Persona has had amazing success in the RPG genre, so much so that there was even an anime adaptation created that was also fairly successive. Why stop there? Persona 4 Arena takes the characters and setting from Persona 4 and turns the genre into a 2D fighting game. Surely, this sounds like a simple spin-off to make some extra cash off the loyal Persona fanbase, but that is anything but true. Persona 4 Arena is not a game to be taken lightly, as it emerges as a significant fighting game that can stand on its own legs.
Arena takes place two months after Persona 4; therefore, it sports the same characters as Persona 4 and even includes a couple from Persona 3 (Persona 4 takes place two years after Persona 3). The TV world is hosting a combat tournament that the characters from Persona 4 get wrapped up in. There is a sense of mystery to the game since the cause of the tournament is unknown and it’s up to you to figure out why it’s happening. You may end up fighting your friends or people you don’t know, but no matter what, you have to fight. Admittedly, playing Persona 4 before playing this game is wise. However, it isn’t necessary since Arena does a good job at bringing newcomers to the series up to speed. There are definitely moments where newcomers may feel lost, but once they understand the universe and the characters, everything comes together naturally.
There is a story mode for all thirteen characters. Persona fans will love this, since it’s a deep story to invest in. It’s all done in text but since it’s mostly a character’s thoughts, there isn’t anyone speaking. This means a lot of reading; there isn’t anything wrong with that, but some people will find it dry and boring. If you’re one of those people that find reading paragraph after paragraph boring and just want to fight, have no fear: the arcade mode is for you. In classic fighting game style, you fight a best two-out-of-three match to advance. Arcade mode does tell a very abbreviated story with quick lines before and after battle. This was wise on the developer’s part for accounting for people who simply don’t care about the story.
As stated above, this game isn’t some simple spinoff thrown together cheaply. Arena has solid gameplay fundamentals for fighting games that really makes it stand strong. There are thirteen characters, all with their own special combos and personas. As one would expect in a fighting game, they all have their own styles and perks as well. Long range, slow but powerful, all-around, weak but quick: you will undoubtedly find a character to match the play style you want. It’s a good diversity among players that will make sure no one feels left out, and, most importantly, all the characters feel equally skilled (for the most part), so there isn’t one outrageously strong character that wipes the floor every time.
What Arena really excels in is how easily this game can be picked up by newcomers, even to the fighting genre as a whole. There is a core set of moves that stands true for every character. For example: low attack, dash, jump, block, and so on. A tutorial will show you all the basics that holds true for each character allowing you to switch between them. The switch won’t be perfect, since each character still has their own perks, but you’ll be able to still pull off the basics.
There is a fear in everyone’s mind when it comes to fighting games: “How do I not suck?” Arena attempts to fix this problem as well by breaking up the gameplay into more or less two parts: the universal basic moves all characters share and then adding on the special combos that separate the characters from one another. Once you get the basics down, you can start working on a character’s combo moves. It’s important to think of your persona as an extension of yourself, since the best combos intermingle the character’s attacks and the persona’s attacks fluently. To help this process, so you don’t feel too unskilled, there is an auto-combo. Press the weak attack button (Square or X) repeatedly to unleash a combo move. It’s that simple. This helps newcomers to adapt better and lower frustration since they will be able to pull off at least one combo move to do some decent damage. This sounds cheap, but don’t worry; although the auto-combo does decent damage, it is a weaker combo in general, which means it loses its use once you are able to use more devastating attacks.
Arena has a great look to it, unlike other games filled with shades of brown and gray. Arena is vibrant with a wide range of varied colors. The characters look good along with the stages. The personas really pop when they appear on the screen. Adding in character specials and other little nice touches really brings out Arena’s appeal. It really draws you into the game when you see all these amazing flashes and animations on your screen instead of just two people punching each other back-and-forth. The soundtrack is good and does stay true to Persona 4, which many fans will respect. The only real downside is that there are only seven battle stages. They look great, but they lose their appeal after awhile. More stages would’ve been beneficial.
There is a versus mode, so you can take on your local friend or computer opponent. To go along with that, you can take the battles online, and it works surprisingly well. It was worrisome at first, since the game seemed to be lagging a great deal, but as soon as the fight started, everything smoothed out. There is also a challenge mode, somewhat like a tutorial, but for higher level attacks. It will have a list of single attacks that, when put together, make up a combo. You then have to try and follow along with the list to see if you can complete the combo. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, but it teaches you some great combos in the process.
Simply put, Persona 4 Arena is a well-made game. It has everything in it to allow all types of players to have a joyful experience. The story is great and Persona 4 fans will approve. The arcade mode is far more challenging than the story mode to give hardcore fighters something to strive for if they don’t care about the story. The controls are simple enough that everyone can play, but deep enough to experiment with heavy combos, taking the game to another level. Its presentation style is appealing, from the level designs to the backdrops during dialog, the flashy attacks, and, of course, the personas. With challenge mode, versus mode, and online capabilities, there is plenty of reason to continue playing long after the story is beaten. Most importantly, Arena’s fighting is fast, fluent, creative, and just all around fun to play.
Final Verdict: If you’re a fan of Persona, then you’ll be pleased with this game. If you don’t care at all about Persona but want a good fighting game, this will also satisfy your thirst. This game is well worth a purchase if you’re in the market.
This review is based off a retail copy of the Playstation 3 version of Persona 4 Arena developed by Arc System Works and distributed by Atlus.