Persona 4 Arena (PlayStation3)
Developer: Arc System Works, Atlus
Publisher: Atlus USA
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: August 7, 2012
When Atlus and Arc System Works came together to make a fighting game sequel to the popular Persona RPG franchise, I'm not sure anyone really knew what to expect. The familiar sights and sounds of Atlus's amazing characters and the development prowess behind great 2D "Anime" fighters like BlazBlue and Guilty Gear seemed to be a match made in heaven, or at least in Mayonaka Arena.
When you think of Persona 4, and its recent reiteration, Persona 4 Golden, story and characterization are the most prominent thoughts. Few other games have as many great story lines apart from the main arc. While the volume of story in Persona 4 Arena can be compared to its RPG brethren, the same cannot be said in terms of quality. The story isn't bad; it's simply "there" in most cases. A stolen piece of equipment from the Kirijo Group's past ill-fated experiments, the return of Persona 4's protagonist to Inaba over Golden Week, and reemergence of the midnight channel sound altogether better than the story ends up panning out. Fans of the characters will most likely be annoyed that so many fall backwards in terms of development, victims to the trappings of plotlines long since resolved. All is not lost, however, as Persona fans undoubtedly are hungry for more mystery and that is added in terms of the new character Labrys. Without spoiling anything, Labrys's story mode, though it takes awhile to unlock, is by far the best and worth every bit of the massive walls of text the story mode usually throws at you between fights. Those completely uninterested in reading a novel can check out the arcade mode which will give a brief version of the game's story with far less reading.
The story and arcade modes are hardly the only modes. In fact, Persona 4 Arena has more than its fair share. The lesson mode walks new players through the basics of the game while challenge mode will allow players a place to polish up their skills with a particular character and learn advanced combos and timing. There is also a versus mode, a network mode, a practice mode, and a theater mode. Most of them provide what is expected but with a certain balance. The game doesn't punish players who have little fighting game experience. The game doesn't hand-hold poor players either. It's good to see this balance exist for those on either side of the coin; fans of Atlus's Persona series and fans of Arc System's fighting games.
See, this game has legs… I mean combos.
When it comes to the actual fighting this game doesn't disappoint. The lesson mode teaches you there is an easy combo for players to rely on until they learn the ropes, but they are soon outgrown when greater combos are learned. Being able to combine attacks from your character and their Persona both can create some satisfying and unique combos I had tons of fun with it. The diversity of characters is pleasing as well. 13 characters from both Persona 3 and Persona 4 don’t sound like a lot but many of them have a diverse move set that covers all the bases. Like Guilty Gear, Persona 4 Arena uses a cancel system that allows you to take combos even further at the expense of SP, which is generated much like any other fighting game's super meter. Timing seems to play a really large role in the game and, compared to BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, the range of many attacks seems a lot shorter. Rest assured the game is every bit as fast paced as other Arc System Works titles with much of the same mechanics like bursting, awakened state, and instant kills. Players will also have new mechanics to employ, such as Persona breaks and all-out attacks.
Since the franchise name will likely bring out many fans of the Persona series, Arc System Works did a great job giving players plenty of Persona's personality. The static images shown between fights and in the game's story and arcade modes are dead ringers for the RPG game's signature style. Backgrounds are familiar locations, from the TV entrance from Junes, to the various rooms and halls at Yasogami high school are great treats for fans to experience once again. Fans will likely swoon over the music in Persona 4 Arena as well, with classics like Heartbeat, Heartbreak, Reach Out to the Truth, and the ominous Velvet Room theme music playing at nearly every turn. Voicing our favorite characters are the actors from the Persona 4 Golden version of the game. This means a new Teddie and a new Chie as well as the protagonist's voice actor from the Persona 4 The Animation. Rounding out the nostalgia is the move set, which feels amazing for those who have likely devoted more than their fair share of time to the RPG titles. My only complaint is a lack of alternate costumes. Anyone who has played Persona 4 Golden will know what I'm talking about. A multitude of vanity costumes could be used to dress up your characters without affecting their equipment but Persona 4 Arena only includes different color schemes of the default costume.
Is this a meat dimension?
Since the fighting is sprite based, many of the characters appear in a way that is a bit unfamiliar but the designs do the characters justice. The animations for attacks are spectacular, just as you would expect for skills like God Hand, Hama, and Zionga. Characters like Aigis and Teddie have out-of-this-world animations that are as great to watch as they are to play as. In fact, going online with Persona 4 Arena's online multiplayer does a lot to give the old arcade feel to fans. Like Mortal Kombat and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 before it; online lobbies can have up to 8 people that can watch each other play between matches until their turn is up. Watching people play online can be a really good way to improve and even when playing matches yourself you can save and rewatch your online matches from the game's theater. There is another benefit to watching these and, for me, it was simply to admire the details of the game from the animations to gorgeous level design.
The most admirable thing about Persona 4 Arena is that it is approachable for all players. There are so many aspects of the game that will appeal to fans of Persona, from the ability to play as their favorite characters to the design and music. While the story leaves a bit to be desired, it does provide an impressively different approach to narrative in a fighting game. Fighting game fans will likely enjoy the fast paced, combo driven fights and will have plenty of combat depth to keep them experimenting with devastating new combos. There are plenty of ranked and casual online modes as well to ensure continued entertainment even if the story heavy single player modes prove to be a turn off. The online mode seems to have a particularly good netcode for relatively lag free matches as well as a great player base. When it comes right down to it, Persona 4 Arena isn't doing anything groundbreaking, but the attention to detail and design are great and worth checking out for Atlus fans, Arc System Works fans, or anyone in between. The fact that this game has also seen a few price drops since release only sweetens this deal. So what are you guys waiting for, a "persona" invitation to the Velvet Room?