I came at Persona 4 Arena Ultimax as a complete novice. I didn’t play the original, and I’m just fine at hardcore fighting games. I know that might make me less than competent here, but I decided to come at this game as a Persona fan looking to explore more of the universe.
Here’s the thing: I’m really glad I gave P4AU a shot. This is an anime style fighting game, very similar to something like BlazBlue, but it comes with a bevy of Persona characters and a story that you’ll actually want to see play out.
While I didn’t play the original game, I did read up on it. I know how it ends, and I know that the fanbase behind it wanted more from the plot’s result than they got. The end here is very satisfying; as is the amount of time it takes to get to it.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a great blend of stylistic fighter, casual approach and rewarding storyline, and I’m happy to say that I’m a fan.
A Strong Story
If you’re approaching P4AU from the same angle I did, you’ll find that this game actually has a storyline. Like, not just cutscenes to start and end a battle through random fighters, but an actual chain of dialogue, cutscenes and battles that make sense.
It’s actually pretty dense, which I totally recognize could be a turn-off to gamers out there who aren’t used to the exposition that holds up Persona games. For instance, it was more than 30 minutes before my first battle when I fired up story mode. That’s 30 minutes of intro, dialogue and the Persona 4 gang meeting up at Junes.
It continues like that, too. The battles come faster than 30 minutes, but there’s story between them. Sometimes the scenes are long and winding, other times they’re quick and purposeful. Whatever the case may be, every battle has meaning behind it. That actually works towards making this game even more enjoyable.
Even better, instead of having a single campaign that mixes the characters from Persona 4 and 3 together, each sequel has its own campaign. So, you’ll be able to distinguish the two tales easily. This is actually pretty cool, especially for someone who’s spent more time with 4 than 3 (blame Persona 4 Golden on the PS Vita for that).
As a fan of Persona, P4AU has been great. I miss this group of troubled teens and their alter egos, and it’s great to see Atlus is building up the canon of this universe beyond just RPGs. It won’t replace the storyline in a main effort, of course; but, unlike other fighting games in a similar vein, I could absolutely see a fan buying into Persona 4 Arena Ultimax for its story. Even if they haven’t played the original game.
That’s sort of a first, isn’t it?
Approachable Combat, Complicated Mastery
I’m still knee deep in Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 3DS. I say that as a point of emphasis and explanation. I was really hoping Persona 4 Arena Ultimax would be approachable enough for me to get into quickly.
It is, thankfully. There’s a great, lengthy tutorial that takes users through all the steps of combat. You’ll learn about basic attacks, grabs, counters, bursts and Shadow Characters. All told, I believe there are nearly 100 steps to the tutorial. You certainly won’t be a master at the game by the time it ends, but you’ll easily be able to hold your own through the campaign.
As I went on, the combat got much deeper here. Each character has their own unique play style and moveset. Even further, some characters have Shadow versions of themselves (explained by the game’s story) that provide a risk/reward system. These Shadow versions are typically tougher to play as, but can be much better than their counterparts in the right hands.
Namely, not my own.
What’s nice, then, about P4AU is that it’s perfect for players like me and players who really love fighters made by Arc System Works. I came for the story, plain and simple. It’s great that the game lowers itself to my level by being approachable and offering plenty of tutelage. However, fans of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue will find an effort made by the same studio that’s actually tough and fun enough as just a fighter.
I Can Safely Recommend P4AU to All Comers
As I’ve made so abundantly clear throughout this review, I’m not the biggest in-depth fighting game fan. I came at Persona 4 Arena Ultimax as a fan of the fiction, plain and simple. I’ve dumped, all told, hundreds of hours into the lives of the characters from 4 and 3, and I’ve been looking for a way to extend that play time while I wait for Persona 5.
Atlus delivered that game to me. Heck, playing Ultimax, I wish I’d jumped on the train with the original Persona 4 Arena. I know now that I missed out simply because I’m not much for fighting efforts. Granted, at least I didn’t have to wait too long for the plot line to resolve itself. That would have driven me nuts.
If you’re a fan of Persona looking for more storyline from your favorite characters, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a buy. It’s also a buy if you’re looking for a new anime style fighting game with a few layers of intricacy below it. This is a fun game, though I suppose those who played the first might be thrown off by its $59.99 price tag. From what I’ve read, there isn’t much here, beyond the story, that warrants a completely new purchase.
For me, yeah, I’d buy this game. For sure.
Disclaimer: We received Persona 4 Arena Ultimax from Atlus on the PlayStation 3 for review.