A direct sequel to the well-received RPG Persona 4, Persona 4 Arena takes the Persona series to the fighting game genre, a first time for the series as a whole. The game is handled by Arc System Works (Guilty Gear and BlazBlue) and borrows many elements their games are known for as well as incorporating mechanics from Persona 4 such as All-Out Attacks, Persona summons, and status changes.
Something is amiss in Yasoinaba. Members of the Investigation Team are missing and the remaining members find themselves heading into the TV world once again. This time around, a tournament has been put together and they must participate. Meanwhile, Mitsuru Kirijo from Persona 3 is conducting her own agenda and ends up entering the TV world as well, joined by Akihiko Sanada and Aegis. Velvet Room resident Elizabeth also appears and has a goal of her own in mind. Little are they aware that everything is all part of a much larger plan. P4A’s story mode is about 30-40 hours long, which is no surprise being that it’s a direct sequel to an RPG.
I’ve always been a big fan of the Persona series. The stories told are relatable, dark in nature, and carry a mysterious narration that makes them less predictable. In some cases, it can get a little emotional and even a bit tear-jerking. P4A’s story contains all of the mentioned elements, while at the same time getting more in-depth with the inclusion of the P3 cast. Since P4 takes place after P3, one of the things I wanted to see was how both casts would interact if they ever did. The end of the story did leave something to the imagination. Without going into spoilers, it is possible that the story can be continued on, which strikes my curiosity as to whether or not a sequel would be done as another fighting game iteration or an RPG. I didn’t enjoy P4’s story as much as P3’s, but P4A was put together very well to the point that I can recommend going through it in its entirety.
P4A’s fighting system is a four-button attack system that is rather…weird when you first pick it up. Two of the buttons, A & B are weak and strong attacks for the character. The other two buttons, C & D, are weak and strong attacks for the character’s Persona. The simple part about it is that you can press A multiple times to form an auto-combo which is a few normal hits, into a command move, and into a super move if you have the SP (super move gauge) for it. It’s easy to mash A all day, but some exploration, as well as doing the tutorial and challenge modes, reveals a much more in-depth system that more hardcore fighting gamers will embrace. There are benefits to using the auto-combo such as gaining bonus SP and Burst gauge off of the last normal hit and it can come in handy at the beginning of a round and towards the end if winning comes down to that last combo. However, auto-combo does deal blue health damage (damage that can be recovered overtime) if it is fully executed from normal hit to super.
While P4A shares a lot with BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, it’s the RPG elements that add the additional layer of strategy and uniqueness to the game. All-Out Attacks, a rush mechanic in P3/P4, staggers the opponent and sends your character forward to deliver a clouded string of attacks that can result in a knockback (wall bounce if near the corner), or a launcher that can be followed up into an air combo depending on what button is pressed at the end.
Next are status ailments and buffs. Taken directly from the Persona games, these elements can make or break a battle in an instant. Naoto gives the opponent a fear meter, which she (yes, Naoto is a girl) can decrease by hitting the opponent with shots from her gun. If the meter runs down to 0, two of her SP supers can instantly deliver a KO regardless of health. Teddie can inflict Rage which disables blocking. Elizabeth can cast an SP super that deals enough blue health damage to put her in an Awakened state. The drawback is if she is hit while the blue damage is active, she loses all of it as permanent damage which makes it a risky move.
Feel like you’re ready to take on the world? P4A does feature online play that felt just as responsive as playing offline. I’ve played BlazBlue games online and they felt just as responsive, so I had expected ArcSys to carry that online structure over for P4A.
My only complaint with P4A was how odd the fighting system felt in the beginning. Performing an actual sweep attack with a character required the pressing of two buttons while holding down instead of the conventional holding down and pressing whatever strong attack led into the sweep. There are other two-button mechanics in the game such as SP Boost to enhance command moves (EX attacks in Street Fighter IV), short hopping, and an attack that does blue heath damage to the character performing but is an invincible “get off of me” move. Once I got used to how everything worked, I felt fine. One thing I did like was the Awakening state, a condition that affects the character when their health dips below thirty-five percent. An Awakened character gets an additional 50 SP added (for a total of 150 SP at one given time), takes reduced damage, and is able to perform one or two additional SP supers depending on the character.
Final Verdict: Persona 4 Arena crams an RPG into a fighting game and does a pretty good job of executing the concept. The story is impacting and does a good job following up Persona 4 and working in Persona 3. It’s not the first game to do so, but P4A is a fighting game developed as a direct sequel to an RPG which is a dramatic change in direction. P4A is a game built to be enjoyed by casual players and Persona fans, but lends itself to to competitive gamers as well.
Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version. The Xbox 360, while identical, was reported to have suffered from some lag issues with the online play. This was addressed via a patch.