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REVIEW: Persona 4 Arena (PS3)


One of the weirdest prospects in recent years has been the way that Atlus decided to carry on the story of Persona 4 Golden, a Japanese RPG and social-sim fusion, which blew me away when I played through it earlier this year; read my review for a full breakdown of why it’s one of the best games ever. For the follow-up title (which also acts as a pseudo-sequel to Persona 3 FES) Atlus decided to enlist the help of Arc Systems Works and created Persona 4 Arena, a one-on-one fighting game, albeit with a fairly lengthy storyline and the return of all your favourite characters and settings from Persona 4. Now, I’m not a big fan of fighting games, infact aside from Super Smash Bros. I’ve not played anything remotely similar in years, maybe a decade! I think the last time I touched a serious game in this genre was Tekken Tag Tournament on the PlayStation 2 and that wasn’t even my copy!! Literally the only reason I picked up this game was to continue the story of Persona 4 Golden, but upon playing I’m finding that I’m enjoying it immensely and it feels good to experience  a decent game in this genre once again; even if I am *utter crap* at it.

You can tell that Atlus knows its target audience will largely consist of people like me, as there are lots of systems in place to try and help those people who are used to turn-based JRPG combat become quickly acclimatised to furious and brutal fighting. Firstly, there is a sequence of lengthy and detailed lessons, the completion of which nets you a quick trophy and also teaches you the basics of combat. This is quite a lot to take in for a novice like me though as there are lots of double-button presses and quarter circles that trigger all sorts of different and useful moves, the learning of which is often crucial to beating the computer in ‘Arcade Mode’. So, to compliment this there is also a customisable training mode that allows you to tailor the environment to suit your practising needs; such as pulping up a defenceless dummy, or smacking about a typical AI, or having the computer constantly attack you. I found this to be very useful, and the ability to remap a lot of the double-button moves to the bumpers and triggers of the Dualshock 3 helped a lot too. When I first booted the game up, it seemed very fast and unwieldy to me, and I didn’t think I’d stand a chance, but if I can pick it up then I’m pretty sure anyone can. Either way, it displays good game design and a consideration for the target audience.

The fighting itself is well crafted and incorporates a lot of elements from Persona 4 Golden into what is essentially a completely different framework. At the top of the screen you’ll find the typical health bars and timer of a fighting game with an additional track of cards which is the ‘persona’ meter; if this is depleted through careless use of your persona and the enemy’s attacks then you are locked out of using flashy special moves for a while until it regenerates. At the bottom of the screen is also an ‘SP’ gauge like in the JRPGS, and this fills as you cause damage and can be spent on performing magical attacks, which makes sense if you’ve ever played the progenitor game. The’ SP’ gauge is also crucial for allowing you to pull off auto-combos, which for people like me are a godsend, or instant kills with crazy awesome animation. There’s also a ‘Burst’ meter that fills up at the top of the screen, which when full allows you to break an enemy’s attack and fill up your ‘SP’ gauge for a lethal counteroffensive; not to mention that when you’re down to the bottom third of your health you enter an ‘awakened’ state that gives you a massive power boost and opens up some new attack options. You can see that for those who are fighting game savvy there is a lot of depth. Characters all attack and behave as you would assume from their personalities in Persona 4 too, with Chie doing crazy martial arts, Kanji hitting people with chairs and Yukiko using ranged fan attacks, it really is clever how they’ve incorporated the ‘feel’ of Persona 4 into this style of game.

The presentation of Persona 4 Arena is absolutely fantastic and makes great use of already existing soundtracks from the JRPGs for the majority of its score, while also throwing in the occasional new arrangement or original jingle, all of which are superb. Graphically the game is also very polished with some high-detail 2D sprite work in action as well as lots of flashy special effects and screen cut-ins firing off every few seconds or so. It really is uber-stylish, especially for a fighting game, and captures the quirky anime feel of the Persona games perfectly. Despite having a relatively small roster of playable characters, there are lots of different gameplay modes that give a fair bit of longevity to the game. ‘Arcade Mode’ functions much as you would expect, you choose a character and then systematically battle through the other combatants one-by-one until you are left victorious; albeit here there is a decent cut-down version of the story and some flashy intros to scaffold all the action. Challenge Mode is another way to hone your skills by giving you ever more increasingly difficult challenges to pull off, like ridiculously large combos, or pulling off certain special moves in quick succession.  For those of you who are masochistic and love to be beaten over the head senseless by a videogame, there is ‘Score Attack’, which pits you against ever more ridiculous foes until you are likely dead.

However, it’s the lengthy ‘Story Mode’ where the real interest for me and I imagine many Persona 4 Golden fans, really dwells. Presented mostly as a visual novel, with the occasional one-round fight popping up here and there, the format is quite hard to get used to coming straight from the original JRPG, especially with the ‘Hero’ now being given a proper identity in Yu Narukami and having voiced dialogue! Still, after playing through one of the characters stories you’ll be firmly settled into the new storytelling format, and it’s nice seeing the character portraits in high definition for a change, as well as the occasional *amazing* anime cutscenes, which are a real delight whenever they’re onscreen. The plot concerns itself with a throwaway line in Persona 4 Golden’s epilogue, where Yosuke references some crazy stuff happening “back in May”, well this is what happens. It’s ‘Golden Week’ in Japan and Yu has decided to return to Inaba and catch up with his friends and family after the events of the previous year (the serial murders inside the TV). Whilst there he feels the urge to check the TV at night again, fully expecting not to see ‘The Midnight Channel’ after it was shut down at the resolution of the previous game. However, what appears on TV is some sort of fighting tournament, which all the ‘Investigation Team’ are part of and subsequently leads them to dive back into the TV to find out what the hell is going on! It starts off slow, with a *lot* of voiced dialogue to click through, but once the story picks up it’s actually a really good one. It’s told through multiple, contradicting, perspectives and new characters constantly unlock as you play through them all to piece together the events of the mysterious tournament. My only criticism is that with the introduction of Persona 3 FES characters, and the new character the mysteries centre around, it sometimes feels more like a sequel to the third game rather than the fourth. But I enjoyed Persona 3 so it’s nothing major, and leaving Yu’s story completion until last will give you a good Persona 4 feeling to end it all on.

(Great Game!)

A bold experiment but a successful one, this is well worth picking up by Persona 4 Golden fans looking to continue the story of their favourite characters, with systems in place to ensure even the most inept of fighting-game players will be able to at least have a decent chance. Persona 4 Arena has a lengthy and well written story, excellent gameplay and gorgeous production values!

NEXT GAME: Persona 4 Arena Ultimax to continue the story!!

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About n0signalone of us since 2:01 AM on 10.06.2014

Videogames have come a long way since the 8-bit and 16-bit days of old, and it is now one of the most interesting and constantly-evolving storytelling mediums. I started blogging about videogames a few years ago because I am very passionate about certain experiences I've had, which I don't think could have existed outside of our unique hobby, and I wanted to share this with other like-minded people on the internet.

I'm based in the UK and my favourite videogame of all time is probably still Shadow of the Colossus, but other more recent games such as the impeccable Dark Souls and Journey have given it a run for its money. My other interests, and things I have blogged extensively about, are board games and Japanese anime. I've got a degree in Media Communications and Film, and I'm currently a Teacher of ICT.

I post fairly regularly on my personal blog at https://n0timportant.blogspot.co.uk/, so please visit there for legacy videogame reviews and articles on anime, boardgames, etc.