Review| Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
When the beloved Persona series of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise made the jump from RPG to fighting game in 2012, fans like myself were both excited and a bit hesitant. Not only was Persona 4 Arena a complete genre shift, but P4A promised the meeting of the cast from both Persona 4 and 3. However, with Arc System Works at the helm of the project, all worries were laid to rest as the original game was an interesting installment to the Persona story as well as an incredibly fun fighting game in its own right. With its first sequel now on the shelves, does this new series still hold up, or has P4A begun to stagnate from its former glory? As a fighting game enthusiast and Persona fan, I am happy to report that Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a solid addition to the series.
To start with; story mode has been changed to make the narrative more streamlined than before. The previous character select screen has been replaced with a branching chart with different chapters told from alternating characters’ point of view (very similar to another Arc System Works game: Blazeblue Chronophantasma). Each chapter is told in a visual novel style, which is written description of off-screen action added with voice acted dialogue. Though the written sections tend to drag at points, the mystery is interesting enough to keep players invested. This was a major concern of mine in regards to the original P4A; the Persona series is well-known for its complex and compelling stories, but with a fighting games the action needs to be consistent otherwise any other players besides Persona fans are going to get bored quick.
Fortunately, Ultimax does not suffer from the same problem. There are two different story modes,each focusing on both the P4 and P3 cast respectively. Just like the original P4 Arena, it is a blast to see how the stars of both games work together for a common goal, and even better to see how the P3 cast has grown up since their high school adventures. The characters introduced in this particular series (ie: Labrys and Sho Minazuki), while not the greatest individuals to have come out of the franchise, at least feel like they belong with the rest of the cast and do more than just take up a spot on the game roster. New playable characters are already available as DLC, including Tohru Adachi from Persona 4. While not doing anything too daring in terms of storytelling, Ultimax’s story mode is an enjoyable addition to the game and a real treat for both P3 and P4 fans alike.
In terms of gameplay, not much has changed. Button combinations are still limited to two physical attack buttons and two skill buttons which summon the characters’ Personas. Personas can still be attacked and temporarily disabled, and the character can be inflicted or inflict various status aliments to an opponent (ie: Naoto and her persona can cause silence thus disabling the enemy’s skills, etc). However, one distinct change is the ability to increase in strength of specific combos at the cost of SP or HP.
Aside from story mode, there are plenty of alternate modes for players to try out: Arcade mode, a more traditional story mode for fighting game veterans; Score attack mode where you play against numerous opponents to gain points and reach new high scores; Versus mode, and a new addition; Golden Arena mode. Once again taking cues from its RPG roots, Golden Arena mode attempts to mimic the dungeon exploration from the main series by allowing players to pick a character and “climb” the levels of Tartarus, fighting different opponents on each level. After each fight, the player gains experience and can level up their character at different intervals. Increasing specific stats and even gaining new skills to use. Without an actual chance to explore this so-called ‘dungeon’ does lose some of the fun, it is a fun diversion and unique way to change-up the typical fighting game formula.
All in all, P4U added several changes in order to keep the gameplay fresh without having to change what wasn’t broken. Not only that but it was another fun mystery/adventure featuring the characters Persona fans have become attached to over the years. Though the Arena franchise may not hit all the same notes as their parent franchise, it is still a ton of fun for Persona and fighting game fans alike. So if you’re looking to get hyped for the next big Persona title or just need a new fighting game to test your skills, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a great game to try out.
Final Score: 3.8 out of 5
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