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Persona 4 Arena hands-on: How to make your hardcore fighter accessible to mere mortals (without making it stupid)

Arc System Works’ much-lauded BlazBlue is two things. Firstly, it is one of the most technically brilliant 2D fighting games on the face of the Earth. Secondly, it is harder to get to grips with than a stampede of greased-up buffalo. But what if Arc could bring the fun and satisfaction of the former element without the vertical hill-climb of the latter? What would we end up with then, eh?

Let’s let its new Persona-themed fighter tell us shall we?

Because, you see, that’s exactly what Arc seems to be doing with Persona 4 Arena. Perhaps in an effort to open up the excellence of their fighters to a less dedicated audience of RPG players, or perhaps simply to allow a community of players beyond the autistic octopi of the world to play them for more than an hour without bursting into tears and gooey finger-blisters, the decision has been made to have P4A bring all of the depth without the brick-wall learning curve. And having gone hands-on, I can tell you that the attempt seems to have absolutely worked.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve consistently loved Arc’s games. Between Guilty Gear and Blazblue they’ve produced some of the best thought out, most sharply implemented fighters of the modern era. But when taking on any new Arc fighter, even a player with decent 2D fighting skills knows that he or she will have to set aside a day or so to get to grips with the multitude of complex and demanding fighting systems required to even competently make the thing work. 

Not so this time round. You see while analogues to a great deal of Arc’s traditional systems and tropes are present and correct, everything just feels so damn effortless once you get your hands on it and start playing around. I won’t bother listing all of the control, attack and defence options here because a) it would be boring for both of us and b) the beginners' videos below will do the job far better than a tiresome paragraph of directions and button labels ever would.

Above: That's the basics done. Head over to our Persona 4 Arena video hub for more

Rest assured though, with your characters’ Personas now standing in for BlazBlue’s powered-up one-button Drive Attacks (but tempered nicely by the risk of getting them injured through foolhardy over-use), not to mention the staple array of dashes, evades, air-control and variously-powered standard and special techniques, the more demanding fighting game player will want for nothing. But for once, neither will the less dextrous player.

There are certain concrete elements which feed into this, though as with all great fighting games there’s a certain indefinable something about the overall feel of play that’s vitally important too. In terms of the more traditionally quantifiable stuff, combo timings have been made significantly more generous than the second-splitting tap windows demanded previously, with a simple standardised combo-breaker system across the board to balance things out. In-keeping with the philosophy of easy-to-remember, standardised command inputs, almost every special move in the game is performed via a simple quarter-circle fireball motion. P4A is about the fight, not the fight to remember how to fight.

Similarly, in a move perhaps slightly aping Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s party-friendly set-up, everyone now has a default insta-combo available through mashing the A-button. Mercifully though, I found that far from dumbing things down to a mash-fest, this simply gives everyone a level point of entry from which they can start to develop their own more complex combo-game. See it as an easy-to-access opener rather than a tactic in and of itself. Basically anyone can now start an effective combo, but it’s where they choose to take it once it’s rolling that will separate the strong players from the scrubs.

But overall it’s just the feeling of immediacy and control that makes P4A such an instant pleasure to play. For all of the pyrotechnic lunacy exploding off all over each fight, the action is incredibly trackable. Not once did I suffer the kind of frantic eye-twitching panic that the faster, flashier Japanese fighters can all too often incite. Movements are smooth and totally comprehensible despite the eclecticism of character types and move-sets on show. Just as importantly, that sense of assured predictability in one’s travel around the screen, usually only earned via hours of practice with any new fighting game, arrived pretty immediately for me this time. 

Obviously it’s going to take a lot more in-depth play (and hours of multiplayer) before I can really gauge just how deep and satisfying Persona 4 Arena is going to be long-term, but based on this current hands-on time I’d say it’s potential as a damnably fun cross-over hit is pretty high indeed. More info as we get it.

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7 comments

  • Cyberninja - June 28, 2012 2:31 p.m.

    As a avid Blazblue player, I am really looking forward to this. However this preview makes me ask, will playing blazblue give me a really large advantage or will the game be fair for new and veteran players in a actual combat situation since it is incredibly easy to learn?
  • BlazDave - June 28, 2012 2:09 p.m.

    Great preview. I got some hands on time with this at the proving grounds community session earlier this month. Such a well made fighter and ludicrously fast and eay to play. I love BlazBlue, but this feels so much more refined with less emphasis on crazy-hard execution and more on the fun and strategy of a good fight. Easily the fighter I'm most excited about right now. Am interested to see what the story is like too - hope its got a big single player like blazblue. Anyone know what the net code is supposed to be like?
  • Cyberninja - June 28, 2012 2:33 p.m.

    I think every character has story, so I think the story is going to be comparable to blazblue size wise.
  • BladedFalcon - June 28, 2012 10:14 a.m.

    "almost every special move in the game is performed via a simple quarter-circle fireball motion." This makes me happy. I am sick of characters that have the annoying "Hold left, wait for a second, and then press right!" motion. Also, nice preview Mr. Houghton! though I admit I was a bit surprised that this preview was made by you instead of the remaining resident fighting game lover that is Towell. Though I guess part of the reason is to drive the point further that anyone will be able to enjoy the game?
  • GR_DavidHoughton - July 9, 2012 7:52 a.m.

    Actually no. Justin being the resident fighting game man is a bit of a misconception. I'd say I'm more heavily into them than he is (though he does love his Virtua Fighter on a monstrous level). And my Bison kicks his Sakura's ass 8 times out of 10.
  • BladedFalcon - July 9, 2012 10:33 a.m.

    Ahhh, excuse my ignorance then. I had that impression certainly because of his love for VF, but also because he reviewed MvC3, and had talked about games such as power stone and such in the past. Whereas for you, I think this is the first article I've seen regarding fighting games in a while. But then again, it's not like I've been here forever, and maybe I hadn't been paying that much attention XD At any rate, having both of you being avid fighting game lovers is better than having just one, so yay for that ^^ (also, respect points for being a bison master, I've always have had trouble using fighters that have a "hold down, then up!" scheme for their special attacks, and to me, bison lives and does with those kinds of special attacks.)
  • ChiChiRocket - June 28, 2012 7:11 a.m.

    I expect this to help make the wait for Persona 4 Golden a little more bear-able.

Showing 1-7 of 7 comments

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