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Persona 4 Arena Review

 
Yes, I know…this review is coming more than three months late, but after reviewing Persona 4 Golden and suddenly being provided with a review copy of Persona 4 Arena at the same time, I figured better late than never, right? I mean, I’m sure there are still folks out there who have yet to pull the trigger on P4A and would like to know some thoughts on the game…
 
First off, I feel I should admit that fighting games are probably my least favorite genre. I’m all for a round or two at the arcade, but to pay $60 for something that’s so repetitive just doesn’t appeal to me. We all have our own favorites and least favorites, and mine just happens to be fighting games P4A slapped some sense into me.
 
It showed me a very important fact; that most fighting games that I wasn’t a fan of had more to do with the developer and not the genre itself. If a developer wanted to, they could make a fighting game with a story as deep as any RPG, and that’s exactly what ARC System Works has done. Did Atlus want to make a sequel to the fantastic RPG P4? Genre be damned; let’s make a true sequel in the form of a fighting game! (Yes, I’m confused about that line of thought as well, but oh well…).
 
ARC System Works was the perfect studio to develop P4A. The developer has had a long history of great fighting titles such as Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. They’re no stranger to fighting games, and all their many years of experience with the 2D fighting genre makes P4A a fantastic addition.
 
The appeal with anything that carries the Persona moniker (which up to this point has only been RPG games) is in the story. Throughout the years, the franchise has built a pretty solid universe, one that I would argue can stand up to any Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest or any other classic RPG franchise.
 

 
Since the Persona games generally introduce new characters and locations with each new installment, it’s quite nice to revisit a familiar set of faces in familiar locations. That in itself could have been the whole appeal of P4A; a “greatest hits” of Persona characters similar to a PlayStation All-Stars situation, but P4A actually delves deeper into the story and characters we have come to know and love from P4.
 
[quote_right]Of course, this doesn’t end up being a simple reunion of friends and before you know it, our heroes are thrust back into the Midnight Channel, forced to fight each other in the P1 Grand Prix[/quote_right]The Story Mode is the meat and bones of P4A, and man, does it do P4 proud! It’s a sequel in the truest sense of the word; the only difference is in the gameplay style. In P4A, Yu (The Protagonist from P4), Chie, Yosuke, Yukiko, Kanji, Rise, Teddie, and Naoto have all moved on with their lives following the events of P4. Yu has moved back to the city, Yukiko has taken over the Amagi Inn, Chie is training to be a police officer, etc.
 
With Golden Week looming (and a stressed out Yosuke, who must deal with holiday shoppers at Junes), our heroes anticipate the return of Yu, who will be in town for the holidays. Of course, this doesn’t end up being a simple reunion of friends and before you know it, our heroes are thrust back into the Midnight Channel, forced to fight each other in the P1 Grand Prix, a fighting tournament hosted by what appear to be demented versions of Teddie and Rise.
 
The characters are exactly as you remember them from P4. Even small character nuances, like Yosuke’s constant need to go to the bathroom or Chie’s love affair with steak, are presented here. And let’s be honest; at the end of the day, if you’re a Persona fan, it’s just cool to finally see characters from P3 and P4 interacting with each other….kind of like a JRPG Avengers, if you will.
 
This story heavy approach presents a few pros and cons, depending on what type of gamer you are and how long your attention span is. If you are the type of gamer that enjoys playing fighting games online and can willingly spend the night fighting in round after round, then this game is not for you. You will die of boredom, and no fighting mechanic will hold your interest long enough to be worth it.
 
This is because you must approach P4A like an RPG. You will easily spend the bulk of your time reading text bubbles and watching cutscenes. A good 75% of the Story Mode is taken up by….the story. Between matches, you will be constantly pushing the A or X button to read through the storyline. You will be presented with dialogue choices. You will be thrust into a storyline as meaty as any true sequel of P4 deserves to be.
 
[quote_left]I chose a random story sequence to skip through once I completed the game, and it took me nearly 10 minutes to skip it, all while furiously mashing the A button to skip the lines[/quote_left]Because of this, fighting fans that are used to quick storylines like the ones you may find in Street Fighter or Marvel vs Capcom may find themselves with nothing to do for long stretches. Sure, you can skip through the text, but you’ll be skipping through it line by line. I chose a random story sequence to skip through once I completed the game, and it took me nearly 10 minutes to skip it, all while furiously mashing the A button to skip the lines.
 
To be fair, however, you do have your fair share of Arcade Mode, online multiplayer, and a pretty addictive score attack and challenge mode. If it floats your boat, you never need to touch the story mode; just know that that bulk of effort was put into the “campaign,” and that’s what makes this game so great.
 
On the gameplay front, the fighting mechanic is about as good as it gets. Street Fighter may have too many combos that involve too many button inputs, and Mortal Kombat may move a little too slowly for some, but P4A has a great balance between fast and furious fighting, and a moveset that isn’t too horribly complex. For a fighting game noob such as myself, it was the perfect difficulty to jump right in, married with the option to go into a more elaborate style once I got used to the game.
 
On the graphical front, things look fantastic. While the previous Persona games showed their potential with the anime cutscenes, here the bulk of the gameplay is presented in the full glory of HD for the first time. In fact, the game itself is so gorgeously presented that the anime cutscenes were almost “Meh” compared to the rest of it. Colors are bright, animations are smooth, and the battle effects all explode in color on the screen.
 
The audio in this game is fantastic as well, which is no surprise considering the audio has always been one of the Persona series’ strengths. As with P4, the voice acting is superb, and the soundtrack is a great mix of familiar themes from P3 and P4, along with some new ones created specifically for this game. I feel like I should also mention the fighting sounds, but what is there really to say? There’s a lot of OOFS and HIYAS along with various sound effects. It works, which I suppose is a positive.
 
The final thing I want to touch on is the Gallery Mode. Here you can unlock a wealth of goodies, including character models, cutscenes, sound effects, and music tracks. As with Persona 4 Golden, these extras took up quite a bit of my time, and are a nice treat for any fan of the series.
 
It’s interesting that ARC System Works has created a fighting game that plays so much like an RPG, but with how story heavy the Persona series is, I suppose that was the only way to do these characters justice. I wouldn’t necessarily describe P4A as crossing the lines of two genres, but fighting fans should definitely be aware of the fact that this game is far more deliberately paced than what many other fighting games are like.
 
However, get past the pacing, and you’ll find yourself with a very deep, story rich fighting game. P4A is a fantastic entry into the Persona universe, and since the “fighting” part of the game is actually explained in the story, you could easily consider P4A to be a true P4 sequel. Call it Persona 4-2, if you want.