Persona 4 Arena Review
The best things come to those who wait. Which means Persona 4 Arena qualifies as a ‘best things’ because the European release has come almost a full year after the anime brawler hit the shelves in Japan and America. It’s the best game ever! Then again, by that logic, Duke Nukem Forever would be the best game this gen.
All of this is an elaborate and needlessly long-winded way to say we’ve been waiting a long time for Persona 4 Arena to hit Europe. While Zen United’s pre-order trinkets and shiny things go some way towards apologising for the delay, the more important fact is that Persona 4 Arena has held up as an excellent game even after being stuck in release limbo for so long.
Persona 4 Arena – RPG Or Fighter?
A huge chunk of the credit for Persona 4 Arena’s success goes to ArcSystem Works, co-developer on the title. Anyone familiar with the studios previous titles – Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series – will recognises the same fighting game DNA present here. It’s a chain fighter where weaker attacks chain into bigger attacks and combos that are long and elaborate.
There are air dashes, bursts, instant kill moves and other trademark mechanics from ArcSystem Works’ previous games. Other minor additions help spice up the gameplay here such as the defensive Furious Action that serves as a dragon punch style move for most characters and All Out Rush overhead. Persona’s roots might be in the RPG genre but this is a fighting game through and through.
The only clue hinting at the series’ past is how status ailments have carried over, with some characters able to inflict Poison, Confusion and so on.
Persona 4 Arena Has Assists? Almost.
What makes Persona 4 Arena stand out within the genre is its use of Persona guardians, unique to each character. They’re summoned into the fight similar to assists in the Marvel series but they have their own attacks and special moves, so they work as an extension of your character rather than as a one-off spot of help. Personas also have their own health bars – if they take five hits, they temporarily duck out of the fight to recharge, leaving you without their attacks or moves to rely on.
It’s a little difficult to get your head around at first, mostly because it’s such a unique mechanic. But more importantly it’s a fun mechanic to learn and it’s also something that makes Persona 4 Arena different to other fighters, particularly once you start understanding more about how each character plays – Mitsuru’s Persona works as a long-range whip that freezes opponents while Shadow Labrys has a giant behemoth as her Persona that’s always present on the screen, harassing opponents with a wide arsenal of moves.
Overall it’s a little harder to learn that most fighting games, particularly if you haven’t dipped your toes in Guilty Gear or BlazBlue waters before. The pace is quite fast thanks to the movement options each character has (particularly air-dashing) while combos off throws and overheads mean you can’t sit back and defend. Conversely, combos themselves can take a while to build up.
Persona 4 Arena does help out in this area thanks to a hefty tutorial and the presence of an auto-combo, which lets beginners automatically pull off combos by mashing the weak attack button. It’s balanced well enough that beginners have a guiding hand helping them compete while those grinding out hours in training mode can easily outclass auto-combos by doing their own manual combos.
Persona 4 Arena Story
The story follows a tournament involving four of the main characters, which eventually branches out into more playable characters and a ‘cliffhanger’ finale. There’s a lot to see and do in the story line, plus a lot of talking to get through.
It’s not unusual that you’ll sit through a huge chunk of dialogue and story, get the option to save your game, and then sit through another huge chunk dialogue before getting to a fight.
It’s not a complaint though because fighting games rarely offer much attempt at catering for the sole player and the voice-overs and scope of Persona 4 Arena’s storyline is above and beyond the expected call of duty for the genre. There’s a lot of content to get through but the real test for Persona 4 Arena, as with any fighting game these days, is with its online modes.
Persona 4 Arena Netcode
One of the main concerns to arise from the long European delay was whether there would still be an online community at this point in the game’s life. The good news is that there are plenty of American and Japanese players online of varying skill levels, making it appear no different to any other fighting game release on launch (even if it is perhaps not quite as busy online as that traditional launch peak period).
The netcode also holds up for transatlantic bouts, even though it frequently threatens not to. It’s erratic in a way we haven’t seen in any other online fighting. The intro for each match suffocates with lag as both fighters stutter into view but when the actual game begins, the lag disappears and it’s playable. Very odd.
We’ve mostly tested UK vs. US connections and in comparison to the same fights in other fighting games, the netcode isn’t quite GGPO good but also not quite Mortal Kombat bad. It’s between the two, where everything online feels a fraction slower and less responsive than offline play but it’s never a big enough issue to impede your play.
It’s taken its sweet time but Persona 4 Arena looks lovely, it plays fantastically and the fact that it still draws a strong online community in both America and Japan is testament to its quality.
And unlike Duke Nukem Forever, it proves some games are worth waiting for.
Version Tested: PS3