Before we dig into things, I should mention — I was very late the Persona party, and Persona 5 was my first entry into Atlus’ fantastic JRPG franchise. I fully submerged myself into that game for hundreds of hours, beating shadows, freeing palaces, unlocking new personas — and also living the everyday, mundane life of a Japanese teenager for a year. After that much time spent playing and getting to know its wonderful characters, you tend to get attached. They become friends, in a way, and that’s the biggest selling point of Atlus’ new 3DS game, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth. Above all else, it’s just nice to hang out again with these old friends.
While Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is actually a sequel to 2014’s Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, the story of that game is left behind for a brand new adventure, centered around a mysterious movie theater that plays twisted films that differ from real life.
One normal day, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts — Joker, Skull, Panther, and the gang — are trekking through Mementos training for the next palace. They take a wrong turn while riding in the “Morgana van” and get sucked into a mysterious movie theater, where they find themselves trapped behind doors covered with padlocks. Inside, they discover two people — Nagi and Hikari, as well as a…thing, named Doe. They also learn that Makoto and Haru did not make it into the theater, and are trapped in the film that’s playing on the big screen.
What’s worse, the film, Kamoshidaman, seems to star disgraced teacher Suguru Kamoshida, the first adversary the Phantom Thieves defeated in Persona 5 — except this time around, the abusive pervert is now featured in a superhero role. The Phantom Thieves have to venture into the film itself to find their missing friends, figure out why Kamoshida is back — as a hero, no less — and to (hopefully) find a way out of the movie theater and back to the real world.
While exploring the film, the group discovers there are others trapped within — characters taken from previous Persona games — and even additional films to experience, turning what started as a simple day trip into an epic adventure, and only the Phantom Thieves can make things right.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth borrows its gameplay from the Etrian Odyssey series, as players are tasked with mapping “dungeons” — in this case, city streets and buildings — as they progress. Like in those games, enemies attack randomly, though a meter in the corner of the screen gives you an indication when an enemy is close. There are also larger, more powerful enemies lurking about, which must be carefully avoided until the team is strong enough to take them on. All of this is done with the pretense of being in a film playing in a movie theater, which is kind of neat.
Outside of combat, there’s plenty of treasure to find and short cuts aplenty. Even the restorative items are movie-themed — you’ll eat your way through different varieties of popcorn that you buy at the concessions stand, which can heal you and your party members. Adding to that, the weapons, armor, and accessories reference classic flicks, and trying to guess what movie a certain item is taken from is a nice distraction for film buffs. Besides the gameplay mechanics being borrowed, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is a Persona game in every other way.
Players use Personas to fight the Shadows, the staple enemies of the franchise. Juggling attack types, strengths, weaknesses, learning as you go — these are decidedly Persona mechanics and traits. Somehow, Atlus has recreated the incredibly deep, yet easy to learn combat system from Persona 5, all wrapped up in a portable package. And of course, the amazing writing and humor from the console game come across very well here too. Ryuji has made me laugh countless times, but not with jokes, but rather, his reactions to things going on in-game. He has a knack of outright saying the thoughts I’m internalizing — simply put, it’s refreshing, and a welcome addition.
Persona Q2 features reworked songs from other entries in the series, and certain cues are taken from Persona 5. This is important, as the soundtrack plays a huge role in my love of the franchise (I’ve since gone back and played other games since I got my hands on P5), and to have that jazzy backbeat going as I dungeon crawl makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
Sadly, there is no localized dub, so all of the characters speak in native Japanese with English subtitles. I say this with a tinge of disappointment, because after over 300 hours of playtime in Persona 5, those voices are near and dear to my heart, and hearing a different voice come out of Ann Takamaki’s face was a little jarring. That being said, it doesn’t hurt the story, just the experience — it’s a small gripe, and I might even be in the minority, as Atlus released a patch to Persona 5 that adds in the native Japanese voice acting for the west, so there must be a market for it.
I’m a fan of both the Etrian series and the Persona series, and as luck would have it, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is the perfect marriage of the two. It takes the best of each franchise and mashes them together for one epic adventure on Nintendo’s aging portable system. But no matter how good it looks, or how well it plays, or even how nice it sounds, the best part of Persona Q2 is getting to go on adventures with my friends again. For 60 to 70 (or even 100 hours), I get to intertwine myself in their lives and live vicariously through a small group of Japanese teenagers one more time. That might be the most ridiculous sentence I’ve ever written if it weren’t true. It’s good to be back with the gang, and we’re all having a fun time together once again.
This review is based on the Nintendo 3DS version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Atlus.
Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth is a fun and welcome reunion with old friends embarking on a brand new adventure into a twisted and unpredictable world.