Review: Persona 4 Arena

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A Persona fighting game by ARC System Works? Being a huge Persona and fighting game fan it never occurred to me that I could even want such a thing. But sure enough, Atlus and ARC have joined forces to create Persona 4 The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena or simply Persona 4 Arena.

How will the characters from a slow paced JRPG work in a frenetic fighting game? How can they welcome new players and fans of the series without alienating fighting game enthusiasts? Find out after the jump.

Persona 4 Arena
Systems: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 [Reviewed]
Developer: ARC System Works, Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Released: August 7, 2012
MSRP: $59.99

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Persona 4 is Atlus’ critically acclaimed JRPG starring plucky highschoolers who use summonable entities within their personalities called “Personas” to solve a serial murder case in the foggy town of Inaba.

ARC System Works creates some of the most flamboyant and complex fighting games ever.

What happens when you get ARC to make a game based on Persona 4? You get one of the most well designed fighting games of the year.

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While most fighting games have you searching for your essential moves across the roster of characters, Persona 4 Arena eliminates the guess work by having all the moves standard. All your important moves like your anti-air attacks, your sweeps, your overheads, and your briefly-invincible reversal attacks (think Ryu’s uppercut from street fighter 2) are available to all characters and have the same simple inputs. The convenience doesn’t stop there, for the most part special moves end up sharing the same inputs across characters and avoid finicky stick motions all together, which is nice especially coming from ARC who is somewhat notorious for having tricky motions for special moves. There is even an auto combo which is done by mashing on a single button to help out beginners or those not as dexterous.

Each character is controlled with the joystick and four buttons, two for the character themselves (Labeled A and B), the other two (Labeled C and D) for their accompanying Persona (which, judging by the name, ends up being the defining part of combat). With the C and D buttons you can summon your Persona as much as you want. Their attacks and controllability will differ from character to character, but range from simple slashes to magnets that pull your opponent closer to lightning bolts that prevent your opponent from moving. Your Personas even have their own special and super moves. It’s almost like you are playing two characters at once. Yes, they are powerful, but be careful how you use them because they can be attacked which then breaks one of the cards you see below your health bar. They don’t recover, and once all four have been broken it’s a dangerous amount of time before they return.

While there are only thirteen characters, every one is vastly different in play style and strategy so don’t let standard inputs fool you. Each one, combined with their Persona, brings a lot of moves to play with and master. Narukami, the lead character, ends up being the jack-of-all-trades and has all the tools you need to play a balanced game. It only gets crazier from there. Characters include Elisabeth, who can zone with powerful spells and have her Persona harass you from a screen away; Chie, who is a rush down and offensive monster; and Shadow Labrys, a robot school girl with an axe who always has her giant demon bull Persona on screen and will fuck you up if you’re not careful.

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The characters are all so different and fun to use that you won’t miss fumbling around guessing what input does what move for which character. Instead, you can focus on the application of each character’s move set and formulate strategies.

While all these decisions, Persona mechanics, and character variety sound fine on paper, it means nothing if the game isn’t fun to play, which is something I was afraid of after playing BlazBlue, ARC System Work’s previous fighting game. BlazBlue was my first ARC game and while I ended up loving everything about the game, the characters, the story, the gameplay ideas, and the music, I just couldn’t stand playing it. I can’t figure out completely why, but my best guess was that it felt too slow at entry level, and with all the options I was lost as to how to approach the game.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case this time. With the essential tools and special moves being easy to use, I was able to jump right in. The basics of the game were immediately understandable and the game felt exciting and moved at a brisk enough pace for me to want to keep playing.

The more I played the more I saw the depth the game had to offer. Sure you could keep mashing A for auto combos, but the game has so much more to offer. And while there are big combos, you can always burst out of them with combo breakers, which is nice, especially coming from Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Besides, the more practical ones tend to be smaller and easier to do with a bit of practice.

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But combos aren’t even the most interesting part of the game. The bulk of it is based around using your Personas to set up favorable situations for you to beat your opponent. Whether it’s using them to get in for the combo, keeping your opponent out, or baiting mistakes out of your opponent, there are many ways to play beyond simple combos.

Persona 4 Arena’s mechanics are topnotch, and while I would have been pleased with only VS and Practice mode, the game provides plenty of ways to use these mechanics. You get all the standard stuff you’d find in modern games, an arcade mode, a combo challenge mode, a score attack mode, and an excellent training mode.

Training mode is similar to BlazBlue, offering all its useful features and then some. You can alter a bunch of parameters from status effects like recovery to character specific attributes. There are 3 dummy recording slots so you can set up any situation you can think of and play them back in any order. Also, with one button you can move the dummy into place then press the same button to start recording. This is much better than just the usual record, move dummy into place, stop recording, and then start recording what you actually want then repeat if you mess up. It’s more streamlined and easy to use. I am very pleased with the training mode, and I am getting a lot of use out of it.

But really, the stand out mode for Persona fans is the story mode. Being a direct sequel, the story takes place 3 months after the end of Persona 4 and two years after Persona 3. It plays out like a visual novel with over 30 hours of text boxes (complete with character portraits), voiced dialog, and animated cut scenes sprinkled throughout. This might seem simple, especially compared to Mortal Kombat’s story mode, but Persona fans should be used to it (speaking from experience) and find the story enjoyable.

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Story mode itself is much more convenient to use and a big improvement over BlazBlue. You can skip segments you already read and have up to up to five save slots to replay and continue from branching segments. You can even let the text dialog advance itself, a feature I made use of while I folded laundry.

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But if you’re not up for text boxes or the repressed emotions of robot school girls, then the online modes will have fighting game purists covered. While initially the Xbox 360 version was laggy for both the Japanese and North American launch, it’s been fixed impressively quickly. Now it works great and has all the standard bells and whistles fans have come to expect, like eight player lobbies, spectating, and replay saving. Though it’s got nothing too fancy it has everything you need and works well thanks to that patch.

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If you’re a fan of the Persona series and a fan of the ARC System Works’ fighting games, Persona 4 Arena is a must buy. I don’t know how much of an overlap in the gaming community that will be, but I wholly recommend this game. I got it a day after release and it’s like crack, I want to play it every moment I get. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll be putting more hours into Persona 4 Arena.

Game 5/5

Well I can’t play just yet, I gotta tell you about all the hotness – Persona 4 Arena is one sexy game. Just look at those sprites. They’re big, vibrant, and beautifully animated. They may not have as many frames of animation as Skullgirls, but they are just as expressive, if not more. Every character has lots of exaggerated actions which portray their personalities. You just can’t get this type of animation with 3D models. This is ARC System Work’s specialty. Every moment is a treat for the eyes.

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And it’s not just the sprites, the Persona series has always had very stylish presentation and that transfers over brilliantly into Arena. The huds and menus are distinctly Persona and super stylish. The menus are cool to look at and are satisfying to use. Sometimes I would just sit at the main menu and listen to the music while flip through the different options to get that audible feed back. It’s that good.

But I bet that wasn’t the sexiness you had in mind.

Persona has always been a classy series in my opinion and tries to be subtle about its sensuality. Much like Mass Effect, the attractions to the characters come mostly from their personalities. You’ll get acquainted with them through the story mode but playing Persona 4 definitely aids or strengthens you appreciation for these characters. The more time you spend with them the closer your “bond” with them will be, you may even form a crush on some of them. I know because I am way too into Kanji and Elisabeth.

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Persona 4 Arena ends up being one of the few fighters on the market without giant chested women in skimpy outfits in the roster. Not that I find anything wrong with busty women in skimpy outfits, but persona tries to be sexy in non-obvious ways. Sure there is some overt hotness, like Chie’s shapely legs of steel or Mitsuru’s skin tight battle suit, but even then it’s pretty classy compared to other games, in my opinion. Another point I find interesting is that women make up more than half of the cast and are portrayed quite well.

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While other fighting games are trying lure customers with assorted bikini DLC, Persona 4 Arena just asserts it’s classiness by offering glasses instead. This is mostly fanservice for players of Persona 4, but it totally got me because I’m a bit of a glasses fetishist, and yes, I love seeing Elisabeth in glasses.

So yeah, if you already care about these characters you’re sure to get enjoyment out of this game. Not tightening-of-your-pants kind of enjoyment but more of the warm and fuzzy feeling in your heart type.

Hotness 3/5

– Sullivan O. Bradley

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