Review: Persona 4 Arena (PS3)

Title: Persona 4 Arena
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (6.1 GB)
Release Date: August 7, 2012 (US) / May 10, 2013 (EU)
Publisher: Atlus (US), Zen United (EU)
Developer: Arc System Works, Atlus
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB: T
Persona 4 Arena is also available on Xbox 360.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

Arc System Works has some very impressive fighting games on their resume, including Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. Their games feature unique fighting mechanics and beautiful art work, but have yet to really capture the attention of the masses. While the major tournament scene features plenty of Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom, games like BlazBlue are left in a more niche market. Persona 4 Arena is looking to change all that.

Atlus and Arc System Works have teamed up to take one of the most beloved RPG franchises and move it into uncharted territory, the fighting genre. The result is Persona 4 Arena. Fans of the series shouldn’t expect any RPG elements whatsoever. This is a brand new take on an old series.

Gameplay:
Persona 4 Arena is an anime fighter. It doesn’t shy away from that either. The usual Japanese tropes can all be found, including giant eyes, crazy hairdos, and over-the-top characters. The story is told in a very graphic novel fashion. The thing is, all that works for this game. No matter how insane the game gets, everything seems to fit into this universe so well. The presentation is perfect, including the menu, lobby, and character select screen. This wasn’t just slapped together and you can really tell that some thought was put into each bit of the game. That’s enough about presentation though, let’s talk about the fighting.

Persona 4 Arena is probably the most accessible fighting game on the market today. And even with this accessibility, it retains the depth and strategy needed for the tournament scene. That’s where it excels. Fighting games tend to carry a high entry point that scares away newcomers, like me. But don’t be discouraged.

Arc System Works has created a great lesson mode to learn the ins and outs of the game, which easily transitions into training mode (where I spent a lot of my time). They have even included some auto-combos for beginners, which entail pounding the light attack button over and over again when your meter fills up. Don’t worry, this is not a game-breaking mechanic and can easily be countered by an experienced player, but it provides a simple way to combo for players still practicing the more complex moves. Other things like the One More Cancel function and recovery system allow for fighting game rookies to feel competent. Mastery of P4A isn’t required to have fun and compete, which is great news for the genre.

For the more advanced player, the usual array of cancels, sweeps, overheads, air dashes, double jumps, and grabs are available. And each character brings a very unique approach to the fight. This is expanded upon with the existence of each character’s Persona, a physical representation of their psyche. It might sound complicated, but in the world of Persona 4 Arena, it means a big thing that will kick your butt. It is like having a second character on your team, one that you can use to cross up and destroy your opponent if used properly. But if it takes to many hits, it’ll be knocked out and you’ll be left to your own fighting merits. After hours upon hours of playing, I still get enjoyment from discovering new strategies with my Persona.

Arcade and Versus Modes are available, but you might want to check Story Mode first. If you are a fan of the Persona RPG series then you are in luck. The original writers of P4 have teamed up with Persona 4 Arena to create an original story that connects with the PS2 classic. Needless to say, it is one of the best Story Modes ever featured in a fighting game. Arc System Works has always done a great job with storytelling, but P4A is able to pull at an emotional level, a first in the genre. Each character has a unique plot arc and ending, which adds to the replay value. And expect to play through many characters if you wish to unlock the “true” ending. The story is text heavy, which can be taxing on the eyes, but if you can sit through it, I promise that is worth it. This is the first time I’d suggest playing through the story in a fighting game.

Visuals:
I touched on the presentation earlier, but it’s worth repeating: this is an anime fighter. Arc System Works creates some of the most beautiful 2D fighters on the market, and this is no exception. Unlike Mortal Kombat or Tekken, each character is brilliantly drawn to life like something from a graphic novel. They are full of color and quite wonderful to look at. Anime has never been my thing, but I still can’t deny how great it all looks.

In action, the game loses none of its luster. The combat is smooth and animations are fluid. The backgrounds are very detailed and unique, setting you in a variety of different environments. Everything about P4A is very stylized. No detail was left untouched. Overall, the visuals for this game are some of the best in a 2D fighting game ever.

Audio:
Plenty of tracks from the original RPG’s have been included as remixes in P4A. The sound track has already started to receive much critical acclaim, and I’d have to agree. If you have been a fan of the series, these remixes will hit right at home. If you haven’t touched a Persona game before, the music will stand up on its own rights. A mixture of techno, guitar, and pop; the music will pull you into each fight.

The voice acting, on the other hand, is not so good. All things considered, most voice acting comes with text to read, so you could entirely skip it. But a game with this much emphasis on story would greatly benefit from a stronger voice performance.

Online/Multiplayer:
Arc System Works has always had a great net code in their games and Persona 4 Arena has some of the best online in the genre. In a game that is so dependent on frame data and reactions, lag-free gaming is a must. Luckily, this is exactly what P4A has, at least on the PS3. Apparently on the Xbox 360, there are some code problems that make some matches very laggy and Arc System Works is aware of the problem. A patch is on its way, if not already there. On the PlayStation 3, I have experienced no problems at all. I’ve played people in Japan, halfway across the world, and had no lag problems whatsoever. Ranked matches, local versus, and an 8-player lobby system are available. Hosts can even inform people of what kind of lobby they are running (competitive, casual, etc). Overall, the online multiplayer is fantastic and some of the best ever in a fighting game, thanks to such strong coding.

Conclusion:
Persona 4 Arena was a risky project. RPG’s don’t usually translate into fighting games. But this game is special. It builds upon everything put before it. From a technical standpoint, its fighting mechanics are simple to learn, yet will take some time to master. It is incredibly accessible to beginners and boasts a story that many non-fighters can’t compete with, the artwork and sound create an atmosphere completely unique to itself, and the online net code is some of the best in the business. Anime fighters are niche titles. I’m hoping Persona 4 Arena will break that. The tournament scene needs a new fighter to shake things up, to add some competition. Persona 4 Arena could be just that.

Score:
9.0

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