P4A’s plot will be a delight for those already familiar with the series, especially when P4 and P3 characters come face to face; even if you typically don’t delve into these sorts of anime-esque plotlines, you’ll soon have a hankering to play the original RPGs in between bouts. But be warned: Because the story takes place after the events of Persona 4, the previous plot twists and revelations are constantly being brought up during dialogue. If you’re wary of any spoilers, you should hold off on P4A’s Story mode until completing the earlier game’s plot.
Mechanics-wise, P4A packs the absurd amount of complexity that fighting fans will be accustomed to, with Bursts, Instant Blocks, Evasive Actions, and much, much more. It can be a lot to parse through for those making the transition into 2D fighter territory, but the game’s excellently paced Lesson mode ensures that you’ll be up to speed before your first fight.
It also incorporates a beginner-friendly Auto Combo system that lets you mash out flashy combos with repeated taps of a single button, meaning anyone can pick up, play, and look cool using an unknown character (with the fair trade-off of reduced damage on these combos). This greatly increases the game’s general accessibility, but it’s a double-edged sword: Auto Combos are a rush to bust out, but some players might grow to rely on them, never truly delving into the game’s intricate combo system. It’d be a shame to eschew the higher-level mechanics in favor of spamming Auto Combos ad nauseam, especially when the game's solid Training mode is at your disposal. Ultimately, it’ll be up to the player if they feel like putting the work in or not.
Additionally, with so much to keep track of during each match – health bars, super meters, Persona and Burst gauges, and inventive RPG-like Ailments that inflict poison damage, paralysis, and so on – the screen is often extremely busy, and hard to “read” at a glance. Newer players might experience sensory overload until they’ve clocked a few requisite hours of training.
Challenge modes and online play have become necessary features for any great fighting game, and P4A delivers them in spades. The Challenge mode ramps up nicely from simple inputs to complex combo strings, with video demonstrations for every single trial. Also of note is the fact that the finale to each character’s 30 challenges is a puzzle-like undertaking, tasking you with a demanding objective without providing the usual button-by-button breakdown. It’s a fun final exam for experts who think they’ve mastered everything a given character is capable of.
The online play offers the standard ranked and player matches, with leaderboards and replays to boot - but it has a few features that make it stand out from the pack. After each match, you’ll be given a breakdown on the factors that determine your experience gains; this is much more satisfying than the nebulous, behind-the-scenes math done to determine our rankings in other fighters. It also has a great title system: Instead of canned labels, P4A gives you a giant lexicon of goofy words and lets you go nuts combining them. We took great pride in our “24/7 Chicken Catharsis” call sign – though we’re not certain it instilled any fear in our online opponents.
Here's the bottom line: If you’re a JRPG or fighter fanatic with even a hint of interest in the other genre, P4A is an absolute must-buy. With such a wealth of story-based content laid on top of the game’s steadfast 2D fighting foundations, P4A’s impressive debut sets the bar high for all forthcoming fighters.