The JRPG genre doesn’t appeal to everybody; seemingly endless dialogue screens and cutscenes can put many new players off. Games and Tech Editor Adam Smith feels Shadow of the Labyrinth could do with a more Persona touch.
What do a robot, a blond boy in a teddy costume, a cybernetic dog, and a handful of one-note teenagers that can summon battle spirits have in common? Apart from all having featured in my pubescent nightmares, they’re all characters in Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, the new game from Atlus and Nintendo.
Persona Q is a JRPG crossover of the Persona 3 and Persona 4 games—neither of which I have played. New players will be a tad bemused as to how children can summon strange humanoids or ‘Personas’ to fight disfigured creatures or ‘Shadows’ after being stuck in a magic lift that crashes in a Culture Festival of an otherworldly school.
And in true JRPG fashion, after playing this game for seven hours, I still do not understand the plot. The first level being set in an uncanny Alice In Wonderland labyrinth, which is a staple for bad narrative, has led me to believe that the entire narrative is a write off, especially when the dialogue trees and cutscenes take up perhaps 20% of the game. Which would be about an hour and a half.
The gameplay is marginally above average, but nothing particularly special. You control a team of five characters each with special skills and abilities in relation to their ‘Persona’ that are effective or weak against certain enemies. Think Pokémon, but using your entire party at once. Unfortunately, the battle segments are let down by the choir-rock music that gets annoying after 10 minutes and drives you insane after one hundred.
While there is a ‘Rush’ button that will perform default attacks from all characters, the difference in power between you and your opponents means that you will almost certainly end up attacking instead of healing at that critical moment, all because you did not press the ‘Stop’ button in time.
The game is somewhat redeemed by the tile-based exploration feature between battles, similar to Legend of Grimrock, in which you use the touchscreen to draw your map and receive bonuses for stepping on every square.
It’s an idea that could have been implemented well, if not for the JRPG genre getting in the way. In order to escape a battle, rather than there be a handy button, players have to either select ‘Escape’ for each of their characters, or risk being trapped by the Shadows. And eventually you will need to escape, because between the first and second level the power creep is very noticeable—the inevitable Game Over screen bringing a condescending and unexplained poem scrolling over the screen and, worse, having to sit through yet more cutscenes.
It’s a shame that the cutscenes are so frequent, because the characterisation of each different member of your team is quite varied. Yes, they all seem to be one dimensional, but they each seem to get equal screen time, and so could be endearing, were they not all so grating. And really, ‘grating’ sums up the entire game.
Games and Tech Editor
What do you make of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth? Are you anxiously looking forward to Persona 5 coming out later this year? Let us know in the comments below, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on everything else games and tech, check us out on Facebook and Twitter.