I’ll come right out with it now: I’m not normally a big fan of fighting games. That said, I AM a huge fan of Persona, and Persona 4 Arena is far and away the most fun I have ever had playing a fighting game. The game is beautiful, fluid, fun, easy to learn, rewarding to master and all around a fantastic entry point to a genre of games that often times comes across as wholly intimidating to newcomers. Story-wise, the game is a canonical sequel to 2008’s phenomenal J-RPG/Dating Sim/Collectible Monster Game, Persona 4. The “investigation team” from the first game is called back into the Midnight Channel to partake in a fighting tournament called the P1 Grand Prix, in which the high schoolers (and a few characters from the also Phenomenal Persona 3) engage in an all out brawl. If none of that made any sense to you, then the story mode will probably not be your main time-sink.
The story mode of the game will set you back about 20-40 hours to play through, and most of that will be reading walls of text in the same vein of a visual novel. If you aren’t a fan of the series, the presentation of the story mode will not entertain you in the leasti. Although, if you are familiar with the previous games, the story mode is richly written and all of the little references, as well as a solid and very canonical addition to the Persona mythos, will keep you coming back despite the dry presentation. The real meat and bones of the game, though, comes from the actual fighting, and boy that is some damn good fighting. To newcomers, the game is incredibly easy to pick up. Most Ark System Works other offerings (such as the BlazBlue franchise and the Guilty Gear franchise) offer up incredibly complicated inputs and combos to memorize to master the game. With Persona, however, they have taken a decidedly easier to learn route. Any player can, by landing a hit, land a long and flashy “auto combo” by tapping the X (Or square) button at the cost of potential damage output. This makes it incredibly easy to pick up and play right out of the box without much of a learning curve, but at the cost of doing the amount of damage actually learning inputs would give you. And the inputs themselves are a lot easier to pick up than other fighting games. Mostly consisting of turning the control stick in a quarter circleii and pressing a button for most characters, the basic abilities are easy to learn. A player’s ability is only impeded by how much time they want to spend learning each character’s play style, and each of the characters plays differently to the point where there is something for everyone. Want to throw magic at your opponents from a distance? iii Say hi to Yukiko. How about being an up close and personal grappler? What up, Kanji? No matter how you want to play, there is a character to suit your play style. Admittedly, only 13 characters is a little bit skimpy in comparison to Ultra Street Fighter 4’s 44, but each character plays so well and so individually from the others that it makes up for it. Another interesting mechanic of the game is the Persona use of personasiv.
Each character also carries with him/her a persona, or a characterization of their inner self, that they can use in combat. On an Xbox controller, the X and A button (Or square and x button) control your character’s attacks as a light and heavy attack. But the Y and B button (Or triangle and circle button) uses the character’s persona, dealing extra damage and acting alongside the main character. If the persona is hit by an opponent’s attack 4 times however, then it is “persona broken” meaning you have to wait a given cool-down time before you can use it again. There are innumerable ways this could have gone wrong, as it’s essentially using two characters at the same time, but Ark System Works and Atlus have found a way to make it work flawlessly, making controlling both characters and their abilities second nature. There are numerous other little mechanics the game offers up should you take the time to learn them, such as “one more canceling” or “Bursting” or “All out attacks…” the list goes on. Rest assured, if you take the time to learn the little nuances of the game, it all becomes a fluid battle between characters.
The game looks absolutely beautiful as well. Flash effects, camera flashes, beautifully hand drawn character models and backgrounds all come together to make this by far the most stylish fighting game I have seen in a good, long while. Every single battle looks like a hard fought effort with fire, wind and electricity flying everywhere as the characters and their personas land attacks, it’s really a sight to behold. The soundtrack, composed by Shoji Meguro, the composer of the original Persona 3 and 4, is just as masterful as ever. With infectiously toe tapping tunes that I still can’t seem to get out of my head even when I’m not playing.
If I had to give the game a weak point though, it would be its lack of interesting modes. Like any other fighting game, there is an arcade mode, where you fight opponents one after another, a training mode where you can try out characters and learn the game’s mechanics, a mission mode where you can learn each character’s combos, and an online mode which is pretty self explanatoryv. Honestly, it’s all pretty par for the course, but the game play in all of these areas, and the game’s overall presentation more than makes up for it. Still, the original RPGs were dungeon crawlers, so a dungeon crawl/fighting hybrid like the Abyss mode found in BlazBlue would have made a lot of sense in the game, it’s a shame it wasn’t included.
All in all, Persona 4 is a beautifully crafted fighting game that offers something for newbies and veterans of the genre alike, which makes me all the more unfathomably excited for Persona 4 Arena Ultimax this fall. Even if you have a bad history with fighting games, I highly recommend you give Persona 4 Arena a try, it very well may change your mind.
GameStop Price: $30, for pro members $26:99
Worth It?: Yeeeeeeessssssssssssss. Yes. A million times yes. If you are a fan of fighting games there’s no reason you shouldn’t own this already. If you’re a fan of the Persona franchise, there’s no reason you shouldn’t own this already. But if you’re new to both, this is a good jumping off point for those wanting to learn more about the ins and outs of fighting games. Just keep in mind that the story mode won’t mean much to you without previous Persona 4 knowledge. But then again, why haven’t you played Persona 4 anywayvi?