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What happens when you mix the intuitive draw-your-own-map-as-you-play-mechanic of Etrian Odyssey with the addictive combat and gripping slice of life gameplay of Persona? You get Persona Q, a dungeon crawler that’s an absolute must-have for any self-respecting role-playing game fanatic. Sadly if you don’t have a 3DS, you are out of luck as the game is exclusive to the handheld.

This is how a map should look like once completely drawn out. Image credit: Kotaku
This is how a map should look like once completely drawn out. (Image credit: Kotaku)

Having only played Persona 4 Golden on the PS Vita, and loving every bit of RPG (role-playing game) goodness the game had to offer, I was initially taken aback by the chibi (short person in Japanese) art style of Persona Q.

For comparisons, the following images will illustrate the differences between the chibi and original versions Persona Q and Persona 4.

Chibi versions of Persona Q characters (Image Credit: Gaming Union)
Persona 4 characters getting ready to duke it out (Image Credit: Edge)

Note: Put simply, chibi means small and cute.

The cute versions of Persona 4 characters, which I spend a good 100 hours with in Persona 4, just felt off to me. Like a good friend whom you haven’t seen in ages, I guess familiarity played a part in that. Months went by, and as more info about Persona Q was revealed on gaming websites, social media, the new look didn’t seem so bad anymore. If anything, it started to grow on me.

Image Credit: IGN
The cast of Persona Q (Image Credit: IGN)

Persona Q brings the Yasoinaba High school students of Persona 4 and the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad (SEES) of Persona 3 who have unwittingly found themselves in a strange labyrinth with no way of escaping from. Players can choose between the students of Yaso High or SEES before embarking on their journey. I decided to go with the latter for obvious reasons.

When the odds are stacked in your favour, SEES (Yaso high students if you chose the P3 path) members will drop in to get your heroes out of a pinch. This is very neat as it’s the first time both sets of casts are seen together. Without spoiling anything, it’s best to have either played P3 or P4 to fully appreciate all the little neat touches the game has to offer.

Fast forward to today, I’m currently around 30 hours into the game and it just keeps getting better. The fact that the battle theme (which plays whenever you encounter an enemy), Light the Fire Up in the Night, hasn’t grown old is a testament to Atlus and their renown expertise in crafting infectious beats that stay with you. From the seductive beats of Catherine, to the high octane dungeon theme of Persona, to the dark riveting theme of Shin Megami Tensei, you are in for an aural treat whenever you play an Atlus game.

With five difficulty settings that range from Safety, Easy, Normal, Hard to Risky, the game is quite the challenge even on Normal. Players can expect to do much grinding in the game or you won’t stand a chance against the game’s bosses and high level enemies.

Image Credit: Otaku Gamers UK
The cutscenes are animated really well; it’s a shame that there aren’t more of them (Image Credit: Otaku Gamers UK)

F.O.E’s, high-level enemies that are not only tough to take down, but also tricky encounters. It is often best to find ways to navigate around them, especially in the first dungeon which was inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The F.O.E’s in the dungeon who take the form of cards will walk in a predetermined path that you can navigate around. Just when you think that they are easy to avoid, the maps become narrower and a new mechanic is introduced, F.O.E’s can now be distracted whenever you wash the red roses with a watering can (which is obtainable).

A distracted F.O.E repainting a rose (Image Credit: Nintendo Enthusiast)

It isn’t so tough when there is only one F.O.E, but the game ups the tempo as you will need to figure out how to get past three of them. Do you take the less elegant route and fight your way past them and risk losing your progress with a Game Over? Or do you put on your thinking cap and figure out a solution. It is highly satisfying to pull off the latter as the sense of accomplishment feels like a second game in itself.

Image Credit: Nintendo Enthusiast
F.O.E encounters are best avoided in the beginning (Image Credit: Nintendo Enthusiast)

If you love RPG’s or a challenging game, Persona Q is highly recommended for it has all the trappings that make for a great game. A battle theme that doesn’t get old, great banter between the casts of characters, addictive yet challenging combat that may test your patience at times, varied side-quests that don’t feel like a chore, Persona Q is probably the handheld game of the year for me. It’s just that good.

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)