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Persona 4: Arena Review

Persona 4: Arena Review

It's not every day an RPG franchise has a go at turning their characters into fighters and pits them against each other in a beat-em-up game, but it's nothing new either (Final Fantasy Dissidia is a stand out example) so how did Atlus do when they wanted to spice things up with one of their most beloved titles?

Arena picks up two months after where Persona 4 left off. The main protagonists are arranging a get together when by freak coincidence; a crisis similar to the events in the original game seems to be starting up again. In the world of Persona 4, there are people who can enter TV sets. For a full explanation of why and how it would probably be best to consult the original 2008 RPG game as from here on, we're not even going to question it. It's fantasy and that's all that matters. If you never played the previous game, the characters also fill you in on the most important aspects.

What the teenage group of friends eventually witness is an advertisement being shown at a certain time in the middle of the night which actually features themselves fighting each other like some sort of sport and a strange commentator who suspiciously looks a lot like one of their friends who happens to be missing.

My sword is bigger than yours!!
What follows is a plot that could very well be its own TV show as it doesn't fly too far from typical animé conventions which wouldn't be a bad thing if there were more of the beautifully animated cutscenes and less of the tedious conversations you have to scroll through in-between battles. I am a long-time RPG gamer so don't get me wrong - I have the patience of a saint and love soaking up character development, finding out plot twists and generally enjoying a well-written story. Not to say Persona: 4 Arena isn't well written, but the story mode might as well be a book, or a manga comic with a lot less of the action. This doesn't help with the fact that each character's story is essentially the same, only this time, their own thoughts, backgrounds and development stands out a little more. When you unlock the final character's story, it reveals a lot of the mystery surrounding certain characters but on the other hand, there is only one battle.

With one character I played, I was surprised to find there was a moment where I could actually make a choice, but it seemed that all it changed was a few lines of speech. I'm not quite sure why it was added in and I fail to see why they didn't include more options that could change the path you went down and who you fought or how the story turned out. However much I felt like I enjoyed the characters and the plot, I also feel only people who either really love the series or really love a good book will be able to stop themselves from pressing the Skip button to avoid needless hours of storytelling. The quality of the script was very high, it's just a case of there being far too little actual gameplay in the story sections.

Persona 4 Arena is actually a very detailed and well thought out fighting game. Each character has a 'Persona' - these are a sort of unique creature that comes with each character and will be the driving force of your special attacks. It's almost like a tag-team element, in that players who are skilled enough can actually use the Persona and the character at the same time to double up on their opponent and execute insane combos. Watch out though, as the Persona can be vulnerable to attacks and after a certain number of hits, you'll suffer a Persona Break which leaves you with one character for a short while until it charges back up. This means you'll not be using any specials for a while so it’s usually best to keep your distance when this happens.

Pick your card... any card!
As well as this, each character seems to have a unique feature attached to them. Yukiko is a character aimed to be used for 'zoning' (term for keeping opponents away from close combat) whose specialty lies in long range and fire attacks. You can take these fire attacks all the way up to Level 8 where they will deal a huge amount of damage but the button combination to boost the level will leave you open for a short while. Other characters such as the robotic Aigis actually have a gattling gun and other weaponry, although these have limited ammo. Such unique play-styles between different characters is a great feature, sure to make the game feel different depending on who you play. I feel that the characters have been balanced well and even though each is so unique, none of them feel like they're 'better' than any other so it's all up to player skill to decide the victor.

There are other game modes such as Challenge Mode, which teaches you to pull off complex combos and gets extremely difficult toward the later levels, Score Attack Mode, VS, Online, the previously mentioned Story Mode and of course a classic Arcade mode. Although, as with all Beat-'Em-Ups the real fun you're going to be having with this game is going up the ranks of online mode or playing with friends.

Online gameplay 
Persona 4: Arena, as with any fighting game, truly shines in Multiplayer. If you don't have a friend or relative to hand, you'll be happy to hear that the game has a growing online community with a wealth of features. The lobbies are well done and free for you to customise settings and options for rooms from being able to set whether noobies and pros alike may join your game or whether you just want people with good connection speeds. You can have multiple people in a room at a time where even the people waiting their turn for a match can spectate.

There are also Ranked matches, where you'll get the truly intense matches. Win and you will rank up, lose and you may suffer a deduction. Even though I have noticed lag on several occasions, it only seems to affect the fight intro scene and disappears as soon as the fight begins. Only once or two have I noticed genuine lag whilst in a match.

Graphics/ Sound
Persona 4: Arena takes the form of the instantly recognisable 2D anime-style fighter. The animations are seamless and everything is fast and colourful. The cutscenes from the story mode are really well done and for a minute or two you can sit back as if you're watching a genuine anime.

The voice acting is done by the same cast as the recent Persona 4 TV series which is always better than hiring other people and the quality of the voice acting is pretty good and fits each character well, even if it's all very unsurprisingly cliché. One character that didn't have typical voice acting was Labrys, which gets explained through her story mode chapter. It's also the finest example of voice talent in the game, other than the comic one-liners of the odd Teddie character.

I love you Teddie.
The music is unremarkable and unmemorable, which is quite typical of fighting games. The game's fast pace means that sound effects are quite important to listen out to in order to have the quickest possible reaction times so it's probably best to stick it out and listen to the game's soundtrack instead of listening to your own music, even if you'd prefer to.

Final Verdict
An imaginative take on the beat-em-up genre, Persona 4 Arena feels like a breath of fresh air and makes for a nice addition to any fighting game fan's collection. The online community is busy and there's a lot for you to learn and practice which will keep you laughing when you land those Instant Kill manoeuvres and ripping your hair out when it happens to you for a long time to come.

Story: 7/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Graphics/Sound: 8/10

We Know Gamers Final Score: 8/10

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