A lot of successful IPs do not base themselves on just one game. The various Metal Gear, Assassin’s Creed or even Killzone have released, among sequels to the main campaign, spin-off titles which although not adding much to the story itself, are related by having characters featured in the main game. These spin-offs usually consist of some unique adventure which may not deserve a crucial part of the story or which switches genre and gameplay while retaining the crux of the franchise.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is one of such latter types of spin-offs, going from a typical JRPG-style turn-based combat system to a one-on-one fighting game, and it is the direct sequel of the first Persona spin-off game, Persona 4 Arena. In fact the events of Ultimax follow those of Arena and thus if one plans to play both, one should start with the earlier game. The premise of the story mode is simple, and a common one for fighting games; an evil young man by the name of Sho Minazuki is threatening something horrible, in this case the end of the world, if the good guys do not win a tournament, the P-1 Climax Fighting Tournament, within an hour. Ironically, just watching the cutscenes will take more than an hour but being the usual Persona-style graphic novel portraits, this will take far longer than normal animation and thus would last much less in real life. As you go along the story, which is told from the various characters’ perspective, you also play as the different characters, which comes in handy when choosing your fighter in Golden Arena mode, making you select one character to progress, RPG-style, while levelling up your fighter along the way.
Ultimax also features an elaborate Tutorial mode. As the name itself implies, this explains all that there is to know regarding battles, moves, personas and the likes. The tutorial starts all the way from basic movement and works its way to the most elaborate moves in the game. It is a great tool before going guns blazing in the story mode, and thus one should give it a try before engaging in battle. Some advanced moves are more suitable for the analogue stick rather than the d-pad due to the faster motion of quarter circles and thus complex moves are more demanding. What the tutorial mode also suggests is how much this game benefits from a fightstick, since the more elaborate combos sometimes require three of the four face buttons on the controller, which constricts the user to almost hold the joystick like a piano to be able to reach more buttons than normally holding it.
Turning our focus on the gameplay itself, the battles are enjoyable and competitive even with the AI. New players and veterans alike can triumph in this game thanks to the presence of simple and advanced moves, ranging from one-button combos to strings of complex d-pad movements and face buttons together. Movements are smooth, commands are responsive and the combat is so immersive that you will beg for more once the fight is over. The combat commands are simple; two buttons to control the character himself and the other two face buttons to attack with the Persona. There is also dash and backstep, performed by pressing forward or backward twice. The rest is up to practice upon practice, in search of combos or set ups which may give the advantage in battle. The guys at AtlusUSA have also uploaded a series of videos, available on YouTube, which may help both newcomers and experienced players, with useful tips and tricks.
As mentioned before, the game features different modes such as Story or Golden Arena, but P4AU also has a Challenge Mode, where one tries to complete a set of tasks in progressing difficulty. It starts easy but gets really tough as you go on. As all fighting games, Ultimax hosts also online and local multiplayer in the form of one on one fights, so nothing stands in the way of inviting a couple of buddies over and showing what you got, while at the same time boasting some insane new combos you learnt in practice. Online multiplayer features the same lobby as usual fighting games, with the difference of being able to Enlist, meaning “subscribing” oneself to the list of available players while being able to continue something else such as story or practice. The mode is very handy since instead of staring at a screen until a game is found, one can do whatever he pleases ingame. Multiplayer also features an outfit selection, consisting of 18 different colour combinations for both character and Persona, which while not being a groundbreaking feat, it is a cool feature by itself. Also cool is the ability to change the arena and the music in local battles.
Graphic wise, the game is beautiful, full of colour and detail, and this shows both during cutscenes and in battle. A short introduction to the match displayed before every encounter is also very neat. While only some five seconds long and does nothing to enhance gameplay, it displays the battlers who will head into battle and I for one loved it. Attack animations are a joy to look at unless you are on the receiving end of course, and special attacks make you feel more powerful when executing them thanks to the various effects onscreen. Sound and music are also top notch; it’s not the first time I caught myself humming the opening theme or one of its battle songs. The cutscenes are also done very well, going along the lines of the classic Persona series dialogue with talking portraits, with some short animated scene in between. These clips are rendered really well which makes you question the use of portraits, when animation is surely not a problem, but considering the longevity of its novel format, and also its effectiveness in conveying its message, one understands easily why. It will take a bit to get into the action since there are some lengthy cutscenes in the beginning of the game, but once the story is introduced and explained, the action starts gathering quite a bit of pace.
Persona 4 Ultimax Arena is ultimately a Sho-down of graphics and gameplay. While not having the most original of stories it still keeps players on the edge and curious to know what happens next, and will feel rather discouraged to put the controller down, even because of how fun fights are. The diverse range of modes coupled with the quite broad selection of characters make this a game which will have a lasting appeal, which is furthered through multiplayer where competitive ones will no doubt relish becoming better and stronger, besting others online. Bearing in mind that this review covered the North American Version of the game, it may not be indicative of the final product in Europe. There is no reason why it should not though, because P4AU outdoes itself. Excellent in every critical point of the game, this is one worthy induction into the Persona series.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.