In case you haven’t heard, Arc Systems’ previous fighting games, Blazblue and Guilty Gear, developed a fairly extensive following within the fighting game community as well as amongst casual gamers. Persona 4: Arena does the impossible: it is even better. Whether you’re enthralled by the utterly gorgeous animation, the beautiful soundtrack, the extensive story mode (which, due to the game’s Persona roots, is on par with Blazblue and outclasses the “story” of every other fighting game I’ve played), or the intense combat system, which is complex enough for hardcore gamers, but has enough tricks built in that even fighting game newcomers can enjoy it, Arena exceeds your expectations.
It is important to note that despite being a Persona game, and thus having enough story to fill an average-size textbook, Arena is primarily a fighting game. It will be embraced by the fighting game community in the same vein that Street Fighter or Guilty Gear is embraced. Thanks to Arcsys, Arena has some of the strongest fighting game fundamentals I’ve experienced in quite some time. Each character is remarkably effective, and even Yu, who is widely regarded as a low-tier character (Editor’s note: I can confirm this, Joshu kept whipping me when I was playing as Yu. -Mike), can be found winning high-end tournaments if played properly.
Despite the fact that my waifu-since-Persona-3, Mitsuru Kirijo, is singlehandedly dominating the tier lists now that the game has settled, characters like Elizabeth and Teddie and especially Naoto can compete with a high-end Mitsuru user, just because the game is so effectively balanced. This is a result of Arcsys’ involvement and keeps with the consistency of the majority of their games and their balance. New to the Persona series? This is still a fundamentally sound fighter that will give you a great experience regardless, as well as introduce you to the joys of Persona characters, story, and most importantly, the sheer bliss that overcomes you when you hear “Battle Hymn of the Soul,” or any of the Velvet Room remixes.
However, if you are a fan of Persona, you are going to absolutely adore the story mode and some of the battles you have. Being in control of a character as ridiculously powerful in-game as Elizabeth is a brilliant feeling, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint in combat. As far as maintaining the Persona story, the director of P4 worked closely with his P4 team to come up with the script. Ifor that. You’re air-dashing, double-jumping, and quickly shifting to overheads in most competent matches, and quickly learning to adapt to your opponent’s playstyle (which could be anything in a game with nearly limitless opportunities.) The game even has a mechanic that prevents people from turtling too much, forcing players to either attack or deal with an impediment to their play for a while. The game also does something that makes an avid fighter like me uncomfortable, but makes the people I force to play with me much more comfortable: it has an auto-combo option. I’ve played matches with people learning the game and just mashing one button, but I have to learn to deal with it. If I get hit, they’ll capitalize.
That’s where the real beauty of this game comes into place – it is playable and enjoyable by anyone. Maximizing Mitsuru or Elizabeth’s potential is exciting every time I step into training mode as well as shockingly difficult, but just sitting and playing a casual game with a friend who’s just picking up fighters is easier than in most other fighters. Persona 4 Arena outclasses Blazblue in almost every way: it is the perfect synergy of anime and player, RPG and fighter, story and character, music and experience. Such depth within two genres in a single game is practically unprecedented. Everything about this game is exceptional, and it is only gaining steam within the fighting game community. If you love fighters, RPGs, or exceptional game soundtracks, this is not a game to be missed, and a potential Game of the Year candidate if I have ever seen one.
(Version reviewed: Xbox 360)