Developer Arc System Works has already solidified itself as a major player in the “anime fighter” genre with it’s previous fast-paced technical titles Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. Working with the talented minds at Atlus, Persona 4: Arena marks a new era for the beloved franchise, finally venturing out from the role-playing genre and into the sinister cutthroat world of competitive 2D fighters. The transition to one-one fighting genre is a perfect fit for the Persona series and an absolute must-buy.
Bursting at the seams with sharp visuals and a flashy color scheme, the once 3D world has been transformed into a 2D wonderland without sacrificing any of the personality from the Persona franchise. Acting as a sequel to Persona 4, Arena does not forget its roots as Katsura Hashino worked very closely to create a story that would be worthy of the Persona name and not be labeled as a spin-off. Playing out as a Japanese visual novel, you will be spending close to 30 hours in the Story mode. Yep, that isn’t a typo. Granted, the majority of the time is spent reading text and listening to the voice acting, either in English or Japanese, it is still an impressive length for a fighting game.
Lasting only a single round, the fights in this mode can be over quickly. It is clear that the Story mode has been crafted to appease those fans of the series that want to know what happened to their favorite characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4. While this works out for the fans, the slow-pace may be be a turn off for those who do not care for the Persona universe. Beginning with only four playable characters, as you complete the different stories more and more will become available to use.
For those that aren’t interested in the Story mode there are both an Arcade and Versus mode to dive into. The former mode still employs dialogue before the fights as well as having a predetermined set of opponents for each character, making it almost pointless to go through it a second time with a character. Versus mode removes all of the fluff and delivers a true arcade experience for you to play with a friend or a CPU opponent.
The extensive Lesson mode teaches you everything you need to get started, from basic mechanics to even some of the advanced techniques. Maneuvers such as mid-air dodging, reversals, and other staples of the genre are executed the same way for each of the characters making it easy to play any character without practicing extensively beforehand. Add an auto combo attack from only mashing a single button and it is possible for anyone to jump in and enjoy the title, but this does not mean fighting game newbies that will be able to hold their own against those high ranked, competitive opponents without putting in hours of training.
As the title of the game implies, each character has a unique Persona that can be summoned during the match and used in tandem with the character themselves. If they take too much damage they will be knocked out and forced to recharge as you continue to fight alone. Coordinating your attacks between yourself and your Persona is the key to victory. Pulling off various combos and moves don’t require you to memorize 10 button inputs, but instead Arena’s deep fighting system relies on positioning yourself and knowing when to pull off certain attacks.
Utilizing the superb netcode that pushed BlazBlue into the hearts of gamers, Arena works just as well with minimal lag and disconnects. The Xbox 360 version was marred with connection issues upon release, but has already been patched to resolve all of the issues players were having. Replays can be saved to learn from a possible mistake or gloat to your friends after destroying them online.
Persona 4: Arena is simply a must-buy for fans of the JRPG series as well as fans of fighting games. Arc System Works has solidified themselves as the masters of “anime fighters.” With a very long Story mode and rock solid online play Arena is the perfect blend for any gamer. I would not miss this title.Note: Persona 4: Arena was reviewed on Xbox 360. A physical copy of the game provided by the publisher.