Persona 4 Arena Review

Mike Kayatta | 9 Aug 2012 11:00
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Genre crossovers for popular series can be a dangerous proposition. Usually, if it happens at all, we see a smaller entry, a diversion, a hasty re-skin of a more generically-produced game. Fortunately, that's just not the case with Persona 4 Arena; it's an official and, oddly appropriate follow up to cult JRPG Persona 4 ... just in fighting game form.

While it's clearly a Persona title, the particular way that Arena adheres to its lineage will likely be a point of contention for some. For Persona enthusiasts, the attention to detail and style will likely be welcome, as will the canonical continuation of Persona 4's storyline of high school students facing their idiosyncrasies in physical form from the inside of a television. Seeing that game changed into a fighter, however, may not sit quite as well. The same goes for players simply looking for a solid new fighting game. They'll discover exactly that with Arena, but may also find themselves turned off by the game's narrative focus - extremely heavy for this sort of game - as they puzzle through what can be 30-minute-or-more chunks of dialog boxes fleshing out the tale between the action.

Sure, the story can be long-winded, but usually for good reason. It navigates a tricky balance between engaging players new to the series while not boring those well-versed in the universe. For the most part, this is accomplished by carefully conveying context through characters' thoughts and dialog without resorting to a more obvious info-dump. And as Persona is traditionally character-centric, the result is generally screens and screens worth of internal monologue. Most are interesting enough, but only for those with patience for the method.

For players who can get past Persona being mixed up with their fighter or a fighter being mixed up with their Persona, the heart of the game is solidly built. Eight modes offer up generous content, with Story Mode alone responsible for about 30 hours of play. For the perfectionists, there's a score-hunt; for the impatient, there's a quick match; and for the social, there a robust online experience to showcase your skills outside the living room. Each finds a different, fun way to present the game's combat, a 1v1, 2D, stylized deathmatch.

At its most basic, Persona 4 Arena is a familiar four-button fighter. You've got weak, quick attacks paired with slower strong ones and, for the most part, the same goes for your Persona, a sort of large, combat-ready manifestation of each character's personality. The inclusion of a built-in secondary fighter is probably the game's most stand-out feature, offering a unique depth that expands far beyond just a basic attack option. Each Persona comes with its own strengths and weakness separate from the character controlling it, making for what are often some really interesting fused fighting styles.

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