Persona 4 Arena Review

By Jonathan Deesing - Posted Aug 20, 2012

Persona 4 Arena presents the uncommon take on the fighting genre by tossing in storytelling elements of a Japanese visual novel and coupling it with astounding gameplay. If you like anime or fighting games, it's a must-buy.

The Pros
  • Impossibly precise gameplay
  • Story mode is sure to please Persona/anime fans
  • A near-infinite amount of moves to learn
The Cons
  • Some moves are easier with a fight stick than a controller
  • Reading for hours in story mode may turn off some

Persona 4 Arena Review:

I have played many fighting games in my day, but I have never before crossed a title quite like Persona 4 Arena. More often than not, fighting games include a story, but it’s rarely one that matters. Indeed, I remember when the Mortal Kombat movie was released, and even after logging countless hours playing the game, I still wondered what it was going to be about. But Arena is much different. The game weaves an extensive story -- told in the manner of a traditional anime-style visual novel -- and astounding gameplay to make for an incredibly distinctive title.



Fighting has never looked better

In no other genre are precise and tight controls more important that the fighting genre. If your character doesn’t do exactly what you what exactly when you want it could mean immediate defeat. Luckily, Arena is without a doubt the most impeccable fighter I’ve ever played. Even early on in the tutorial, I began to feel as if my character was an extension of my hands: doing exactly what I wanted before my brain had even received the signal of what attack I had used. I fought an exact duplicate of myself in story mode and didn’t struggle at all differentiating the two because I was only in perfect harmony with one of them.

The attention to detail is made all the more impressive by the sheer vastness of the game’s combos and abilities. Not only are the controls seamless, but there are just so many damn things to do with them. It took me about thirty minutes to get through every lesson in the tutorial, and I still had to return a dozen times for a refresher. But it drove home the point that, in any fight, there are about a million different strategies.

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This doesn’t mean that the game is inaccessible to fighting game neophytes, it’s quite the opposite. There are easier combos, like one that only requires repeatedly hitting the light attack button, that allow rookie players to remain competitive. However, after seeing just how cool these combos looked, I hit the training room to learn more complex ones. One caveat I must include is that a lot of combos and moves seemed designed exclusively for a fighting stick and were rather hard to complete with a controller.

The addition of series mainstay, “Personas,” makes Arena even more unique and delightful. Each character has his or her own Persona that can be summoned to fight alongside you for a limited amount of time. You can probably win a fair amount of fights without relying on your Persona at all, but it’s much more fun with them. Having an extra fighter on the screen opened an insane amount of possibilities on top of all the combos I had learned already. I could send my Persona to attack a certain area and knock my opponent into that area for a devastating attack.

Persona 4 Arena

Turn the page

Initially I approached story mode with the wrong mindset. I went into the story mode expecting what I had seen in past fighting games—fight, fight, brief cutscene, repeat. So when I scrolled through pages of text to get to my first fight I was more than a little miffed. However, after a friend with more experience with anime came over, he told me that story mode wasn’t really about the gameplay at all. In fact, he was the one who told me what a visual novel is. From there I relaxed, retired to the couch and simply pressed the X button for a few hours with only a few interruptions to beat the shit out of my fellow students.

Persona 4 Arena

For those interested in the Persona 4 or even the Persona 3 storylines, Arena is a must play. The game takes place in the same fictional town from the previous two games, and once again you take control of a high school student amidst a weird series of events. This time, it’s regarding falling into a TV and trying to sort out why all of your fellow students are seemingly going crazy. Yeah, it’s a bit bizarre. For any who won’t get tired of scrolling through text for hours, the story is rather engaging and interesting. Better still is some stellar voice acting and choice music. Told from the perspective of each character makes for an incredibly complex plot. After I beat each storyline, each character’s story was concluded through more gameplay. Though I needed to change my contact lenses by the end, it was no worse than reading countless books in Skyrim. (Yeah I read the books in Skyrim. Only god can judge me.)

Persona 4 Arena

A true game changer

Persona 4 Arena is as eccentric and Japanese as it gets. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a JPRG will love the game even if fighting games aren’t their forte. The gameplay is designed to appeal to anyone from novice to pro, so even passing fighting fans will be able to make it through story mode with limited difficulty. Though true fans of the fighting genre may prefer a fight stick, the game is still delightful with a controller. All told, Arena seamlessly merges the storytelling elements of a JRPG with the flawless controls of the best fighters on the market. It’s a weird combo, but boy does it work.

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Editor's Note: Persona 4 Arena was reviewed using a PlayStation 3 copy of the game; however, we also played the Xbox 360 version, and found no differences. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.