Persona 4 Arena: Great for series fans, genre fanatics

August 20, 2012

I’ll admit: when the announcement of Persona 4 getting a fighting game happened, I flipped out in happiness. One of my favorite RPGs being translated into a fighter? That sounded pretty awesome. Or at least in my head, anyway. I was legitimately excited for this game to make its way to a Western audience.

But then I thought to myself, the last time I ever saw RPG characters inside a fighting game was back in the PlayStation era with Ehrgeiz. Even then, it was a lackluster fighter, featuring Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII. Given the track record of RPG characters in fighters, how would Persona 4, a full-length RPG, translate their characters into a fighting game series?

Luckily, they found the right people to do it. Considering Arc System Works’ experience with the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue games, the Persona 4 series was in good hands.

Typically, fighting game story modes don’t amount to much. It’s usually some disjointed story with each character in their own individual setting, with only certain characters coming together and making a cohesive story to bring into the next game. Persona 4 Arena manages to take this mode to a completely different level. Two months after the events of the RPG, Yu (the nameless protagonist from the series) has gone back to the city and started living with his parents again, but is returning to Inaba for Golden Week to hang out with his friends. After the local cast start hearing rumors of the Midnight Channel returning, they decide to see what’s going on and see if they’re true. They soon discover that they’re involved with something called the P-1 Grand Prix. It’s a mystery for the cast on what’s going on and why this is happening again. Once again, they have to return to the TV World that they had hoped was done with.

While everyone from the Persona 4 cast makes a return appearance, several members of the Persona 3 cast show up as well, including Akihiko, Mitsuru, Aigas and Elizabeth, each with their own reasons for being involved in the story.

Unlike the BlazBlue series, the Story Mode battles in this aren’t nearly as frequent. The P4A story plays out more like a visual novel. At times you could go a half-hour without getting into a battle, and even then, all the battles are one-round matches. Fortunately, the story is absolutely superb and has fully-voiced dialogue scenes (with your choice of English or Japanese voice). It’s particularly helpful for those who just want to see the story and not have to experience any difficult battles.

Speaking of difficult battles, the challenge of the game comes from the game’s score attack mode with added gimmicks to the characters (like Yosuke having infinite speed boost), and its network mode, which allows you to face other P4A players online. One of the biggest concerns about this game was how the online would play, and they deliver an almost lagless experience whether or not your opponent has a great connection against you. The custom match function has a lot of search options that allow you to find the perfect opponent as well.

What makes this game stand out particularly, aside from its great music and amazing graphics, is how simple this game is. It’s a four-button fighter (two physical attacks and two Persona attacks), and most are either executed with a singular direction or a quarter-circle command (either Down, Down-Forward, Forward or Down, Down-Back, Back). Amazingly enough, the characters have enough commands and attacks to be different enough, but still be simple enough for anyone to pick up. In addition, each character has an Instant Kill move that will… well, instantly kill the opponent if the attack hits.

The game has a challenge mode as well, that allows you to learn a characters moveset as well as learn different combos that they’re capable of. It definitely helps in the learning process of the game. It helps with timing combos as well as execution of certain attacks.

But what else could I possibly say about this game? The game has amazing graphics and music, game mechanics simple enough for anyone to pick up and enough depth to rank up there with the more technical games out there, and it has an amazing online mode that Capcom and other companies could learn from. If you’re a fan of the BlazBlue or Guilty Gear series, or a fan of the Persona 4 series and want to get into fighters, Persona 4 Arena is definitely something you should play.

Pros: Great graphics, great music, great voice overwork, amazing netcode
Cons: Battles could happen a little more frequently in the story mode

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.


Grant Potter August 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I ended up enjoying it way more than I was expecting, but it kills me to have to wade through mountains of text to actually “play” story mode. Kudos to them for bringing in a respectable narrative, but I came to brawl, not to read a book.

Jeff DeSolla August 21, 2012 at 10:30 am

Story mode was intended to appeal to Persona 4 fans, and not fighting fans. Though, I personally feel its the best story in a fighter i’ve seen due to its length.

While the non-story aspects of most fighters are present, a way to simply fight a chain of battles (without having to start each one manually) might have been a useful addition for incoming fighting fans who don’t want that much plot.

Grant Potter August 21, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Persona 4 had many intermittent breaks where you ran around building relationships, or spent time in dungeons leveling up Personas. There was a balance there that kept you busy between the large amounts of (main) plot dialogue.

When it’s presented as 90% talking & 10% gameplay it’s not nearly as endearing. Mortal Kombat 9 is a much better example of balance, its not nearly as lengthy or heady of an experience (the plot is pretty laughable, but that’s Mortal Kombat), but it kept me engaged for it’s 5+ hours by restricting the downtime between fights.

Arcade Mode is the exact opposite with 90% gameplay and 10% dialogue. Because they bothered to give arcade mode “any” story it could have benefited from more clarity. Instead it just leaves questions for you to have to solve through Story mode.

I think if Arc System Works/Atlus had just found a middle ground between Arcade Mode’s scant dialogue and Story Mode’s endless stream it would have been much better off. The story mode and arcade mode just felt needlessly segregated from each other, which sucks for us “in-betweeners’ that like the best of both worlds.

Other than that I think they catered to both crowds superbly. Or maybe I’m just the world’s worst Persona fan. Regardless, I think Eric’s review is pretty spot on! Find me online, I’m the Naoto player that keeps forgetting you have to press the circle button to end her gun stance!

Jeff DeSolla August 21, 2012 at 6:37 pm

I’m never online because even the story mode AI can destroy me unless I use the newbie combo button, haha.