The North American release of Persona 4: Arena is just a few days old, and the game has already been out for over a week here in Asia. I’ve played it quite rigorously the past week, and here are my thoughts of this highly anticipated fighting game (FG) adaptation.
Fans of fighting games and the Shin Megami Tensei series were very surprised when Atlus announced P4U’s existence back in 2011. Arc System Works, the developers, have clearly designed the game to be as accessible and beginner-friendly as possible, catered for newbies making the jump from RPG to fighting game for the first time.
Every character has a default Auto-Combo, performed by pressing the A button five times (AAAAA). Advanced players can interrupt their Auto-Combo at any time with a different set of inputs, and come up with their own custom combo or blockstring sequence.
Reversal moves (i.e. dragon punch special moves with invincibility) can be executed with a simple press of the C+D buttons. This eliminates the need for newbies to learn the dragon punch motion (forward, down, down-forward), which can be notoriously difficult for a first-timer.
Overhead attacks (which have brief invincibility in P4U) are performed by pressing A+B, which can then be followed up via a series of button mashes into an air launcher or wallslam. Sweeps are done by holding the down direction and pressing A+B. You can also perform an advancing dodge (similar to King of Fighters) by pressing A+C, granting your character full invincibility (but not against throws) during the forward momentum.
For seasoned FG players, the automated game mechanics and invincibility options described above, almost makes P4U sound like a really scrubby game. And it probably is. I lost the first few of my random online matches to compulsive button mashers pressing AAAAA non-stop. It can be quite bewildering and frustrating at first, but as my friend Yu-Sheng “Farpenoodle” Tan would say, “scrubby games can still be fun games.”
There is a character and playstyle for everyone. Beginners will find Yu Narukami and Chie Satonaka to be the easiest to learn because of their low execution and straightforward setups. Players who love using Persona attacks will probably enjoy Yukiko Amagi and Shadow Labrys, two characters heavily reliant on their Personas. Expert players who welcome high-execution combos and zoning should find Naoto Shirogane and Elizabeth to be right up their alley.
And of course, if you just want to mash AAAAA all day long and still have a strong chance of winning, just pick Mitsuru Kirijo or Labrys.
Atlus has declared P4U’s story mode to be a canonical continuation of Persona 3 and Persona 4. Only Yu, Chie, Yukiko, and Yosuke are available from the start — you need to unlock the story modes for the other characters.
Each character’s story lasts about 2-3 hours, played out visual-novel style with long monologues and dialogue. Battles against other characters are scattered at different points of the story, and winning or losing the fight will determine how the plot progresses (usually this means game over). The bookmark feature allows you to save your progress at critical points, and you can even create multiple bookmark saves from different characters if you wish. Feeling bored with Chie’s story? Make a bookmark, jump to another character’s story mode, and return to Chie’s whenever you want.
Persona 3 fans will find the effort required to unlock Mitsuru, Akihiko, Aigis, and Elizabeth’s story modes to be worth it. I’ve been told that the story modes for the P3 characters are quite significant.
P4U has a unique aura surrounding it that is hard to describe. Every time I boot it up to play an online match, story mode, or training mode, I end up having fun. Yes, the game mechanics are very similar to Arc System Works’s other title, BlazBlue. But I’ve already had more fun with one week’s worth of P4U compared to my sporadic dabbling with BlazBlue over the years.
Is it the fantastic soundtrack that the Shin Megami Tensei games are renowned for? Or is it the appeal of the characters from the Persona series that we’ve grown to love? Whatever the reason, both seasoned FG veterans and Persona fans will definitely find something to enjoy in P4U.
First impressions verdict: Buy it (for FG fans), try it (for Persona fans)
Persona 4: Arena is out for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The author is currently using Chie as his main character.