On Sunday afternoon, I almost threw my 3DS at the television. I didn’t do this, fortunately — would have been bad news for both the 3DS and the television — but the urge was there. I just wanted Persona Q to understand what I was going through.
See, I was wandering around the third labyrinth of Atlus’s new dungeon-crawler, minding my own business, clearing enemies without a problem, when suddenly I ran into a random encounter. “Easy,” I thought to myself. My party was healthy, my equipment was all up to date, and my personas were stronger than ever. What’s that saying about pride and a fall?
Over the next few seconds, before I could even take a turn, the enemies lowered my party’s fire resistance and cast two target-all fire spells, immediately killing three characters. I tried to escape with my two remaining party members, but neither even had a chance to act before they were singed by another blast. Game over. Suddenly I was at the menu screen, staring in shock as I thought back to the last time I had saved. In Persona Q, you don’t get any of that “try again?” nonsense. When everyone in your party dies, you lose. Period.
Thanks to that random encounter, I lost an hour of progress, during which I had buffed up my party, acquired new personas, charted half a map, and gone through several lengthy cut-scenes. An hour of my life, lost. So surely you’ll understand why my 3DS almost made contact with 50 inches of LCD earlier this week.
I’ll be back, though. Persona Q hasn’t defeated me yet. It might take a few days before I have the willpower to replay all those sections I’ve already beaten, but it’s bullshit like this that will make it feel even more rewarding when I finally take down this stupid goddamned game.
Let me explain. Persona Q, which was released yesterday for the 3DS, is an RPG in which the casts of Personas 3and 4 are brought together to fight through dungeons and save the world (or something). Persona Q is designed primarily to do two things: 1) deliver a series of fanfiction-calibre scenes in which two similar Scooby Doo groups have uncomfortable run-ins; and 2) challenge your resource-management skills with a gauntlet of increasingly difficult dungeons that surprise and delight in some clever ways.
If you’re here for Thing 1, you’re in luck. Persona Q doesn’t have social links, but it does have plenty of chatter. So much chatter. Like the Jetsons and the Flintstones, SEES and the Inaba crew make for strange bedfellows, and if you’re the type of person who wants to see Junpei and Yosuke compete over who can be more awkward, this is the game for you. From Chie’s weird obsession with meat to Mitsuru’s love for yelling at people, all the idiosyncracies are back for this one, for better or worse. (Don’t worry: If you’re not into all the banter — which, even for big Persona fans, can get excessive — there’s a fast forward button.)
Thing 2, though. That’s where Persona Q shines. The strength of a video game lies in its ability to morph a set of arbitrary rules into a series of satisfying challenges, and it’s there Persona Q excels, drawing both from other Persona games and from its dungeon-spelunking predecessors — most prominently Etrian Odyssey — to create a punishing, satisfying experience where even the least significant random encounter can be a major hurdle.
You’ll spend most of your time in Persona Q crawling through dungeons, using your stylus to draw maps and make notes on the bottom screen as you inch through each new floor, fighting random enemies and grooving to the excellent battle music. Your party — a group of five characters that you can eventually mix and match from both Personas 3 and 4 — can collect items, fight for levels, customise personas, take sidequests, get new equipment, and so forth. Standard RPG stuff.
The core challenge here, and the one factor that will influence most of your decisions, is resource management. Your party has limited inventory space, limited health, and limited abilities. So every moment you’re playing — especially on the higher difficulty settings — you have to make tough choices. Should you bring extra recovery items into the dungeon or save inventory room for loot? Should you heal your party with skills, wasting precious skill points, or use those expensive items? What sort of subpersonas should you use to balance out your characters? Should you play conservatively and head back to your homebase to save after every major battle, or should you just rush through dungeons as quickly as possible?
Most of the time this rhythm is really great — like all good RPGs, Persona Q‘s decisions are varied and interesting. There’s a certain rush in making that risky choice to play aggressively and keep fighting through a dungeon, like doubling down on a poker hand when you know you don’t have much money left. Since you’ll lose not-insignificant amounts of progress if you get a game over, the stakes are always high.
And then sometimes you get one-shotted by a bullshit enemy and you’re so disgusted both with yourself and the game that you never want to touch it again. I mean, seriously.
Persona Q is great. Check it out. It will probably be a little while before I try again — after some 20 hours I feel like I still have plenty left — but I will try again. I’m not going to let this dumb game win.