Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review
The original Persona 4 Arena proved itself as a competent and absorbing fighting game on its own terms, but it did not forget what fans love about the franchise. This included an expansive, visual novel-inspired story mode that fleshed out some of the characters and added new mysteries for the Persona gang to solve. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax stays true to this tradition, adding new character backstories for Persona initiates and more complex fighters for hardcore fighters. Atlus and Arc System Works both do what they do best and once again the result is a solid fighter that appeals to a variety of skill levels. Even more impressive is that the two have crafted an outstanding sequel to Persona 4 Arena and not merely an expansion.
Story mode has the most new content. It picks up right where Persona 4 Arena ended, featuring a new adversary along with some fresh faces. The mode isn't a one-time affair, either. You can play through it from the perspective of the Persona 3 or Persona 4 casts, and after that you can do more to unlock a true ending. This mode is a fan's delight as it showcases how characters have grown, what they've been up to, and what problems they're still facing. The Persona 4 arc falls a little flat (after all, we just spent the past game with them), but the Persona 3 branch is way more exciting as it takes the characters in interesting directions. Who would have thought Yukari would be donning pink attire to star in a show similar to the Power Rangers, or that Ken would actually turn out to be a soccer stud? That being said, those who have little interest in these intricate details should avoid this mode. Some chapters are all text, without any fighting at all.
Arcade mode lets you get in the ring faster, presenting all the information without all the longwinded character moments. Golden Arena, another mode, plays off the franchise's RPG roots. Here, you select a partner and improve your social link with them as you take on a battle during each floor of a dungeon. During your trek, you level up, unlock skill points to improve attributes, and gain new skills - like the ability to heal or unleash a status effect. This mode is more fun than I expected; the dungeons have at least 50 battles, and the challenge and character-building kept me hooked. Of course, most people will find longevity in the game by going online for some human competition, continually striving to improve their record.
With combo-heavy encounters that borrow from the Persona series' focus on exploiting weaknesses, combat is well-balanced. Weak attacks are fast, but don't pack a punch. Strong attacks are powerful, but leave you vulnerable to counterattacks. Every type of block you can do also has one setback. For instance, a crouching block can't defend against jumping attacks, and nothing can defend against the powerful "all-out attack." Skills, like adding a lightning attack, also up the ante; however, you must pick the most opportune time to tap into their power.
Mastering the more advanced mechanics takes practice, but those who only want to learn the basics can still have success. Arc System Works crafted a system that is both simple and complex. Advanced players will want to master detailed combos that require more memorization and button presses. These demand mixing up the weak and strong attacks that combo into a skill. Casual players shouldn't feel left in the dust, though. Ultimax provides the ability to form simple auto-combos by pressing a single button repeatedly.
The game lets you decide how much you want to invest in it and doesn't punish those who don't want to get into the nitty gritty. When I first started, I wanted to hop right into battle and beat story mode. After, I picked three different characters to master and progressively grasped more advanced combos and movesets. Everything became more natural and second-nature the more I played, and thanks to the tutorial mode (accessible at any time), progressing at your own pace is easy.
Ultimax also delivers with new fighters that have some creative and fun skills. Junpei (now a little league coach) uses a bat, and every time he takes a swing that connects with his enemy, he gets a runner on base. As he scores runs, he gets more powerful. Rise's skills are just as fitting; the pop idol uses a microphone and musical notes to damage enemies, and her super move mimics the Dance Dance Revolution games. I appreciate these quirks, since they make the characters feel unique - and not like were just shoehorned in to increase the roster size.
Atlus and Arc System Works have succeeded in creating another solid fighting game. Ultimax makes small tweaks to the fighting system, but it also keeps things fresh with new characters, an intriguing story mode that Persona fans will adore, and plenty of modes to keep you busy. None of Persona's essence is sacrificed to make a fighting game. It still has a deeper message, if you're ready to read through it all. If not, you have fun gameplay to master, which is more than enough reason to step back into the ring.