Persona 4 Arena Review
Atlus and Arc System Works are specialists in their respective genres. Persona 4 Arena is a collaboration, but each side sticks to what they do best: lengthy storytelling (Atlus) and deep fighting mechanics (Arc System Works). Little is done to blur the lines between the two, leaving a distilled representation of each.
The visual novel approach to P4A’s story mode is atypical of most fighting games. Text, spoken dialogue, and animated cutscenes place a heavy emphasis on narrative. The action in story mode is relegated to occasional dialogue selections and a handful of one-round fights at a low difficulty level so players interested in the story can focus on it without much distraction. Characters have their own individual perspectives, providing an incentive to play through multiple times to experience the entire story. The crossover between Persona 3 and 4 (and introduction of a new character, Labrys) serves as a treat for fans of the RPGs.
If the story mode doesn’t interest you, the arcade mode lets you enjoy the combat without any plot. Similar to Arc System Works’ BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, P4A utilizes a four-button control scheme – two for your fighters and two for their Personas. Thumb-friendly, simultaneous button presses combined with various directions perform mechanics such as throws or sweeps. The full array of simultaneous presses are hard to remember, but P4A does a great job of getting newcomers ramped up in the included Lesson Mode.
Casual fighting game players will undoubtedly struggle with mastering some of the high-level mechanics, but those fans can still have fun here. Mashing the A button results in an auto-combo ending in a special move, so it at least looks like you know what you’re doing. These low-effort, high-satisfaction combos make it easy to burn through story mode, but it doesn’t level the playing field when it comes to competition, since moves executed via auto-combo have reduced damage.
Will a new player have a better chance to win against a veteran? Not really. Having an inner tube doesn’t suddenly make you a world-class swimmer, and novice players will drown when faced with the complex combat. Breaking away from the auto-combo system and manually performing combos requires the strict timing and execution that Arc System Works’ fighters are known for. The mechanics are deep with a lot of room for experimentation, and the character variation is well spread out. Hardcore fans won’t be left wanting.
Having seen a release in Japan in both the arcade and home consoles, a number of balance changes and tweaks are already in place, signifying support from Atlus. That support, along with growing popularity among the fighting game community in North America, could greatly increase the longevity of the title and ensure you’ve always got someone to fight against.
Arc System Works’ netcode has traditionally been rock solid. The stability continues here in P4A, making the online experience enjoyable. Online modes are a pretty standard feature set; You can participate in online casual and ranked matches or create a lobby of up to eight people. Filters to weed out low latency connections or regions are included. Some initial hiccups have been reported on the 360, but Atlus has confirmed that a patch is already in the works.
The audio and visual representation is a fresh take on an already slick style. Arc System Works’ treatment brings the 3D models of the Persona characters into the 2D space with hand-drawn sprite work and sprawling, highly detailed backgrounds. In terms of background music, a majority of what you’ll hear consists of remixed versions of existing Persona tunes.
Persona 4 Arena’s gameplay, while having a few hooks for casual players, is largely inaccessible to them. There’s not a lot of middle ground. Mastering the mechanics of this engine involves a lot of time and effort in the training room. This game hits a lot of the notes that catch the attention of casual and hardcore fighting game fans, even if it won’t necessarily bring them together.