Written by Twisted Ideas
It still isn’t Persona 5 but we are getting the next but not the last Persona spin-off. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the fighting a squeal to the popular JRPG franchise. It continues the stories from Persona 3 and 4 and with the game remaining true to the character’s skills, Persona and abilities. Is Persona 4 Arena worthy for a second round?
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
Developers: Arc System Works, Atlus
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
What is it about?
A day after the events of Persona 4 Arena, Mitsuru and her Shadow Operatives are captured. The Investigation Team in Inaba discover them on the Midnight Channel. General Teddie announces the P-1 Climax tournament that needs to conclude before the hour is up or the world will end. Labrys who escaped from being captured along with the Shadow Operatives seeks out the Auxiliary Shadow Operative members, the rest of the original SEES team. The two groups race to a tower resembling Tartarus before the Dark Hour ends.
How does it play?
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is an anime style fighting game. The game is fast paced and can easily be played on a casual level as well requiring a great deal of execution and skill to be played on the intermediate and advance level.
Ultimax is a four button fighter with most characters having two physical buttons plus two Persona buttons to perform standard and special attacks. Your SP meter build throughout a match. SP is spent to Skill Boost (SB) Special and Super Skills, use Super Skills and cancel (One More) out of attacks for bigger combos or safety. The normal form of characters have a Burst meter that is used to escape combos but takes longer to refill.
If a character’s heath is under 35% they enter Awakening. This reduces damage taken, increases their SP by 50 and unlocks more Super Skills. On a player’s winning round they can spend 100 SP to activate an Instant Kill Skill. They are useful against new players or for specific punishes but avoidable against experienced players.
Arcade, Challenge, Score Attack, Story, Online, Versus and Training modes have returned which some expanded upon plus additional modes.
The fundamentals of the battle system hasn’t changed too much other than balance changes for the original 13 characters. You can now Skill Boost (SB) Supers Moves for an extra 25 SP for extra damage and effects. You can also spend 50 SP to blow back or roll through players when blocking. Characters now have a specific amount of Persona Cards unlike previously where all characters had four. They more the characters rely on their Persona the more Cards they get before a Persona Break.
Ultimax expands the roster to 18 characters plus 3 DLC characters. Most characters have a Shadow Form which is a high risk high reward play style. If counted as separate charters, there are 36 including DLC
Rise can’t only sing and dance, she can fight too.
Shadow characters aren’t drastically different the way Labrys and Shadow Labrys are. Their move-sets are very similar but mechanically they are quite different. They earn SP faster, SP doesn’t reset to 0 at the end of rounds and they have 2000 more health. The trade-off is that they deal 20% less damage, they cannot use Burst and they can’t go into awakening meaning they don’t get the damage reduction or 50 extra SP. If they save 100 SP they can trigger Shadow Rampage which can be used like a One More cancel. Shadow Rampage gives unlimited SP for a period of time and the can cancel into special moves that the regular characters cannot.
The story mode is broken up into the Persona 4 Investigation Team and Persona 3 Shadow Operatives. Instead of 13 separate stories that start from square one, each character’s story runs in parallel. You will have to switch between character’s stories to unlock later story parts.
Golden Arena is similar to BlazBlue’s Abyss mode. You choose a character and continuously fight through the CPU. The catch is that you earn experience and can level up characters. You can give them stat points and they can learn skills that provide passive benefits in battles. You can The CPU also has these types of benefits leading to sometimes difficult battles.
Online has the typical Ranking and Player matches but now it introduces the Lobby. The Lobby is a series of rooms where player run their avatar in an arcade where they can chat with big groups or have matches at their leisure. Lag isn’t too big of an issue as long as you let the opening cinematics playthrough before the match starts. It will look choppy at first but it will eventually even out.
How does it look?
The graphics are the same as it was in Arena. The returning characters use the same sprites just with new animations for their new moves. The new character’s looks are constant with their previous appearances, just aged appropriately. There’s a bigger color selection for the characters and the persona There are more stages to choose from but all but one stage uses a darker palette.
How does it sound?
One of the features of the Arena games is that you can choose which song plays during a match. Ultimax takes a bigger selection from Persona 3 and 4. While these are good songs, most don’t suit the tone of a fighting game.
What do I think?
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is great fighting game that appeals to casual players with its auto combos and its strong and effective special moves. It’s also deep enough for pros to excel. The problem with the game is how difficult it is to learn beyond casual levels without a proper mentor or guide. Most characters have steep learning curves and unique play styles where they excel. As with Anime fighting games they require a lot more speed and execution than your average Capcom fighter. Not that fun can’t be had as casual or intermediate levels, the game just doesn’t show the more subtle nuances well. Challenge mode combos are nice but they tend to be very situational. This is a game that requires a lot of dedication in training mode to get better.
The story mode is done much better than in the first Arena game. The parallel story telling has good flow and remains interesting despite its modest amount of reading and dialogue. The Persona 4’s group has a much better flow because they forgo the introductions and most of the characterization in favor of advancing the plot. The flow is much slower with Persona 3’s group because the meat of the plot exists there and it’s reintroducing characters we haven’t seen since The Answer.
The visual novel style is still redundant. Internal monologues are used after nearly every point made and feels out-of-place for a game that told most of its story through dialogue alone. It’s nice to have that voice coming from the perspectives from the rest of the teams, however about 1/4 or more of the internal monologues could have been dropped. Persona 3 fans will enjoy the return of the rest of the SEES team as well another fun cameo from P3P.
Golden Arena is great for causal players who want to challenge themselves but who probably aren’t good enough to compete online. The leveling system is a great throwback to Persona 3 and 4. The customization of stats and skills really changes how the game is played.
Fighting games need more modes that let players have fun with the system while accomplishing something. Golden Arena may not be the best example of this but it’s more worth wild than any story mode in a fighting game. Think back to SoulCalibur 2’s Weapon Master Mode and how it alter the gameplay to encourage you to learn more about your character’s capabilities. At times it was like a tutorial just with fun and exciting challenges associated with them. Not everybody who plays fighting games wants to play against other people. Sometimes it’s satisfying enough to have a fun fighting game with enough content to sink your teeth into most importantly casual players.
Should you get it?
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a great competitive game and enjoyable for casual players too. The Shadow Forms allows for some more flexibility of play styles for characters who are very well fixed to a certain way of fighting. Golden Arena is a great mode for general practice and fun gameplay, the story is told much better and brings back characters and stories from Persona 3 and there is DLC for the first Arena’s story mode. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is really the definitive version of this game.