A fighting game based on a Japanese Role Playing Game is certainly a risk. JRPGs allow players to sit back and plan their actions in their own time while fighting games require speedily pressing a combination of memorised buttons in order to achieve victory. Within fighting games the story tying all the characters together takes a backseat to the action but with JRPGs the story can be what drives players to keep going and see how the plot ends. Altus took this risk by creating a fighting game with characters from their Persona series, a move that could have left Persona fans unhappy with the fighting mechanics and fighting game players uninterested in these characters and their story. With Persona 4 Arena being successful enough to warrant the sequel, Atlus made the right choice. Persona 4 Arena was originally released in 2012 and to the annoyance of European fans, was region locked with no European release until 2013. Thankfully the sequel, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, has not suffered the same fate and is out now region free on the PlayStation 3 in North America so Europe has the option of playing this version or waiting until 21 November for the European release.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax brings characters, music and settings from Persona 3 and Persona 4 together to form a story that takes place immediately after the end of Persona 4 Arena. To fully understand the plot here you will need to have played particular versions of these games too: Persona 3: FES, Persona 4 Golden and Persona Arena. Persona 4 Golden has a character that wasn’t present in the original Persona 4 and Persona 3: FES has an extended ending which can change your whole view of Persona 3. I had played Persona 3 Portable and looked up the FES story online to see the difference. If you’re totally new to Persona, very little of this is going to make any sense, even Persona fans that have not played Persona 4 Arena will be left in the dark but there is the option of paying for DLC that contains the story of Persona 4 Arena, rather than having to buy the full game.
Long story short, Persona 4 Arena improves on the original in terms of both the fighting gameplay and how the plot unfolds. All of the characters are unlocked to begin with, including new characters from Persona 3. Returning characters have been rebalanced so they will feel different to those who became very familiar with them. A shadow version of most characters can also be selected with their own fighting style. Adachi, Marie and Margaret from Persona 4 Golden can be downloaded as DLC. Adachi and Marie were both free for the first week in America and Adachi came with his own story mode. Margaret cost $4.99 so we will have to wait and see what the DLC costs will be in Ireland. To ease you in there is a training mode that walks you through the controls and a challenge mode that presents increasingly difficult combos to pull off for each character. There are the typical story and arena modes and a new addition: Golden Arena. Here you select a character to face fighters one after the other to try and defeat as many as you can without dying. Your character earns experience points for each fight which can be used to increase different statistics, giving them a larger health bar or stronger attacks. You can also select a secondary character who will shout support and make commentary on each fight which I found to be a nice addition. The most dedicated fighting players will likely spend most of their time in the online mode challenging other players to ranker matches. The PlayStation 3 version of the game has an exclusive arcade style lobby. You can select an avatar and walk it around a traditional looking arcade where you can send messages to other players and stand beside them at an arcade machine and fight.
I loved the music and recognised my favourite tunes from Persona 3 and 4. In Persona 4 Arena the settings were only from Persona 4 but now there are familiar and detailed backdrops taken from Persona 3 as well. Persona 3 fans will be happy to see the Dark Hour and Tartarus make a return. Persona 3 and 4 are both set in the same world with Persona 3 taking place years beforehand. Seeing the Persona 3 characters grown up was interesting in Persona 4 Arena and now discovering how characters like Yukari who didn’t make the cut last time are being developed is probably my favourite part of the story. Because of this dramatic physical change in the characters it makes the Persona 3 character development more interesting, Rise is the only character from Persona 4 who really develops her personality and gains the ability to fight.
Personally I found the actual plot to be a lot less interesting in Ultimax than in the original, the ending and villains’ motivations all felt very anti climatic to me but I won’t spoil the end here. I got tired of the constant ‘friendship is my power’ speech all the Persona 4 characters would spout but was also happy to see how the story resolved the adventures for the Persona 3 team. The plot may be a let down but how the story was presented was a BIG improvement. In the last game you had to play through the story mode with every single character to complete it and each of these stories conflicted with each other. For example if you played as Yukiko then you reached the last stage with her but if you played as someone else Yukio would be defeated early on and stayed trapped in a different room, meaning none of the playthroughs matched up and you were sick of seeing the same overall story again and again for every character. Persona 4 Arena doesn’t find a perfect solution to this issue but certainly improves it. Rather than play the same scenario through for each character you select either the Persona 4 or the Persona 3 version of events, each version takes you through the story through the eyes of the whole cast, for one scene you may be playing as Yosuke but in the next scene you will seeing events through Kanji’s eyes. Unfortunately the Persona 3 and 4 events then don’t match up when you put them together, this seemed a disappointing decision to go with and I would have preferred that the two stories married up. Another annoyance was the long loading time between each story scene which I never got used to. All the characters’ dialogue is fully voiced and their inner thoughts appear as just readable text. The story mode plays out like a visual novel, you don’t even have to participate in the fights, if you don’t want to then the computer can take over for you letting you sit back and watch the story play out.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a solid fighting game that improves and expands on the gameplay of the original. The plot left me disappointed but the presentation of it has improved since Persona 4 Arena. This is not a game I’d recommend to anyone new to the Persona series but if you’ve enjoyed previous Persona games and appreciate the fighting genre then this is an obvious choice.