Persona 4: The Arena Review
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m an extremely casual fighting game fan. I enjoy them enough to do pretty decent in arcade and story modes but I never do that well online or competitively. I’ve tried super hard at games that I really enjoy but I just can’t seem to get the hang of controlling a fighting game on a console well enough to do that well. I suppose I could subvert that by getting an arcade controller but have you seen how much those things go for? Knowing that, you should know that I go into this game – and this review, by proxy – as a fan of Shin Megami Tensei and Persona. That’s why I picked up this game; though, I suppose, I would have picked it up eventually based on the premise that the same guys behind BlazBlue and Guilty Gear were behind this one, in tandem with Atlus, so this one would have been one to check out just to see the animation and the special movesets alone. I went into this game with pretty high expectations and, let me tell you, I was not let down.
Going back to the whole thing about Guilty Gear; I really enjoyed that series. In terms of gameplay, more or less, you get the same kind of thing: a fighting system that’s really diverse in that it reaches out to players of all skill levels. I suppose that would be necessary when basing a fighting game off of a franchise that’s always been role-playing games, at least in this market. Everything’s pretty standard but I’ll lay it out for you in case you haven’t played a Guilty Gear game before: in order to get the big payoffs and the flashy moves that everyone loves to see, you don’t have to be an expert. This game gives an equal chance to novices – allowing even a button-masher to execute a flashy-looking combo – as it does to competitive players; it helps reward learning the ins and outs of a game by allowing you to letting you create a fighting style all your own.
The AI in the game is, to me, unpredictable; in the context of this game, though, I think it kind of fits as each character’s design and personality are truly unique. Some characters are difficult or easy in spite of the difficulty setting and when, in Arcade Mode, the order of the characters seem to be random, I got a unique challenge with every play through. You have to keep in mind that I’m a casual fighting game player so this might be a usual thing but I think it added to the experience as the game this is a sequel to had a lot of strong and unique characterization.
Every fighting game, these days, touts some kind of story but everyone knows the focus of the game is on the gameplay – to keep this game a proper entry in the Persona series, the story is thick in this one. In the Story Mode, there is a lot of exposition and dialogue, much like Persona 4. There’s a slight problem with that, though: this is a fighting game and pacing needs to be considered. There’s a big divide between the action and the story that moves it along and there’s nothing that brings everything together: you have one match and then you have a long period with walls of text and character profiles. Even that isn’t always pleasant as a lot of the internal monologue is a poorly contrasted literal wall of text. If I wasn’t a fan of Shin Megami Tensei and a huge fan of Persona 4’s story and characters already this would have annoyed me to no end. There was a lot of points where I was asking myself when the monologues would get to a point and move forward.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like exposition. I love a well-written story and I love it even more when that story is deep and drawn-out, so long as the payout is well-worth it. The payout in Persona 4 was not only wrapping up the case but you also got to know the motivation behind the culprit and you got the chance to develop the relationships between the characters. To beat Persona 4, you needed to be personally invested to some degree. Atlus certainly tried to bring the Persona experience to the fighting genre by melding elements and depth the the genre not common to it but the Story Mode seems more like a visual story with a few fights sprinkled in here and there. You don’t really get to develop or control anything about your experience – if you don’t enjoy the fighting game portion of the game I highly doubt you’d enjoy the story portions. Atlus tries hard to make this very much like every Persona entry made in the last little while but I find they’re trying a little too hard. If they kept it down to the interpersonal dialogue and kept the limited the exposition by paring down the details, it would feel a little more like Arcade Mode and I like that idea. There’s a lot of elements in the series that would feel too out of place in a fighting game and I feel that’s what happened here.
I enjoyed it, even if it did seem long-winded, though: I think the reason for my enjoyment of it roots from my enjoyment of Persona 4. I don’t think newcomers to the series will really enjoy this portion of the game.
You know, now that I mention that, that statement pretty much embodies how one will approach this game, I think: if you’re a fan of fighting games, you might check this out based on the history of the companies involved; if you’re a fan of Persona 4, you will thoroughly enjoy the expansion to the post-game content, even if it is a big departure from the typical genre the games are known for. Everything is presented in a way that caters to both parties but not in many ways that newcomers to the series and casual fighting gamers would appreciate. The soundtrack, the presentation, the art style; they’re all excellent but they are very much directed towards existing Persona 4 fans.
What I’m really trying to say is that I think the game is awesome, just presented in such a way that might detract newcomers from trying it on. That’s a real shame because it’s truly a great experience once you give it a shot. If I, a gamer who just isn’t that great at fighting games to begin with, can really enjoy this game, you can, too.
Great fighting system, excellent presentation and music, good way to expand your Persona experience.
Story Mode is way too drawn-out for some characters, not very newcomer-friendly.