First hands-on in English
It was almost surreal to be playing Persona Q in English for the first time this past week. It came out of nowhere late last year, a fantasy game mixing Persona 3 and Persona 4 characters in a new 3DS game that uses Etrian Odyssey‘s engine and dungeon play. I didn’t believe the game was real after first hearing about it — it sounded more like fan fiction! Now I’m playing the very first English language build, just ahead of the North American release.
Persona Q is adorable. That was my first impression, and that’s really the one that sticks the most. Seeing your favorite cast members from Persona 3 and Persona 4 with big heads and little bodies is a delight, but seeing them move and hearing them talk takes it over the top. Watching Rise’s eyes bug out or hearing Chie rant about meat products won me over before I ever entered my first dungeon. Teddie is still horny, but now cute. And Nanako? You’re not ready. It’s fan service by the boatload. They pulled out all the stops — the music, voicing, art, menus, and more are all dialed up to thrill. There’s no way a fan of either Persona 3 or Persona 4 should miss this.
There’s plenty of new gameplay to go with the fan service. I only played for about an hour but I could already tell that Persona Q is going to be a meaty, satisfying dungeon crawler.
Jumping into a brand new game session, I saw that Persona Q has five difficulty levels. All but the very last one, called Risky, lets you bounce around between levels. For Risky, you’re locked in for good. But even on Normal, don’t expect a walk in the park; Persona Q pulled more from its Etrian Odyssey roots when it comes to difficulty.
There are a bunch of new sub-systems for this spin-off, pulling from both franchises. New from the Persona side of things are sub-Personas, a secondary choice that acts as a status buff. Equipping a sub instantly adds hit and skill points to a character, to be used in battle. These bonus extra HP and SP gains recover for each battle, too.
Etrian Odyssey roots show in a trio of specific attack types. Characters will have either cut, stab, or bash attack types that have to be factored into the attack plans as the rock/paper/scissors rules come into play with these. I didn’t see this play out early on, but knowing Atlus we’ll end up in battles where you’ll have to be sure to be set up just right to win.
I did some dungeon crawling right off, making my way down corridors that would have any Etrian Odyssey fan feeling right at home, and then jumping into battles that would have any Persona fan feeling right at home. And it all looks great: the corridors look better than even the latest Etrian Odyssey game, with sharper textures and more detail. The character models in battles are PS2-level, holding up to the latest Persona.
For dungeon crawling, there’s auto-mapping to help you make your way through the maze, and a new Boost system to help you through the fights. Boost isn’t quite Press-Turn, though it still does have you working to exploit enemy weaknesses for a battle advantage. Getting in the right kind of hit will eventually earn you this Boost, which has the attacking character’s skills zeroed out for the next turn. Free skill attacks are always welcome! Continued exploits let you continue to Boost, though getting hit will knock you out of Boost status.
All of the dungeons of Persona Q have their own theme. The earliest is Alice themed, and has the gang visiting a messed up version of Wonderland. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the last battle of the stage has you fighting exactly who you think you would. My fight had my team going up against this boss’ minions, barely making it out alive. Right when the big boss moves in to take over from the minions, the other half of the cast appeared to save the day. Get ready for a really great entrance scene. Oh, baby.
Even in the short time I played I could tell that there’s way more under the hood to be discovered. New skills, spells, team attacks, and more teased from the menus. And that’s not even touching the loot and what you can do with it. I only got the smallest taste.
I’d also like to avoid spoiling the story, so we’ll go light on those details. It’s safe to say that you’ll start out by picking which cast you’d like to start with (I started with the P4 crew). Each has their own story start, but the two casts come together in the first hour of play, with a Yasogami High school festival serving as the backdrop for this event. The P4 group finds that school feels weird on festival day; the P3 gang finds themselves at a strange school suddenly. You’ll see. It’s not long before your party ends up in a mysterious place that leads to a freaky dungeon, and things really get going from there.
I don’t have much to say about the new kids on the block, Rei and Zen, either. That’s mostly because I glossed over their bits in my playtime as I want to enjoy my first real play through, and I don’t want to spoil the story for you. I got to see the first hints of their story, which involves lost memories. Their missing memories seem to be tied to the manifestation of the dungeon, and beating the boss of the dungeon reveals a clue to their pasts. So far, all I can really say is that Rei is super cute. And you’ll recognize her voice. Though Atlus wouldn’t exactly confirm the voice actor’s identity, it seems we were on the right track earlier.
Persona Q is a bit different, but you’re going to like it. You knew that already, though. Etrian Odyssey loving people are going to like it — that’s a no-brainer. Persona fans will too, especially if they’re into the casts of the last two games. This new spin-off might be missing some of the Social Link hooks, but it’s got new gameplay, a huge cast, and tons of personality to make up for that.