Atlus is no stranger to publishing fighting games (it brought the cult-classic King of Fighters XIII to the states late last year), and it’s high time they put their own cap in the ring. With that in mind, Persona 4 Arena is targeted towards a hybrid of two audiences: fighting game veterans who can appreciate a quality 2D brawler, and hardcore Persona fans interested in seeing their favorite characters tackle an entirely new genre. If you are in the overlapping section of those two Venn diagram circles, you will absolutely love P4A. If you’re not, this might be your gateway drug to fighting games, the Persona RPGs, or both.
The story takes place two months after the events of Persona 4, with the return of the Midnight Channel. Teddie, the bizarre cartoon bear from P4, announces that he’s hosting the “P-1 Grand Prix” tournament and invites the investigative youths from Yasogami High School to attend; unveiling the reason why is the plot to this 2D brawler. You’ll see all your favorite Persona 4 protagonists, with the same main character (nameless in P4, Yu Narukami in P4A) and his lovable classmates, mixed with some old Persona 3 favorites like Elizabeth and Aigis. The roster amounts to 13 characters (plus their assisting-spirit Personas) in total – not half bad for a “new” fighting franchise.
Arc System Works is best known for the outstanding BlazBlue and Guilty Gear series, and that experience with balance and design is apparent in P4A. The high-resolution spritework on the characters is absolutely beautiful, and the backgrounds capture the same ethereal creepiness of Persona 4’s locales. Everything moves at a fast, even clip, with a simple four-button control scheme: weak and strong regular attacks, paired with weak and strong Persona attacks. If you’ve played BB or GG, you already have a feel for how entrancing this game can be when witnessing two skilled players duke it out.
We gave the Arena a go as Persona 3’s Akihiko Sanada, a caped brawler who relies on his glove-covered haymakers to positively wallop the opponent’s face to smithereens. We had no problem getting our footing versus human and computer opponents alike, and combos had a satisfying flow to them akin to Arc System’s previous works. Persona moves aren’t overly powerful – get too predictable with spamming them, and you’ll be taking a dirt nap in no time. It also strikes the right balance between accessibility and depth: button-mashers can do OK for themselves, but fighting game veterans will be able to pull off some truly spectacular combos.
Fans of 2D fighters or RPGs starring teens with paranormal awareness are bound to go gaga over Persona 4 Arena – it blends Persona fan service into a robust brawler brilliantly. We look forward to playing this genre-jump nonstop when it releases on August 7th.