Atlus just can’t stop giving love to the Persona games (3 and 4 in particular). Is it a bad thing though? Well, not if games like Persona 4 Arena keep coming out. A collaboration between Arc System Works (well-known for the Guilty Gear and Blazblue franchises) and Atlus (known for its Shin Megami Tensei flagship), P4A‘s whole concept is pretty ingenious, if you think about it. You have a well-established cast of characters that people know and love, along with a fairly popular brand name.
People who love RPGs, but don’t enjoy putting up their virtual dukes, can still find P4A to be a blast to play. The inputs for characters’ moves are extremely simple; if you can pull off a quarter circle motion, then you’ll have little to worry about. Movesets for each character are small, which is mostly a blessing (one can certainly make an argument for wanting more moves). Characters are easy enough to get the hang of, and those who are interested in the competitive scene need to learn which move to use in any given situation.
Autocombos exist for those who need some reliable damage. All it takes to perform these combos is the repetitive pressing of the weak attack (there are four attack buttons: weak, strong, Persona Attack, and Persona Rush). Keep in mind, however, that these combos, as flashy they may be, are not the be all and end all for damage. You’ll have to experiment in order to find even more efficient ways to finish your foes. Thankfully, P4A has a command list that can be pulled up in-game (although you can’t look at it during online play), so you won’t have to check the Internet or manual every time you forget an input for a move.
P4A isn’t just for newbies to fighting games; seasoned veterans can expect a well-balanced character roster. There are a few unbalanced matchups, but there’s always the possibility of a balance patch. There are 13 unique characters available to use in P4A, and the game is generous enough to give you a description of how each of them play (check out the manual or story mode). There are characters that specialize in keeping their opponents at bay, constantly being in the opponents’ faces, etc. So rest assured that your preferred playstyle will be covered.
While the main focus of P4A is on its Versus and Network modes, there are also a ton of other things to mess around with. Lesson mode is the first thing that you should try as soon as you put the game in your PS3 or 360, even if you know your way around fighting games. It’ll teach you all of the fundamental basic techniques that you’ll need in order to successfully win matches. It takes you about five minutes to complete, so there’s no reason not to play it.
Versus mode is straightforward: you and a friend brawl it out for bragging rights. Network mode is the same; you can participate in ranked matches or player matches. For player matches, you have to enter or create a lobby that other people can join (you can decide how many private slots to have in the lobby for your friends). Matches are for the most part, smooth. You’ll have the occasional lag spikes with people who have shoddy connections, but it’s nice to be able to play with others in what almost feels like an offline match. Here’s two tips for those wanting to play online: install the game (you can do this in the options mode and it takes about six minutes) and let the characters’ entrances play out before a match begins. Doing these two things will help make playing online easier and more enjoyable.
Challenge mode will require you to at first, chain together a few moves and perform some supers. Then, it becomes exponentially more difficult, and has you creating some extremely complex combos. Is the mode difficult? No, you won’t really struggle, not at least until the last five or so challenges out of a possible thirty for each character.
I have to warn you about Score Attack. Its difficulty is far beyond anything you’ll ever see in other modes. You’ll face characters that are powered up. For example, Chie will deal extra damage than she normally would, and Yosuke will be even faster than normal. Also, the AI receives a boost in being able to predict your attacks and movements. And if you lose? You’ll have to start all over again (sadly, no continues here). If you manage to beat this hellish mode, you’ll receive some navigators that can commentate your matches for your efforts.
Training is as you would expect it to be, with a variety of options that you can choose from to customize your punching bags. You can have them jump and crouch constantly, recover from attacks, or just stand still. You can also change certain aspects of characters, like the strength of Labrys’s axe, which changes depending on how many hits she’s landed and how much damage she’s taken.
The PlayStation Store and Xbox LIVE Marketplace can be accessed from the main menu. From there, you can purchase new color palettes, glasses, and navigators (which can be unlocked by beating Score Attack and other modes). A pack of new colors or glasses for a few characters costs $1.99 at the moment, along with each navigator. If you want every character’s colors, then you can pay $5.99 for a bundle. There are actually a few colors in the packs that are restricted to offline use only, which is something to keep in mind.
Gallery mode allows you to look at all of the animated scenes and illustrations that you’ve collected by playing through the story. Theater lets you rewatch matches that you’ve saved while playing online. Options is again, as you might expect it. Specifically, you can change the difficulty of your opponents in story and arcade mode, the language that characters speak (English or Japanese), and even the language that the game is in (English or Japanese, if you’re into that stuff).
Arcade mode is sort of like an appetizer for the main course: the story mode. You pick a character and go through a series of battles (complete with a final boss, Shadow Labrys), to see an ending. Now, the story mode is much more elaborate. You’re looking at up to at least 20 hours spent on it if you want to see each character’s ending(s). Fair warning, though: you’ll see a few animated sequences quite often, and some scenes with multiple characters (although their monologues will change).
I won’t spoil much, but P4A takes place two months after the true ending of Persona 4, the hit PS2 RPG. Yu Narukami, the protagonist, returns to the town of Inaba during a vacation to reunite with his friends. Yu and his companions watch a program that showcases a tournament called the P-1 Grand Prix, and find out that Teddie, another member of the main cast, is behind it. They enter the tournament in hopes of finding Teddie, when they find a girl claiming to be the student council president for Yasogami High (the school that the characters attend). In addition, four characters (Elizabeth, Aigis, Akihiko, and Mitsuru) from Persona 3 enter the Grand Prix, but their reasons for doing so is a mystery.
Arc System Works did a wonderful job with the graphics; the backgrounds are vibrant and lively, with people and objects moving around in some of them. The characters look just like they did in P4, but in 2D and hand drawn. Each animation they perform is fluid, and adds to all of the flash one can find in a typical match.
A lot of tracks from P3 and 4 return in P4A, but remixed. Personally, it’s somewhat disappointing to see that most of the tracks are ingame have already been heard elsewhere, but there’s a few new impressive themes for some of the characters. The sound effects that have been used in the past Persona games also return, which is a nice feature.
P4A is by far, one of the easiest fighting games to pick up and play right now in the market. Whether you’re someone who can’t play fighters, or someone who hates RPGs, P4A will have something to suit your tastes. The long story mode will keep fans of P4 busy, while the depth of the game’s fighting mechanics will give fighting game fanatics a reason to continue playing. Those who don’t have any competition living near them can also find enjoyment in the solid online experiences.
Persona 4 Arena is out now for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Check out the game’s official website here.