Persona 4 Arena Review: The Ultimate Fighting Game In Mayonaka Arena
Every once in a while in the realm of video games, there comes a moment that makes you say, “…Huh?”. For me, that moment was when I heard that my favorite RPG, Persona 4, was going to be made into a 2D fighter. How in the hell was ATLUS planning on translating a deep RPG all about social interaction and monster collecting/breeding into a one-on-one fighter? However, when I saw that Arc System Works, the developer behind Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, would be working on the title, my worries were immediately quelled. The result of their team-up has brought us Persona 4 Arena, a 2D fighter that shares DNA with both Arc System Works games and the Persona series, while also giving us quite possibly the best fighter of 2012.
Persona 4 Arena is a complete package, containing 13 unique characters, several game modes, and hours upon hours of content.
Persona 4 Arena pits a total of 13 characters from the Persona universe (2 of them being new to the series, though they are essentially the same character) in a tournament called the P-1 Grand Prix, a challenge to see who the strongest Persona user is. However, it more or less just gives us a reason to watch this group of friends beat the snot out of each other. Like most fighters, you can play through Arcade mode for a standard series of fights, Score Attack to challenge yourself against uber strong CPU opponents, Network mode to take your skills online, and a rather robust Story mode for those who would rather read than fight. On top of that, Training, Lesson, and Challenge modes help you to grasp the basics of the game while teaching you more and more about the individual fighters.
Combat in Persona 4 Arena is similar to other Arc System Works games, albeit with a few twists. Two attack buttons are for your character’s heavy and light attacks, where rapidly tapping the light attack button will automatically chain together a combo for you should the attack connect. The other two attack buttons control your character’s Persona, a sort of protective guardian unique to each character. When attacking with your Persona, they quickly appear to attack and then vanish, almost similar to the assist attacks in the Marvel vs Capcom games. However, your Persona is vulnerable to attacks while out, and can be temporarily disabled should they take enough damage. Each character has several skills and special attacks that they use with the usual “Quarter-circle forward/backward + Attack”, although some skills may require the use of your SP gauge, which fills as you attack. Thankfully, the overall fighting system is fairly simple to learn and get a grasp of, and newer players can still do fine without mastering Bursts, which blasts enemies away from you when you’re feeling cornered, or One More Attacks which cancels your attack animation in order to lengthen a combo.
The roster of fighters in this game is truly unique, just as they were in their respective games. The protagonist character from Persona 4, named Yu Narukami here, is a well balanced fighter with some devastating ranged attacks, whereas Yosuke Hanamura, the wisecracking sidekick, uses his disco ninja frog Persona (not making that up) to attack foes with blinding speed. Kanji Tatsumi is the slow brawler of the bunch, focusing on grabs, anti air attacks, and a folding chair to beat down the opposition. The detective Naoto Shirogane uses her gun to attack foes from range while inflicting status ailments. The rest of the cast is made up of an ice-using fencer, a boxer, robots, and a few others. My personal favorites, however, are Chie Satonaka, a kung-fu loving girl who uses speed and brute strength to overwhelm opponents, and Teddie, the “mascot character” of Persona 4 who can attack with random items and silly, cartoon like abilities. Were these characters not from ATLUS RPGs, you would think they were right at home alongside the cast of Guilty Gear.
This game is gorgeous, by the way. As per usual with Arc System Works, all of the characters are hand drawn sprites, giving them a life of their own and looking truly stunning against the darker 3D backgrounds. The music, from longtime Persona series composer Shoji Meguro, is amazing, featuring some awesome new tracks as well as excellent arrangements of music from previous games. On top of that, the game’s Story mode offers a ton of insight into the reason behind the tournament, giving die hard Persona 4 fans more of the characters they love while the wait for Persona 5 drags on (which, if the ending is indication, will be well worth the wait!). However, Persona 4 Arena has a few, slight problems. First of all, the Story mode, while great for fans, may drag on a bit too much. Don’t be surprised to sit there listening to the characters chat for 30 minutes before you even get to a fight. The game comes with a Gallery mode that lets you listen to music and view artwork, though it would have been a bit cooler to purchase these things with points earned from, say, Network mode. Speaking of which, online play can be downright laggy. I’ve seem to have had more lag filled fights than smooth ones, which really upsets me as someone who is trying to get into 2D fighters. Hopefully these issues can be fixed in order to create a much more flawless online experience. However, these small problems barely even register with me, as I’ve had too much fun playing Versus mode with friends or honing my skills in Arcade mode to be bothered.
You have to give ATLUS and Arc System Works credit for making a traditional RPG work as a traditional fighting game with nary a hitch. I’ve never been shy about my love for the Persona 4 cast and story, and it’s great to see them used so well in a different genre completely different from the original. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see the roster filled out with other faces from the series as DLC (though don’t get too carried away, guys). Fans of Persona 4 should go ahead and give this game a shot, even if they aren’t so great with fighters, as Persona 4 Arena is simple enough to give newbies a fighting chance while retaining some complexity for the more hardcore fighting fans. Go out and get this game, as it would be a “BEAR-y” bad move if you passed this one up.
Persona 4 Arena is available now on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 (reviewed).