Back when Persona 4 Arena was announced in 2011, it seemed like an odd move for both parties involved. For Atlus, it was a drastic shift from the critically acclaimed RPGs they had been known for. Furthermore, the other developer involved with production, Arc System Works, was already juggling two franchises of their own when the project was revealed. However, all of the concern over the title was for nothing, as it received solid scores across the board. Now, just two years later, Atlus and Arc have joined forces once again for Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, which sits somewhere between full sequel and add-on.
Set directly after the events of the original game, Ultimax finds Yu Narukami and company once again thrust into action. Last time around, the Investigation Team ventured into the TV World in order to put a stop to General Teddie. Following a brief break, the Midnight Channel once again goes live, but this time the real world is in imminent danger. It’s soon a race against time, as the General has returned once more and has given the team little time to save the day.
Taking place over two different campaigns, the title features a surprisingly robust story for a fighting game. I suppose this is to be expected, as the Persona series is known for hefty narratives. However, it is still an anomaly in the fighting genre, as most games are simply content with giving you a simple arcade mode to play around in. It’s especially impressive due to the fact that you don’t even need to be a fan of the franchise to enjoy the tale here. Obviously, being familiar with the series will bring you more enjoyment, but Atlus provides enough background to make it interesting for everyone.
If there is one qualm I have with the main story mode, however, it’s that it takes a decent amount of time to really get going. This is particularly troublesome during the beginning of the Persona 4 story, as you have to sit through a long stretch of plot before you get to the first fight. Things pick up a little bit after that, but there is still a lot of sitting around and waiting for things to progress at the start of the game. While it is certainly an improvement over the story included in Persona 4 Arena, it could have used some fine tuning.
If you would rather jump straight into the action, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax also offers your traditional fighting game modes. There’s the classic arcade mode, as well as online versus mode, which boasts a solid netcode once again. For those who are looking for a more RPG-like experience from their fighting game, but don’t want to sit through a mass of cutscenes, there’s the Golden Arena. In this mode, you are tasked with fighting through assorted dungeons, while also taking the time to level up your chosen combatant. As a slightly deeper experience, it did remind me a little of the Dungeon Master mode from Soulcalibur II, which just so happens to be one of my favorite fighting game campaigns.
While a smattering of modes to waste your time in is always welcome, they would all be for naught if the gameplay couldn’t match it. Luckily, in case you forgot, Arc System Works is pretty talented when it comes to the fighting genre. Perhaps the best way to describe the employed engine is that it is easy to learn, but difficult to master. Newcomers to the franchise can easily pick up the controller and start busting out combos with Chie, Junpei or whoever they wish to use. In order to further the training of new players, Arc System Works has also included a lengthy tutorial designed to teach you the ins-and-outs of the combat engine.
Those familiar with the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear franchises, however, know that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to fighting. In order to truly be successful in combat, you will need to fully understand how to time reversals, as well as when to unleash Personas and numerous other intricacies. The option to switch to “Shadow” modes of select fighters also adds an additional wrinkle to the series. These variations are more difficult to use, as they aren’t as powerful, but also get to keep their SP over rounds, which is more useful in the long run. It’s an interesting gamble to experiment with, and while I rarely used it, I at least enjoyed the option being there.
Similarly, if you’re familiar with the previous works of Arc System Works, then you already know that they are capable of producing some rather gorgeous animation. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is no different in that regard, as the fluid 2D graphics do Atlus’ franchise justice. There’s especially a lot to love if you are a fan of the franchise, as little touches such as what items characters wield are sprinkled throughout the game.
Equally impressive is the soundtrack, which comes courtesy of composer Shoji Meguro. Meguro, who has been working on soundtracks for the franchise since 1996’s Revelations: Persona, does an excellent job of mixing up high and low-paced tunes. The high-energy soundtrack works particularly well while in combat, while the sparse piano playing perfectly suits the ever-creeping plotline. The English voice acting provided here is also enjoyable, even if I haven’t gotten used to Labrys’ accent quite yet.
While it’s true that Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is not the biggest improvement over Persona 4 Arena, that shouldn’t be held against it. After all, it provides several new fan favorite characters to choose from, two lengthy campaign modes and the same excellent gameplay that made the original such a smash. Whether you are familiar with the cult-RPG franchise or not, as long as you enjoy fighting games, I implore you to seek out this excellent effort.
This review was based off the PlayStation 3 version of the title, which we were provided with.
While not quite the advancement it could have been, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is still a noticeable improvement over a title that was already great to begin with.