I am a huge fan of both the Shin Megami Tensei games, especially the Persona branch of the RPG series. I love their style, stories and the game play on offer. If you know me, you know I’m an avid fighting game player as well. It should come as no surprise that when I heard Atlus and Arc System Works were releasing a fighting game that took place in the Persona universe, I was excited. That anticipation was not met with disappointment.
Persona 4 Arena is a fighting game that has an emphasis on story and complexity of actions in the fighting portions of the game. You play as the cast of Persona 4 and some characters from Persona 3. The game takes place 2 months after the events of Persona 4. The Midnight Channel is back, and a new threat has emerged. Now it’s up to the Investigation Squad to return back to the TV world, find out what’s going on and stop whatever is happening.
The game has many modes to play through. There’s the standard arcade mode, the fully fleshed out story mode, score attack, challenges to take on, training mode and versus (both online and local). There’s enough here to keep any player busy for a while. The story mode is where you will get most of your character interactions and set pieces, and by that I mean a ton of dialog. The Persona fans will be pleased to know that the story mode does not skimp out on the narrative. Each character has their own unique section of the story to play, and you will begin to see and unlock new connections among the cast. There is very little fighting in the story mode. Still, for those who want it, it is mostly voice acted and very well written.
The fighting in the game is very unique. Since this game is based on a Japanese RPG, the fighting system has incorporated a lot of things from the core series. Status ailments like shock, panic and poison are here. In fact, if you play too defensively for too long, you will begin to suffer lower defense because you are running away. Things like this are something you never see in a fighting game.
The game uses a four button system: two for physical attacks and two for Persona attacks. In Persona, characters can summon a being that will aid them in battle. This exists in Persona 4 Arena as well. Think of them a little like an assist from a partner in a Vs. game, but you can use them for multiple attacks. There is a light and strong attack for both kinds that can be comboed into each other much like in BlazBlue. So if you were to hit A, B, C in succession, it would create a combo. The game also utilizes a super meter called the SP gauge. The game uses mostly quarter circle moves to pull off the special attacks. If you have ever played a Street Fighter game, you will be right at home here.
Now, the entire fighting concept is simple (only four buttons and a simple combo system), but you would never imagine how deep and complex this game can really be. There are counters, dodges, double jumps, super jumps, hops, All-Out Attacks, One More Attacks and even HP-consuming fierce attacks at your disposal. All can be executed with simple button presses, but knowing when to use them and how to combo them into your attacks is what separates the casual player from the hardcore combatants.
Certain special moves can be powered up by hitting two buttons instead of only one. This will require some SP, but it does more damage, much like an EX attack in Street Fighter IV. The combo options in this game seem to never end. There is even an auto combo that you can use just by hitting A a number of times. This auto combo can even activate a super attack if you have the meter for it. It makes the game more accessible for beginner players to still have some fun against the competition.
Aside from status effect, there are other small systems you need to keep in mind while fighting. If your Persona gets hit by your opponent four times, you suffer a Persona Break and can’t use any attacks that would require a Persona for a period of time. There is also a BURST meter. It begins full. During this time, you can perform a Burst attack or a Burst Defense move. Offensively, these push your opponent away from you and will refill your entire SP gauge if it connects. Defense moves activate when you burst while blocking. This will give you some breathing room if you’re getting rushed, but won’t fill your SP gauge.
The challenge mode offers up combos to try out and learn to improve your chances if you take the fight online or to the couch. Each character has their own set of challenges and completing them all will take you a good amount of time. When experimenting on your own, training mode has a ton of options to put the opponent in different positions or let you even take them over with a simple button press. More fighting games need to do this.
Of course, with all fighting games, you have to talk about the online mode. I reviewed this on the Xbox 360 and the first two days after this game was released, the net code was horrible. The lag was making the game sometimes unplayable. The good news is Atlus released a patch that fixed every single problem I had with the net code. The game now runs smooth as butter online. It offers up a nice ranking system that looks almost like an RPG stat screen, full lobbies with spectator mode, a replay saver and viewer and leader boards. It is robust, and after the patch, it is working very well. The only problem is that the matchmaking is off. Many times it’s like I’m either put with someone who is ten times better than me, or someone who just bought the game, and I end up playing them over and over again even when I search again. This even happens when I set it to search for “people about the same skill as me.”
The game looks beautiful in the 2D sprite-based setting. The animations and backgrounds look amazing, and the overall presentation is impressive and still keeps that Persona 4 style with the overuse of yellow and the design of the menus. The voice acting, as stated above is very well done, and the use of both Persona 4 and 3 music as well as remixed songs from the series is exactly what the game needed. Even a heavy metal fan like me can’t help but sing the lyrics to Reach out to the Truth when it starts to play during a fight.
The fan service for Persona fans is really nice, and the story mode, while it may turn off pure fighting game players, is well fleshed out with dialog and brings all the memorable characters back for another go.
The game is very complex yet so accessible. It’s hard to explain without going into a two hour detail of it, but I can see how fans of both Persona and fighting games can pick this game up, learn at their own pace, and still have a blast with it in the end. The story and presentation is top notch, and the fighting system itself is amazing for what it does and how it incorporates the RPG elements of Persona into the fighting system. The online, now that it is patched, works great and can support a community of fighting game players for a very long time. I highly suggest fighting game and Persona fans pick this game up.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.