Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth Review (3DS, 2018)

If the Dancing games weren't enough, here's another fanservice Persona game. New Cinema Labyrinth plays a lot like its predecessor, people who've played the 2014 release of Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth will feel quite at home. However there's still some notable changes and differences between the two games. For one, there is now only a story route from the perspective of the Persona 5 protagonist. The teams and characters from P4 and 5 are back as well, but the protagonists from those games aren't voiceless. Their names can still be chosen by the player, though. The combat has been adjusted to play more like a Persona game. Hitting an enemy's weak spot now inflicts the down status, and downing all enemies allows for an all out attack which is now easier to execute. On the downside just hitting all weakspots and executing said all out attack is rarely enough to wipe out a monster party. New Cinema Labyrinth retains the strong point of coming with a battle system that requires some strategy to competently make it through the dungeons. Aside from no longer triggering all out attacks the game keeps the boost status unchanged. Downing enemies may trigger support from characters outside of the party to help downing enemies that remain standing, and later on can trigger a new feature called Unison Attack. Unison attacks are special attacks in which multiple characters pitch in to deal large damage to enemies. One might think of them as light variants of all out attacks that have a unique animation each.

Much like in the first entry of the PQ series there's a couple of new characters setting the stage for the story. However this time neither of them can be placed in the active party. It's an understandable decision considering the game already has a set of 23 battle characters to choose from. The focus on the main story remains dim until the very end of the game, but this time around the plot starts to pop up as early as the fourth dungeon as opposed to being silent until the last dungeon. Players who aren't much into the gameplay aspect may find this disheartening, but I'm glad the game focuses on the dungeon crawling instead. Truth be told the skit events in Persona Q2 are already enough of a distraction from the core gameplay. In Shadow of the Labyrinth these could be viewed independently from the dungeon exploration sessions, whereas New Cinema Labyrinth mixes them with the general exploration where they personally mostly just annoyed me. They're still optional in the way they're tied to quests. I preferred the way Shadow of the Labyrinth handled these. Unlike the previous game quests in New Cinema Labyrinth also ask of you to retrack through already explored sections of the dungeons, making for even worse pacing in comparison to games that let you work on quests as you go through the main game. The writing is on about the same level as the previous game. Characters obviously lack development so they're reduced to certain traits of their personalities that they repeat over and over. This gets old very fast. If you ask me the game could have less than half of its actual text volume and I'd be happier for it. Most of the dialogue feels like filler to give each of the almost 30 characters an equal amount of screen time. But that issue mostly lies with the optional skits - the main story centering on the new characters still delivers.

The dungeon crawling has been simplified. Mazes are smaller and less confusing than they were in the previous game. While FOEs are still a thing and a threat that is best avoided and each dungeon still has its unique mechanic to play around, the game now features extensive tutorials that explain the player how to deal with each type of FOE and puzzle mechanic. I felt pretty insulted by those and would have preferred a puzzle difficulty setting that would have let me figure those out on my own.
Random encounters can vary in their difficulty depending on the player party's persona setup. As such the game's difficulty lies in preparing the right set of Personas for their skills. Series veterans should find the game rather easy, but it's probably relentless for newcomers. But then the game aims at long time fans of the Persona series so the difficulty could have rather been higher instead. Boss encounters require the player to think up stragegies on the spot, but are not especially difficult beyond that. All in all I found the game quite a bit easier than Shadow of the Labyrinth.

Visually and soundwise New Cinema Labyrinth is a mixed bag. It's got a pleasant art style and the music is good. However the visuals lack impact due to the omission of the consoles 3D effect, and the music does not quite reach the heights of previous Persona games. It's a real bummer because the game already performs somewhat worse than Shadow of the Labyrinth with the gimped difficulty and its filler quests, so while it's still a good game it unfortunatly doesn't quite deliver on the same level as its predecessor. Still worth a playthrough for long time fans, especially those who liked the first spinoff on 3DS. New fans who've been introduced with Persona 5 should consider playing Persona 3 and 4 first since a lot of the game's appeal will be lost on them otherwise.

Now the game has not been announced for a western release so far, but with the Persona 5 protagonist making his debut in Super Smash Bros. I'd expect them to make the announcement around the time they're showing more of the Persona content in Smash.
Edit: Seems like a western release is confirmed: