The Persona series, and Shin Megami Tensei in general, is pretty popular, no doubt about that one. Many of our writers here are familiar with the entire series in one way or another. Many of our readers are pretty familiar with Persona, as well. Unfortunately, I’m probably the least familiar with the entire series of the staff, as all the Persona I have under my belt are a few hours of Persona 3. Pretty neat hours, but still just a few. I hate backlogs.
So it might seem a bit weird that the least Persona-versed writer is talking about a Persona title. However, Persona 4 Arena is special, in that it tries to court two different audiences. The first one, and probably the most apparent one, is the RPG crowd. Specifically, fans of the Persona and other Shin Megami Tensei games. The other crowd is the fighting game crowd.
The fighting game component is developed by Arc System Works, who many of you may be familiar with, as well. Arc System Works developed the fighting system. Incidentally, though Arc System Works did most of the development, Atlus published it on both sides of the Pacific. While this is obviously mainly due to Persona copyrights and all that, it’s implied that this game is more of a Persona game than a fighting game.
However, at the same time, there’s enough emphasis placed on both halves of the game, enough to make each part almost complete games, by themselves. You can go through the story without getting too deep into the battle system. Though you still have to fight some battles, the difficulty of these battles are toned down, as the average story mode player will likely not be too good at fighting games (also likely the average Persona fan). Similarly, fighting game enthusiasts don’t have to dabble in the story beyond the trivial amount of story one gets in the quintessential arcade mode.
The game’s story mode is structured similarly to Blazblue’s. Basically, sort of like a visual novel. You get a lot of text, with voice acted lines, the occasional choice, and various endings. I haven’t dabbled with story mode too much, as I’m worried I’ll spoil parts of Persona 3 and Persona 4 for myself. Despite that, what little I’ve played presents a pretty engaging and interesting plot. With Atlus’ writers, I’m positive Persona 4 Arena’s plot will turn out quite well.
However, in my opinion, the real meat of the game is the gameplay (like it should be with every game, right?). In many ways, Persona 4 Arena is very reminiscent of past Arc System Works titles like BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, which place emphasis on different aspects of 2D fighting than the standard Capcom fighter. I still have trouble putting to words what makes ArcSys titles so different, to be honest. However, if you’re familiar with those titles, you’ll feel right at home with Persona 4 Arena.
Persona 4 Arena is also quite different from your standard ArcSys title, at the same time. Starting with the control scheme, it seems as if P4A took a page from Capcom titles with the face button layout. Rather than the standard ArcSys A, B, and C standard attacks, with special D moves, you can separate the attacks in P4A into two different categories. The first category consists of your standard light and heavy attack. However, the second category utilizes your Persona for attacking. This is rather similar to the punch/kick categories of Street Fighter and Marvel Vs. Capcom.
However, it’s clear that this separation is pretty newbie friendly, as the two categories are very distinct. I imagine that should cut down on initial confusion, and make the fighting game aspect a bit easier for the Persona fans. This sort of “simplification” seems to be in abundance, actually. There are several techniques in Persona 4 Arena that make it seem easier than most other fighting games. Every character has a dash that not only has some decent invincibility frames, but also can let you go through characters. Everyone also can do a very short hop, one that allows you to use air attacks, and get back to the ground extremely quickly. I know for a fact that short hopping in other games is something you have to train to pull off.
Like Blazblue, there’s a technique that allows you to cancel any combo you get stuck in. Like a “Get Out of Combo Free” card, I suppose. In Blazblue, you had a limited number of times you could use this technique. Once per round, rolling over between rounds, if I remember correctly. However, in this game, they’re based on a meter. I’m not sure how fast this meter fills up, but I’ve been able to use this game’s cancel more often. Similarly, you also get a technique that allows you to cancel your own combo at any time, allowing for some very intricate combos.
Other techniques include the furious action, which either acts as an attack that ignores damage and flinching, or a guard that leads to a counter attack. Basically, two highly desirable moves in other fighting games that are rather easy to pull off here. However, furious actions ante up a part of your health. This anted health regenerates over time, but will immediately disappear once you get hit. One other technique takes some time to hit, but leads to an All-Out Attack, which either ends in a free launch, or sends the character flying towards the wall. It reminds me of the universal launcher button in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. In addition to these, there are other beginner-friendly aspects of the game like highly simplified inputs (there’s nothing more complicated than quarter circle commands) and awakenings that kick in at low health and open up more commands, it’s quite evident that Persona 4 Arena is very beginner friendly.
Unfortunately for the longevity of this game, difficulty is very often a push-and-pull relationship. Making things easier for beginners may very well turn more skilled players off. Persona 4 Arena provides many safety nets in case you screw up, which may be counter-intuitive to fighting game enthusiasts. Thus, I have trouble seeing this game taking off and getting much of a scene. However, I rather wish it did. Persona 4 Arena places a lot of emphasis on going on the offensive, more than even BlazBlue does. Throwing is highly encouraged, cross-ups and overheads are pretty common, and some of the easiest combos in the game are very mixup-heavy. I’ve found myself having to block low much less often, as blocking high is equally as helpful.
Persona 4 Arena looks pretty damned good. The sprites are really high quality, and are very fluid. Just like all recent Arc System Works games, I suppose. Artwork also looks really damned good, as do backgrounds. Honestly, I have no qualms about the art, and I think it looks fantastic. I think the sound is pretty well done, too. There are some pretty great remixes of Persona 3 and 4 themes, and the new themes are pretty good, as well. Voice acting is pretty decent, and sound design works pretty well, too. In general, all the technical aspects of the game are really well done.
Persona 4 Arena is definitely a different sort of beast than your standard fighter. I think the emphasis on offense is a pretty damned good thing. Granted, I may not have been a fan of the rush-heavy style of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, but I don’t find myself liking systems that encourage turtling. However, I’m not the biggest fighting game enthusiast, so what would I know about the genre? Regardless, I can say Persona 4 Arena is very fun and engaging. While its focus may not be very appreciated, I think the change in focus is a welcome addition to the genre. Even if you don’t agree with me here, I think you can at least agree with me when I say that Persona 4 Arena does an amiable job of inviting RPG fans to try out fighting games, and vice versa, as well.