The Future of the Persona 4 Arena Series

The Future of the Persona 4 Arena Series
Date Published: 15 November, 2017

It has been over three years since the western release of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (P4U2)—the second title in the Persona 4 Arena series, and one which has seen little developer support post launch, aside from an update that only reached Japanese arcades in January of 2015.

That same update, while it reinvigorated the game within the Japanese arcade community, was a major factor in the demise of not only the game’s western community; who never received the update, but also played a hand in the rapid decline of high level Japanese players the game was once full of.

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Promotional art from the first game in the series Persona 4 Arena (P4A).

Persona 4 Arena (P4A), as a fighting game series has never been as popular compared to its other anime counterparts in BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, however, it had just enough visual and audible charm, to go along with interesting mechanics, and a favorable roster to build and maintain a small yet dedicated community.

That community shone no brighter when it came to the series’ sequel in P4U2, as the game made main stage appearances at multiple high-profile events, none bigger than at EVO 2015. However, it was only a matter of time until the P4U2’s western community saw no other choice but to move on from the game, considering there was no reason to believe the game’s developer–Arc System Works was going to continue supporting it, let alone port its arcade update to consoles.

With most of its western audience moving on to other games, P4U2’s Japanese community, while dwindled considerably, still maintained enough interest in the game, which was displayed by the few tournaments featuring the 2.0 arcade update, which not only significantly impacted the game’s characters, played a big part in how the game was strategically played.

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Aguro (right) and Tahichi (left) during P4U2 top 8 of EVO 2015.

Regardless of the reception or the number of updates P4U2 would have gotten, the game was looking at an uphill battle when it came to relevance, as Arc System Works’ more popular titles were making their presence known such as Guilty Gear Xrd updating from Sign to Revelator, as well as BlazBlue: Central Fiction making its debut in Japanese arcades.

Therefore, P4U2 was left on an island, not only did it receive a single update, its community consisted of legacy players who can only compete at arcades, or would be forced to play an older version of the game if they were to decide to play on a home console. However, to go along with all the difficulties that stood in front of P4U2’s way, its biggest hurdle may have been itself.

The Persona 4 Arena series has always been known for being very unforgiving to players who make even the smallest of mistakes, as nearly every character in the series’ roster was capable of depleting entire life bars if the right conditions were present. However, at high levels of play, reaching those conditions was still very much a strategic chess game, which helped balance matches and sparked the spectating intrigue.

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Shadow Ken activating Shadow Frenzy mid combo vs. Shadow Yukiko.

The change that occurred with P4U2 going from its 1.1 version to its 2.0 version was drastic when it came to how players had to approach the game, as it made the conditions for losing and winning rounds much easier to reach, a fact that became evident by the dominance of the shadow characters upon the arrival of P4U2 ver. 2.0.

The competitive appeal of P4U2 was hurt by the fact that shadow characters all had the same strategic approach no matter the opponent. Regardless of the specific shadow character, the goal was to chip away at the opponent, until enough meter was built where an activation of Shadow Frenzy—an offensive Burst which provides unlimited meter for a set period, would allow the player to execute an unescapable highly damaging combo that will end the round.

Matches featuring a shadow character were no longer a chess game, as the meta of the game turned from “What is going to happen?” to “When is it going to happen?”. Therefore, what was once a game consisting of different characters and playstyles, P4U2 turned into a predictable and somewhat lackluster affair competitively.

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As unfortunate as it may be, P4U2’s final chapter is all but written, and its lasting impression is not one which I believe is indicative of how special the game was. However, the idea for future iterations of the franchise have not been completely dismissed according to Arc System Works.

At the conclusion of the P4U2 2.0 award ceremony on day 1 of Toushinsai 2017 and Arc Revolution Cup Tournament—a fighting game tournament consisting of Arc System Works titles, P4A’s leading game director announced that another iteration of the series may depend on the reception of BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle (BBCTB)—a BlazBlue tag fighting game title consisting of guest characters from RWBY, P4A, and UNIEL.

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Arc System Works’ most recent addition to its fighting game family—BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle (BBCTB).

However, this announcement wasn’t something unexpected as similar mention was made the previous year at Toushinsai 2016 during Arc Revolution Cup’s P4U2 2.0 award ceremony, the only difference was the specific mention of Persona 5 Arena. Thus, this opens the door for two possibilities, both somewhat favorable for P4A fans.

With appropriate sales figures and a positive reception for the upcoming BBCTB, Arc System Works may decide to once again develop a fighting game solely focused on the Persona franchise, however the question is, with which one?

The logical choices for another Persona themed fighting game have to be either Persona 4 Arena 3 (P4U3) or Persona 5 Arena (P5A). While, a small divide may exist among fans of the series with regards of which they would prefer, there are valid cases to be made for each, however, the final decision is one to be made by Arc System Works.

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Personally, as an avid fan of Persona 4, and longtime player of the fighting game spinoff, I would lean towards wanting to see the franchise continue on with the its current cast consisting of Persona 3 and Persona 4 characters. Though, despite personal preference, P4U3 makes sense in many ways, but none more important than one, which is simple consistency.

P4U3, if it were to follow suit with the series’ past, would already have a passionate and dedicated player base it can rely on to promote and play the game. Other factors such as a shorter development cycle due to what would be the presumed use of previous assets and game engine, as well as learning from mistakes such as the P4U2 2.0 experiment with shadow characters, all point to sensible reasoning for going through with P4U3.

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However, where P5A may have P4U3 beat is by its potential for attracting new players who may have never heard of the franchise, but do know of Persona 5, considering its immense success both in Japan and the West. P5A’s resonance with fans could also be a factor, as Persona 5 is still in the minds of the gaming community considering its recent release relative to Persona 3 or Persona 4.

It’s a gamble, but there is no way of knowing exactly who P5A may reach. Its audience may be similar in numbers to the hardcore players of the P4A franchise, or it could reach a market even beyond what Arc System Works is used to.

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Labrys and Aigis at the end of P4U2’s story.

As a fighting game player, and one which holds the P4A series near and dear to heart, I was saddened by the final lasting sight of P4U2, spectating its presumed final appearance at Arc Revolution Cup at Toushinsai 2017, the game no longer held that element that made it so special, as the familiar names which once graced the game were absent, and its gameplay has turned into a shell of its former self.

In closing, whether its P4U3 or P5A, a continued collaboration of Atlus and Arc System Works is one that is still very much coveted by fans of both. It may take time until we see another Persona themed fighting game considering Arc System Works has their hands full in 2018 with BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, Dragon Ball FighterZ, as well as their other stellar fighting game titles, however when the destined day comes, P4A fans will be ready.

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