Persona 4 Arena Review
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 3
The Midnight Channel is back, and this time the Investigation Team are the ones in mortal peril! Taking place two months after the events of Persona 4, Yu Narukami and his team find that three of their members are missing after seeing the Midnight Channel feature everyone in an advertisement for the P-1 Grand Prix. Yu, along with Chie Satonaka, Yosuke Hanamura, and Yukiko Amagi dive once again into the TV World to help their comrades. This time, however, they have a new roster of enemies to defeat: including each other!
Persona 4 Arena departs from the traditional RPG gaming fashion of the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series and instead heads to the arena for some pure, fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping, hand-to-hand action. Bringing with them a vast experience in the fighting genre with BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, Arc System Works takes a formula that worked exceptionally well with BlazBlue, and puts some true Persona polish on for a remarkable gameplay experience with an in-depth and exceptionally well-written story mode, beautiful graphics, and a phenomenal soundtrack.
As mentioned, Persona 4 Arena follows the highly successful 2008 Japanese RPG Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 developed by Atlus. Taking place just a couple of months after the RPG, P4A features all of your favorite characters from Persona 4, as well as some favorites from Persona 3. Persona 4 Arena has a total of 13 characters to choose from, with four of them being selectable for the game’s Story Mode and more that are unlocked as you progress through the game. The Story Mode follows your selected character as he/she progresses through the story line in his/her investigation to find his/her missing friends and unmask the evil fiend that’s behind the return of the Midnight Channel. The story details the adventures of your selected character in a number of scenes and sports a massive amount of dialogue which is voice acted during character interactions, and text only for the internal monologue. The scenes do frequently get quite long-winded between battles, lasting upwards of twenty minutes or more. You can skip through the dialogue, however, if you wish to do so. There’s also a checkpoint save system, referred to as Bookmarks, to allow you to save between scenes and battles.
If you want to skip the story and get straight to the fighting, though, there are plenty of options for you to select from. For the uninitiated in Arc Softworks’ fighting games, there’s the Lesson Mode that walks you through the various types of controls and attacks. The lessons are arranged from the basic skills (such as moving around) and work the player up towards more complex controls in a progressive manner. It’ll also teach you how to effectively use your Persona in combat, which we’ll get into a little bit later.
Arcade Mode is for those looking for a challenge in a single player aspect, without as much of the dialogue of the Story Mode. You can select any one of the 13 characters and partake in a tournament-style game similar to the original P4A arcade game. Much of the spoken dialogue seen in the Story Mode is played just before and after a battle takes place, so if you’re really into the story, you might want to avoid this part until you’ve completed the campaign.
Score Attack is for those that are seeking an even faster paced and more challenging experience from a single player standpoint. The computer opponents are absolutely relentless; however, it does give you some exceptional practice before entering the online matchmaking. At the end of a battle, you’re given a score based on your performance; the more devastating attacks, the higher the score. These scores can be posted online and ranked with other players around the world.
Training and Challenge Modes also help you fine tune your fighting skills by allowing you to practice in a non-hostile environment with a dummy opponent to beat up on. While Training Mode is more of a free form sandbox, Challenge Mode gives you a series of combos to practice with on the dummy. Once you’ve completed the particular combo challenge, it presents a new one for you to perform, with each character having his/her own unique set to learn. Like the Lesson Mode, Challenge Mode will start with the most basic combinations and progressively get more complicated. By the time you’ve completed all of the challenges, you’ll be ready to test your mettle in the online matchmaking against the rest of the world!
In Network Mode, you’ll get access to all of the online matchmaking arenas. Players can choose to jump right into the Ranked Matches where you’ll have to work your way through the grades starting at F-. The more matches you win, the higher you’ll go in rank. After each match, you’re given the opportunity to save a replay for later viewing, as well as a scorecard with your points totals and any changes in your rank. If you’re not ready for the big show yet, you can also dive into Player Match, which is essentially the same, except those matches are un-ranked.
“But how does it play?” you may ask. In short, it handles phenomenally. The controls are exceptionally responsive, which adds to the pace of the game, and also gives veteran gamers the ability to really finesse out some serious mega combos. To avoid the problems of infinite combos, Arc has created a robust system of recoveries and breaks to keep players from succumbing to a relentless barrage of incoming attacks which can leave fighters frustrated. However, if you’re not quick on your thumbs, you’ll find that even the ability to break a combo chain won’t save you. You’ll need to deliver some punishment of your own if you want to stay in the game.
Stuns can also be broken or worked around to prevent a player’s demise as well. Some stunts, such as being frozen in ice, can be broken by working the D-pad for a short period of time; while others, such as electrocution, will disable your ability to use the D-pad and basic combat moves, but special attacks can be used, and you still have the ability to dodge attacks and move about using the dash ability. So while the stunned player may be hampered, a good player will still be effective in a fight.
Of course, P4A wouldn’t be a Persona game without the ability to use Personas – which are essentially physical manifestations of a characters inner psyche. Arc System Works does an excellent job of integrating them into combat, allowing the player to call upon them at will with a weak and strong attack. Like you, Personas have a limited life bar in the form of a Persona Gauge, displayed by the five tarot cards under your life bar. When a Persona is used, they too can take damage from your opponent. When they do, one card is lost from the gauge. When all of the cards are gone, your Persona cannot be used again until the gauge recharges. This means that you’ll have to strategize on the best ways to use your Persona, as things can become much harder for you if they’re out of commission in the middle of a heated battle.
While the game is primarily designed for the veteran player, those more prone to button mashing will find a few sets of handy skills to use as well. First, is the auto-combo feature, where by repeatedly tapping the weak attack button your character can automatically perform a fury of hits. If your SP gauge is full, you’ll even perform a powerful SP attack at the end of the chain. Likewise, other powerful attacks can be performed by mashing multiple buttons at the same time; however, you’ll need to have some SP available to perform those attacks effectively, so watch that gauge!
Arc System Works has not only managed to create an exceptionally well-balanced fighting game, but one that looks purely gorgeous too, even at a mere 720p. The graphics feature a combination of beautifully illustrated anime characters, all drawn in stunning detail, with multi-level 3D rendered environments. Much like BlazBlue, Arc uses a palette of bright colors in the characters and environments that makes it both pleasing to the eye, while drawing out every detail without managing to wash everything out in color. Occasional animated cutscenes take place as well that feature the same fantastic artwork, all in gorgeous High Definition.
Adding to the appeal of P4A is the superb voice acting and fantastic soundtrack. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a copy of P4A on the first run, you’ll find that an arranged soundtrack CD is included, but this collection is only a brief taste of the epic rock and roll and electronic arrangements that you’ll find in Persona 4 Arena. Each song does an excellent job of setting the mood for the different scenes encountered, and really gets the blood boiling during those fast and furious matches with players as well as during the single player story. With over 35 songs in the game, there’s very little repetition to be found. This is definitely one of the best game soundtracks in 2012, and hopefully, we’ll be seeing a full soundtrack CD sometime in the near future.
The voice acting is likewise remarkably done. From the dialogue scenes to the animated movies, and color commentary that’s given during a match, the voice actors do a great job of sounding very natural and not like they’re reading off of a piece of paper (which is oftentimes problematic on games brought over from Japan). This adds even more depth to the already exceptionally written story that was penned by team Atlus.
Overall, Atlus and Arc System Works have both managed to raise the bar once again in a game genre, bringing high speed intensity to Persona 4 Arena, while maintaining an excellent level of balance. For fans of the Persona franchise, they’ll find an enthralling story that stays true to the series, while opening it up to a new genre altogether. For fans of fighting games, you’ll find an engaging story that will draw you in without having to know the entire backstory of the series, as well as some seriously hardcore fighting on a level that you don’t see terribly often anymore. Gamers might be put off by the sheer length of the dialogue in between matches in the Story Mode, but will otherwise find a fine tuned machine under the hood of Persona 4 Arena.
Persona 4 Arena receives a 4.75/5.0.
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