Persona 4 Arena Ultimax the Review

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Posted October 7, 2014 by Bryan Boshart in Video Games

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

Developer: Arc System Works/Atlus

Publisher: Atlus

Available on: PS3 (reviewed for), Xbox 360

Release Date: September 30, 2014

I’m a huge RPG fan, and the Persona series is one of my favorite franchises. In 2012, Arc System Works and Atlus decided to release a fighting game adaptation of the series called Persona 4 Arena that was surprisingly good, so it’s of little surprise they put out  a sequel. But is it as good as the original?

The Persona games are known for having a good story, and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is no exception (at least in fighting game terms). The story takes place almost immediately after the end of the original Arena title and manages to merge the stories of Persona 3 and Persona 4 into a climactic battle that needs to be settled one on one. The narrative scenes use that cardboard cut-out style that so many Japanese games are guilty of, and while the Persona series does it better than most, I’m starting to get a bit tired of it.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax actually gives you three story modes to go through (if you access the currently free DLC), and the extra narratives make the Persona 3 characters feel like a natural fit in comparison to Persona 4 Arena, where they felt shoehorned in.  You get two separate stories for the casts of Persona 4 and Persona 3, as well as one detailing what happened to Adachi after the events of Persona 4. In story mode, you’ll end up facing the shadow versions of your team members, and I think it was a good addition to make these “shadows” playable.

From my experience, it seems that Persona 4 Arena Ultimax caters more toward the hardcore fighter than a casual player, but it does have some features that make it accessible. The ability to mash “A” to do a full fledged combo is still present and a good way for beginners to understand how the combo system works. Because the game requires you to fight with your character and your persona as if they were one, it takes more than a bit of work to get used to. An example is with the newcomers Ken and Koromaru; while they have the ability to follow up down-down toward-toward A A with down-down toward-toward C, if you do this a bit early or a bit late you’ll be unable to keep the combo going. Most fighting games have more leeway in their combo timing. I like that the combo timer is visible and you can see exactly where the combo dropped, but it really points out how frustratingly tight some of the combo windows are.

The “fatal counter” system has been changed so that any attack that counters specific moves will leave your opponent vulnerable for a massive amount of time. Any attempt to execute actual combos seems to require as much precision as any fighter on the market. The “Persona Break” system has been modified so that characters who are more reliant on their personas can take more hits before they are unable to use it. The new “shadow” characters are a bit different than their standard counterparts, and the first thing you’ll notice is that you can never activate “Awakening.” In addition, they don’t have the ability to burst properly. They make up for this on offense; by activating “Shadow Frenzy” the cost of your skills decreases significantly allowing you to do some pretty powerful combos. All of these features take an experts touch to gain any kind of mastery over, but help to add a depth beyond the basic combat.

At the very least, I’m glad Arc System Works did a good job balancing this title, as only a couple characters (Kanji and Labrys I’m looking at you!) feel weak compared to the rest of the cast. Most of the better characters are still good, but the gap has narrowed, giving you more freedom to choose a character that’s fun to play over one that’s just powerful.

Ken and Koromaru join the fray

Ken and Koromaru join the fray

Many new characters join the fray in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. Ken and Koromaru fight together and, from my time with them, seem to function as a puppet-style character. Rise has gained the ability to fight and incorporates music into her fighting style, even going so far as to have a DDR-esque mini-game as an super move. Sho is a completely new character to the franchise and has two different versions, one with a persona and one without. Junpei is a baseball player whose skills get more powerful based off how he’s batting, including having a runs tracker on the bottom of the screen. Yukari went off to college and decided to become a power ranger (I’m completely serious), complete with bow, costume, and mask. The addition of all these completely unique characters is Persona 4 Arena Ultimax’s best trait.

Some new modes have helped make Ultimax distinct from the original Arena, the biggest being Golden Arena, which adds some RPG elements to a standard survival-style mode. As you fight and defeat enemies, you’ll gain skills that can range from healing to adding status effects to your attacks. At the same time you’ll be accruing experience to put into your strength, magic, endurance, and other stats. Golden Arena is a fun distraction from the standard single player modes. Score Attack is still here and provides the most challenge you can get without going online.

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The online play in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is pretty good. I noticed no significant lag during my matches, and the matches themselves flowed quickly. The ranking system is built more off of player skill than time spent which is also a plus. Ultimax adapted the lobby mode that was featured in Blazblue and made massive improvements. Lobbies are well organized, and they gives you options that many games don’t give, such as sitting down and playing the same guy multiple times or finding a particularly good player and waiting in a small line to play him. All players can chat with one another in the lobby, and the developers were even smart enough to set up specific lobbies to allow beginners space to play. Sadly, the lobby feature is only available for PS3 and there is no plan to add it to the Xbox 360.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax makes great use of the fantastic soundtrack that the franchise is known for. There are a few new tracks, but for the most part, the songs are arranged versions from the other Persona games. The sound effects featured in this game are for the most part solid, but a few of the more cartoony sounding effects were grating  after multiple games. Visually, the game flows well, and the crisp visuals are a definite positive point for the game. As with the sound though, sometimes the visual effects get a bit too crazy, and you can lose track of the action. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax also gives you a veritable treasure trove of character colors to sift through, most of which are based off other anime or game characters.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax’s substance is more than enough to match its impressive style and, just as importantly, distinguish itself from its predecessor. Any fan of the Persona franchise or fighting games will quickly be able to find something to like and enjoy. While I do wish the combat system was a bit more friendly toward newcomers, the reward gained from learning new techniques is excellent.


About the Author

Bryan Boshart

Hey, I'm Bryan. I write video game reviews here at We The Nerdy. In my spare time I mostly play fighting games, but play almost anything.

 
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