When I first heard about a Persona 4 fighting game, I was quick to ignore the news. Fighting games derived from games in other genres simply tend to not work out. After hearing that Arc System Works was going to develop Persona 4 Arena with Atlus, I immediately changed my mind, because the developer behind Guilty Gear and BlazBue can do no wrong when it comes to making fighting games.
Gets You Back Into the Story - Persona 4 Arena takes place two months after the events of Persona 4. Yu Narukami, the hero of Persona 4, has returned to Inaba, and as expected, strange shit is happening. This time around, the Midnight Channel, a show that appears on a rainy night after midnight that showed images of people that were later found dead in Persona 4, is showing a commercial for the P-1 Grand Prix where the kids of the Investigation Team (Yu Narukami, Yosuke Hanamura, Chie Satonaka, Yukiko Amagi, Kanji Tatsumi, Rise Kujikawa, and Teddie) are shown as being participants. What's interesting is that the Investigation Team plays a part in one side of the story while the other characters(Naoto Shirogane, Aigis, Mitsuru Kirijo, and Ahihiko Sanada) come into the story at a different entry point that eventually ties into the other story. Along with creating a story that brings together the characters from the Persona games, Arc System Works and Atlus added a special way of playing out the story. When you pick a character, you only can play through a part of the storyline until you reach a cliffhanger. At that point, new characters are unlocked you will need to switch characters to learn the rest of the story. This reminded me of Mortal Kombat 9 where the story mode had you play as multiple characters. The difference is that in Persona 4 Arena, you can select which characters you want to play as. Once you finish the story for each character, you will then have a full understanding of the story as a whole, thus creating a fairly deep storyline for a fighting game.
Easy to Pickup - I always appreciate a fighting game that does it's best to welcome new players. While a grizzled fighting game vet like myself can figure out most of a new game on my own, it is great to have a tutorial that explains everything to you step-by-step because believe me, there is a lot to learn in this game as mentioned previously. Not only does the game teach you how to play it properly, you can learn some very effective simple combos that new players can make use of early on to stay competitive. If there was ever a fighting game that could get newbies into the competitive scene, Persona 4 Arena would be it.
Has a Little Bit of Everything - If you've played enough fighting games, you may have wanted a certain gameplay mechanic from one to be used in other fighting games, but it almost never happens. One such mechanic is Killer Instinct’s "combo breaker.” It has only shown up a few times in different variations such as the Mega Crush in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and the Breaker in Mortal Kombat 9. In this game, it’s called a Burst and it is a “get out of jail free” card to use whenever you’re getting beat down in a combo. You cannot waste it early on, though, because you will have to wait a long time before you can use it again. Dashing and jumping in the game also takes a variety of elements from other fighting games such as air dashing, mini-jumps that let you avoid low attacks without flying high in the air, and an evasive dash to get on the opposite side of your opponent. Then you have the SP bar which acts like a variety of meters do in other fighting games. It lets you pull off special moves, super moves, and even a “fatality” that can be used when you reach the third round of a fight. All of these mechanics come together to create an amount of depth that very few fighting games have.
A One Man Team - The whole Persona series revolves around teenagers that discover alter egos called Personas that have amazing powers. The kids use these Personas to fight against various demons in the world. In Persona 4: Arena, every character has a Persona that they can call upon with one of two buttons. These Persona attacks have varying attributes to them. Some can launch an opponent, others can extend a combo, and you have some that can cross-up your opponent. In a way, they work like the assist moves in the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Just like in MvC, if you keep calling your Personas, they can get hit and after four hits, you won’t be able to call your Persona for a period of time. Learning to properly use your Persona is critical in being a solid competitor, and it’s rewarding when you unleash a long combo that has a combination of regular and Persona attacks.
A PERSONA-L DISAPPOINTMENT
Enough With the Damn Text! - The story in Persona 4 Arena plays out through text. A lot of text. With the fights in the story mode only being one round, you can spend way more time clicking through the texts than you do actually fighting. Every little thought, dialogue, and action in the story is done through text, which adds up to a TON of text.
How About an Autosave? - As previously mentioned, the amount of text in the game is massive. It’s so massive that after you click through a significant amount of the story, you’re asked if you want to save. These save points become annoying when you’re asked to save three or four times between matches. One time after a match, one time after the first chunk of storyline, and then one last time before you start the next fight, although there could be an extra save point if there’s even more storyline before the fight. Each time you are asked to save becomes a painful reminder that an autosave could have been added instead.
Maybe Too Easy? - Even though Persona 4 Arena is filled with many fighting game mechanics that give it depth, there is an auto combo that all the characters have. Hitting the light attack button multiple times will start a combo that can lead into a super move dealing a nice chunk of damage. Now if you’ve played fighting games, you know that some games do have some mash friendly characters, but not to this extent. In most games, if you press one button over and over again, your combo doesn’t do much damage. These one button combos in Persona 4 Arena, on the other hand, deal about 20-30% damage. Not only that, the move that starts off the combo is a light attack, so the fastest attack your character has will start a combo meaning that you can punish or interrupt your opponent with your faster attack. If the first few hits of the combo get blocked, then you can stop without leaving yourself wide open. In all my years playing fighting games, the ony comparison I can give to this easy one button combo is Eddy Gordo and Hworang in Tekken 3, where mashing the kick buttons would deal some huge damage without knowing what the hell is going on. Expect to meet a lot of players online to do nothing but spam this combo over and over again.
Needs a Better Code - After playing several matches online, I found that a majority of my matches were complete lagfests. Any fighting game is going to have some lag, that’s a given. However, only the ones with poor netcode have multiple matches with lag so severe that it doubles the amount of time it takes to actually start the match. I tried to create my own room set for only good connections, but after several minutes, there were no matches to be found. For perspective, I am playing on Xbox Live and Atlus is aware of the probem, but it has not been properly fixed as of this writing.
As expected from Arc System Works, Persona 4 Arena is a soid entry into the fighting game genre. They have created a deep fighting game that is fun and rewarding for those of us that spend time learning it as well as for the newbies. Aside from a few flaws regarding its story mode and some currently poor netcode, Persona 4 Arena still stands out as a very good fighting game, and is particularly exceptional for the fact that it was based on a RPG.
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*