Persona 4 Arena Review
Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Persona 4 Arena (P4A) T for Teen for language, mild blood, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, and violence. The characters are all animated so the violence is never overly graphic in the vein of Mortal Combat.
Plays Like: P4A plays like a 2D fighter in the vein of Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom, BlazBlue, or many others.
Review Basis: Completed story mode. About 45 hours total play time between all the games modes.
The best part about P4A is less a specific attribute of the game itself, but a more general accomplishment of the game as a whole. P4A represents the successful transfer of a franchise to a new genre, resulting in an incredibly fun game. P4A is based on the Persona series, itself an offshoot of the Shin Megami Tensei (MegaTen) franchise. Both the Persona and MegaTen series have traditionally been RPGs. P4A is an offshoot of Persona 4 (P4) but ties heavily into Persona 3 (P3) as well. P3 and P4 were both released on the PS2 and were incredibly fun games, I highly recommend them. P4A is notable as the first non-RPG Persona game. Despite marking such a departure from the series’ past, it is a well-made and highly enjoyable game. Experiencing a familiar universe, characters, and settings in a new genre allows a player to experience the familiar in an entirely new way.
+ The fighting mechanics. Arc System Works knows how to make a deep fighter. Best known for their Guilty Gear series and, most recently, the Blazblue series, their games have plenty of advanced features and techniques for experienced players but still make some basic combos easy enough for newcomers to readily perform. For example, simply mashing the light attack button will perform a basic combo string and execute a super attack if the player has enough spirit points built up. For more advanced techniques, burst moves allow a player to interrupt an opponents combo, and most characters have a counter attack of some form if you can time the block of your opponents attack properly. Though you only choose a single fighter, each character’s persona acts similar to a second character to chain combos longer and increasing the number of moves available. However, a persona can be broken if hit too many times, preventing a player from using it for a short time. Personas are also used for most of the games super attacks, leaving a reckless player at a distinct disadvantage if their persona is broken. Each character feels unique and provides a different approach to fighting. There are some well rounded fighters, short range brawlers, characters specializing in ranged attacks, characters focused on zoning and instant kill moves, and many more. Each character also has an instant kill finishing move that are all over the top and fun to watch.
+ The art style. The character models are all gorgeously drawn and remain faithful to the originals with only slight updates here and there to better fit a fighting game. The attack animations are all fluid, flashy, and very well done.
+ The music. The original tracks for P4A were all composed by Shoji Meguro, famous for his work on the previous MegaTen games. The music is fast paced, catchy, and generally fits the intense, frantic nature of the fights. P4A also includes music from both P3 and P4, sure to please fans of the RPGs.
+ The unlockables. Cut scenes can be re-watched in the game’s gallery. Also available are a myriad of artwork, music, voice clips, and more to unlock and peruse.
+Training tools and extra challenges. Training mode is great for fighting game newcomers and veterans alike. This mode will quickly familiarize players with all of P4A’s control inputs, from basic movement and attacks to the more advanced techniques. The challenge mode is also useful for players of all skill levels. Early challenges will introduce players to some simple combos that gradually increase in complexity. Later challenges will have even veteran fighters contorting their hands to complete. The online mode can also be a training tool since you can spectate other player’s matches. This is another great way to learn how to chain character’s attacks together to perform longer combos.
+/- The story mode. I was conflicted putting this here, but depending on the person, the story mode can be a huge plus or a huge minus. As a longtime fan of the Persona series, I loved the story mode in no small part because of the inclusion of characters from Persona 3 (P3) and Persoan 4 (P4). I’ll avoid spoilers and simply the story begins shortly after the conclusion of P4 and results in the reformation of the Investigation Team in response to a new case. However, this case involves members of the main P3 cast so they’re involved almost from the start. The story is well written and engaging, with a few good twists and turns. The character’s dialogue is endearing and engaging. The humor and personality each character developed in their own games is not lost here. However, the story mode is also quite lengthy, and most of the time is spent simply reading; it’s more visual novel than fighting game. It’s simply so long and text heavy that anyone playing P4A who is just looking for a good fighting game is likely going to be turned off.
- Some balancing issues. The issues present are not game breaking or incredibly numerous, but there are a couple of characters that are a bit too good. For example, Yu Narukami (the protagonist from P4) has too high of a hit priority and his ranged super move is nearly impossible to interrupt. These issues would be easily remedied via a software patch, but until they are, they are still a blemish, however small, on an otherwise highly polished game.
- The DLC. Game companies have taken a lot of flak lately for on disc and day one DLC but, really, this is just insulting. The day P4A launched there were already a color pack, a glasses pack, and extra voices available for $2-6. I realize that many fighting games, in my opinion, gouge players for money for minimal content (alternate costumes, color pallets, alternate voices, extra stages etc) but Arc System Works seems particularly guilty of this. One need only to look at their Blazblue series to see how much DLC and how many “updated” versions of the each game they’ll release, each time adding one or two new characters and minimal other content.
Arc System Works has delivered unique characters and a fighting system that simultaneously eases in newcomers and provides plenty of depth for advanced players. The characters, art direction, story and dialogue are well enjoyable, especially for fans of P3 and P4. Overall, P4A is a solid fighting game that is flashy and fun to play and will hold the interest of fighting game aficionados and Persona fans alike.
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