Persona Q is a game a foot in two worlds. It is influenced by developer Atlus’ most and least progressive RPG franchises. Persona games tend to place a heavy emphasis on narrative and characterization to the point that the most recent installments adopted dating-sim-like gameplay for much of the experience. Meanwhile, Etrian Odyssey made its name as a throwback first-person dungeon crawler that has negligible narrative content but takes advantage of the lack of defined characters to give the player granular control over the development of the their team and experience.
These very different franchises have attracted different sorts of fans. As someone who appreciates both, I’ll be covering the game from both angles. This first writeup concerns how Persona Q stacks up as an Etrian Odyssey experience.
Probably the most significant change between Persona Q and Etrian Odyssey is how the game will go out of its way to keep the player out of trouble. If you try to enter a dungeon without a Goho-M (ariadne thread equivalent) the game will stop remind you. If you’re having trouble once inside a dungeon, you can toggle the difficulty down at will. You still unlock items by selling the dropped loot needed to craft them to the vendor, but you no longer use that loot up in creating the item. So if you get the one angel wing you need for new armor, you can buy that armor for every member of the party.
By and large I think that these changes are for the best. These are changes that smooth the basic Etrian Odyssey formula without removing anything that makes it fun. There are a few things that I found to go too far, though. I really don’t need a character pointing out every time I walk by a treasure chest or a secret passage. And warning me after every single battle when someone got low on health? That’s downright condescending. I’m not blind; these things are clearly visible and I’ll take care of them myself. Ultimately, though, these are small presentational quibbles, and if they really bug you there’s nothing stopping you from just turning off the voices in the options like I did.
Player babysitting aside, once you’re inside a dungeon this is a rock solid Etrian Odyssey-style spelunking experience. The dungeons look great for one thing—the surprisingly accomplished 3D engine Atlus rolled out for Etrian Odyssey IV looks better than ever here, and for once, the environments being rendered aren’t just fantasy staple settings. Some of the dungeons look downright trippy and are influenced by the artistic style of the Persona games in the best way.
The combat is the game’s greatest triumph, though. Etrian Odyssey has never had bad combat, but it’s always been very straightforward. It’s a blank sheet of paper on which the player’s decisions and customized characters play out to paint harrowing pictures of close escapes and triumphs against overwhelming odds. Persona Q by comparison doesn’t give the player nearly as much control over the party (characters level up gaining predetermined stats and abilities just like in Persona), but has a more dynamic set of systems within the combat screen.
Though you cannot decide what skills a character will learn or when, you CAN assign them a “sub Persona” that will give them additional skills and an HP/MP boost. The trick is that the sub-Persona boosts only apply in battle and refresh every battle. So in practice the bonus HP and MP at the end of a character’s meter are free resources to spend to win a fight, and those points are always spent first. Hitting enemy weaknesses doesn’t give bonus turns in this game like in Persona, but they do make the skills used on the next turn free (assuming the character isn’t damaged before taking their next turn).
This system leads to all sorts of interesting decisions. Do I want to put a high SP sub persona on Junpei since he has a low mana pool? Or do I put a high HP sub persona on him so he can spam his HP burning physical attacks that he has naturally? Is it better to put a sub persona on a character to give them more elemental options in their kit or is it worth putting a sub-persona on with skill redundancies for superior point boosts? Is it worth it to dip into Chie’s HP pool driving her down to dangerously low HP in order to ensure that her next attack can come for free? Do I risk waiting an extra turn in battle to heal so that I can use the free sub persona mana, or do I play it safe and wrap the battle up now and heal outside dipping into my precious non-renewable character mana?
Basically, it’s great. The emphasis on identifying and exploiting enemy weaknesses is there from Persona, but the limited disposable health and mana point pools given to the characters makes each battle a balancing act between what’s most effective against the enemies at hand and what can be cast without incurring permanent point loss. It’s not Etrian Odyssey combat, it’s better.
And at the end of the day, what else does an Etrian Odyssey game need? Interesting dungeons to map out, combat encounters that require the player pay attention for fear of death, and time spent staring at numbers as you figure out what to do with your party before tackling the next floor. The game does baby you along a little bit, but it’s never at the expense of a satisfying dungeon crawling experience. If you’re looking for a new Etrian Odyssey game and especially if you’re a little less than thrilled with the line of remakes that have been announced in lieu of an original Etrian Odyssey V, I think that the stylistically and mechanically distinct Persona Q will do nothing but please.
Food for thought:
1. Another thing I didn’t need—guidelines showing me where to draw nearby walls on the bottom screen. Back in my day, we squinted at the top screen, counting tiles out if we wanted to map a wall we weren’t directly adjacent.
2. Most of the time when a review code is sent out the publisher invites writers who get need help to contact them. I’ve always ignored those offers in the past, but I’ll freely admit that I had to cry uncle and contact Atlus for this one. The last puzzle in the third dungeon is an absolute doozy. Once I had it explained to me I thought it was really smart but… you should feel lucky that when you folks get there you’ll have online walkthroughs available.
3. Etrian Odyssey veterans will want to bump the battle speed up at least one setting, if not two. The pictures of personae being summoned when you cast skills slow the battles down criminally. I found that the middle setting (it defaults to the slowest speed out of three) was a good speed for most things and the fastest speed I reserved for grinding.