"An Arena of Projections"
Persona 4: Arena is a tricky game to talk about; it's a fighting game set in a RPG franchise, aiming for two audiences that enjoy wildly different experiences. While the game is a bit rough around the edges, those from the target audiences who choose to stick around will find a game with a story that expands on one of the most critically acclaimed RPGs of the past few years, with a fighting system that puts a few interesting twists on genre standards.
Set in the world of Persona 4, the game's expansive narrative takes the characters from the 2008 RPG back to the alternate world that they took players through in the expansive RPG. This time the cast has to face evil clones on a strange TV channel that only comes on at midnight, aptly titled The Midnight Channel.
The combat system feels similar to other Arc System Works fighting games, but it adds features that take liberties with the franchise's role playing roots. Controls will be familiar to fans of SNK's King of fighters, with two sets of types of attacks (regular and persona) of different strengths (weak and strong). The implementation of the personas is particularly interesting. Similar to Capcom's Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, the characters have Personas, which are familiars that come into the field during attacks, and their use must be monitored due to them being able to take limited damage. If a persona take four hits in a short amount of time, their use will be disabled for a while, preventing the player from using half of the attack buttons available to them.
Aside from use of the Personas, Persona 4: Arena's battle system further adds in mechanics from the role playing series with its status ailments. Characters can be frozen, paralyzed, poisoned, and gain rage amongst other things during battle. Each changes the mechanics of the player it affects in different ways, and it can be countered or escaped easily, but in the heat of a match, it keeps players on their toes. The most novel of these is one that gives your opponent more strength if you keep backing away. While adding these mechanics that harken back to the game's source material, the game does have all of the systems one would expect from Arc system’s fighters, such as instant-kill moves.
Like any other fighting game released these days’ worth its weight, Persona 4: Arena has all of the standard modes expected from the genre today, with the story and arcade modes being the centerpieces. The story mode is pretty lengthy and slower-paced, with lots of exposition after choosing a character before even one battle is to be had. Arcade mode can be seen as a cliff notes version of the story mode, and it's more difficult to finish than the story mode. There's an extensive mode dedicated to teaching every mechanic in the game, from walking to the instant kill moves, in addition to training and challenge modes dedicated to letting players explore the mechanics of every character in the game.
The presentation, visuals, and audio in Persona 4: Arena are about as top-notch as it gets with a 2D fighting game in 2012. Backgrounds are a combination of 2D and 3D objects, while characters are well animated 2D sprite-based models in the vein of Blaz Blue and Guilty Gear. Presentation takes the TV show that the story is set in and applies it to everything in the game, including the menus and even the publisher and developer splash screen. The game is fully voiced in English and Japanese, although it could definitely be argued that with the game being set in Japan, the American accents prevalent in the English are a bit out of place. The OST sounds great, setting the mood throughout the game's lengthy story mode.
While Persona 4: Arena has all the makings of a great fighting game, the game doesn't feel as accessible as other mainstream fighting games. There's a steeper learning curve when compared to other fighters, and unlike other recent titles that have extensive training and tutorial modes, many of the mechanics left my mind when I was done with the tutorial due to how many button combinations there were to remember.
Being a fighting game set in an RPG universe, Persona 4: The Arena turned out better than I thought it would be. Having never played a Persona title, the story and universe didn't overwhelm me, and the mash-up of genre's work well. While the gameplay does have a larger learning curve than other fighters, the title as a whole ultimately is something that should be experienced by RPG and fighting game fans alike.
GameDynamo's Score for Persona 4: Arena (PS3)
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