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Let’s get things started with something that is likely a huge deal for Persona fans, Persona 4 Arena is a sequel to Persona 4. While I was initially cautious about this fact, the game’s writing handles this almost flawlessly by using opportunities for inner monologues and flashbacks to tell you mostly everything you need to know. I do need to point out that there are a few points that aren’t covered in the back story and are fumbled around if you don’t know everything that took place prior. As an example, during a situation, two of characters reference another character and express their concerns about what happened ‘last time’ without telling you what actually took place. Persona 4 Arena takes place 2 months after the events of Persona 4′s perfect ending and everyone’s life has pretty much returned to normal. However, on the eve of the protagonist’s return to the area, the Midnight Channel returns and shows the team battling it out in something called the P-1 Grand Prix.
In Story Mode, each character’s motivations are fleshed out at the start of their story, upon entering the TV world they will began to face their own personal demons. During this part of the game is when a bulk of the game’s story and action take place. Between battles, lengthy dialogue-heavy cutscenes take place where you will be prompted to make a choice. These choices will lead to different dialogue between characters and also the occasional joke ending as well. It’s like the story mode of Blazblue is mixed with the story mode of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. While this was an enjoyable feature for me, there was a massive amount of reading before action actually takes place within the game. Sometimes there was ten to fifteen minutes or reading a dialogue in between anything that resembles action. The does get tedious after a few playthroughs and by the time I got through the fifth or sixth character, I almost wanted to skip all the dialogue just so I could play that game. More or less, there are 5 major stories being told; Teddies, The Investigation Team’s, SEES’, Labrys’ and Elizabeth’s. Each story has it’s own twists and turns but I am pretty sure that Yu’s, Labrys’ and Elizabeth’s are the most canon out of all the different storylines.
Combat in Persona 4 Arena is near perfect for an arcade style fighting game. 2 buttons control your character, while the other 2 buttons allow you to summon and control your persona as well. A concept that I thought was pretty awesome was the ‘Persona Break’ feature, if you summon your persona in a fight and it is struck and interrupted, you can ultimately lose the ability to summon it for a period of time. Combos are bot overly difficult to execute but there are plenty of advanced features that you can utilize after you’ve mastered the combo system. While easy to control, I really felt that Persona 4 Arena is one of those fighting games best suited for play using a fight stick. It’s the way I experienced it at E3 and now that I have played it at home with my controller as well, the stick is absolutely the way to go.
The different game modes are actually the standard bunch that are usually encountered in your usual fighting game. There are practice and training modes which will allow you to get a grasp on exactly how combat works. I absolutely do recommend hitting there up first, since I had to learn how to use the Persona combat the hard way. The online mode is absolutely a breath of fresh air, considering I have played a collection of fighting games that have had their online framework a total mess. Everything seems to work well and matchmaking functioned quite appropriately. I got my ass kicked, but it was against people with only 1 or 2 wins, as compared to starting ranked matchmaking and getting rocked by someone with four hundred wins. Any lag I experienced was negligible as well and occurrences were few and far between.
The selection of characters is decent, there is not a massive selection but there are absolutely enough to find exactly who fits your playstyle the best. While exploring each character’s storylines was fun, I really did find some balance issues with a few characters. Obviously, this is most exploited in online play and with any luck, we should see this fixed quite quickly. It’s just a little frustrating when you only have a few handfuls of characters to choose from and almost half can’t do anything online.
Being that my closest experience to a Persona game prior to Persona 4 Arena just so happened to be (the much loved) Catherine, I noticed quite a bit of familiarity with the presentation. While both games are Atlas games, it turns out that Catherine does indeed take place within the Persona Universe (Vincent/Catherine DLC Atlas? Take all my money!), which looking back, makes me even more impressed with both games. Persona 4 Arena may not be the best fighting game that you have ever played, but for people that enjoy a great story and 2-D fighting engines, this may actually be one of the best fighting games you will get your hands on this year. When we awarded this the Best Fighting Game at E3, I felt the competition was close. After spending some time with Persona 4 Arena in the comfort of my own privacy, it’s even better. Make sure you do yourself a favor and pick this one up, even if you haven’t jumped on the Persona bandwagon… yet.
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- Killer soundtrack, 2-D art
- Impressive storylines
- Wide variety of characters
- The balance of characters could use some work
- Dialogue in story mode can really get out of hand quickly