Persona Q short review

17 November 2015 by , No Comments

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Persona Q is a nice little crossover game between Persona 3 and 4 that I’ve been working on getting through for the better part of the year on and off now. It’s nothing that will set the world on fire anytime soon but, as a fan of the series, it was a cute little treat. The plot and presentation are great and the battle system is just awesome.

But. It has problems.

The story behind why the casts of the two games are being brought together is a simple one: one day everything was normal and then, all of a sudden, they found themselves at a strange school during a culture festival where every exhibit seems to lead to a surreal labyrinth full of monsters – and that’s about all that I can say without getting too far into spoiler territory. One thing that the game does do very well is develop its characters and make you as a player empathise with their struggles, with a lot of cast members who didn’t see the spotlight in their source games really getting a chance to shine in this installment. Unfortunately, the writing – while it has a lot of good moments – just goes on for too long. The script seems almost afraid to leave things to the audience’s imagination and the way in which characters will sit around repeating each others’ statements as questions is a real disappointment. The story is strong, so why are the writers falling back on such silly little quirks? The main game is further handicapped by the fact that the labyrinths themselves, while pretty, are not a huge amount of fun to explore – which is a problem given that that’s what you’ll be spending most of your time doing. They’re just far too long and even with the set pieces that break them up getting through them feels more like a test of endurance than any actual skill. Making matters worse is the fact that even regular enemies have disproportionately high amounts of health and stupid amounts of grinding are absolutely mandatory to get through. This is in fact the primary reason why I’ve been leaving it and coming back to it every now and again.

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And that’s all a real shame because, honestly, I think this game could have the best Persona combat yet. It’s still turn-based – which I personally don’t think that there’s anything wrong with – but with the addition of a fifth party member and the option to sort your team into rows for battle on top of the fact that this is one of the few RPGs where status effect skills, like poison and sleep, are actually worth using means that players will have a tonne of room to experiment with new tactics. The lack of random battles is also to be applauded but there’s still a lot of fights against generic enemies in this game that most players will probably rip through by casting instant death spells. Fortunately, the boss encounters are here to pick up the slack. Unlike the basic enemies, these monsters actually show a great degree of creativity and have some cool gimmicks to them that honestly makes it worth keeping a spare save just to replay them. Their unique patterns and special skill effects mean that players actually to learn the workings of the game and do some actual preparation as opposed to just grinding out their stats, which is definitely a step in the right direction. The new Boost system is another great addition, giving a character who hits an enemy’s elemental weakness another free turn with no cost for their skills.

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The game’s aesthetics, however, are absolutely fantastic. The cutesy graphics convey far more emotion than the doll-like models and still cut-in images of the PS2 games and the bright, cheerful colour palette and excellent voice work do a great job of underscoring not only the happier moments but also the ones where the game dives right into horror town. Shoji Meguro and co. return for the music and it is a joyously wonderful score. While by no means close to innovative, every track utterly nails the mood of the scenes they’re used for, with Friends, Promise, and Proof being the tragic stand-outs and all the battle themes being memorable in that funky Meguro/Lotus Juice style we know and love while a few cute remixes of old tracks also provide some fun nostalgia. It’s a score you’ve heard bits and pieces of countless times but, when it’s done this well, you’ll find you don’t mind the lack of originality so much.

Persona Q was clearly made as a game for the series’ fans but, having said that, its quirky style and self-contained story may win over some outsiders. However, it’s too traditional to revolutionise the genre and the tedious dungeon crawling ultimately does more harm than good. Still, there are some fantastic ideas in the combat and the writing and voice acting are better than they’ve ever been, even if some editing is very much needed. It’s a got a lot more style than its predecessors but, unfortunately, a lot less substance. I wouldn’t say I wanted a sequel but, much like Catherine, I’d very much appreciate a spiritual successor of sorts.

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