Persona 4 Arena Ultimax | Review
Initial NA Release Date: September 30, 2014
Review Date: June 6, 2020
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
After a successful debut to the fighting game genre with Persona 4 Arena (P4A), the beloved universes of Persona 3 and Persona 4 collide once more, however, this time, in much more of a comprehensive fighting game experience—Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (P4U2).
With a solid blueprint to follow, a sequel to Persona 4 Arena seemed to be destined for success, however, with a seasoned developer in Arc System Works at the helm, P4U2 not only emphasizes on the aspects that made its predecessor great, but also innovates on its mechanics, both with additions, and improvements.
Presentation – Topping its predecessor in style was always going to be a challenge for P4U2, however, it didn’t necessarily need to. Although not much changed in the visual department of P4U2 from P4A, the additions of new animations, stages, and supers, aid in making the game look even more vibrant than it did before.
The return of the pixelated art style, the flashy effects on-screen, and the introduction of new persona models all service towards meeting the franchise’s presentation standard. The dark aura look of the newly introduced Shadow-Type characters fits perfectly to their menacing presence, as well as compliments the newly Persona 3 inspired HUD, featuring the signature base colors of blue and red.
Visually, in similar fashion to its prequel, P4U2 does an excellent job of signifying the battle cues on screen, both systematic, such as showing Burst availability, and character specific, exemplified by the unique traits of the new coming characters, such as Marie’s weather forecast system, and Junpei’s baseball inspired run system.
Despite nearly triple its original roster, the aesthetic of both returning and newly debuting characters, as well as their respective personas all look stellar, both during a standstill, or a fast paced exchange.
Audibly, the usage of the original Japanese and English voices for the cast featured in both Persona 3 and Persona 4, is yet another nod to the game’s remarkable application of source material.
The addition of both new original soundtracks tied to character themes, and story cinematics, as well as an expanded track list from both of the original JRPGs, very much supports the variety of with regards to in-game sounds.
It is quite clear that P4U2‘s goal with its presentation was not based around reinventing the wheel, only improving upon it. The aesthetic changes made to the user interface albeit largely cosmetic, do promote a sleek, and stylish feel to the game, with an ode to Persona 3.
Secondly, in an impressive fashion, the expansion of its roster, original soundtrack, and stage variety, did not show any signs of loss in quality despite the major increase in quantity.
Smooth animations, fitting vocal performances, engaging stages, and an excellent track list, all while being wrapped up in an outstanding use of source material, are all aspects the game managed to not only match its predecessor, but arguably eclipse it as well.
However, perhaps most importantly, the preservation and innovation of clear visual and audible in-game cues, such as indications of counter-hits, applicable status ailments, instant blocking, and real time character specific systems is where P4U2‘s presentation continues to shine its brightest.
Gameplay – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The same approach used to modify the game’s presentation, is applied with its gameplay. The core aspects of its mechanics from P4A, remain the same in P4U2, with some slight innovation.
The returning universal mechanics include the two light attacks unique to a character, two heavy attacks unique to that character’s persona, the Arc System Works staple Burst mechanic—available to all non-Shadow-Type characters, utilized as a potential defensive option in the form of a regular Burst, a meter gaining tool in the form of a Gold Burst, and lastly, as a combination extension in the form of a 1-More-Burst.
While the 1-More-Cancel mechanic remains the same in its utility of canceling certain moves, be it in the extension of offense, or return to defense, the additional mechanics added include the Guard Cancel Roll—a defensive version of a regular roll, in exchange for meter.
The S Hold System—An offensive charge attack which can be held down to perform special attacks, which are often invulnerable. As well as supers, and even instant kills if the conditions are applicable.
An enhanced form of a super attack in exchange of 75 meter, compared to the normal use of 50 meter has also been implemented, offering the cast the option to preserve resources in exchange for higher damage.
The expansion of its roster from 13 to 37 playable characters, not only saw a wider use of status ailments such as charm, rage, and silence. But, also introduced the mechanic of Shadow Frenzy—an offensive form of a burst exclusive to Shadow-Type characters, which grants an unlimited amount of meter for a short period of time, allowing for highly damaging offensive flurries.
Outside of the lack of a regular Burst, in exchange for Shadow Frenzy, the major distinctions between regular and Shadow-Type characters have to do with the absence of Awakening for Shadow-Type characters, not having access to higher defensive scaling, increased damage, and meter expansion to 150 during low health situations.
Regular characters also all sport new auto-combo routes, whereas the Shadow-Type characters all maintain the older auto-combo routes used in P4A. Lastly, Shadow-Type characters are given the ability to carry meter over rounds, which is extremely helpful in the pursuit of the activation of Shadow Frenzy, especially with the consideration of their lower damage, in comparison to regular characters.
To supplement the traditional versus mode, different game modes in P4U2 include its system tutorial—a mode which features comprehensive lessons of the game’s mechanics. Training mode—offering practice tools with different displays, and options such as record and replay, status simulation, and character specific settings.
Score Attack mode—a ladder playthrough which comes in increasing difficulties. Challenge mode—featuring character specific combination examples, Arcade mode—a summarized rendition of the story campaign.
And lastly, Golden Arena mode—an RPG inspired singular round battle playthrough, where the player is faced against both strengthened and boss versions of regular and Shadow-Type characters.
The game’s story mode is constructed in a similar fashion to its predecessor’s, in which it is centered on a specific narrative, displayed through different point-of-views. However, rather than the perspective be exclusive to a singular character’s experience, it is split into three parts, encompassing the main cast of Persona 3, Persona 4, and lastly a side story perspective showcasing Tohru Adachi.
Considering it’s visual novel format with occasional fighting sequences, pacing for the story campaign, while improved upon from P4A, still feels needlessly long, though it does offer more insight onto the personalities of both casts, and a new antagonist in Sho Minazuki adds another layer of intrigue.
Final Impression – Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is an excellent example of how innovation and polish of already established fighting game components can go a long way in ensuring an outstanding final product.
With improvements across the board, be it the expansion within its gameplay mechanics, its playable cast, its offering of various game modes, and overall quality presentation changes, there is not much the game has done wrong.
The sole criticism of the game has to do with its narrative, as while its revised structure helps overall pacing, the story is arguably less compelling than the original’s, and leaves much to be desired.
In closing, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax feels like an enhanced version of Persona 4 Arena, as it displays innovation with proper mechanical adjustments, fitting additions, and most importantly the preservation of signature gameplay and presentation aspects of its predecessor, making a great game, even better.
+ Improved defensive mechanics
+ Diverse offline modes
+ Character variety
– Mediocre narrative
Final Score – 8.8/10 Great