Listen to this while you read the review!
The fighting game community is easily the most competitive and passionate community in gaming. Players express their bravado during tournaments while hundreds cheer. Yet, it all comes with a price. Fighting games are like any other craft, take countless hours to learn and there’s always room for improvement. Imagine spending time in training mode to perfect each combo, or learning how to count frames–it takes dedication. That’s why the community is always hesitant to accept a new fighter right out of the gate. Just the thought of having to learn new mechanics and intricate systems is daunting enough.
Enter Persona 4 Arena, an unexpected 2D fighter with the strangest source material: a JRPG. Don’t let that steer you away. This is a fighter you will want to take the time to learn, and you’ll enjoy every second of it. From its simple to grasp but difficult to master concepts (like the different bursts and counters), to its extremely diverse, interesting and balanced cast, Persona 4 Arena is the new fighting champ. If you’re a Persona fan, a fighting fan, or someone genuinely interested in learning a game, do yourself a favor and play this game.
Most fighters have laughable story modes, especially my favored franchise Street Fighter, but Persona 4 Arena takes its story mode to an entirely different level. This isn’t a meager ten minute arcade mode scratched together with a few incoherent scenes here and there (although the game includes an arcade mode). The story here follows soon after Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4′s events. Yes, fans will be happy to know this is a canonical story penned by the RPG’s creators’. There’s voice acting (both English and Japanese), and enough plot twists to keep you entertained between battles. You can also play through with different characters for new perspectives and choices. This isn’t a mode you’ll want to look over. Those new to the Persona universe will have a tough time with references made to previous titles. The characters usually explain the references, which helps a bit, but this is catered to seasoned fans.
If you’re a fan of the RPG and this is your first foray into a fighter there’s a comprehensive lesson mode. Lesson mode covers everything from crouching and guarding to burst cancels and ailments. If that’s not enough, check out our character guide to get you started. Once you’re comfortable with the games mechanics and want to learn different combos for each character, you should spend time in challenge mode. There you’re tasked with performing different commands and combos; you can also watch the computer complete these to help with timing issues. These should give you a deeper understanding about the amount of space each move needs in order to connect, its ability to be canceled, and an overall look at each character’s move set.
However, the truly dedicated and hardcore will spend the bulk of their time in training mode before any competitive action. This rings especially true for those coming from Capcom fighters which primarily use a six button layout (three kicks and three punches, each varying in strength and speed). Persona 4 Arena, on the other hand, uses four buttons: Two for your main character and two for his or her persona. It’ll take some time to become accustomed to the different buttons and mechanics, but once you do you’ll be dishing out the pain. Just keep in mind that your persona is its own independent character with moves and vulnerabilities that are under your control.
The fine-tuned mechanics at work here are salient to strategy. Do you use your burst early in the match to extend a punishing combo? Or do you save it and use it as a defensive tool? This all matters. At first it might seem difficult to grasp, but with enough practice and patience it becomes second nature. Arc System Works has done an amazing job in making Persona 4 Arena an incredibly accessible fighter. There’s a combo timer that appears under the combo counter that helps you hone in on your timing. The combo counter changes colors from yellow to red, thus telling you which move or hit ended the combo. If you pay close attention in training you’ll be able to determine which moves help extend combos, and which ones should finish them. Again it’s a simple concept to grasp, but one that takes time to master.
Similar to Arc System Works’ other fighters (BlazBlue, Guilty Gear) this is a fast-paced fighter that promotes offense. Seriously, there’s a negative ailment that occurs if the player spends too much time moving away from his opponent. The character sprites are beautifully hand drawn, and are the real stars of the show. It’s impressive to see that they remain true to their RPG counterparts in almost every way, including some of the moves like Izanagi’s Zio attack. The stages radiate beautiful golds, blues, and reds. It’s easily one of the most impressive looking fighters out.
Persona 4 Arena also maintains the RPG’s personality. Teddie is still quirky and over-the-top, and Kanji still hides his true feelings with a tough guy exterior. The same voice actors return to reprise their roles minus Chie and Teddie’s voice actors. It’s a real disappointment in Teddie’s case as Dave Wittenberg did an amazing job with the character in the past. On the other hand, Erin Fitzgerald brings Chie to life with her charming personality and ambiguous delivery. The rest of the cast does a superb job in reprising their roles.
It’s after you understand all the systems at work that you should tread the online competitive scene. Here the game becomes more like an RPG and tracks your progress with each character. Each match earns you experience points with that character (indicating your proficiency). You’re also graded on an overall letter scale; the elites have As while the noobs have Fs.
The Xbox 360, upon first hitting store shelves, was plagued with lag. Thankfully, Atlus swiftly provided a patch that transformed Persona 4 Arena into one of the best online games. I have yet to experience lag or disconnects; it’s as smooth as playing offline.
Atlus games tend to feature superb soundtracks, and Persona 4 Arena continues that tradition. Since the game’s release, “Reach out to the Truth” has been on constant repeat. Each character theme is amazing and helps shine a light on their personalities. Kanji’s theme is a fast metal-inspired song that goes with his bad boy demeanor, while Teddie’s “Kuma Kuma Circus” screams out ring leader and meshes with his playful nature. Even the menu music is incredible.
Persona 4 Arena is an instant classic and I hope the fighting game community continues to support it. It’s a landmark entry in the fighting game renaissance that Street Fighter IV started a few years ago.
Now I’m off to destroy some more unsuspecting noobs.