series, players must make their own maps in Persona Q. Certain chests are unlocked by mapping out a dungeon’s floor and stepping on every tile, although those chests can also be unlocked by spending 3DS Play Coins at a rate of 3 play coins for every percentage point left unexplored. If the player chooses to spend Play Coins to open a Map Chest, they must be spent again on the next cycle if the player still has not completed that map.

There are 4 main Labyrinths in the game (Actually, there’s 5 Labyrinths, but the fifth one is heavily tied to the late-game reveal the game drops on you after beating the 4th labyrinth boss battle). They are You In Wonderland, Group Date Cafe, Evil Spirit Club, and Inaba Pride Exhibit.

Let’s sidetrack to the themes of the game, though, as these themes are sprinkled in doses throughout your playthrough of each route.  The game has two overarching themes: One from Persona 3 and one from  Persona 4, being “death” and “truth” respectively. The death theme is connected between Persona 3‘s involvement of the death of major characters (including the eventual sacrifice of Shinjiro on the in-game date of October 4th and the P3 Hero’s death at the end of Persona 3) and Persona Q‘s involvement of the death of Niko (also known as *Spoilers*) The truth theme is connected between Persona 4‘s characters goal to find the truth in the series of events of Inaba and Persona Q‘s involvement of Zen hiding the truth from both himself and Rei on Rei’s past and his mistakes.

I LOVE how these two themes came together after the events of the 4th labyrinth ad the subtle build-up to that reveal

I LOVE the characters, mainly the original ones introduced for this game. Rei is around 13th place in my personal list of favorite Persona Characters. Rei has a sweet, child-like personality. She’s actually useful in battle, and most importantly, unlike say, Ashley from Resident Evil 4, she DOESN’T get annoying or ear-grating. This may be, and is, a late-game spoiler, but she holds a special distinction in this series: To date, Rei is the second playable character  in the entire series to deny her own shadow in the series, even though she leaves the party from this point onward. The first being Maya Amano from Persona 2.

Coincidentally, both Rei and Maya hold their own rabbit dolls. In addition, A portion of one of the BGMs for the Inaba Pride Exhibit, Looming Danger, is a remix of “I’ll Face Myself – Battle”, foreshadowing Rei’s Shadow being the guardian of the labyrinth. Even more coincidentally, they’re both females.

She’s technically the 3rd character to deny their own shadow, playable or otherwise. The other character is the non-playable Mitsuo Kubo from Persona 4.

In terms of characterization, through, her partner, Zen,  got the most character development in the game, and has risen across 3 playthroughs of this game to Rank 2 on my list of favorite Persona Characters (Number 1 is Yukari Takeba from Persona 3)

To start with, Zen Uses a crossbow in battle,, which is incredibly awesome, but he and Rei are weak to Light, but they resist Dark, and Zen learns a ton of skills. He has an attack for each element except Light, Dark, and Almighty, and also has buffs and healing. They can’t use sub-personas, but overall they have great stats, including the highest HP and SP (to counteract not being able to use sub-personas) and are pretty good at everything else.

Then his role in the story kicks in from the very start, and he becomes very likeable. As the game gets better and progresses towards the end, the truth about him, Rei, their true identities, etc., are all revealed at the end of the 4th labyrinth (more on those in a paragraph or two – I promise!) And lastly, but certainly not least, Zen’s character was more calmer, but just as serious, leading  to LOTS of humorous moments where the casts of P3 and P4 pair him with the cheerful Rei and poke fun at said seriousness. This made the 4th Labyrinth revelation, as well as the ending, all the more heartbreaking, especially when that ending theme kicks in during the credits. Oh, and if you beat both sides, you get a special ending photo that you can’t do anything with due to Miiverse’s closure, but it makes the ending even more depressing as you’ll remember their time together, but they canonically won’t meet until the events of Persona 4 Arena, and by the time that happens, two people will be dead!

Now, it’s FINALLY  time to review the dungeon designs, like I promised. The 1st of these is You In Wonderland.

The title is a play on the Japanese title of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (不思議の国のアリス?) and the labyrinth is themed after the story, something that is discussed by the cast and used in some of the floor puzzles. Going along with the book motif, individual floors of You in Wonderland are called “Chapters”, with the final floor being known as the “Epilogue”.

This labyrinth consists of four floors and introduces many key concepts of the game, such as the mapping system, blank cards, Power Spots, and F.O.E.s (Or Fysis Oikein Eidolon, for short, as referred to in this game). For those unfamiliar with FOEs, let me put it as the Megami Tensei WIki puts it.

Taking inspiration from the FOE concept from the Etrian Odyssey franchise, F.O.Es are powerful enemies that can be seen on the map, as opposed to the random encounters of common dungeon enemies. Their movements are always in a fixed pattern along the map (except for red icon F.O.Es, which chase the party), taking one step for every step the player takes, which makes it relatively easy for players to avoid them while aiming for full map completion. Note that spaces occupied by stationary F.O.Es and spaces rendered unreachable due to the presence of an F.O.E are not required to attain 100% Map Completion, however if any such space can be reached without encountering the F.O.E, usually through clever maneuvering, then it must be stepped on to complete that floor’s map.

If a player is caught in a random battle while on an F.O.E’s path or while being chased by an F.O.E, the F.O.E will continue moving as the battle progresses, taking one step per turn, and may even join the battle. These Shadows are recommended to be avoided except for those looking for challenging fights. Fortunately, for those unfortunate enough to run into an F.O.E, escaping from them is relatively easy – unless the player is on Risky difficulty, where they absolutely cannot run from an FOE battle.

They are introduced within the first map of the game and defeating them allows players to gain higher level Persona, scaled to the hero’s level but only to a maximum of ~15 levels above the FOE’s, and materials used to create powerful equipment. After clearing a labyrinth, Elizabeth will put up a request that will require a player to hunt a specific type of F.O.E from that dungeon.

Utilizing the F.O.E’s behavior will make up some of the puzzles in labyrinth navigation. All F.O.Es will reset to their original position and behavior when the player passes through a door, but not when they use a secret passage.

Advancing forward onto a square occupied by an FOE which is looking away from the player will grant the player a surprise round. The inverse is possible, where an FOE gets a surprise round if it catches up to a player while they are looking in a different direction.

Anyways, back to the labyrinths. You In Wonderland starts off easy, but there’s a Key-related puzzle on Floor 3 that drove me NUTS on my 3rd playthrough. You’ll know it when you arrive on the floor in question.

The 2nd area is Group Date Cafe, and it’s covered in typically romantic imagery with a heavy emphasis on pink decor, with a darker atmosphere marked with chains further in. As the player progresses, they are given a series of questions that are said to lead them to their fated partner and at the end, their chosen protagonist is paired with a member of the cast, regardless of gender, species, and including Velvet Room inhabitants before being brought to face the boss. Some of these pairings are pretty hilarious, I’m not gonna lie. (P3 Hero x P4 hero, I’m looking at you!)

The 3rd labyrinth, Evil Spirit Club, uses common imagery used in horror films with broken glass and flickering red lights. The first 2 floors take the appearance of an abandoned school building, with thematic puzzles relating to various classes, while the latter 2 take on that of an abandoned hospital. It culminates when the cast stumbles upon a surgery in progress, which manages to terrify even Mitsuru Kirijo, who’s usually level-headed and rarely ever unafraid or shaken by anything.

The dungeon introduces the player to aggressive FOEs that actively follow the player until they enter a different room. Scattered across various rooms are lights which can help the player control the FOEs’ activity. They also become critical for certain puzzles where the player needs to deliver a Dark Key to a locked door without turning on the lights.

Probably due to the horror theme, enemy encounters almost always start with an ambush, so it is recommended to have the battle navigator with the Snake Glare support. The puzzles start getting more diabolical, brain-taxing, and frustrating. Peak frustration occurs here if you’re in the P3 side, in which case you’ll eventually have to deal with escoring Rei back to the other characters while you and her are stuck in an abandoned room filled with FOEs. Joyyy…

Thankfully, though, you can retreat to the starting door and have Zen complete the puzzle for you.

Believe me, however. even that is NOTHING compared to Inaba Pride Exhibit, the 4th and presumably final labyrinth in the game. The labyrinth is styled after a traditional Japanese festival, with paper lanterns and bonfires abound. In lower floors, the floors’ design takes on aspects of a sauna, such as increased heat and silhouettes of posing men on the walls. In order to progress, the player has to perform a series of ceremonies, which either involve bringing a Sacred Flame through a sealed door, or walking through a series of leg-shaped gates in a particular order to unlock a door, or both at once in a few circumstances.

The first floor admittedly took some getting used to, but it was somewhat easy surprisingly. HOWEVER, once floors 2 and 3 are brought into the equation, I raged so hard. . . And nearly broke my Blue 3ds XL in the process. Yes, it was THAT Aggravating. And if GameFAQs is any indication, i’m not the only one who got aggravated! I’m grateful that we had to use our grey matter and thinking skills in this game, but the entirety of this labyrinth was absolute OVERKILL!

Don’t even get me started on the 4-gates puzzle on Night 4. . . That’s another aggravating thing about this game.

Every so often, there’ll be some side quests for you to complete. courtesy  of Elizabeth (who also runs the Nurse’s Office). There’s a tough optional fight against Margaret available once both the main protagonists of Persona 3 and Persona 4 reach Level 55 at any point during the course of the game.

Going backwards to difficulty for a second. . . Here’s a list of selectable difficulties courtesy of a post on the Persona Q Message board on GameFAQs.

Safety –
1) Can’t lose. A Full Party wipeout just causes your party to (optionally) auto-revive exactly where you were.
2) All/most Escape attempts are successful
3) Begins the game with an unlimited use item that lets you teleport out of the dungeon. That item is available on any difficulty, but it’s a reward for a Nurse Office Request in the 3rd Dungeon.
4) Possibly no enemy ambushes?
5) I assume the same Damage modifiers as Easy?

Easy –
Damage Output : 120%
Damage Taken : 80%
Pretty sure Escape Attempt Rate is still at 100%

Normal –
Damage Output : 100%
Damage Taken : 100%

Hard –
Damage Output : 80%
Damage Taken : 120%
Escape Attempt Rate decreased
Enemy Ambush Rate increased

Risky –
1) MC is a VIP character; if he dies in battle it’s the same as a Party wipeout and you get a Game Over. So business as usual for any SMT player.
2) FOE battles are inescapable. However, the Nave skill Sutakora Foot still works (For 1 bar, it can teleport you out of battle and to the entrance of the floor)
3) I assume the same damage modifiers as Hard?

Safety mode. . . is absolutely broken! Any opponent becomes beatable on this difficulty mode. This applies to troublesome FOEs, all bosses, etc. To be honest, I was expecting some sort of challenge to my RPG, and I’m glad it’s there via other difficulty choices, but next time, if you’re gonna include the Safety mode, make it unchangeable once that particular mode is selected like in Persona 5.

Don’t misunderstand me. I played through this game 3 times for the sake of gathering all of my thoughts together for this review. I played through it twice on my Blue 3ds XL, and nearly broke the screen and eventually the system was close to breaking, but I never could go through with doing it. This is where the soundtrack comes into play. The gameplay, story, dialogue, and well, everything else helped out just as much collectively as well with keeping me going, but. . .

The soundtrack is one of the best I’ve seen on the 3DS, primarily due to the 54 songs having a wide variety of instrumentation and occasional vocals in them (Best vocal theme in this game is Changing Me, by the way) The boss theme (Laser Beam), and the FOE theme are great themes. Friends is a great boss theme, and it even has  a bit of Maze of Life in there. Maze of Life is a great intro song to start the game. “Disturbances – The One Who Is Called From Beyond” is a great song, but sadly, it only plays during a post-game boss battle that’s available after reloading a cleared save. (You’ll know which one it is if you followed Elizabeth’s questline to beat 4 golden FOEs) It’s a great song, as it is composed by Yuzo Koshiro, a composer for the Etrian Odyssey games, also known for its’ great music all around.

I will say though, while the 1st half and 2nd half themes for the labyrinths are great, you WILL get tired of  the song “Light The Fire Up In The Night” by the time you beat this game. No matter which version you’re stuck with (based on which side you pick, a Dark Hour or Midnight Channel version will play in regular battles.) The final boss themes are excellent, but going into why is VERY HEAVY spoiler territory, so I won’t do that here.

So, let’s wrap this review up, shall we? Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is a fantastic, near-perfect game. Why? It has a great story, great art design, amazing characters you’ll fall in love with and CRY for by game’s end, an amazing soundtrack, lots of enemies and Personas to fight and acquire, and most importantly, despite the puzzles getting really aggravating by the game’s end, I pressed forward because I grew to love this cast of characters, their interactions, their chibi designs (They’re Soo ADORABLE!!), their weird quirks that make their interactions so great to begin with, etc. I also loved the soundtrack, most of the puzzles (that didn’t require too much thinking or external guides.)  and generally loved EVERYTHING about this game.

Oh, wait, I almost forgot to mention the ability to share Personas of your choosing through Streetpass or QR Code. It’s the one feature I didn’t bother using too much, not even in my first playthrough, but it was interesting giving people access to a level 70 dragon named Seth through QR code.

Now with all that cleared up, it’s finally – FINALLY – time to end this nearly 5,000-word review. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth sold over 750,000 copies worldwide. It’s a fantastic number considering the nature of this game (Persona Characters + Etrian Odyssey mechanics and features = WIN!) as well as considering that it’s on a Nintendo system. But aside from that, it’s a truly great game. Definitely my favorite 3ds games ever made, and one of my favorite games of all time.

I have one gameplay drawback that’s admittedly nitpicky at best, though. Once you do a certain sidequest and unlock the ability to evolve most character’s main Personas into their Ultimate Persona (normally not available until the story progresses in Persona 3 or normally only available via maxing out the party’s social links in persona 4) once the character in question reaches level 55. Naoto’s Ultimate Persona,  Yamato-Takeru, is ridiculously broken in this game, at least as far as regular encounters are concerned.

With Naoto’s high luck stat, combined with the natural 40% chance of mahamoan and mamudoon killing all foes instantly via this attack if it hits, most mob encounters after that point was reached were pathetically easy due to her insanely high luck stat by the time she reaches level 55 and gets her Ultimate Persona. With Impure Reach, she becomes a monster, able to land binds and status ailments on most FOEs and Bosses with ridiculous ease,  making the likes of Inaba Pride Exhibit’s  boss fight and *SPOILERs final fight* ridiculously easy, except when playing on Risky mode, mainly because *spoiler *in *Insert spoiler here* has a NASTY, but very unique gimmick that makes the fight much more cathartic and satisfying to Win. This gimmick, combined with the Final boss’s design, and the theme known as The Infinite (Not to be confused or associated with the Infinite theme from Sonic Forces) made for a very satisfying, emotionally impactful, and intense but immensely satisfying finale to a near-perfect game.

Final score is down below. If you agree (which I doubt anyone will given all my complaints up to this point), then feel free to comment down below. If not, state your reasons down below as well. Thanks for reading this lengthy review, and I look forward to reviewing the sequel as well whenever it comes out. Come on, ATLUS! Please give us more info soon and take our hearts already with some more Persona Q2 info!

I should note that I rarely EVER give a game this score. This is mainly because the game does indeed have problems that are legit and common in any game of this type. For a game to receive this score (down below), it has to have an engaging and perfectly-paced narrative from start to finish, Amazing and well-written characters, excellent gameplay from start to finish, and be something I can replay over and over again.

I am happy to say right now that Persona Q; Shadow of the Labyrinth  for Nintendo 3ds fulfills all of the above criteria. The story starts in a typical slow Persona-like manner that I’ve grown accustomed to over the years. The gameplay has an excellent crafting system and lots of item drops from lots of enemies to fight. The characters were well-written and very likeable. Aigis had some humor in this game, Akihiko was a protein-enthusiast, Kanji was a tough guy, Shinjiro was a loner who opened up to others as the game progressed, etc. As far as Replay value is concerned, I I played this particular game 3 times for the sake of this review. I played it twice on my blue 3ds XL to get THAT  ending picture (Which barely lives on due to the internet)  and the final optional boss battle unlocked, and played it a 3rd time on my black New 3DS XL for the purpose of gathering my final thoughts together. I had a LOT of fun, good times, and experienced a wide range of emotions when playing this, and if you’re a Persona or Etrian odyssey fan or a fan of both (like I am), you can’t and shouldn’t go wrong by purchasing this.

Yes, once the late-game opens up Ultimate Personas to you, the challenge, for the most part, falls apart. HOWEVER, the work needed to reach that point is gonna test your brain skills and patience in a rage-worthy, but ultimately satisfying way and make you feel proud for sticking with the game long enough to unlock that path to “easy street.” Now if only there would be more copies in stores near me. Why do I need a physical copy when I bought it digitally twice and played it digitally 3 times – at FULL PRICE, mind you?! Because I’m completely in love with this game, that’s why! (Plus, I have a few Persona Tarot cards from when I pre-ordered Persona 4 Arena Ultimax a few years ago), and it’d feel right if I got a physical copy of the game  to go along with my tarot cards.)

NOTE: Special thanks to my fellow reporter/reviewer Raymond helping adjust the review into a more concise and original-looking reviewing.





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