I’m a big fan of the Persona series. The whole Shin Megami Tensei series, actually, and I highly recommend that people play these games if they like JRPGs with intelligence, a good twist on various mythologies (everyone loves a sympathetic Satan!), and games that like to eff you up in multiple ways. So when I first heard about Persona Q, a mashup of Persona 3 and Persona 4, I knew I had to have it. Those games are awesome. This one should be awesome too!
And it’s not un-awesome, but it’s a little bit weird to get used to. There are 2 branches of play, either following the characters from Persona 3 or Persona 4, which eventually will converge so that you have access to all characters no matter which you started the game with. But the two beginnings give the game some replay value right off the bat, since seeing the different perspectives on the game’s start will not only be interesting but will (I hope) give a more complete image of just what’s going on.
But let’s just say that I can understand what some reviewers were saying about the game feeling like a fanfic turned into a video game. It really does feel very much like that so far, including small pieces of character degradation where it feels like some of them have lost the depth they held in the original games and are a few steps closer to being caricatures. Not so much that it really affects my enjoyment of seeing familiar characters in new situations, but enough that it’s noticeable.
(Though in fairness, so far from what I’ve played, it mostly just results in me rolling my eyes a bit and thinking that Akihiko and Shinjiro ought to get a room… And I probably would have thought that anyway.)
I’m not far enough in the game that I can really comment much on the plot, but I can comment on the gameplay mechanics. Persona Q doesn’t exactly play fast and loose with what was established in previous games for the protagonist, but it does twist the mythology in a way that makes me wonder about the implications. In Persona 3 and Persona 4, the protagonists were special, able to switch Personas at will where other people had only a single dedicated one. There was a reason for this beyond simple gameplay dynamics, as protagonists of each game were, to say the lease, very special. It was more than just the representation of the tarot card The Fool, the representation of the beginning of a journey and the idea that a person is full of potential. In Persona Q, each character is now somewhat affiliated with The Fool, as reality has twisted somewhat and current events are very weird. It’s not to the same extent that the protagonists have had in the past, with the ability to shift Personas at will, but now everybody has their fixed Persona and a sub-Persona that can be switched around to learn new spells and abilities. This may screw with the established mythology of the game, but it does allow for an interesting amount of customization, and the ability to balance out weaknesses and expand movepools. It takes some adjusting to, but it’s an interesting change, and it still encourages a good amount of level-grinding, so on the whole, I’m not opposed to that change.
The system of recovery and item creation is far closer to Persona 4 than to Persona 3. P3 was simple. Stepping out of the dungeons healed the party. Better items and weapons became available as time went on. P4 was more costly. Healing cost money. Items were created by the acquisition of dropped loot after battles, which you could sell for money and would, if sold in certain combinations or amounts, lead to the creation of new items to buy. That’s how it is with PQ, too. As such, you spend much of the early parts of the game flat freaking broke, occasionally having to leave some party members dead and switched out because you just can’t afford to revive them yet. At least the number of available party members is large enough that you can switch some out and bring in some new ones to allow a full battle party, which will let you go grind for items and levels until revival is an affordable option again.
Honestly, I think I’ve spent more time wandering around, grinding for items, than I have actually advancing the plot, and I still don’t have the best equipment for everyone. Every time I think I’ve caught up, BAM, a new weapon gets created that I can’t afford so I need to go back to the dungeon again…
But this isn’t a drawback, and if you’ve played previous Persona or SMT games in the past, this is just par for the course. These are games for those who love a good dungeon crawl combined with a story that will twist your mind into new and exciting shapes.
Persona Q isn’t a game I would recommend if you haven’t played P3 and P4 first, and yes, I do recommend you play them both because otherwise, jumping into this game, there’s going to be much that’s lost on you. Nothing essential to understanding the game, but more along the lines of character development and setting. If you play this before the others, you’re going to find yourself wondering who half of these people are, why you should give a crap about them, and why nothing about them is actually being elaborated on. It’s expected that you’ll already know. This is a revisit, not a first impression. That’s another way in which is resembles a fanfic, honestly; it’s taken as a given that you’re playing this game because you want a new story with familiar characters, a continuation or a branch-off of a previous game, not something entirely new.
Overall, though, I’m happy with my experience of the game so far. I’m a big fan of the series, prone to playing and replaying, so a chance to revisit old favourites in new situations is awesome for me. And because I’m such a fan of the series, I also deemed that buying the premium edition of the game, seen above, to be a worthwhile use of my money. :p In addition to the game and 11 tarot cards with designs featured from the Persona games, I also got a music CD (which, admittedly, only has about 5 songs on it…), an artbook with character profiles, but the crowning piece of the collection is the Persona Q 3DS XL case! I don’t even have a 3DS XL! Just a regular one! But there was no way I was passing up on that case, because I love the design!
Why yes, I am a collector, and yes, I do fall prey to consumerism. Why do you ask? :p
But really, the premium edition is for the die-hard fans. The game you get is the same as the non-premium version, so unless you really want that artbook or the system case, hang onto your money and just go for the standard edition.
I’m really interested to see where the storyline will take me. The introduction of new characters Rei and Zen (who fight as one in battles, and who cannot summon Personas of their own) adds more than just a revisit to old characters, and the subtle riffing on video game tropes has made me chuckle at times. An antagonist has been hinted at, meaning this game is more than just a long series of dungeon crawls in an attempt to escape from the situation characters currently find themselves trapped in. There are mysteries to be solved, Personas to be fused, and hours of fun ahead of me, and honestly, I can’t wait to jump right back in!