If there's one thing that's true about the video game genres, it's that unlike many other genres, fighting games really aren't for everyone. Especially not online ones. They seem to attract a certain type of person and quite often, this doesn't mesh that well with JRPGs, where things are often much slower paced.
That's why in many ways, I was quite surprised to hear that Arc System Works were developing a fighting game based off of the Persona franchise. This ended up being Persona 4 Arena, a game that's rather similar to many of Arc System Works' other properties. Although the gameplay is almost spot on for the fans of the fighting game genre, unfortunately it doesn't bare the same sort of greatness as far as the story mode goes, and that's what many fans of Persona are primarily interested in. That doesn't mean it's not a great entry into a new genre for many though.
Since Persona 4 is originally an RPG, you would think that story would play a big factor throughout the game. And to its credit, compared to most other fighting games, it's exceeds all expectations. However, when compared to the franchise as a whole, Persona 4 Arena's story is only decent. Most of the time it's almost as if the game is suffering from a bad case of deja vu.
There are 13 different stories, one for each character. But since all of the characters defeated their "shadow" counterparts in the previous story, the fact that they're back and attacking the Investigation Team once again is a bit tiring. With that being said though, it is interesting that the story mode plays out all of the character's stories from their own perspectives. Yu (or the Persona 4 progtagonist) has a different look at the story compared to Yukiko, which makes it fun to figure out what the other characters did differently, but the fun wears off when the cutscenes start.
Where the cutscenes sort of fall short is with the delivery of what's going on. A lot of it plays like an interactive book of sorts. You read the different passages and every now and then you'll have people talking and actual movement, but for the most part there's just text.
It would be fine if the text presented was just dialogue, but most of it is describing the actions of the characters, unlike the main game where they have the characters act out the scenes themselves. While there are some scenes that are animated, for every one of those there's about 5 more of these long passages. It makes the whole story experience quite slow and monotonous - rather ironic considering this is a fighting game.
Although Persona 4 Arena is a spin-off, the gameplay is pretty solid offering a ton of fun for those who are willing to learn how to play. For gamers who are not so experienced with the fighting genre, it does require a bit of practice. There is a training area, and this is a great place to hone your skills before you start tackling more serious challenges.
As with Arc System Works' previous titles, both the in-game animations, move sets and graphics exude style. And as a fan of Persona, it's great to see these characters showing off just how awesome they can be in combat. How Personas integrate with the combat is also a plus.
The music and animated sequences are as great as always in Persona 4 Arena, but most of the music is from previous games with little changed from the original titles. It's a great ode to the games and should make fans excited, but it's a shame there wasn't more time spent on creating new content for this spin-off. Even though the text cutscenes aren't very excited, the occasional fully animated cutscenes are gorgeous.
Persona 4 Arena is great, even as a stand alone fighting game, but it unfortunately does not represent the Persona series as well as it could have. Even with the silly dialogue given by the likes of Teddy and Yosuke, the story just isn't that interesting. Should they choose to do more games like this in the future, which I believe they should, the gameplay is definitely there. There just needs to be a bit more care as far as presentation goes.
Still, if you're a fan of Persona and have never ventured into the fighting genre that much, Persona 4 Arena is probably a good place to start.