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Persona 4 Arena review

AT A GLANCE
  • The well-balanced, diverse roster
  • Every aspect of the presentation excels
  • Ridiculous amounts of story for a fighting game
  • Not knowing what’s happening during the learning process
  • Using Auto Combos as a crutch
  • The cutscenes, if they’re not your speed

We’ll just say it up front: Persona 4 Arena marks the best initial entry in a fighting game franchise to date. This genre-bending hybrid is akin to a decadent dessert: a fluffy, fulfilling fighting game cake, covered in heaps of lore-intensive JRPG icing that’ll delight diehard fans. With the combined efforts of Atlus and Arc System Works behind it, P4A is a guaranteed grand slam for its target audience of RPG and fighting aficionados.

As you might’ve guessed, this fantastic-looking fighter’s based on Persona 4, Atlus’ 2008 cult classic JRPG (which, wouldn’t you know it, is due for a revamped release on PS Vita). P4A sees the preceding game’s Investigation Team of energetic high school students trading in turn-based battles for one-on-one 2D dueling. Arc System Works have made a name for themselves in the fighting game community with their work on such combo-happy classics as Guilty Gear and the recent BlazBlue series. They’ve honed down the “anime fighter” genre to a science, and we can’t think of a developer who’d be a better fit for bringing the Shin Megami Tensei series into the realm of sprite-based brawls.

As a four-button fighter, P4A plays like a mix of BlazBlue's frenetic one-on-one battles mixed with ethereal assistance akin to the ghostly Stands found in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Each combatant can summon a Persona, a phantom projection of their inner selves, to assist them in delivering a brightly-colored beatdown to their opponent. Personas aren’t invincible apparitions, mind you – smack an incoming Persona attack enough times, and the opposing player will be forced to fight solo while they wait for their Persona Gauge to recharge. 

Every Persona is entirely unique to its owner, complementing their fighting styles and guaranteeing that no two pugilists play quite alike. That said, P4A also boasts some of the genre’s best balance right out of the gate: You can rest easy knowing that no matter which character you choose, you’ll be given a fair fight regardless of who you’re up against. 

Best of all, you’re very likely to find a fighter who perfectly suits your playstyle in the P4A roster, thanks to the varied character compositions. Naoto and Aigis are a projectile enthusiast’s paradise, while Kanji and Akihiko like to get up close and personal with their heavy-hitting chair/fists. Even Teddie, the cartoony bear who would’ve been reduced to a joke character in any other game, has a distinct design that’s downright devastating when used properly.

As with Arc System Works' BlazBlue, P4A’s graphical styling is a feast for the eyes, with high-res hand-drawn sprites whirling about during each combo. The crisp, clean visuals aren’t reserved for the actual gameplay, either – every aspect of the game’s “Midnight Channel” vibe has a polished sleekness. That goes double for the soundtrack, which is filled with toe-tapping tracks of ethereal synth, smooth jazz, and invigorating rock. The game's style might not appeal to every gamer’s sensibilities – but for our money, P4A is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing fighters yet.

The RPG side of things shines through in the games’ ridiculously in-depth narrative, which even extends past the insanely lengthy 30+ hours of Story mode into the bite-sized sagas seen during Arcade playthroughs. Yes, over 30 hours – all of it canon, with charismatically voice-acted cutscenes in your choice of English or Japanese. The mileage you get from the game’s single player plot will be in direct correlation to your tolerance for static character cut-out cinematics; as luck would have it, ours is quite high.

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Fighting
Published by: Atlus
Developed by: ARC System Works
Franchise: Persona
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence, Mild Blood

12 comments

  • Viron - August 8, 2012 12:12 a.m.

    Guess I'l go buy it then.
  • ChiChiRocket - August 7, 2012 9:55 p.m.

    I haven't really gotten far into the game yet, but if this story is considered canon, my fingers are crossed that this is all somehow leading up to P5.
  • Corsair89 - August 7, 2012 3:22 p.m.

    I've been playing the game for the last few hours and I love it despite the fact that I suck at it. Both Persona 4 and Blazblue are among my favorite games and this game is a dream come true for me. Now I just need a damn fighting stick.
  • BladedFalcon - August 7, 2012 3:16 p.m.

    Excellent! I expected it to be great already, but seems the final product is even better! ^^ And really, when you think about it, all the negative points noted about the game are kinda shallow and not really a problem for someone that knows what to expect to begin with... I mean, "Not knowing what's going on" is kind of a silly complaint to make considering I haven't really seen this game having that many gauges or energy bars that other games of the genre already have. And since all of them serve a specific purpose, I don't even think they could be considered clutter. The auto-combo complaint is also a bit silly considering that most fighting games have similar crutches to begin with, like MvC3 or the shortcuts in BlazBlue. And these aren't really a bad thing since they are entirely optional, and anyone that wants to play the game seriously wouldn't be stupid enough to rely on them to begin with. And really, I can imagine people actually putting it as a CON to not have something of the sort to make it more accessible or something *rolls eyes.* Finally, the cut-scenes. First of all, considering that most fighting games have a pretty pitiful solo campaign mode, this shouldn't be a problem to begin with, even if you are accustomed to it or not. It adds plot and story for those that want it, and those who don't can just skip it.. or hell, you can just go right ahead to challenge modes or on-line. So yeah, all that taken into account, I truly see no reason why I shouldn't get this game right away, since all the stuff that matters and make a fighting game good seem to be there ^^
  • Cyberninja - August 7, 2012 4:23 a.m.

    Going to pick this one up as soon as possible I am a fan of both persona and arc fighters so I will be playing this game until the next BB comes out.
  • wheresmymonkey - August 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.

    When's it out in the EU since for once i can't just import it.
  • avantguardian - August 7, 2012 12:55 a.m.

    wish this was p5, to be honest. the fact that this is the first current-gen persona game is a little baffling. that said, i'm overjoyed at the prospect of this game being amazing, and look forward to dusting off my arcade stick.
  • McSpermie - August 7, 2012 12:45 a.m.

    Damn why did this game have to be good, I was hoping I wouldn't need to buy it...
  • Axlprk - August 7, 2012 12:29 a.m.

    Just awesome :D
  • Hobogonigal - August 7, 2012 12:29 a.m.

    First. Looks good but I don't think I'll be too interested in it myself. I do have a friend though who will enjoy this a lot and I think he'll be happy with this score.
  • taokaka - August 7, 2012 12:43 a.m.

    damn right I'm happy with this score. But first I need to wait for persona 4: golden to come out before I can buy this :(
  • Cyberninja - August 7, 2012 4:21 a.m.

    if you really care about the plot before this just watch the anime, it basically shows you everything except true ending which I think is being done as ova.

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