Video Games & Tech

Persona 4 Arena Review – 9GPPs

by on 14/05/2013
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Since its Japanese release back in 2008, Persona 4 has generally been revered as a modern classic and one of the best titles in the JRPG genre. In an effort to promote the game’s legacy, last year brought the arrival of Persona 4 Golden and Persona 4 Arena. The former was a portable remake (my review of which you can find here) and reached UK shores just three months after its US release. The latter on the other hand is a fighting game spin-off that has only just landed on UK shelves after being region-locked in the US for almost a year. So, the question arises: was Persona 4 Arena worth the wait? Read on to find out.
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As the product of collaboration between Arc System Works (BlazBlue) and Atlus (Persona), Persona 4 Arena stands as a hardcore anime fighter lovingly adapted from its source material. All your favourite super-powered high schoolers are here in the form of glorious 2D sprites, and they’re ready to kick butt with supers, counters, and many other techniques.

Set two months after the murder case of P4, protagonist Yu Narukami (now his official name) returns to Inaba to be reunited with friends and family. No sooner is he there when the Midnight Channel immediately starts broadcasting again, this time advertising a fighting tournament starring Yu and the rest of the persona-users. So is the setup for the Investigation Team’s return to the TV world, where they meet several characters from Persona 3 and a mysterious girl named Labrys.
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[pullquote_right]Every character has the ability to summon personas – godlike alter egos that can be called to fight alongside you[/pullquote_right]Gameplay-wise P4A is a solid fighter. Two buttons deliver weak and strong normal attacks (square and X on PS3), whilst two more execute weak and strong persona attacks (circle and triangle). Every character has the ability to summon personas – godlike alter egos that can be called to fight alongside you momentarily before disappearing. Like your chosen guy or gal, personas can deliver attacks and initiate skills to string together punishing combos.

They can also take damage, and after four hits a Persona Break occurs, locking them and their related moves for a short time. Personas are undoubtedly the key difference between this and many other titles in the genre (bar JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure). That said, there many more mechanics and techniques for players to familiarise themselves with.

All characters are highly adaptable thanks to throws, blocking, dashing, double jumping, and evasive manoeuvres. Pressing square and X together engages in an “All-Out Rush” that acts as a useful combo string. Doing so whilst crouching performs a sweep that knocks the opponent off guard, and a tap of X and circle in unison unleashes a Furious Attack which counters at the cost of SP.
As you fight SP gradually builds and can also be used for enhanced versions of skills, SP Skills (super moves), Guard Cancels, and 1 More! (instant) Cancels. Once Burst becomes available it can knock back the opponent and turn the tides of battle. When health drops to a certain level your character will Awaken, raising max SP and reducing all damage taken. It is only in this state that Instant Kills and Awakened SP Skills can be performed. On top of all this skills can also inflict a variety of status ailments including Poison (which reduces health), Panic (reverses controls) and Shock (normal movement is not permitted).
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There’s a lot to take in but thanks to auto-combos and a user-friendly tutorial even fighting game noobs can pick it up. Input is slick and responsive, and whilst the system is complex enough to warrant tournament play, mastery feels far from impossible. At its heart it may be a traditional arcade fighter but altogether it boasts a unique RPG-inspired experience.

[pullquote_left]Everything from the intro sequence to the fights themselves ooze with style and fanservice.[/pullquote_left]Persona 4 Arena is also one of the most colourful and energetic games out there. Character animation and voice acting suits perfectly, stages integrate 3D and 2D even more naturally than in BlazBlue, and Shoji Meguro returns with original and remastered music tracks. Everything from the intro sequence to the fights themselves ooze with style and fanservice. At each visit of the main menu, the time of day and background music changes, fans will no doubt be grinning.

In terms of modes there’s Versus, Training, Arcade, Score Attack, Challenge (requiring completion of various combos), an unlockable Gallery, and a replay Theatre. Network mode is solid. What it lacks in ranking enticement (see the titles and icons of Injustice), it more than makes up for in functionality and complete customisation of any room you host, even barring the use of certain characters if you so choose.
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Finally there’s Story mode but unfortunately this is by far the weakest feature. The story itself is fairly interesting, slowly unravelling with the completion of each character’s chapter. As a canonical entry in the series it suggests where Persona may be heading next. Only the most of patient of fans will find out however as the execution here isn’t great. Whilst fully voiced talking heads and anime cutscenes are present, the mode boils down to a visual novel with incredibly lengthy amounts of soundless internal monologue. I respect that this may be to introduce newcomers to Persona’s expansive world and save on expenses. However this does not excuse the fact that it is at times unbearably tedious with minimal player input due to short-lived one round matches.

Despite the poorly presented Story mode, Persona 4 Arena is an impressive game. Atlus and Arc System Works have fused the RPG and fighting genres into a decidedly wacky, vibrant, and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Persona fans are sure to get the most out of it, but with such a large collection of (mostly) high quality content even series newcomers should give it a try.

Was it worth the wait? Hell yeah!

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