Los Angeles based Atlus USA has finally brought the controversial RPG-themed fighter Persona 4: Arena to the Americas. It is not controversial for reasons one would typically assume the niche publisher to be guilty of, Atlus instead bears the stigma of being the only publisher to region lock a PlayStation 3 game. Since the locked Japanese release, Atlus has backtracked some, promising it was a onetime occurrence and was only for the purpose of preventing reverse importing back to Japan at lower prices. Somehow they felt that was a better explanation than what everyone assumed.
The explanation from Atlus aside, the whole situation really points to an issue with fighting games. Are they really worth a full price game purchase? In comparison to the entertainment offerings of other genres they are probably not but, the same could be said of the annual sports franchises. Even 2K Games thought this, at least at one point. Fighting games tend to really only fun when you play them with others and if they have a story mode, it’s typically pretty weak. Ironically, Persona 4: Arena is not one of those kinds of fighting games.
Make no mistake Persona 4: Arena is, however, a fighting game. Atlus has provided the story and the art but Arc Software, the developer behind Blazblue and Guilty Gear was responsible for the gameplay. The result is a really kind of bizarre but mostly successful product. Action fans and those with a short attention spans should avoid the story mode as if were contaminated with the hantavirus. On the other hand, Atlus’ Shin Megami JRPG fans will love what Atlus has done with that very same game mode. Luckily, the fighting is tailored to both audiences.
The stories, in typical Shin Megami Tensei fashion are interwoven and to get the bottom of the situation and to unlock all of the characters from both Persona 3 & 4, players will have to play through with most of the characters. As an indication of how lengthy these stories are, the game offers numerous save points throughout each character’s tale. There are not a huge number of fights, rather the story is just that long. It can be 20 minutes of dialogue and scenes before your first fight and it doesn’t end there. Those not familiar with Persona’s demon summoning nor their high school themes should prepare for a bit of mind-bending.
Besides the Story mode, Persona 4: Arena offers a Lesson mode to learn the controls; Arcade mode, Score Attack mode; Training and Theater modes, where you can record and watch videos; Challenge mode with online leaderboards; Versus mode for local multiplayer and finally; Network mode, where you can compete online. Those looking for the more authentic experience will be happy to know, Atlus has also included the original Japanese audio.
Realizing, that Persona 4: Arena is targeted at multiple audiences, Arc did a superb job of making it possible for the RPG series’ fans to be able to play the game while at the same time offering a deep fighting experience for those looking for one. Besides dropping the difficulty level in the settings, mashing the square button repeatedly will let fighting game novices be able to pull off some pretty lethal combos. For all of those looking for a deeper fighting experience, it is there. The characters, though having fairly different skill sets, can all jump, double jump, and dash in both directions while in the air and standing. They can also block while in the air, standing, or crouched.
The idea behind the Persona games is that each of the characters has a demon or Persona. This translates into the fighting as each character fights with their Persona against the opponent and the opponent’s Persona. Where the X and square buttons are your characters main attack buttons, the triangle and circle control your Persona. It is important to use your Persona judiciously though, as it can get broken, severely limiting your combat effectiveness for awhile. Besides yours and your Persona’s hit points, an SP and burst gauge are also displayed onscreen. At full SP, the person winning the match can execute an instant kill.
On the PlayStation 3, there are no significant online issues, though how long there will be enough people online to find random matches remains to be seen. As kind of a throwback genre anyway, it’s always more fun to be able to see the face of the foe you just bested. It is also worth noting that the soundtrack for Persona 4: Arena is filled with some really great songs. Many of those that preordered the game really scored with the bonus disc. Honestly, this is probably the most complete package of all of Arc Software’s offerings and only the creator of the highly stylized Guilty Gear could have pulled this off as artfully.
There really is nothing to complain about in the execution of Persona 4: Arena. Everything attempted, at least on the PlayStation 3 version, is pulled off well. The rest is really about taste. As with the sometimes surreal JRPG series the game is based on, the Story mode is text heavy. Only about a third of that text is voiced and unfortunately, consistent with the style most of the animation is static. As a result of those two technical aspects, this game will likely not garner many newcomers to the Shin Megami Tensei series. For those already hooked on this brand of weirdness, Persona 4: Arena is a no brainer and 2D fighting fans should give it a serious look.
Persona 4: Arena is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Language, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.