I’ve always been a huge Persona fan. But even I have my limits.
The long-running Japanese role-playing game series traditionally places you in the role of a high school student who’s been gifted with the ability to summon “personas,” monsters and demons that can range from a lowly pixie all the way up to Satan himself.
Your ultimate goal might be to save the world, but you’re still a student and the games run on a system in which you only have a certain amount of free time per in-game day. So you have to balance schoolwork and socializing with monster hunting and dungeon crawling. You could spend all your time beating up baddies, but since your skill in battle is influenced by the relationships you make with your fellow students and town locals, you might have a hard time of it.
Persona Q , available today for Nintendo 3DS, takes some of the fan-favorite characters and settings and puts them in the context of an old-school first-person dungeon crawler. Like publisher Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey series of 3DS games, it’s a throwback to the days of dungeons being so intentionally confusing and difficult that you were forced to draw your own maps to make heads or tails of them. Fortunately, Persona Q has a map-making feature all built in—no graph paper required.
I played games like Wizardry and Shining in the Darkness as a kid, and I liked how the brutal challenge and circuitous dungeon layouts required me to constantly rethink my strategies. I had to do the same here. Persona Q is hard. Each character you can use has different weaknesses, and enemies will waste no time exploiting them, resulting in that fighter being knocked down or severely weakened.
All of your characters can equip different personas and switch them out at will, and the game demands you use this to your advantage: More than once I walked into a battle only for the enemy to devastate my forces with just a few casts of magic. When I went over my party to see what I did wrong, I noticed that I had almost exclusively equipped personas with a weakness to fire spells.
I love using the 3DS’ touch screen to plot out virtual maps, even placing icons on them to mark points of interest. As a kid, I would do this all the time while playing games like The Legend of Zelda or Metroid. To me, there was nothing more fun than filling out sheet after sheet of graph paper with shaded squares and icons that only I could decipher. It made me feel like I was a lone explorer. Persona Q captures this feeling dead-on.
I do wish it wouldn’t interrupt my fun so much, though.
Since the characters, and the relationships between them, are so paramount to the experience, previous Persona games had plenty of talking and cut-scenes. At their best, these provide a refreshing contrast to the monotonous dungeon exploration. But Persona Q‘s gameplay is much more captivating and engrossing, and so I find myself really wanting these people to just shut the hell up.
It seems like every time is the right time for your characters to decide to have a chat about nothing in particular. Often it’s to make a trite joke that has some superficial relevance to that particular character’s quirks.
Take Chie, for example. Fans loved her in Persona 4 for her spunky, occasionally overly aggressive nature and her love of eating meat. Persona Q hammers this home at every opportunity. Chie gets angry about something trivial in every scene, and there’s some reference to meat every few minutes. Enough is enough.
I still thoroughly enjoyed following Persona Q‘s various twists and turns in the storyline. When the characters are actually talking about plot-related developments and going through character arcs, the writing shines. They play off each other in a way that makes you feel as if you’re among old friends. It reminds me of why I fell in love with the cast in the first place.
Just let me draw my maps in peace!