The Sister-Complex Kingpin of Steel!
So you've returned to your home away from home after two months without your friends, ready for a relaxing holiday by the beach, and suddenly some jackass in a Bison costume is saying you have a sister-complex?! ON TV?! Who does this guy think he is? And why is he wearing a bear costume? (Also you can summon monsters from your head and fight shadows.) It's time to investigate!
These are the inauspicious conditions under which the cast of Persona 4 find themselves reunited. It's time to head back into the TV to solve the case of the Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena Tournament. Still, is Persona 4: Arena worth all this trouble or is it one of those shameless cash-ins we've come to know and hate?
One thing's for sure, Arc System Works and Atlus have found themselves a match made in heaven. There are moments in P4: Arena where I can't tell where one famed Japanese developer ends and the other begins.
The line between the two companies really begins to blur in the presentation. The menus, characters, and aesthetics seem to harken back to BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, the two fighting franchises Arc is most well-known for. And as much as you might suffer from déjà vu, these moments are true to Persona 4 through and through.
Players will find their favorites from P4 joined with a select few from Persona 3, all with a dash of fighting game pomp and circumstance.
Chie Satonaka relies heavily on kicks while Yu Narukami slashes with his sword. Yukiko Amagi throws her fans and Kanji Tatsumi slams his opponents with a folding chair. Mitsuru Kirijo comes equipped with her rapier and Akihiko Sanada lets his fists do the talking.
Perhaps more importantly, all of these characters and more come complete with their signature personas. In combat, personas are used much like assist characters in Marvel vs. Capcom. You'll call them in for long-distance attacks, retaliations, spacing-games, and combo-links.
Yukiko, for example, can start a combo with her fan, knock the opponent away, and continue infliting damage with her persona, Konohana Sakuya. Mitsuru instead kicks her opponent away from her and has her persona, Artemisia, use her whip and bufu skills to freeze and pull the enemy back in for another combo.
What's even more brilliant about Persona 4: Arena's gameplay is the way it welcomes genre newbies. Every character has an Auto-Combo accomplished by mashing the weak attack button. Once you've got enough SP in your meter, the auto-combo will include a super-cancel special attack.
To complement the auto-combo, button mashers can unleash the Furious Action, an overhead move that links with the all-out-attack. You can also mash your strong and weak attacks and then launch your opponent to the far side of the arena or up into the air for a continued combo. That's not to say that P4: Arena isn't deep, there's certainly a ton of mechanics and maneuvers to dig into, but fans of the JRPG series can still find a lot to enjoy in Arena, despite the genre swap.
Where the title falters is in the Story Mode. Fans of Persona 4 and Persona 3 will find a lot to love. Characters are as goofy as ever and there's a ton of story exposition to read, but the 30 hours Atlus has claimed is mostly stuffed with fluff. Every character has their own story to fight through, but on the high-end there are only a handful of actual fights.
I like seeing Mitsuru approach the tournament in her typically level-headed and determined style, but Story Mode could benefit from more actual gameplay. In total, you might only reap 10 hours of enjoyment from Story Mode if you don't care to read everything, but the voice-acting and remaining modes more than make up for that deficit.
Joining (Combo) Challenge, Score Attack, Arcade, and Training Modes are Versus and Online. Taking my admittedly low-level play online against Japanese and US players was a breeze. Lobbies are heavily populated and Arc System Works has built an incredibly stable net code for fighting around the world.
I tested the mode with the existing community in Japan and only had trouble finding an open lobby slot. Fighting against fellow revolutionary Vincent Ingenito before release also proved stable and lag-free.
There's a ton of stuff to do, plenty of likable, balanced characters, and a fantastic meld of Arc style and Atlus universe. Persona 4: Arena is easy to recommend to anyone and everyone thanks to its approachable, deep gameplay. If you're new to the Persona series, this is a shallow spot to jump in and see if the characters and universe are for you. Persona 4 Golden is just around the corner, and I didn't find any spoilers in Arena that might ruin the experience. Come on in, the TV-water is fine.