Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (PS3) Review
Kalvin Martinez / Sep 29th, 2014 No Comments
When Atlus first announced Persona 4 Arena (P4A), a fighting game based on its popular RPG series, it was confusing. However, we learned that Arc System Works, the team behind Guilty Gears and BlazBlue, would co-develop the project and it started to make a little more sense. To say Persona 4 Arena was a surprise is an understatement. It was a game and genre that shouldn’t work together, but it did.
For that reason, Atlus’ announcement of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, a sequel to P4A, was met with great fanfare. Fans were interested to see how characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 would further develop. Ultimax delivers improvements to the storytelling and combat system while also including more characters and game modes to create a fine fighting game package.
Word is Bond
Since the events of Persona 4 Arena, the mastermind behind the P-1 Grand Prix has not rested. A day after the P-1 Grand Prix, the investigation team is thrust back into the thick of things when another bizarre fighting tournament promo appears on TV. The sinister General Teddie returns to announce another fighting tournament between Yu Narukami and his friends and the Shadow Operatives. Once the video announcing the P-1 Climax finishes, the power cuts, electronics stop working and red fog rolls over the town of Inaba.
While intimately familiar, the P-1 Climax is different than the previous fracas. If Yu and friends don’t reach an ominous-looking tower jutting out of Yasogami High within an hour, the world will end. Making things more dire is the odd footage of Mitsuru, Akihiko, Aigis and Fuuka crucified. Not only are the stakes higher, but the enemies are straw men. Opponents are merely shadow clones of dear friends with no intention to use subterfuge to draw these fighters into the fray.
However, one thing that remains the same is the one-on-one match stipulation, where only the winner can move on from an invisible prison. Despite the tense feeling, these determined Persona users must fight in order to discover the truth behind the tournament and the mastermind’s true plan. But is fighting playing right into the plan or merely a delaying tactic?
A major change to the storytelling style is going from multiple storylines following several characters to a single plotline, reducing the amount of redundancies that made P4A’s story tedious. In the mold of a traditional fighting game, P4A built a complicated narrative through multiple perspectives, but the story quickly became muddled. Ultimax’s narrative shift cuts down on the odd incongruities between each episode and makes more sense for the story it is telling.
The story is split between episodes of Persona 4 and Persona 3 — one deals with the investigation team’s experience in the P-1 Climax, while the other focuses on the Shadow Operatives’s perspective. Approaching the story in this manner crafts a more sophisticated narrative and gives each team’s characters time to shine. Seeing two perspectives adds depth to the story, and watching members of both teams meeting up in different ways makes for some hilarious moments, especially when Teddie is involved.
This World is for the Birds
Regardless of how good the writing in a game is, it fails if the gameplay doesn’t deliver. Luckily, Ultimax features a combat system that is both accessible and capable of great depth. Those looking to play Ultimax for its story are able to breeze through it with auto combos and basic button-mashing, but those looking for depth in combat can find it with the more complex moves. The fluidity of the combat system can lead to some surprising developments as gifted players will be able to chain super moves together in remarkable ways.
Not only is the actual fighting satisfying, but the sheer amount of characters and modes in the game add value to the package. Ultimax has a staggering amount of characters on its roster, including characters from P4A, Risette, Junpei, Yukari, Ken & Koromaru and both Sho Minasukis. Each character also has a shadow type with slightly altered movesets available, adding more variety to the matches.
The game offers a large number of additional modes outside of the main story, including traditional arcade and versus modes. Returning from P4A are score attack and challenge modes, allowing players to see if they can reach the highest score possible and master each characters’ various movesets.
The new Golden Arena Mode, which is an RPG-style Gauntlet challenge, consists of four courses with different difficulties and 50 levels to conquer. Every fifth floor is a checkpoint, and characters earn experience from each battle to level up. Players earn skills and attribute points as they progress through the mode. Health carries over from each battle, so managing health is important to get deeper in each course. The mode adds a different spin on gameplay and takes cues from Persona RPGs.
The combination of hardcore JRPG and fighting is bizarre, but Persona 4 Arena Ultimax not only works, it works better than its predecessor. Thanks to a more sophisticated and logical narrative structure, some tweaks and improvements to the combat, and the addition of the Golden Arena mode, Ultimax caters to both Persona fans and fighting game players. The robust roster also means every type of player will find a character that satisfies their style of play. Even though all the frills are great, what makes Ultimax succeed ultimately is how much enjoyment it offers playing with others.
tags: atlus , persona , persona 4 , Persona 4 Arena , Persona 4 Arena Ultimax , Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review , review