I picked up Persona 4 Arena awhile back. I just happened to be in a shopping center with a Gamestop one day, so I said “what the hell” and snagged it. It’s about time I talked about it.
I’m not much of a Persona dude. I loved the first game, or at least the concept behind it. A buddy of mine and I would play it all night back during the PS1 days, never really getting anywhere because we’d die over and over and over again trying to start a conversation with the random encounter demons rather than just spamming Persona attacks. Never got around to playing Persona 2. Bought Persona 3 FES, but it didn’t keep my interest long enough to complete. My only exposure to Persona 4 is a handful of episodes from that mediocre anime series from last year.
Yeah, I have no real love for the franchise. I love the idea of the thing, with people’s innermost angst, potential, and whatnot manifesting into a absurdly-designed, toyetic monster, but the actual gameplay comes off as way too clunky. I’m not a fan of the dating sim/visual novel/choose your own adventure bits that are required to power up your characters. I’m not interested in sitting through 20 minutes of dialogue and cutscenes before I get to the dungeons. The actual battle scenes are standard J-RPG fare, so that isn’t too bad, but it isn’t enough to make up for the fact that I always felt like a passive observer watching stuff happen rather than a dude playing a video game. It’s a problem most RPGs have, but it was especially noticeable in Persona 3.
Maybe if I was still in my late teens or early twenties I’d be up for the task, but not now.
But yeah, P4A. It’s a fighting game. With actual need of hand-eye coordination and reaction time and shit. An actual video game where you do stuff. The kind of thing I like. And it’s made by the same dudes who made Guilty Crown and BlazBlue? Yeah, I was up for that. I wasn’t anxiously waiting for it or anything– I didn’t even realize it was out until I saw it at San Japan back in August– but I’m down with the beat-em-up goodness.
It’s pretty damn beautiful. 2D anime-styled graphics and everything. The Persona characters translate well to the whole fighting game aesthetic. It feels right on that level. The backgrounds are a bit on the repetitive side– most of them have day/night versions, artificially increasing the number of stages– but that’s the only real complaint I have about the game visually.
The gameplay is a bit too spazzy for my tastes. It isn’t quite as fast and loose as something like Marvel vs Capcom, but it feels a bit more chaotic than the aforementioned Guilty Gear. That isn’t to say the gameplay is bad. I still like MvC despite its frantic pace, but I prefer stuff on the same level as SF3/4. The actual fighting stuff is streamlined enough without being as straight-forward as Smash Bros. You can button mash your way into good damage-dealing combos, but to do the real shit you gotta know what you’re doing. It isn’t just a matter of hitting a button to pull off most moves of worth, and you gotta take spacing and stuff into consideration with a lot of it. It feels like a fighting game designed with those unfamiliar with the genre while still trying to be “deep” for the competitive types.
Thing is, despite my years of playing fighting games, I’m not exactly one to judge things on that competitive end. I always have been and always will be one of those dreaded casual types who doesn’t give a damn about dissecting the game, memorizing complex combos, and min-maxing shit to find the “right” way to play. That sort of in-depth experience is cool if you’re into it, but it ain’t my thing. I can sit here, watch those sorts of games, and appreciate it, but there’s no way in hell I wanna even try to compete on that level.
But I do think I can comment on the other side of the spectrum. This is friendly to new players. Lesson Mode is something of a godsend, since it goes through every relevant technique you’ll want to know. It doesn’t just show you what each button does, it tells you how to do the more complex universal techniques and the other basics of beyond-button-mash gameplay. Even games with Challenge modes forego a lot of that, assuming you already know how to do it without walking you through it. I found it pretty damn useful, and I’m used to this sort of game. It might not be a perfect introduction, but it’s the best I’ve seen in a fighting game.
And the Challenge Mode is pretty damn good, too. Some games make this mode into an elaborate puzzle game, ramping up the difficulty pretty fast (King of Fighters 13 comes to mind there.). That’s cool for more experienced players, but not so much for someone trying to get a feel for the game. Challenge Mode felt like another layer of tutorial, showing practical combos and the like before jumping into more elaborate and situational shit. It mirrored those found in MvC and SF4, but I felt like I got a better feel for each character in P4A’s Challenge modes. That might have something to do with the aforementioned Lesson Mode, since I already had some of the basics shown to me before I was asked to utilize them in the context of one of the game modes.
Arcade Mode is Arcade Mode. Fight stuff. Fight more stuff. Fight until you stop fighting. Classic one player stuff. Same goes for Versus Mode. I’ve only played two player in person– I rarely play video games online– but I find it pretty fun to play with my friends.
But Story Mode? Ugg.
Sorry dudes, but I couldn’t make it through that. This is a fighting game. I wanna fight. I know people want “story” in their video games, but I want games in my games. Not endless dialogue that goes nowhere. I figured there would be periods of time where I was watching people talk to one another, doing little more than hitting a button to advance to the next block of text. What I didn’t realize is that I would never see a fight. I’m sure you get to the gameplay eventually, but after five minutes I was losing my patience. I started fast-forwarding, ignoring the dialogue. I figured, if it was only a few more screens before the first fight, everything’d be good.
After a few more minutes of skipping dialogue, I still saw no sign of a fight brewing. It was the same sort of thing that turned me off of the RPGs. I had to give up. I wanted to beat stuff up. If I wanna listen to teenagers angsting I’ll… No. I just plain don’t want to listen to teen angst.
Despite being turned off by Story Mode, I think this game’s pretty worthwhile. Seriously, if you’re buying a fighting game for the story, you might be happier playing other genres. If the story was actually interesting I would be all for it, but I don’t feel like the game’s incomplete without a story.
And Teddie rocks. He’s easily my favorite character in the game. Most of the other characters are pretty conventional, but he’s your obligatory “I do wacky, hard-to-predict shit” character. If this were Guilty Gear he’d be Faust. In terms of MvC he’d be M.O.D.O.K. or Rocket Raccoon or Tron Bonne. Those are the sorts of characters I tend to play the most when it comes to these fast-paced games. The rest of the characters all mirror their RPG equivalents as far as my limited knowledge can tell. The short-haired girl from Persona 4 is the rush down beat down Cammy type. Main dude is the Ryu/Sol Badguy sort. The redhead from Persona 3 plays a lot like a mix between Charlotte from Samurai Showdown and Ivy from Soul Calibur. If you’ve played fighting games enough to have a “type” you prefer, you’ll find it here.
So yeah, cool little fighting game. Not sure if it’s gonna “stick” with the fighting game crowd, but I’m happy with it. If given the chance to do it over, I might not plunk down $60 for it, but I don’t feel like I got screwed the way I did with, say, Soul Calibur 5. Damn that game sucked.
Also: There’s a dude who fights with a folding chair. A folding chair. I have no idea where he’s from. I didn’t get far enough in either 3 or 4 to see this dude, but he’s awesome. He’s also the closest the game gets to a Zangief type, so he has that going for him too.