After a controversial delay Persona 4 Arena has been released in Europe this month. Released by Atlus last July in Japan and August in America, it was the first disc based PlayStation 3 game in America to be region locked. The reason was to stop players in Japan importing the American version of the game, which was cheaper at the time due to the currency conversion rate. This of course had a knock on effect, leaving European players unable to import the game. All of this wouldn’t have been such an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that the European release had been delayed so much, but over half a year later fans can now get their hands on it.
I say fans because Persona 4 Arena is heavily aimed at fans of the Persona series. It is set two months after the end of Persona 4, a game released on the PlayStation 2 and then updated for the PlayStation Vita as Persona 4 Golden. A 26 episode anime adaption has also been released. Now while Persona 4 was an RPG, Persona 4 Arena is a 2D fighting game. The fighting characters you can choose from are the main cast of Persona 4 and some of the characters from Persona 3. Even though it’s a fighting game, there is a massive story mode to it. An entirely new story has been written for the game and you can experience it now from the point of view of each character. This makes a change from Persona 4 where everything was from the point of view of the main character Yu Narukami who was essentially a blank slate for you to build on. He never spoke any dialogue that you didn’t choose yourself, but here you can hear his thoughts and dialogue without having much influence on what he says. It’s not only Yu, now you can become any of the characters from Persona 4 and see it all through their eyes which adds another element to it. The majority of the dialogue is excellently voiced, with the actors from Persona 4 reprising their roles. The music is great with some catchy songs, as to be expected from a game with Persona 4 in the title. Some of the tracks are actually from Persona 4 too, returning players will be hit with a sense of nostalgia when they see the menu screen and hear the music playing.
However a problem I did have with story mode was how any descriptions or the inner thoughts of the character’s are just displayed as walls of text for you to read through. You will spend hours reading through these if you play through story mode with every character and it can become very repetitive and honestly boring. There are a couple of nice animated cut scenes scattered throughout story mode but even these grow stale as you see them again and again in each character’s playthrough. The animation of the characters while fighting is brilliant though, each one has great detail and their personalityies are reflected in their fighting styles.
There is an arcade mode too which has each character mention a little bit about the story before the fights begin, so for those not interested in reading all the text you can still get an idea of the plot behind the game in this mode. Story aside, fans of 2D fighting games won’t be disappointed here. Beginners can button mash their way through but there is a serious level of depth to the fighting engine for those willing to put the time and effort in. There is a lot of variety between the fighting styles of each character and several different attacks and combos are available. You can learn these in the challenge mode which shows you combos to try and pull off, before practicing them yourself in training mode. Versus mode lets you challenge a friend or CPU and score attack challenges you to build points in each round by pulling off better attacks and surviving each round. There is a theatre mode where you can record fights and rewatch them to examine your technique. This may be useful for those wanting to climb the ranks in the online Network mode. Here you can play against players around the world in unranked or ranked matches. Even with the delayed release, there is still a large fanbase playing online which is a good sign for fighting game fans.
If you haven’t played Persona 4 and are thinking of it, don’t play Persona 4 Arena first, it would spoil a huge amount of Persona 4, (which is brilliant by the way). I hadn’t played Persona 3 before starting this and found instead of feeling lost, it piqued my interest in Persona 3 and left me wanting to try it after finishing Persona 4 Arena. It might seem strange that a RPG would inspire a fighting game but it works and fans of the series should definitely check it out. For those new to the series this is a solid fighting game with a lot of gameplay on offer but the story may confuse newcomers and seeing a new chapter in these character’s lives won’t have the same impact.