Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: 360, PS3
Release Date: Out Now
ESRB: T for Teen
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game
The fighting genre has undoubtedly had its share of bizarre titles. From superhero smackdowns to anime altercations to mascot melees, there“s a style for everyone. Arc System Works is exploring new territory with an RPG rumbler that“s part fighter, part visual novel. Persona 4 Arena takes the story and style of Atlus“s series into the ring, facing the daunting challenge of appealing to Persona fans and fighting fans. Contending with the oversaturated fighting market and a jarring genre shift, will this title end up down for the count?
Arena is a 2D sprite-based battler with an anime style. The sprites and artwork are beautiful and capture the style of the last two Persona games. The soundtrack is a crowd pleaser for fans, with original tracks and remixes from Persona 3 and 4, as well as some original tracks. Voice acting is also well-done, with English and Japanese options for the whole cast. Though newcomers will find nothing wrong with the voices, Persona veterans may have issues, as some voice actors from Persona 4 did not reprise their role and Yu“s voice is too similar to another character“s. That said, the cast did a great job, but there“s just no cure for fanboy/girlism.
Fans of the series are mostly going to want Arena for the story. The plot takes place two months after Persona 4, reuniting the main cast in a case to find their missing friends and discover the truth behind the P-1 Grand Prix fighting tournament. At the same time, characters from Persona 3 are on their own mission to retrieve a stolen anti-Shadow weapon. The same themes present in those games are also in Arena and they can be cliched and hokey, especially to outsiders. Like in the games, the main draw is the interactions between characters. Considerately, none of the key plot points of either game are spoiled, only the general premises are explained. What you need to know about the world is explained, but room is left for surprises should you want to play the main series.
While the arcade mode tells a sparse version, the story mode offers a much meatier offering, clocking in at over 20 hours. Split into 12 characters, it is presented in a visual novel style broken up by several fights, with characters voicing their lines. Unlike most visual novels, there are few choices and only a couple multiple endings. Many of the stories are different variations of the same event, but the general plot is strong and serves as a solid foundation for another game. It“s worth noting that Labrys“s story is surprisingly well done for a character exclusive to a fighting game and is easily my favorite.
Despite the strong story, shifting to the fighting genre may be a turnoff for some. Luckily, Arena is accessible to everyone. For starters, multiple difficulty settings and lack of overpowered bosses make the story mode manageable for anyone. Secondly, the game only uses four buttons and is extremely controller friendly. Nearly every move in the game is a variation of quarter-circle (down-to-forwards or down-to-back) movements. Finally, the auto combo system gives each character a basic combo string by repeatedly pressing a single button. With basic movement and blocking, it“s a powerful tool that can easily get someone through story mode.
Although friendly to newcomers, Persona 4 Arena doesn“t lacks depth. While the control breakdown seems simple, with A being a weak attack and the auto combo system, B being a strong attack, and C and D being weak and strong Persona attacks, the amount of moves available is large thanks to the differences in weak and strong attacks. Some differences are just in power, but other moves can have their whole utility changed between the weak and strong versions. For example, using the weak version of Yu“s Zio produces a projectile and the strong version is a close-quarters punch.
The SP gauge allows you to power up regular attacks, perform special attacks and instant kills, use a one more cancel to stop a move“s animation, and execute a guard cancel to launch a counterattack. There“s also the burst gauge, which allows you to unleash a max burst to fill your SP, a reversal burst to knockback an enemy, or a one more burst to send your opponent into the air for another combo. In addition to these meters, some characters also have their own mechanics, such as Naoto“s fate counter and Aigis“s Orgia Mode.
Characters have universal inputs to perform sweep attacks and furious actions, counter or Shoryuken moves that have invincibility to get out of tough situations. All-out attacks are available to launch the opponent into the air or away from you. There are also status ailments, as well as the possibility of getting your Persona broken if it“s hit too much. Overall, it“s a fun system with a lot of depth that can appeal to everyone.
If that breakdown isn“t enough to convince you that this isn“t â€œbaby“s first fighter,â€ a look at the challenge mode is in order. Offering a total of 390 challenges, 30 for each character, they start simple by teaching moves and the character“s auto combo string, but quickly evolve into complex combos. The mode is robust, allowing you to see the AI perform the combo so you can get an idea of what timing and positioning you need and also highlights what part of the combo you aren“t hitting so that you know what link to focus on.
Persona fans may be drawn in by the story, but fighting fans will be pleased by the competitive offerings. There is local versus with the ability to play against friends or the AI, but the online mode is the main event. Both ranked and player match options are available. Player matches offer multiple settings, with the ability to create lobbies for up to 8 people, two combatants and up to 6 spectators, and options to set who advances after a match and how many matches a person can stay in.
Those looking to show off their skills will want ranked matches. While your main ranking is determined through a letter grade, you also have stats and a player skill rating for each character, allowing for an interesting progression system. The most notable aspect to ranked matches is that you pick your character before being matched up, meaning that there“s no possibility of counter picks and you“re forced to get used to matchups you might not normally encounter.
Even if the mechanics are solid, any online mode is only as strong as its netcode. Fortunately, Persona 4 Arena“s netcode is a true champion. Finding a match is quick, usually taking no more than 30 seconds. Although the character and level introduction can stutter, issues are resolved by the time the match begins and I never felt that lag was negatively impacting my performance. It“s rare for the netcode in any game to be this good and seeing such performance in a fighter is truly amazing.
Arc System Works gave themselves monumental task by trying to bring the Persona series into the fighting genre. Surprisingly, they've not only delivered, but managed to create one of the best fighting games available. Offering a packed story mode, a combat system that truly is easy to learn but difficult to master, an online mode with options to please both those looking to play with friends and take on the world, and a netcode that destroys the competition, Persona 4 Arena is a must for anyone interested in Persona, fighters, or looking to get into either.
+ Over 20 hours of strong story content for Persona fans without spoiling the series
+ A deep combat system to please fighting fans while still being accessible to casual players
+ Excellent netcode for online play
- With 12 story modes, there is some heavy repetition of events
- Art and music style isn“t for everyone
Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10)
Though fans of Persona may be put off by the genre shift and fans of fighters may be put off by the subject matter, the truth is that neither have anything to worry about with Persona 4 Arena.