Persona 4 Arena
Developer: Arc System Works
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Persona 4: Arena is a 2D fighting game that is published by Atlus and developed by Arc System Works, who are well known for their own popular fighting game series: “Blazblue” and “Guilty Gear”. The idea of the Persona series being combined with a 2D fighting system was not something that Persona fans saw coming, and yet the potential of it sparked plenty of excitement. The biggest question about this title has been whether it’s truly worth the purchase if you’re a Persona fan, or just a fighting game fan. Here in this review, I’ll get into detail on both counts.
Story: Taking place two months after the events of Atlus’ Persona 4, Yu Narukami has returned to Inaba during the Spring holiday break in order to reunite with his best friends. It was only a year ago when they all started an investigation team to stop a string of mass murders that involved innocent victims being thrown inside a mysterious TV world and displayed on the rumored “Midnight Channel” . Thanks to the mysterious power of Persona, they were able to solve the puzzle behind the Midnight Channel and crack the case for good. However, Yu is surprised to learn that the Midnight Channel is back and that one of his closest friends, Teddie, is hosting a P-1 Grandprix fighting tournament and calling himself “The General”.
Persona 4 Arena has a grand total of twelve different character scenarios and you first start off with only four available: Yu Narukami, Yosuke Hanamura, Yukiko Amagi and Chie Satonaka. As you finish each character’s story mode, you’ll unlock other scenarios and slowly begin to solve the mystery of why the Midnight Channel came back. Each story primarily takes place inside the same huge environment, but they all play out differently and whichever character you choose will be considered the hero of the story. Those expecting a simple plot are in for a huge surprise, as this game holds a massive, novel-type experience for each character. Each story holds so much text that you’ll find yourself still reading the intro after the first hour of playing, unless you decidde to quickly skim through it. One character story in particular has just one fight but literally took two hours of text reading. On the bright side, despite the repetitive part of the story mode Atlus did another fantastic job with the scriptwriting, to the point that the most text-heavy story is an unbelievably emotional one that really pulls on your heartstrings.
Regrettably, the story mode has a major flaw that at times renders it rather stressful and dull. While the the stories work out very differently they also take place in the same setting, so you’ll be forced to hear the same plot points being introduced over and over again in a very repetitive pattern. Furthermore, though as a fighting game this will attract players who love that genre, the story mode might be too much for that crowd. Besides how much reading is involved in story mode, Persona 4 Arena is potentially a sequel to both Persona 3: FES and Persona 4. If you’re a huge fan of Persona or even visuals, you’ll find the stories to be fun, interesting and big foreshadowing for future games to come. The scenarios do provide information about them so you don’t have to play them, yet I don’t recommend skipping them and missing out on having a full appreciation for the characters, the dialogue and everything that’s happening with the plot. It’s one thing to read about who these characters are, but it’s another to experience the development and the trials that they all went through.
Gameplay: This game was in good hands with Arc System Works thanks to their their previous experience with the Blazblue and Guilty Gear series. Like most 2D fighting titles, every character plays differently and uses their own unique techniques to reach victory. Characters like Yu Narukami use swords, while others like Chie use raw kung-fu power to destroy any enemies in her way. The twist behind this game though is that all the characters can use their Persona in battle, and summoning them to create combos can get you out of really tight spots. Different Persona have unique abilities, such the fierce lightning attacks of Yu Narukami’s Izanagi. However, Persona are not indestructible and can be attacked up to four times; at which point they are destroyed and can be reloaded after ten to twenty seconds. With the unique fighting styles of the character and their Persona, you’ll be able to use massive skills, knockout attacks, bursts and all types of techniques with the help of your analog sticks and button smashing. The game provides a lesson and training mode to teach you all the basics and help you get started. While I’ve never played this game with an arcade stick, the controls for the PS3 version can be rather uncomfortable and you might end up hurting your fingers if you play extremely competitively online. Even so, the game is still loads of fun and the partnership between the player’s character and his or her Persona works very effectively.
Speaking of online mode, it’s incredibly fun whether you’re fighting ranked battles or just creating simple rooms and challenging new and hardcore players. The only issue that I’ve experienced is that players do have a bad tendency of sending you hate mail on the Playstation Network for beating or, surprisingly, losing to them. This type of stuff can happen in any online game though, and the smart thing is to not pick any unnecessary fights with that crowd. Another minor flaw is that since there are only thirteen playable characters, there is a strong tendency of running into the same character a disproportionate number of times online. This shouldn’t discourage anyone from getting the game though, as all the characters are both balanced and distinctive from one another.
Besides story mode, other gameplay options include the infamous hardcore mode called “Score Attack”, Challenge Mode, Arcade Mode, Versus Mode. Score Attack is basically an incredibly hard fighting mode that came from the Blazblue series, and Challenge mode revolves around you taking on different challenges that puts your mind to the test on performing specific combos. Arcade Mode is the original unfinished story mode to the game, which was only released in Japanese arcades. For extras there’s a shop that provides different character colors and other extras, while the option menu lets you listen to music and see unlockable artwork, video and other goodies.
Graphics: One word: magnifique! The artwork style in this game is the one aspect that deserves the greatest praise and compliments. Each character, menu, Persona and environment is visually beautiful; it’s like Atlus’ designs have come to life just from being drawn on a simple piece of paper. Whoever was part of the art team deserves a huge gold medal for they have done here.
Sound: If you’ve ever played Persona 3 or Persona 4, then most of this title’s soundtrack should sound incredibly familiar. The only change is that each character gets their own instrumental song, some of which are great remixes of previous tracks in the Persona series. Atlus’ music continues to remain extremely catchy and fun to listen to. Alas, there aren’t that many tracks presented here, which is disappointing considering how much tracks like Heaven from Persona 4 and much more could have been here.
Overall: I entered this game as a Persona fan more than one with much interest in fighting games, but Persona 4 Arena is a game that both Persona fans and fans of the fighting game genre can jump into. The story mode itself does give away plot points from the previous games, but it limits itself to necessary information to the point that it doesn’t give away everything. Atlus has created an emotional, well written story mode that only suffers from too many repetitive plot points that may motivate some players to accidentally skip past some important dialogue as they hurry through it. The gameplay itself is very well crafted and deserves tons of respect for bringing new ideas to the table and taking the right tools from previous fighting games. Online mode can be rather stressful if you run into the wrong group of players, but it’s also a fun and challenging experience that even new players to the genre can get into if they practice. The graphics are a masterpiece, while the soundtrack suffers from a lack of content rather than quality. All in all, the combination of the Persona series and the fighting genre mixes into a complete whimsical success that offers plenty of comedic fun and open arms to all players who want to get in on the action. So get ready to burn your dread, reach out for the truth and cry out your proudest…“Persona”!