All the Persona characters you know from the last decade are here.
If there’s one general feeling that came out of the over forty hours I spent with Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth, it’s confliction. Not only does the story involve internal conflicts about finding your true self, but also the conflict of finding what’s good in this game versus the parts that are disappointing. There’s conflict with the idea of whether or not the Persona spin offs could be wearing out their welcome at this point. Perhaps it’s even a conflict with my personal feelings with regards to this series as a whole. With twenty-five characters intermingling from across Persona 3, 4, and 5, what exactly made this game divisive in my eyes? Is there enough of an improvement over its predecessor Persona Q? Are all of the characters able to mesh well together or do they have a problem intermingling with one another? Let’s jump into the closest movie theater screen and fight through the labyrinth to see what’s going on with Persona Q2.
Persona Q2 shares a similar premise to its predecessor: a strange event brings the casts of various Persona games together, and they’re forced to figure out why they’ve been brought there and how to fix it. In this case, they are introduced to three new characters:
1) Hikari, a girl who can't remember why she’s been trapped in a theater
2) Nagi, the theater’s curator who is taking care of Hikari
3) Doe, the strange projectionist that looks like a shadow.
With the game taking place in a movie theater, that allows for all of the dungeons to be a different take on movies and movie genres.
And here lies one of the problems with the game and its dungeon design - they feel like elaborate set pieces rather than labyrinths. At first, each new dungeon you enter is fun to look at, especially when you see how they take a specific idea or genre in film and put the Persona twist on it. However, once you make your way through the dungeon, they start to feel too open, unlike the previous game’s dungeons, and become tedious by the end. Surprisingly, the only dungeon that captures the labyrinth feel is the final one where everything is cramped and claustrophobic, which is how the dungeons should make you and the rest of the characters feel. It would’ve been entirely possible to combine both the crampedness of a labyrinth with their take on movie genres, but by prioritizing one over the other for 80% of the game, it turns the dungeons "Oh, that's neat" areas rather than elaborate and fun mazes to maneuver through.
The less than stellar dungeon design becomes especially egregious when the fourth dungeon is long for the sake of being long. Persona Q2 does this a lot, both with this dungeon and the boss fights in general where each one usually has some sort of gimmick to extend the fight. Whether it’s by constantly healing excessive amounts of health or binding your characters because of story reasons, each boss fight is drawn out. That shouldn’t be a complaint for a series that is known for having fantastic combat, but when you become trapped with just redoing the amount of damage you’ve already done because a boss full healed itself, it takes the fun out of the otherwise good combat. There’s no real use of strategy when boss fights are turned into these kinds of cycles.
These issues might be the worst parts of this game, but that’s not to say there aren’t good parts to it. Combining all of these casts together leads to some really fun interactions with everyone. When Persona 5, Persona 4, and Persona 3 Portable’s protagonists meet for the first time, there’s an option to have them just introduce themselves by saying weird lines they’ve heard from the various Personas they’ve summoned. It’s incredibly weird, but fits these characters because Persona protagonists are, well, weird. Heck, bringing back the female protagonist from Persona 3 Portable is fantastic given that she’s been largely ignored in all of these spinoff games and is the better protagonist from Persona 3. They capture her more upbeat personality extremely well and her story throughout Persona Q2 was one of my favorite parts.
Yet, it’s not the protagonists who have the most fun when it comes to interactions. Yukiko and Yusuke have a really fun set of moments where they learn the true passion of art, Goro and Ken come together for a very interesting heart-to-heart with regards to where their characters would be in their respective stories, and Futaba and Naoto are excited to meet Aigis. These usually lead to the characters getting a unison attack that helps in battles which are all incredibly well done and fit how they have come together over common interests or by just wanting to work together.
Despite these fun moments, one of the problems from the first game and other spinoff games is that characters can become caricatures of themselves. This was an issue especially with Chie and Akihiko, where they were reduced to only liking meat and protein, and this continues again in Persona Q2. These two characters (and others) have extensive character arcs, but they’re boiled down to their stereotypes. Even worse is the fact that a certain person on the Persona 5 side is written better than he was in the original game which shows that they CAN create amazing characters, but seem to pick and choose who gets that treatment.
Perhaps this is because while the idea of combining all of these games’ casts together seems like a fun idea, it’s too much. When Persona 2: Eternal Punishment did it first nearly twenty years ago, it didn’t bring over everyone from Revelations Persona and didn’t bring them together while their characterizations were only 2/3rds complete like what happens in Persona Q2. There’s also the fact that this is non-canon like the first game so there’s no ramifications for what happens and anything that is learned within the confines of the game just gets wiped. It’s entirely possible to do a big crossover game like this within the canon of the series and make it work. The franchise has precedent for it with P2 and the fighting games. So maybe it’s time to rein in the spinoff games in this series. This is the seventh one in seven years. That’s a lot and eventually the quality is going to drop off, no matter how many characters you put in.
Despite my problems with various parts of the game, I do think that it all wraps up really well. Hikari shines as the game’s actual protagonist and even gets her own moment that the mainline protagonists have all had in their respective games. Her story is a treat to see through to the end and how they briefly tie her story back to the other games works as a brief little respite. That made bumping heads with parts of the game that I wasn’t a fan of worth it in the end.
One final bummer: There is no English dub for Persona Q2. While I understand why there's a lack of one, this is the first Persona game to not have dual audio, outside of the PSP port of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment which never got a release outside of Japan. Gathering all of the casts together for this game would have been a scheduling (and perhaps a technical) nightmare. But it's still kind of a bummer, especially when this game is one of the swan songs for the Nintendo 3DS system.
As someone who’s played every single game in the Persona series, I think the biggest issue that Persona Q2 has is that the series can do better. Outside of character interactions, the final dungeon and the ending, the great soundtrack, and P3P’s main character returning, I was left somewhat disappointed. Of course, my experience with this series will differ from yours, so if you read this and think I’m being too harsh or don’t agree, this may still be a game for you. There’s certainly some good to be found within the parts I didn’t like, but at the same time, I don’t want that to become the norm for this franchise as a whole. Persona Q2 truly takes you through a labyrinth that’s filled with both light and dark.
+ Good and fun moments between characters who haven't met before
+ Persona 3 Portable's female protagonist finally returns.
+ Soundtrack is really good and on par with the rest of the series.
+ Game wraps up very well and new character Hikari is a good addition.
- Dungeon design falls flat and becomes tedious.
- Certain characters are written poorly and become caricatures of themselves.
- Too many instances where the game and boss fights become long for the sake of being long.
- No English dub.
- Everyone suffers from incomplete characterizations.
Which characters from Persona 3, 4, and 5 do you think would get along the best? How would you like to see them team up in the future? Let us know in the comments below!