Persona 4 Arena Impressions
Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series has always had a dedicated, though perhaps not excessively large, fan base here in the states. However, the Persona series has eclipsed its mother series in recent years. Persona 3, originally released on the PS2 in 2007, was followed up by two updated versions of the game, Persona 3: Fes on the PS2 in 2008 and Persona 3 Portable on the PSP in 2010. Both Persona 1 and Persona 2: Innocent Sin were re-released on the PSP in 2009 and 2011, respectively. Persona 4 released in 2008 on the PS2 and, despite arriving rather late in the PS2′s life span (the PS3 launched two years prior in 2006) was received with high critical acclaim and sold quite well. Most recently, Persona 4: The Golden, an updated version of P4 on the Vita, is set to hit shelves this fall and Atlus recently announced that its Persona team is beginning work on Persona 5. These are all great games, and I’m sure P4: The Golden and P5 will not disappoint, but the series has been one of RPGs since its inception, until now.
Persona 4 Arena (P4A) launched earlier this week on August 7th and, as a fighting game, distinguishes itself as the first non-RPG Persona game. P4A marked such a genre departure from the rest of the series that I was initially skeptical about how it would turn out. However, it’s turned out to be great fun so far. P4A was developed by Arc System Works, the veteran fighting game developer behind both the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear series. Arc System Works knows how to make a great fighting game and it shows. Attacks are flashy, the controls are tight, and the character animations are gorgeous and fluid. The control scheme is deceptively simple and holds a fair amount of depth. Simple combos can be performed by repeatedly mashing the light attack button (square or X) and most specials are pulled off with 1 or 2 quarter circles forward or back in conjunction with an attack button, so fighting game novices can quickly pick up the basic controls and perform a decent array of moves. For more experienced players, properly timed blocks can turn into counter attacks and Bursts can be used both to interrupt an opponents combo or extend your own. Each character has two attack buttons mapped to them and two mapped to their persona. Combining the shear versatility of using your fighter and their persona, the quick inputs for special attacks, the more advanced fighting moves available, and an Awakened mode that automatically activates once your health falls below a certain level, there is plenty of depth here for fighting game aficionados to delve into.
Despite being a fighting game, P4A will be instantly recognizable to persona fans. Character designs are faithful to the originals, with slight updates. Though it features original songs (composed by none other than Shoji Meguro), P4A also features music from P3 and P4. The games story mode is surprisingly lengthy, with each character having their own story line that can easily take a few hours to finish. Some characters even have branching pathways in their stories, encouraging you to replay and make different choices. Fans of P4 will be pleased as nods to P4 are scattered about the game with NPC cameos and references to past events. The dialogue boxes, humor and character’s personalities are all spot on from P4 and it’s great fun to have the cast all together again, so to speak. Characters from Persona 3 are also featured in the game, sure to please long time fans. While fans of P4 will likely appreciate the story mode, it is very text heavy so might not hold the interest of gamers interested in the game only as a fighting game. For them, the arcade mode will likely be a go-to game mode. A lesson mode is available to quickly familiarize fighting game newcomers to games mechanics. While I haven’t played any matches yet, the game’s online mode appears fairly robust. For those up to it, a challenge mode is also available.
The game’s presentation is great. Background art is nicely done, menus are slick and easy to navigate, and load times are low. Overall, I’m really excited to play more and it seems like there is more than enough here to please persona fans and fighting game fans. Expect a full review soon!