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Thursday, 11 June 2015

Persona Q.


Persona Q.



I meant to review this game ages ago, because I keep forgetting how long Persona games actually are. Well done me for that repeated failing, I suppose. I also had intended to rent this game out, before a fervour and vim for the idea of playing it forced me to drop twenty quid on buying it, and you know what? I have no regrets. 

Persona Q, set simultaneously in the middle of both Persona 3 and Persona 4 despite those games taking place several years apart, follows the cast of both games as they are sucked into a pocket universe version of Inaba High School mid-culture festival. Meeting two students, Zen and Rei, who have lost their memories, the two groups are compelled to form one massive superteam and explore the four labyrinths within the school, in order to escape the alternate school, save Zen and Rei, and protect the world.

While the game is primarily a crossover between those two Persona games, it is also a crossover with the Etrian Odyssey games, in that it takes its gameplay cues from them. As in Etrian Odyssey, Persona Q has you dungeon crawling through large, expansive dungeons, fending off regular monsters while avoiding larger, more dangerous monsters called FOEs, whose movements and behaviour patterns force you to stop, think, and strategise on how you're going to avoid being caught by them. As you explore, the game expects you to draw a map on the lower screen of the DS as you go - and while the novelty of doing so eventually wears thin, and you will find your maps getting sloppier over time, you nevertheless must do so, or else you will almost certainly be wandering aimlessly forever.

These two are adorable.

(It is also important to always have Goho-Ms as, especially in later dungeons, the game can be rendered unplayable if you don't - it's possible for a FOE to back you into a position where there's literally no escape.)

With a party consisting of some nineteen people and a battle party of five, you will absolutely never be inclined to keep everybody leveled up, inevitably resulting in most of that party being very low levels, with five or six being of decent, usable levels: For me, that was the P4 Hero, P3 Hero, Zen and Rei (who count as a single party member), Yosuke, and Yukari - and I'd recommend that as a good battle party, actually, giving you a decent spread of elemental attacks and healers. The game operates on a system of Personas (who dictate some of each character's abilities and can't be changed) and sub-Personas (who dictate the rest, and can), meaning that you can stack the deck in your favour if, for example, you know you're going to be facing an enemy that's weak to a certain element. The strategic customisation elements are nice, although you'll still often find yourself crippled by certain characters' tragic flaws (Yosuke, for example, suffers from a horrifically low luck stat, downing both his accuracy and evasion).

The Evil Spirits Club, an abandoned haunted school built on an abandoned haunted
hospital, riffs off survival horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil.

As with Persona 4, traversing dungeons often becomes a resource management task, balancing how to keep up HP and deal damage to monsters while conserving SP - which is used for magic, but not for physical attacks, which instead come out of your HP. SP healing items are few and far between in the game, meaning that often you're forced to retreat from a dungeon just because you don't have enough SP to cast magic anymore.

In terms of story and character, it's a good, fun game, and one with a surprising amount of emotional weight. The cast is diverse enough that literally any player will be able to find at least some characters they like, and plenty will find themselves adoring of the entire cast of characters. Every character gets their turn being comic relief in their own way (comedic moments with Zen, for example, are usually jokes about his obliviousness and fish-out-of-water nature; while comedic moments with Yosuke are usually about his tendency towards overreaction), and the central plot contains a lot of genuinely touching moments, especially between newcomers Zen and Rei.

One issue that the characterisation has, though, is that in an attempt to have every character be distinct, they are often reduced down to single traits exaggerated to the point of distortion. Teddie, who had a few jokes about hitting on girls and being turned down in his own game but whose main character arc was about the nature of personhood, is now constantly hitting on girls to the point where it's creepy and unsettling. Akihiko, who loves fighting in his own game but is also an erudite and somewhat socially awkward young man dealing with trauma, is now totally obsessed with fighting and building up his muscles.

You can choose at the start of the game which cast gets emphasised more during the story.

Not every character gets that treatment, but enough do that it jars, and takes away from what would otherwise be a very well-crafted story, one that manages to hit both comedic and tragic beats while keeping a decent, action game pace.

As might end up being the case with all Persona games, this game comes with my highest recommendation, and my great hope is that we see more of Atlus combining its Persona and Etrian Odyssey franchises - it's certainly inspired me to go out and rent other Etrian Odyssey games.

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