Platform | Release Date
360, PS3 | August 7, 2012
Developed by Arc System Works
Published by ATLUS
During Golden Week, a new rumor begins spreading through town about a mysterious TV program, the P-1 Grand Prix. Visible if you look into a turned-off TV on a rainy night, this fighting tournament broadcasts high school friends fighting one another to the bitter end. When Yu Narukami and the others test this rumor, they see their friend Teddie announcing the beginning of the show: gMay the manliest of all men come on down!h With that, the participants are shown, one by one… The Investigation Team is horrified to see their own faces introduced with twisted nicknames. The members of the Investigation Team decide to dive into the TV once again to solve the case! What is behind the mysterious TV show?
From Guilty Gear to BlazBlue, Arc System Works has proven that they can make complex 2D fighting games that appeal to the hardest of hardcore. While fans find them deeply rewarding, the steep learning curve associated with those games has rendered them inaccessible for most. Even as a seasoned veteran of other titles in the genre, my attempts at learning these games have failed miserably.
Persona 4 Arena maintains the top-notch presentation of Arc’s previous titles, while making an honest effort to make it more accessible to fans of the RPG, and thus fighting game fans at large. You won’t have to worry much about comprehending character-specific gameplay systems, or complex special move inputs – hallmarks of their previous efforts – as those have been heavily streamlined. They also introduce a handy auto-combo that every character can execute with the repeated press of the weak attack button. This won’t carry you to an EVO championship, but it will suffice as a start until you get a grasp of its finer points.
Does this simplification of mechanics achieve its desired objective? For the most part, yes. While it is definitely handy to have Guilty Gear, or BlazBlue experience under your belt, it is not a prerequisite. I never got anywhere with those aforementioned titles, but with Persona 4 Arena, I was able to ramp up to a point where the game felt fun, and rewarding fairly quickly. I envision most players being able to do the same with a little bit of practice. By the end of my first day with it, I had a number of basic combos down pat, and was beginning to explore the higher-level metagame.
Speaking of which, fighting game enthusiasts fearing that this is a dumbed-down experience need not worry. Advanced gameplay systems and tactics, from cross-ups to roman cancels, are here for you to push to the limit. In particular, the act of managing your character, and their Persona – a spiritual manifestation of themselves – is done in a way that opens up a lot of cool gameplay possibilities, while staying true to the source material.
Each character has a number of moves involving their Persona, where they attack one way, while your main character is free to move in a different direction. The concept is sort of reminiscent of assists in the Marvel vs. Capcom series, though this game has a unique way of executing it. When you use this concept creatively, your Personas can help extend combos, or attack your opponent from opposing angles at the same time. However, if your opponent hits your Persona too many times, you’ll lose access to them for an extended period of time. Competitive players are going to enjoy exploring these mechanics for a long time, as the possibilities for offensive and defensive maneuvers are vast.
There are a number of other advanced concepts like this to master if you’re willing to invest the time, and the game gives you some good tools as a starting point. There’s a standard issue training mode, a solid lesson mode that covers the game’s core mechanics, and a challenge mode. The myriad of challenges that range widely in terms of difficulty in this mode gives newbies, and experts a lot to work towards. However, I wish that the game would push it further as a teaching tool by explaining why any given challenge is important within the context of a real match, so that you’re able to learn even quicker.
When you’re ready to prove yourself online, the act of joining a battle can crawl at times due to slow matchmaking, or a small player base. Once you’re in there though, the net code is stellar. Only under the most extreme circumstances did I notice a performance hit. The rest of its online suite is fairly standard issue, from the inclusion of ranked matches, to 8-player lobbies. At launch, the XBOX 360 version suffered from serious lag issues, but those problems have since been addressed.
For fans of the RPG franchise, the story mode will be a huge draw. Billed as the canonical next step in the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona lore, there is a ton of story content that is doled out in the form of a visual novel, with a few fully-animated scenes sandwiched between a plethora of text slides. The actual combat in this mode, however, is downplayed to the point where you’ll fight roughly one round per hour. If you’re heavily invested in the lore, the lack of combat may not be a drawback. Otherwise, skip this completely, as the abridged story in the arcade mode will more than suffice.
Arc System Works and Atlus have done a tremendous job of taking the Persona franchise and adapting it into a fighting game. Trading off complexity for accessibility did wonders for playability, and the fan service is admirable. This will not disappoint fighting game enthusiasts, or fans of the series going out of their comfort zone for the next slice of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona content. While it could take you and I years before we truly master Persona 4 Arena, getting at least good enough to have fun with it is just a few button presses away.