Persona, or Shin Megami Tensai as it is better known around the world is an insanely successful Japanese RPG series. The series has been running rampant for years, so when Arc System Works and Atlus announced that Persona 4 Arena would be a fighting game, many were perplexed as to whether the game would even be worth making. Well I can silence the murmurs now, not only is it a credible fighting game, but it’s pretty damn good by fighting game standards.
Now the game has actually been out for a little while. It came out in March of 2012 on arcade machines as well as July and August on consoles in Japan and North America respectively. But due to some publishing issues here in Europe, we could not yet get our hands on the title. But Zen United stepped up and took the game on so that us EU folk could finally have a go and see for ourselves what this fighter has got up its sleeves.
So let’s finally kick things off. What with Persona being a well-known RPG series, it was almost a requirement that the story mode in the game had to be worthwhile. It’s a deep experience that follows on from the storyline in Persona 4. You’ll find yourself scurrying through battle after battle just to read the in-depth dialogue boxes in between. So for the uninitiated, the story will play out with four protagonists all being sucked into a strange television world where a fighting tournament known as The P-1 Grand Prix is being held. From there on a deep storyline that intertwines and meshes together in the style of a Guy Ritchie movie. All in all, the entire story is very good. It’s very well done and absolutely does justice to the stories of its RPG predecessor.
As well as a full story mode, there are also classic modes such as Arcade mode and Score attack mode to keep you busy. These are pretty bog standard and are featured in almost every fighting game to date. They will serve as a nice distraction as you move on to other characters and hone your craft.
So as any avid player of fighting games will tell you, the first thing you do when you turn on a new game is jump into training mode or a trial mode to get the hang of the game. Upon doing this, it is easy to see that the game handles just as well as any fighter. It has a 4 button system very similar to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and BlazBlue and plays just as smoothly as the mentioned fighters. The X and A buttons are assigned to light and medium attacks. Whereas the Y and A buttons are assigned to Persona attacks. A character’s Persona is a sort of giant beast that accompanies them to the battle. Almost an astral projection of the character’s fighting spirit. Upon jumping into the challenge mode, you will see that the game will be just as fast paced and intense as BlazBlue and the like. The combos are fearsome, long, and they take a hell of a lot of execution. Once you’ve got it down, this is definitely a game that you’ll warm up to.
The tutorial mode shows that the game is actually very unique in certain ways. It has an auto combo system where each character has one specific combo assigned to simply pressing the X button a number of times. Much like all the anime fighters, there is a lot of super jumping and air dashing as well as air throws, throw escapes and such. But the game has also adopted the hop system from King of Fighters. This is just a simple short hop that will allow you to extend your standing combos to air combos. All the regular mainstays are here, such as guard cancels and instant blocks. But a new innovative (and god damn beautiful) thing has been implemented into the game. You actually get a negative penalty for running away from your opponent and attempting to turtle. The argument could be made that it kills any kind of strategy, there could also be a counter argument to say that it opens up a whole new level of strategy. That’s something for the fighting game community to holler over for a while.
The anime style of graphics is nothing new to this genre. Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, and countless other have utilised it. It comes as no surprise since Arc System Works are the people behind the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series’. They all look fantastic and this game is no exception. Every brightly coloured sprite is captured in beautiful form here. The stages are a unique blend of 2D and 3D that I haven’t seen used in this way since Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on the Dreamcast. Every stage is so detailed that it is hard to keep your eye on the action. As you fight, certain pieces of dialogue and comic storyboards will pop up, very much akin to manga television shows. The television show presentation of the fights adds to the battle and can actually go as far as to rile you up.
Now no fighting game would be complete without online play. It is upsetting to state that the netcode leaves much to be desired. The majority of fights will have minor input lag. It’s not enough to break the game, but it is definitely enough to put you off. Online has already withered to a rather small amount of people, however. So if you plan on being an online warrior, you’d better be prepared to make some friends and some enemies, because you will be playing the same people over and over again.
Overall, Persona 4 Arena is a very good game. Fans of the series can rest easy with the knowledge that Arc System Works and Atlus have done them proud here. Not only have they made a game that can reach out to fans of the series, but they have also made a viable competitive fighter that hardcore players can really get into. The story mode will keep you going for a few hours, it has many twists and turns that will keep you going. It is truly a shame about the poor netcode, however. It’s about time that developers realised that poor netcode in a fighting game is quite literally a death sentence. Because once you’re done with the initial glitz and glamour, the online is what will keep you playing and what will keep you interested. It’s certainly the biggest reason that Street Fighter IV is the dominant fighter on the scene, and has been for four years now. Digressing from that, Persona 4 Arena is a very good game that I would recommend to any fan of fighting games or Shin Megami Tensai.