When Atlus and the fighting game experts over at Arc System Works revealed the original Persona 4 Arena, there was some initial skepticism over how the combination would work. The Persona brand, namely surrounding the third and fourth numbered titles in the series, was at a high point at that time with a number of marketing, advertisement and media deals. So any misstep could have reflected badly on the brand. Thankfully though, the game was a success and now we have sequel with a clever little subtitle: Ultimax. Which as it turns out is an excellent way to explain the sequel.
What was unique about the original Persona 4 Arena was that it melded the story the Persona series is known for with the expertly crafted fighting game mechanics Arc System Works is known for, while at the same time making the player feel like it's an expansion of Persona 4 with the overall menu, graphical, etc. design.
For those who played the original Persona 4 Arena, you already know that the game ended on a cliffhanger with the villain behind the events that played out still at large. Ultimax begins the following day after the original's event and ups the ante as what appears to be a phenomena similar to Persona 3's Dark Hour sweeps over Inaba. We won't spoil what happens after that, but the narrative is at the same standards of the original, so those who enjoyed the original will enjoy this game's story even if a few pieces of the puzzle are left to a future game in the series. And if you enjoy puns, there's "sho" many that'll be bound to cause you to sigh at their cheesiness.
Also, for those who didn't like the visual novel-type scenes in the original Persona 4 Arena, they're back in full-force again here. Although if you're the player who likes these scenes but doesn't want to go through the battles, there is an auto-battle option that lets the CPU play out the fight for you. That said, the developers did throw out a lot the extra exposition that dragged out the original's story mode, which is a welcome change.
There are some newcomers to this round, such as the seemingly main villain Sho as well as fan-favorites like Adachi, Yukari and Junpei "The Man" Iori. Yukari is an interesting addition as she uses her archery skills to attack opponents from afar and brings some much needed keep-away potential to what was primarily an in-your-face strategy to many of the original's combatants. Another interesting addition is Persona 3's Ken and Koromaru which play very similarly to BlazBlue's doll-using characters.
However, that isn't to say the original cast weren't touched up at all in Ultimax. Some much needed nerfs to the more broken moves in Yu and Mitsuru's repertoire were toned down and some of the less-powerful characters in the original now have some much-needed buffs to bring them up higher on the tier listings.
The major new addition, though, is the new Shadow versions of the characters that are usable from the character select screen. They don't have access to Awakening or a defensive burst move, but they do have unlimited use to their Awakened super move, carrying over the meter between rounds and the most important ability: Shadow Frenzy. When utilized, the player has access to unlimited meter until the frenzy runs out. So in exchange for the safer get-out-of-jail-free abilities, advanced players can easily turn a regular combo into an exceptionally damaging combo that can turn the tide of the game.
One last mechanic change that should be noted is a modification to how the Fatal Counters work in Ultimax. The original had moves that landed a fatal counter upon landing a counter hit, but the new version also has moves that when punished deal a counter no matter what move was used to do it with. It removes a lot of the prior "safe" combos and now forces the player to reanalyze their game plan if they were a veteran of the original. That isn't to say that the game still doesn't guide the player towards putting pressure on the opponent, but it does allow the one taking the damage to have a few more ways to get out of what would have been a combo kill if properly executed.
There's a few new modes in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, as well as some changes to the ones that existed in the original. The unrelentingly cruel Score Attack mode has been toned down in Ultimax as one can now change their difficulty if necessary.
The new Golden Arena mode plays like a toned-down version of Persona 4, as the player picks a navigator to social link to and gains experience by defeating waves of opponents, which can be used to level up and unlock new abilities, such as triggering status conditions when certain conditions are met in battle. It's not entirely different from the Arcade mode but it's enough of a change for those who get burnt out on the latter.
The online lobbies and superb netcode still are retained here, with the PS3 version getting visual room-type lobbies based off Persona 3 and 4's locations, similar to the system found in Arc System Works's other online fighting games as of late. Sadly this mode isn't available in the Xbox 360 version, though.
In our review of the original we noted that there was a lot here to expand upon in a future sequel. Ultimax takes that idea and runs with it. The larger roster and modifications to the existing characters tightens up some of the nagging flaws in the original game. The story mode still could be tightened up a little bit, but the CPU auto-play option and the new modes let non-fighting game fans have some other avenues to travel down. If you're a fan of the Persona series or fighting games in general and can get past the "anime fighter" look of the game there's one hell of a fighter here for you, fo "˜sho.
|"Sho" many bad puns coming from Sho during the story mode.|
|Golden Arena mode is a nice change of pace from the arcade mode.|
|The Shadow versions of the characters give veteran players a whole new moveset to learn.|
|For those who disliked the original's story mode, it's essentially the same structure again.|
|No visual lobbies for the Xbox 360 version sadly.|
|If you can't stand bad puns.|