Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is very much billed as one for the fans.

Featuring characters from both Persona 3 and Persona 4, squished together in an Etrian Odyssey-inspired dungeon crawler, its very concept seems to have been dreamt up as an all-out assault on the hearts, minds, and wallets of JRPG lovers everywhere.

In short, it wasn't made for the likes of me.

That's right, having no past experience of either Persona or Etrian Odyssey, I was anticipating a bewildering slog through unwelcoming battles and reams of alienating, reference-riddled dialogue.

It's a testament to the game's quality, then, that I ended up having such a thoroughly good time with these unfamiliar characters. And, for anyone else in the same position, I'd say it's a more appealing prospect than you might think.

New beginnings

Persona Q starts out by having you choose a protagonist from either Persona 3 or Persona 4 as your lead character. But unless you have a particular connection with one of them, either will do, as the differences in plot are fairly minimal.

Taking place in Yasogami High School, the story kicks off when a mysterious inter-dimensional bell rings, leaving the entire school in some kind of bizarre alternate reality. There is no way out, only a series of ever-descending labyrinths which appear beneath the school.

This is where the Etrian Odyssey inspiration comes in.

You explore these labyrinths in first person, which is uncharted territory for the Persona series, trying to survive as you're plagued by random encounters and FOEs - titanic beasts who are better avoided than engaged.

And when I say labyrinth, I really mean it. Each floor is a challenge to navigate, with complex areas interconnected by doorways and mysterious shortcuts through walls.

Even more interestingly, like Theseus laying down thread to retrace his path, you're tasked with drawing your own map on the bottom screen.

It's all grid-based, so it's not too taxing. And while I'm definitely no cartographer - and even less an artist - there is something oddly satisfying about mapping your progress as you go along.

I found myself adding in incidental details, too - blue patches for pools of water, for instance - just for the sake of making things look nicer.

It's robust, too. There are in-built emblems to signify things like doorways, shortcuts, and treasure boxes, which you simply drag across to your map when needed.

Clan's Labyrinth

When exploring a labyrinth, you'll be rolling out with a 5-person team of your own configuration.

You select who goes on the frontline and who hangs back, tactically, based on the weapon range and sturdiness of each individual member.

There is a fair amount of tactical potential in the combat, particularly when you begin to learn the elements to which each enemy type is vulnerable.

Add in abilities which allow you to adapt turn order, and random encounters become a case of much more than simply spamming attacks. That'd get you killed very quickly indeed.

Each character has their own persona, too - an intrinsic part of their essence which manifests itself in battle - but can equip an additional one for new abilities, allowing yet more flexibility.


The localisation job is terrific, with the majority of the dialogue given the American voiceover treatment. However, some of the writing itself is a bit shaky at moments, especially when it's attempting seriousness.

But when it plays to its strengths and focuses on the interplay between its cast of wacky adventurers, it's a pleasure to behold.

The characters are all basically incarnations of various Japanese tropes - Kanji's the would-be stoic tough guy who can't hide his heart of gold, Teddie's the goofball mercilessly hitting on all the disinterested girls, and Rei is the ditzy, food-obsessed one who's mostly confused or scared.

There's no groundbreaking storytelling here, then, but it is certainly good fun.

It's a nice antidote to the hyper-seriousness of modern games - the music bops along infectiously, and even the UI design is almost neon in its vibrancy. It's this light-hearted charm that Persona Q brings to the table in spades.

And when you have a rock-solid dungeon-crawling RPG beneath that charming veneer? Well, that's a recipe for 60 hours well spent.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

A surprisingly welcoming treat of a JRPG, and a successful blend of two worlds
Matt Suckley
Matt Suckley
Achingly contrarian. Proud owner of an N-Gage and a PSP Go. Matt spends most of his time writing about indie games of which you've never heard. Like that one, yes. Matt is an English student, and largely terrible at games. Go figure.