It’s sad to think that the 3DS is finally dying down. After nearly a decade of some of the best portable titles ever, 2019 will probably be the last full year Nintendo’s dual-screen handheld gets any new games. Atlus has been one of the most faithful publishers when it comes to this system, so it’s no surprise that the very last big game to come out for it is theirs. Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth follows the previous game’s formula quite closely, and thanks to some welcome tweaks to its gameplay, it manages to surpass it as a quirky spin-off of the most popular of the Shin Megami Tensei franchises.
The Persona Q games borrow their structure from the Etrian Odyssey games, but instead of having you put together a team of random heroes you create, a “chibified” cast of the Persona games comprise your group’s line-up, so if you’re a fan of Persona, you’re pretty much in. Drawing up maps as you explore multi-layered dungeons has always been a mechanic that’s made the many Etrian Odyssey titles so entertaining, but their difficulty and slow pace have put me off actively finishing all of them. Persona Q2 also suffers from at least one of these issues.
The premise now is that the crew from Persona 5 find themselves trapped in a mysterious movie theater after somehow getting warped during an excursion in Mementos, the underground alter dimension where a lot of their own game took place in. Persona Q2 takes place in late into that game’s story, since the team is comprised by the entire playable cast, including Akechi, which might be weird for anyone who’s finished Persona 5. The teams from the other two more modern Persona games also pop up, but it’s clear that Q2 is a Persona 5 gig through and through, down to the game’s presentation, which is darn slick in true Phantom Thieves fashion. For anyone who’s played the Persona 3 Portable, you’ll run into an old friend too, as the female protagonist that was exclusive to that version of 3 joins the cast in Persona Q2.
Each of the worlds you explore in Persona Q2 is based on one character’s ego or a central theme, similarly to the plot of Persona 5. But instead of having to explore a fortress built in their image, you’re instead going through a movie in the form of multiple levels of a dungeon, drawing their maps as you go. One of the main things that separates this spin-off from the main Etrian Dungeon series is that you get some ease of play features that truly make them much more manageable, like having your map be automatically drawn as you run through the dungeons’ corridors, only leaving to you the job of marking special objects like doors, switches, stairs, chests, and such, and also allowing you to leave the maze at any time by using an item called Goho-M.
You’re given a chance to do a lot of what you’d do in a normal Persona game, like picking up materials that allow you to craft new gear, and most importantly, fusing new personas. Differently from those, though, Q2 gives you the option to equip new creations as sub-personas, giving you a host of different offensive and defensive options for not just the ‘wild card’ protagonist, but the entire cast. It’s a cool twist that helps bring plenty of tactical possibilities into your team composition planning, since these go on top of the base skill tables for each team member you can freely add to your five-person, two-row squad.
Persona Q was criticized for still being quite difficult even with these additions, and Atlus has responded by fixing one of the pet peeves I for one had with that game: it heals my party every time I pop back out to the theater, something that used to cost a lot of money. It makes running back to the main hub less of a burden. Still, even with this one improvement, the pacing of Persona Q2 is rather sluggish, right from the start, not only due to the style of play that has you slowly explore each world level by level, but also thanks to the sheer amount of text to click through as you play. New Cinema Labyrinth is an extremely wordy game, and while the dialog and themes discussed are sure to please anyone remotely into the Persona series, it tends to drag a lot. Characters have a lot to say, and even though a lot of it is voice acted, something that’s relatively rare to see on the 3DS, it takes a long time to sift through, making the already two steps forward, one step back pace of the game feel even more sleepy.
Granted, that dynamic of play makes Persona Q2 a really good pick up to play in spurts, so if you have the chance to tackle it in between other games, you’ll probably get much more out of it in the long run than if you go at it on its own. It’s also a damn fine portable experience thanks to that, allowing you to make some progress in a handful of minutes, and closing your 3DS in order to pick it up again later. In that regard, this game feels like one of the last of its kind given that the platform is on its last legs, and even with the new portable-only Switch model being announced, there aren’t really a whole lot of short spurt friendly games like this around anymore. Portable games have gone the way of taking console games on the go instead, which is quite a bummer.
Persona Q2 really benefits from being a very late gen game. It pushes the 3DS to its limits graphically, with some really colorful and stylish visuals, that paired with a surprising amount of voice over in Japanese, and a killer soundtrack in the vein of the mainline Persona games, makes New Cinema Labyrinth quite a spectacle for the aging Nintendo handheld. Having all of the teams join forces and seeing them interact among themselves is also a treat for me as a longtime Persona fan.
Atlus has done an incredible job supporting the 3DS over the years with a bunch of really good J-RPGs. For all the gripes I have with Persona Q2, it’s given me an excuse to finally give the Etrian Odyssey flavor of RPG a go, pushing me to even consider giving the main series a try eventually. It helps that it features some of my most beloved characters too, and for as much as Atlus has overused the Persona brand over the past decade, there’s no denying that each one of the games has its distinct flavor, and Persona Q2 is definitely its own thing in that regard.