September 1, 2012
The story of Persona 4 Arena takes place after the events of Persona 4 during Golden Week. You get to play as different characters from the RPG's and see different 'what if' scenarios. Each character has its own story mode, as the game slowly unravels more about the overall story and explains why everyone is fighting and who Labrys is. This all leads to finding out the game's “True Ending”, which is what may leave many fans feeling split. Still if you have the time to commit to it, the characters alone make it worth it playing through.
The story mode gets some things right, with great voice work by most of the original voice actors. However, on the opposite side of the fence, with so much spoken dialogue in the game, the text less thoughts of each character in their story mode are downright boring. It makes you wonder why the character has to think about picking up the phone for three pages of text before they say something. The dialogue is well written, but not good enough to make you want to sit for 15 minutes until a single match against an easy AI opponent.
The story is still enjoyable, even with all the problems in it. It’s too bad that the developers didn’t stream line the way they present the story. Having a 40+ hour story is great, if it's a worthwhile experience, but when there's a ton of filler it doesn't seem like such a stat to boast about. Still many people may end up skipping this mode entirely just based on the fact that you need to devote a lot of time and don’t get much out of it unless you are a diehard fan who is looking for any new story.
Gameplay is where the game shines. The team over at Arc System Works really did a great job making a system that was deep enough for hardcore fans, yet simple enough for new people to just pick up and learn. This is a big plus since sometimes you may really like a certain fighting game, but if it's complex your friends may be turned off from playing.
Persona 4 Arena is a four-button fighter, so all attacks are done by pressing A, B, C, and D. The attacks are split between weak and strong attacks by yourself or Persona. Tio stop you abusing the power of your Persona, Arc System Works implemented a system that locks the Persona's usage after getting hit/interrupted four times in a row. After that happens you are stuck with no one besides yourself until your Persona comes back, adding a fairly interesting element of strategy to attacking. The game has tried to port over as many of the nuances from the RPG as possible, with the ability to add status effects, evade, witness all out attacks, air switches, and more. It makes this feel like almost every system the game needed was thrown in there. While the auto combo is still being debated in the community, new players should feel like it is a friendly mechanic.
The thirteen character roster feels smaller compared to other games, but for a new IP it's clear this was done for balance; and it works. Even in a multiplayer match where you get completely destroyed, you can learn what you did wrong via the match recording options or try challenge mode to learn new combos. No matter who you pick up they will feel completely different to any previous character in the game and finding which characters best fits your play style may take you a bit of time. However, it shows how deep the roster really is compared to most fighters out there.
Persona 4 Arena boasts plenty of modes to keep you coming back for more. These range from the simple arcade mode, score attack, training mode, challenges, and a terrific online mode. This game is also a prime example for how to have net code in a fighter. Even under the most average connection games feel so smooth they might as well be right next to you playing.
One of the most iconic parts of Persona 4 Aera is its 2D animation. It looks gorgeous in every single way. When you are fighting the sprites look great and each attack has a fantastic amount of style and detail. Each character is shown beautifully in the game even in the story mode. In-between matches in story mode the characters talk using the 2D drawings much like in a normal persona game. After you get use to the sometimes random mouth flapping, you get wrapped up in the feel of the game's universe. The music helps this greatly by borrowing from Persona 3 and 4 along with its own remixed tracks. All the songs that are used might as well be in a "best of" from both games because each song just fits so well.
If you have the time to commit to learning this game or even just going through the extensive story mode, you will get your money’s worth out of this game. Unlocking all the special navigators will even take you quite a bit of time if you don't invest in the Nanako downloadable content. Also with the community growing for this game all the time, you don’t need to worry about having no one to face.
Persona 4 Arena is a successful amalgomation of the RPG and fighting genres, but it doesn't quite nail either of them. The story sometimes just grinds things down to a halt and the roster might be deemed a little small. But Arc System Works has done a great job of combining the characters of Persona in a competitive fighting game. I can only hope that this leads Atlus to supporting Personal 4 Arena with more content soon or even making a sequel to it altogether.
Persona 4 Arena was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.