When Atlus announced that they were teaming up with Arc System Works to create the newest entry into the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series, I was pretty surprised. Even more surprised when Atlus said that Persona 4 Arena was going to be part of the Persona canon. The one thing that worried me was that Persona 4 Arena had to satisfy two sets of fans. In one corner you had JRPG fans who were familiar with the Persona series, but may not be familiar with the fighting genre, and in the other corner you had fans of Arc System’s franchises with Guilty Gear and BlazBlue.
I was a bit concerned on how the end product would turn out, but I had faith in Atlus and Arc System. And boy did their project turn out. Persona 4 Arena is not just one of the best fighting games to be released this year, but it’s also a great entry into the Persona series.
Persona 4 Arena is set two months after the ending of Persona 4 and two years after Persona 3. The Midnight Channel has returned, and it is up to the Investigation Team to find out what is happening. Upon furthering their investigation, they discover a fighting tournament that allows the the combatants to take out their pent up anger out on eachother. While the Investigation Team is dealing with the tournament, members of the Kirijo Group (which consists of the three P3 members) investigate cases related to Shadows. The story is written by Atlus’ Persona 4 team, making the quality of the story is top-notch.
Each of the thirteen characters has their own playable chapter, and it will take you around thirty hours to complete the story in its entirety. The lengthy story is told via visual novel style, with highly detailed images and a thorough amount of text delivering the narrative. Not to say you’ll be reading the entire time though, Persona 4 features some good voice acting for both English and Japanese audio tracks. If you are familiar with BlazBlue or The King of Fighters, then you’ll know what to expect. Despite the game’s well written story, I fear it may be a little slow for some. The text will scroll at a snail’s pace, and there will be times when voice acting is completely absent.
As a warning, if you have not played Persona 4 before and are waiting for Persona 4: The Golden to arrive, you might want to consider putting the story on hold. Naturally, many of the plot points from Persona 4 are discussed, and if Persona 4: The Golden will be your first time experiencing the story, many of the twists will lose a great deal of impact.
If you are playing Persona 4 Arena just for the story, you don’t need to worry about the difficulty. You can breeze through the fights by pulling off an instant combo thanks to button mash friendly light attacks. There may be some fights that provide a little challenge, but the difficulty has been intentionally kept low.
Persona 4 Arena carries the other modes that you would expect from a fighting game. There is an arcade mode (with its own little story), score attack, versus, tutorial, challenge, and online versus. The tutorial is not as extensive as that provided in the BlazBlue series, but it gets the job done. Arcade has you fighting nine battles versus the A.I., and once finished, you unlock a character ending. My only complaint with arcade is that the endings are very similar between characters and the A.I. is a little too easy—even on the higher difficulties. Score attack does provide a nice challenge to those seeking it, while Challenge Mode is a very good way to getting accustomed to the characters, and you will learn some useful combos—as well as some impractical ones.
Graphically, Persona 4 Arena is stunning. It seems that Arc System is constantly one-upping themselves with every game they release. The sprite work is wonderfully animated and carefully detailed, the backgrounds look great, and the effects from specials and supers are a joy to see. Sadly, at first glance the HUD can be a little tricky to understand, what with its health bar, persona cards, super meter, burst meter, status effects and more. New comers will be overwhelmed, but a few matches will soon get everybody accustomed to its mechanics.
Complimenting Persona 4 Arena’s excellent presentation is its soundtrack. Comprised of remixes from tunes that appeared in Persona 3 and 4, fans of the series are in for a treat. Everyone has returned to reprise their roles from Persona 3 and Persona 4, except for the English Teddie and Chie. Overall, the voice acting is great and Atlus has given players the option of a Japanese or English track. The sound effects from your attacks and specials all add into the great audio, making Persona 4 Arena a winner in this department.
However, all that high production can leave you prone to sensory overload. Combine the visual spectacle from your specials, having a Persona on the field, having awakening initiated, and the various sound effects going on, you will be overwhelmed for the first few matches. This is a big complaint for people that are only interested in the story and nothing else. But Arc System is undoubtedly one of the best with over-the-top style and excellent production values.
Underneath all that flare, a core fighting system must reside, and Persona 4 Arena doesn’t disappoint. Using a square button layout that differs from Blazblue and Guilty Gear, veterans might be thrown. Newcomers will quickly pick up this system and it’s not long before you’re performing crazy scenarios that rival any anime out there. To help you achieve this, Persona 4 Arena is kitted out with all the usual anime fighter moveset; double jumps, air dashes, super meters, bursts, and all the other standard stuff. The fights are fast paced, and reward a relentless offensive style. But don’t let the offensive play fool you, you will need wit and quick defensive skills if you plan to take it to the next level.
It’s fortunate that Arc System continues their tradition of quality over quantity. With thirteen fighters to choose from, you might be mistaken for feeling that the content is limited. However, each of the thirteen fighters feel different from each other, and it won’t take long to find the right one to fit your play style. If you’re an all out fighter, a level headed zoner, or perhaps a mixture of the two, Persona 4 Arena is bound to have a character for you.
What sets Persona 4 Arena apart from other fighters are the “Personas”. Each character has a Persona linked to them, and they act as extensions when in combat. It’s a little tricky to explain in words, but the closest game I can compare Persona 4 Arena is with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (which I believe has influenced the Persona series as a whole).
Once you get accustomed to what is happening on screen and you have the mechanics down, you’ll want to put your skills to the test online. You have ranked match, player match, and lobbies that you can participate in. When in the lobbies you can spectate the matches until it is your turn, and you may learn a thing or two when watching. Of course, fighting is the best way to actually learn in any fighting game, and I am happy to say that there is little-to-no lag in Persona 4 Arena. Once again, Arc System has shown that you can have a visual feast and still maintain smooth gameplay over the network.
There is a neat RPG-like system for the ranked matches. After each match, you will gain experience points that go towards your overall rank (F-S) and your character rank (1-60+). Each character has their own ranking, meaning completionists will have their hands full trying to max out each of the thirteen characters (without cheating, of course). It is a nice little gimmick that doesn’t affect gameplay, and adds an RPG flourish to Persona 4 Arena.
However, the replay system is very basic. At the end of the match, you will decide whether or not to save your replay, and it will be uploaded. However, the replays are just in a list and are not graded, SSFIVAE style. It can take along time before discovering any good matches to watch, but it is better than not having a replay system at all.
Simply put, Persona 4 Arena is one of the best fighting games released this year. While there is an initial learning curve, this is the easiest Arc System game to pickup and play. The story is extremely well written, the fighting is fast paced, the roster is diverse, and the online runs without a hitch. If you are either a fan of the Persona series or a fan of fighting games, I would highly recommend that you pick Persona 4 Arena up right now.