Title: Persona 4 Arena
Alternate Title: Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena
Developed By: ATLUS / Arc System Works
Published By: ATLUS (Japan / North America), PQube (UK), Zen United (PAL Regions), All Interactive Entertainment (Australia)
Based On: Persona 4 for the Playstation 2 / Vita
Console: Playstation 3 / XBox360
Classification (AU): This title has been rated M for Violence. Of course, the gaming experience can change online.
Review Conditions: Australian Edition, Playstation 3, Retail Copy
Persona 4 Arena, around nine months after its launch in North America and Japan has finally made its way to store shelves in PAL regions such as the United Kingdom and Australia thanks to teams such as Zen United. While initially set to be released much sooner to its launch in other regions, many issues resulted in it being held back. Of course, due to the rather unique situation where every edition of the game is REGION LOCKED to Playstation 3 platforms of the same region (For which the game is only the second region locked title on the platform), this left what could easily be called a sizable fanbase unable to access the game while others could – especially during the initial network play boom that usually occurs during the first few weeks/months, as well as similar releases of Persona 4 the Animation and Persona 4 Golden making their way to store shelves.
But letting bygones by bygones I can finally do something I have finally wanted to do over these last months, play and review this game! While most games in the Persona line of Megami Tensei spin-off titles have been RPG’s, the team at ATLUS enlisted the aid of well known fighting game developer Arc System Works (BlazBlue / Guilty Gear) to produce a fighting game drawing upon all the playable characters from Persona 4, as well as siphoning a few characters from Persona 3 – which occurs chronologically before the events of P4. While there have been many reviews of the game before this one…. feel free to take a gander at my thoughts on the title!
Two months after the events of the good/truth end of Persona 4, it is Golden Week and Yu Narukami (Aka. %Player_Name_Here%) has decided to return to the town of Inaba. Looking forward to a relaxing time in the rural town with his friends, he arrives only to find there is another mystery afoot – the Midnight Channel has once again begun to air… only this time the entire Investigation Team appear on it as competitors for a fighting program, the “P-1 Grand Prix”. With three of their team members missing, the four original members (Yu Narukami, Yosuke Hanamura, Chie Satonaka and Yukiko Amagi) venture into the television once again…. and are pitted against not only each other, but a few faces from games of the past and exclusive to the game.
Persona 4 Arena does not feature a linear storyline, but instead branches out into individual chapters from the perspective of each playable character. These generally follow the same pattern of the character entering the TV world, wandering around the new labyrinth which has taken the form of a distorted Yasogami High School, taking part in a few fights and making their way to the Announcement Room to face off against the culprit. While this is Persona 4 Arena, therefore it is a fighting-oriented game, much of the games Story Mode is actually about the delivery of the storyline and interaction between the characters – this is most evident in one of the later chapters which consists of one battle amongst an hour of linear storyline.
Unlike titles such as Blazblue, there are only a handful of divergence points in the character routes that branch off into different endings – the most notable one being in Yukiko’s route to comical effect. Other than that, you should go into each character route expecting a linear route and the same conclusion each time. After a few rounds of the story mode, some aspects of the storyline can get repetitive as even if all chapters are supposed to take part in a different character-oriented reality, there are many aspects that remain similar. Particularly for those who enjoy Persona series storylines, there should still be lots to enjoy out of the storyline – and if you don’t mind mashing the X button for an hour, the Labrys arc is a pretty enjoyable non-action oriented plot in itself. Good news is that this release could very well be canonical and hints at future plotlines either for another fighting game, another RPG game or a completely new genre (Personally I would like to see Persona 5 in a different setting however). To that extent, don’t expect to see all the mysteries resolved in this game as there will be many more questions than answers.
Given Persona 4 Arena originated as an Arcade game, for those of you who wish to get into the action with less chatter, there is also the games Arcade Mode which allows you to use the characters in a series of nine or so battle, with small fragments of storyline strewn throughout them. You may miss out of the hefty amount of storyline in this mode, but did provide just enough to warrant storyline actually being delivered in the mode. But irrespective of what route you take, the storyline is simple albeit enjoyable and somewhat adapts to what you feel like doing. Just don’t expect many other faces to join in for the ride – as asides from the characters who take part in the main events of the game, only Nanako Dojima, Igor and Margaret have any voiced roles (Although a few have references to them made or cameo appearances).
Persona 4 Arena is visually pleasing in almost every aspect. With the transferal from 3D to 2D character sprites on the battle arena, each of the characters are well detailed and come with a fantastic array of different bright, colourful and most of all creative attack animations that pay homage to the characters original magic/physical capabilities in the original game…. or Teddie who can make almost anything appear from his hood. Staying on the aspect of battle environments, while disappointingly limited in number, the game also features some bright and creative environmental designs and aside from serving as a background doesn’t try anything with intractable elements to ensure the only thing that determines your success on the stage being skill…. and I like to think a little bit of luck.
Most of the game is delivered through a visual novel interface, that means that outside of battle for the most part you will be dealing with character portraits. Each of the characters from Persona 4 have been faithfully recreated from their original PS2/PS Vita designs while Mitsuru and Akihiko from Persona 3 feature more eccentric designs which are referenced to by many of the characters. The designs are overall of high quality, although their attempts at lip-syncing with the English-language dialogue could have been better. The games menu design and other interfaces were well thought out.
One of the particular aspect of note for Persona 3 and Persona 4 were their soundtracks. While not all tracks were able to be included for obvious reasons, the developers chose to incorporate a mix of old, new and remixed into compiling the games soundtrack, and for the most part it comes together well.
A reason behind the region lock was the decision to release Persona 4 Arena both almost simultaneously with Japan and the inclusion of the Japanese dubbed voiceovers (and subtitled) which ATLUS USA had never done before in earlier releases within the franchise. While I am left wondering if waiting nine months to play the game with a Japanese dub was really worth it… you have the choice so if you are pleased then that is great! Playing with the English dub, the quality is just as good as other Persona games for the Playstation 2 and worked well overall in keeping the mood and tone of the characters. Aside from the differences noted in Persona 4 Golden (and another alteration later or two in the game), all returning voice actors/actresses were retained.
Featuring a total playable character cast of 13, Persona 4 Arena gives each of these characters certain advantages and disadvantages against other characters – and this is particularly noticeable when you get to characters such as Shadow Labrys and Elizabeth. However that being said, with the more familiar characters how they handle in battle is how you would expect them to act… Chie for example is much more proficient at up-close fighting whilst Naoto who uses a gun is better suited to the outskirts of the field. The mechanics shouldn’t however be too new a territory to those whom have played similar Arc System Works titles.
Each of the games characters are assigned a moderate number of skills and abilities that can be used through combinations of controller movements and button presses. In terms of being approachable to a range of players from beginner to advanced, the game targets both groups offering simple but also deep gameplay mechanics. If you are new or unsavvy with the fighting game genre, the game offers an elaborate Lesson Mode which guides you step-by-step in performing the simplest moves to the complex finisher moves. The game also offers a sort of auto-combo attack accessible via pressing the basic attack button – offering beginner gamers the chance to become familiar with the battle environment and slowly progressing to more complex and aesthetically pleasing combos.
While I will let you venture out into checking out all the more unique features to this game, you can expect some complex strategies based around additions such as status ailments and of course, the harmonization of human/persona combos which makes for interesting gameplay.
While you do have the option of either a Story Mode and a more battle-oriented Arcade Mode, these are not the only available options for you to venture through. Also available is a Score Attack mode allowing you to go up against the CPU to obtain the highest score possible, a Training Mode to familiarize yourself with new combos against a dummy opponent and Challenge Mode which tests you skills at forming a combo. For those who’d prefer to play with others, there is also the Versus Mode where you can fight against friends or the CPU and a Network Mode where as you may already expect – you can play online.
The online netcode for Persona 4 Arena works well overall, at least on the Playstation 3 version and I had no issues during my test battles – which is good considering that while the game is region locked, the online play is global. You can expect your usual coupling of Ranked and Player matches, and can even set your very own Player Title from unlocked words.
While I can’t say I am a big player of fighting-genre games, I rather enjoyed my time playing through the gameplay systems of Persona 4 Arena, and thought it overall offered plenty of options for the beginner and advanced gamer. I am interested what they will do if they decide to release a direct sequel based on similar fighting mechanics in terms of better balancing and the introduction of new characters.
Overall, I am left just glad that Zen United et al. were FINALLY able to get Persona 4 Arena to the PAL region market. While I personally would have preferred more time being dedicated to the next RPG installment in the Persona franchise, what was presented was of great quality and I am left quite interested in where they will be taking the storyline of Persona 4 Arena – whether in something along the lines of Persona 3 Arena or something else as there are several different directions as to where they could take it.
That being said, I never want a wait that long again, and if they ever insist (worst case scenario) on a region lock again I hope they are prepared for a near simultaneous worldwide launch. Or at the very least offer us more than a 6-song arranged soundtrack for the wait….