Of course, where this game takes a stand that is different from your standard fighter is the story mode. With it being a Persona title, you know that this is something that is absolutely necessary, otherwise the name wouldn’t have even been on the box. As you complete the starting characters’ stories, you move on to unlock others and find out what is beyond those dread three words: To be continued. The stories weave together very well and the picture clears up the further you get and the more characters that you complete. Fans of the series will get a lot more out of this than fighting game enthusiasts, but the quality still shines even if you may be confused as just what the heck is going on.
If you’re the type that just wants to hop on and smash some skulls, then there are plenty of options at your disposal. The tutorial won’t last long for most people to get through, but the tips learned along the way will be a nice foundation for new and old fighting game players alike. Lesson mode provides a nice breakdown of each character, allowing players to learn moves and combos. It’s challenging, don’t get me wrong, but very rewarding to pull off and link combos. Training mode is also very extensive and when paired with Lesson mode anyone can really pick up a character and learn them with some time invested and really grasp the game’s mechanics. Arena is very open to anyone with any skill level, and that’s not to say that is easy, but the wide array of preparation tools will get you up and running in no time at all.
Online, arcade, and versus all do their jobs and the netcode is as tight as fans have come to expect from Arc. The AI is nicely balanced, with the lower difficulties being very forgiving while their harder counterparts are unpredictable and challenging. I never really felt as though the game was cheap, though some characters can be ridiculous (I’m staring right at you, Elizabeth). If you’re the type that enjoys fighting games, but don’t care for the competitive aspects and just want to goof around with the AI, you’ll be just fine with your investment here. If you’re a serious fighting enthusiast, you’ll also be right at home.
As far as the mechanics go, if you have played any of the previous Arc games, you’ll know what to expect. It’s fast paced and there are a lot of things to keep up with. Summoning a Persona is always risky, because if you or the Persona is hit four times, you’ll lose them for the majority (if not the rest) of the match. Combos are easier to pull off than in other fighters, which again are a testament to the game welcoming new players, but mastery of and being able to link multiple ones will require precise timing. Each character is unique as well, with each providing their own plusses and minuses and having styles different enough for anyone to find a character that fits them. I will say that if you don’t own a stick that you will likely struggle to pull off the precise movements, but then again if you play fighting games at all you should invest in a stick anyway (or at least a fight pad). I know there was some worry about the burst attacks being a comeback mechanic, but luckily their requirements mean that the match is already close to being decided and rather slanted.
Visually, the game is spectacular and the sprites really pop. The 2D anime-style sprites really do justice to the Persona series and the backdrops are snazzy as well. I will say that the stages can be a bit distracting at times, because you just want to pay attention to all of the details that Arc put in, but it’s tough to really knock that as a negative. The soundtrack is also top notch, being one of the best I have ever encountered in a fighting game. Of course, it helps to have the RPG tie-in, but it’s still addicting and catchy. Early copies of the game also come with a copy of the soundtrack, and if you are a fan of gaming soundtracks, I strongly urge trying to track one down or placing an order through Amazon (which, crazily enough, still has the soundtrack available for purchasers).
Persona 4 Arena hits every high note that fans were hoping for and it does a fantastic job of blending together two radically different genres. Not only is it a strong solo fighting game with a fantastic story, but also it has the staying power to be a competitive centerpiece in tournaments. This is a game that players of any skill level can hop into and enjoy, and it also welcomes players who dedicate themselves to mastering its mechanics. Arc System fans likely have hopped on the bandwagon by now, but if you are a fighting fan on the fence you are missing out and doing yourself a disservice by not joining in. Fans of the Persona games will enjoy the story mode and seeing the character interactions, and they could even find that this is the perfect opener to a whole new genre.