Persona 4 Arena review
The first time I played Guilty Gear X, I was simply blown away. Though I'd played many 2D fighters before, nothing had prepared me for Arc System Works' style of blistering fast gameplay, the lineup of stylish anime-style characters all bouncing around the screen at mach 5, stringing together insane combo chains. Thing as, as much as I was hooked on ASW's flagship title, I could never wrap my head around their current franchise darling: BlazBlue. As beautiful as the game was, it seemed to have scaled back the level of craziness which Guilty Gear had been known for, with the gameplay more suited for a hardcore fighting crowd than a enthusiastic casual player like myself.
This is why I'm so thrilled with Persona 4 Arena, a new 2D fighter from Arc System Works and Atlus, with the kind of fast-paced frantic combat that first got me hooked on Guilty Gear. After a lengthy playthrough it seems obvious that this is hands-down the fighting game of the year, and a title that will be sure to please both JRPG and fight game fans alike.
If you were expecting some slapdash licensed title, know that Arc System Works clearly did not draw inspiration from the Marvel Nemesis playbook, as this game is every bit as polished as one of ASW's own titles. All of the Persona characters have been lovingly rendered in gorgeous 2D, exploding across the impressive 3D backgrounds with a variety of mind-blowing special moves. This is one of the best looking 2D fighters I've ever seen, and ASW's commitment to traditional sprite graphics is definitely commendable.
Though the game can certainly seem overwhelming, one of the coolest aspects of Persona 4 Arena is how friendly it is to fighting game newbies. Each character has an auto-combo, meaning that simply spamming the attack button will result in a rather impressive full-on assault, one which will even be automatically followed up by a special attack if one has enough SP meter. This, combined with the fairly straightforward move lists and comprehensive tutorial mode, means even absolute beginners can smash buttons and have a darn good time. This willingness to help out the newbies is definitely awesome, especially since the Persona crowd won't necessarily have a fighting game background, making this game a potential gateway drug.
This is of course not to accuse the game of lacking complexity, as there's plenty of advanced tactics waiting to be abused by seasoned fighting veterans. In addition to your standard suite of regular attacks and special moves, there's some very slick additions drawn straight from the game's universe. Each character has access to their Persona, weird nightmare creatures which can be summoned for light and heavy attacks, as well as even more powerful special moves. However, usage of one's Persona leaves it open to attack, and Personas will even be temporarily disabled if they take enough damage. The game also implements many of the status ailments from the RPG series, with poisoned characters taking slight damage over time, or confused characters actually reverses the controller inputs! There's plenty of different features to learn how to master: short hops, air dashing, and even instant kills, though my favorite would have to be the all-out attack, which lets you pummel your opponent within a cartoonish ball of dust and sound effects, before launching them into the air for further combo potential.
As wacky as Persona 4 Arena can seem, perhaps the strangest element of the game is its bafflingly long story mode, offering a uniquely mundane plotline for every character. These stories are mostly conveyed through simple walls of text, occasionally broken up by the rare still picture or one of the game's sparse animated cutscenes. Unfortunately the storyline seems little more than your typical anime fluff, characters harping on and on about the importance of friendship. The voice acted dialogue is top-notch, though used to poor effect, characters often speaking just a single line before the game returning to filling the screen a stack of paragraphs stolen from bad young adult fiction. That being said, the story mode is entirely optional, and die-hard Persona 4 fans will likely be more appreciative of watching their favorite characters discover the mystery behind the P-1 Grand Prix. For those who aren't willing to endure thirty minutes of plot between two minute fights, the arcade mode offers a thankfully truncated version of the game's events, letting you smash through the competition while still getting to experience some of Persona 4 Arena's fantastic voice acting.
However the most notable achievement of the game is its stupendous online matchmaking code, which allowed me to take on challengers in Japan with little noticeable lag. Though I routinely got my ass whupped by these seasoned fighters, I assume that with North American gamers now jumping into the action I'll have some similar Persona 4 rookies with whom to test my mettle. Hopping into a queue was perhaps the most painful aspect, as many seemingly empty rooms would declare themselves filled when trying to join the fight. However, it seems likely that this will not be a problem as more of us damn Yankees snap up a copy of the best 2D fighter in years.
In short, whether you're a diehard fan of 2D fighters or just a fighting game newbie who likes Persona, you really owe it to yourself to pick up this fantastic game. I'll be waiting for your challenge!