By this point, I really thought every niche in the fighting game genre had been covered. Between Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat, Injustice, and PlayStation All St…ahahahahah! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself) and Smash Bros, there should be something for everyone by now. When I heard about Persona 4 Arena, the only two things I knew about it were that it was being developed by Arc System Works (the brilliant team behind the BlazBlue series) and that it would tie into Persona 4, a JRPG that recently took off in the West after its port to the Vita. I’ll be honest, though, it was because of the former that I wanted to review it; just some title to remind me that the next BlazBlue wasn’t too far away.
However, Persona 4 Arena turned out to be more than just an excuse to get my arcade stick out – it was a surprise present that gave me something new in a genre I’d felt had gotten almost too comfortable with itself.
Taking place after the events of Persona 4, something very Japanese and weird has happened, and now the protagonists of the JRPG have returned to kick each others’ arses in a tournament brought about in mysterious circumstances. Don’t let my slight racism and seemingly sarcastic appraisal of the plot deter you – Arena has the best writing in any fighter to date, and probably some of the best writing to hit gaming in the last ten years. It shows an excellent handle on how narration works, how different perspectives can completely alter the meaning of what you hear, and will probably earn its counterpart game some extra sales. Don’t get me wrong, I was interested in checking out the JRPG, but thanks to Arena, it has become a need.
My regular approach to fighters is trying out all the characters, seeing who I naturally play well with and who I think is aesthetically pleasing. Arena has completely flipped this system on its head, as I now want to play as every character I possibly can because I like them. It’s not about their moves or abilities, it’s about getting to control a character I understand, a character whose motivations and life struggles go beyond ‘I want to be the very best, like no-one ever was’.
Arc Systems talents haven’t gone to waste, as Arena is easily the best looking fighting game to hit current gen consoles. Having recently been fooled by the seemingly flawless graphics of King of Fighters on a small monitor (later finding out that blown up on a regular sized TV that it suffered terribly), the slick anime style on my 52 inch TV is just eye-watering. It goes beyond eye-candy though, as the game simply personifies the idea of ‘fullness’. Whether you’re on the home screen and looking down the main street of the town of Inaba (where the fighting takes place), choosing a character or mid-fight, there’s a sense that every available inch of the screen is being put to use. While in many other games this would lead to a sense of cluttering, especially in an age where ‘clean and minimalistic’ is the aim, Arena defies convention, with every eccentricity proudly boasted on-screen only adding to the already overwhelming sense of character that the game possesses.
Depending on whether or not you’re a fighting game aficionado will greatly determine how much you like the combat of Arena. I’d consider myself a mix of amateur and casual: able to understand the basic mechanics and use my knowledge and skill to beat the regular group of people I play against (sorry Chad, Dejan and Chris, you know it’s true). Arena definitely appeals more to the casual side of my love of fighters – there’s just an insane amount of fun to be had with button-mashing. Attacks are divided between light, heavy, light persona and heavy persona. Persona attacks will summon the user’s persona, which is basically like the embodiment of the contenders heart or spirit, if you will. They act externally to their respective fighters, and are summoned rather than wielded. At a beginner’s level, that’s all you really need to go on, and thanks to the dual nature of incredibly fast recovery and lightning fast attacks, the game is immediately accessible.
Unfortunately, there is a feature that, while infinitely appealing to a very young audience or those who simply don’t understand fighting games, is simply annoying for those even at my poor level. Continually spamming the light attack button will perform a combo that will automatically use any available meter. In terms of damage, it does about as much as a ‘standard’ easy/medium to pull off combo would, but the problem is moreso that you’re unable to turn it off. Now, having done a little bit of research into this, the general consensus among those my level seem to think it’s a huge deal, while those more experienced with fighters wouldn’t bother using such a small hitting combo to begin with. Personally, I find it annoying you can’t turn it off, but it’s only served to make me want to learn how to play the game in more depth.
And really, there should be no end to the depth, as Arena is basically fighting game porn. There are different styles of jumps, and you can run, like in KOF, there are Burst moves which act to break you out of combos, you can disable an opponent’s Persona by hitting it a certain amount of times, you can hop, need to press more than one button to sweep, you can hit your opponent into cartoon-style *punching them into a dustcloud* animation before hitting them in the air, you can stun your opponents, poison them, air dash, and that’s what I can remember from the top of my head. The sheer amount of options available and what their applications could be is mind-boggling to someone on my level, so I can’t wait to see what the professionals do with it.
What’s probably the weirdest thing about Arena’s combat is that, while nearly all moves are centered on quarter circle actions (and I mean around 99%), each character fights really, really differently. There don’t seem to be any character archetypes (like Ken/Ryu, Yun/Jin, Heihachi/Jin etc), and my experience with each individual brought me a more full understanding of how the game is played. For instance, character (x)’s use of her Persona during combat is the core of many of her combos, whereas character (y)’s will see the Persona used more as a tool to gain openings and for single, hard attacks. In this game, more than any other, I’ve found that I can connect emotionally to characters as well as have to wrap my head around their individual play style.
- Reviewed On